D+PAD’s Best Games of 2010
“From the biggest entertainment launch in history, to the arguable peak of the music game, to the unforgettable return of the classic fighting franchise, it’s all here…” – these were the words with which I concluded my introduction to D+PAD Magazine’s round-up of the best games of 2009. Is it a negative reflection on the gaming industry that this sentence could also just as easily apply to the last twelve months, with Call of Duty: Black Ops, Rock Band 3 and Super Street Fighter 4 slotting neatly into examples for the above sentence? Of course not! As our list below highlights, 2010 was full of invention, thrills and unforgettable moments. Our writers’ clear game of the year was BioWare’s sci-fi masterpiece Mass Effect 2, but we’ve also identified several other titles that, for us, defined 2010.
We didn’t have the space or time to cover every title nominated by our team, but honorable mentions must go out to: God of War 3, Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, Vanquish, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Halo: Reach and, last but not least, Rock Band 3.
It has without doubt been an amazing year – here’s to 2011!
D+PAD Magazine Game of 2010 – Mass Effect 2 (Multi)
There’s much that can be said of Bioware’s epic space adventure, a game that featured an exhaustive list of major improvements building on the foundations of an already-spectacular first instalment. Thrust once again into the capable boots of a fully customised Commander Shepard, your task was to bring together a band of unlikely allies in a seemingly hopeless mission to take down the mysterious threat of the Collectors. Cue one of the most engaging and rewarding gaming experiences to date, where your every decision could shape your moral alignment, alter the way your subordinates would respond to you and, more importantly, result in galactic change on a scale that has yet to be revealed.
As far as single-player titles fare, you won’t do much better than ME2. Spanning dozens of hours for a standard playthrough and many more if you chose to stray from the beaten path, the game was superb value for money at launch – and that’s before you even take into account the replay value offered through the various playable classes and narrative outcomes.
An action/adventure with a strong emphasis on gunplay, abilities both active and passive, plus an impressive cast with a breathtaking range of responses dependant on your own decisions, Mass Effect 2 brought together the best elements of modern gaming and upped the ante in every respect. Throw in a number of interesting locales and the ability to interact with all manner of interstellar beings and what you get is the crowning achievement of 2010, and a stellar effort fully deserving of the title, D+PAD Magazine’s Game of the Year. And with the first trailer for Mass Effect 3 already promising to take the fight to Earth through an improved game engine, we’d be fools not to line up on launch day for the chance to see how this stunning trilogy concludes.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
In all fairness, the biggest obstacle that must have faced Nintendo during the production stages of building Super Mario Galaxy 2 was how they could possibly improve on the original. It was always going to be hard to innovate on a game that set so many standards and even trickier to dream up enough new ideas to allow the player to feel that same sense of wonderment that they did when Mario first crashed landed on Good Egg Galaxy all those years ago. The bad news? SMG2 perhaps doesn’t feel as fresh as the original did all those years ago. The good news? Nintendo have taken everything that was good about Mario’s first journey into space and given us so much more – more levels, more crazy ideas, more mesmerising music and more overall brilliance.
All of these elements help to create a game which is unlike anything I have played before – a truly engrossing experience from start to finish without a single unwelcome moment throughout, cementing once again Mario’s position as the pioneering force behind videogames.
Red Dead Redemption (Multi)
Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption is boundless in its quality and scope, bringing attention to the Western genre, one rarely heralded by our medium but romanticised in film. Rockstar San Diego’s epic brought a tale of redemption and an inner dichotomy of a character, conflicted by the memories of his troubled past in learning to stay on the straight and narrow.
The use of Rockstar North’s proprietary, ambitious and grand engine to create the rich tapestry of the old west was a master touch, producing dusty desert plains, fiery orange rock and mountain ranges, and whole townships constructed with a rich eye for detail. This also gave the team a head start in the use of its core mechanics whilst developing the fantastically sumptuous world around it. Rockstar’s eye and depth for personality also shone through, with humorous, powerful or complex characters filling the world around John Marston, nary a sideways glance at shallow dialogue or a poor level of acting.
No, it wasn’t perfect; Redemption suffers from the same stunted shooting and cover system that plagued and tarnished the shining polish on GTA IV, but it deserves to be heralded as a game of the year for everything surrounding it that was rarely bypassed in quality. Jump on your noble steed, ride into the sunset and set up camp for the night, this is going to be remembered for a long time to come.
Heavy Rain (PS3)
Landmark titles regularly contort, reshape and remould our expectations and hopes until a definition tool such as ‘genre’ becomes almost too archaic to use. What interests me most in this respect are not the more ‘mechanical’ details such as dazzlingly slick combat a la Bayonetta, or genius level design in Super Mario Galaxy 2 but instead the more emotion-evoking abilities of modern games – morality, cause and effect, action and consequence, and empathy. Games like Heavy Rain.
In my opinion, Heavy Rain is a landmark title – it asks for substantial emotional investment throughout, but the key thing is that the more devotion a player invests into the game, the more the game invests devotion into the player, in a sense. Sure, you could be ridiculously blasé about the voice acting, or the QTE-heavy action sequences, but you would be missing the point entirely. If you can (and most likely will) get involved with the story, or the characters, or the realisation that the compelling plot can skew wildly in one of several directions due to your own actions and decisions, then your capacity for an emotional response will take root and grow. And by ‘emotional response’ we’re not talking about that almost irrepressible, joypad launching game rage, either – in Heavy Rain the story is in your hands, your actions govern the next step, and the intertwining stories of four people become incredibly compelling.
In 2010, interactive videogame entertainment reached new heights, but it wasn’t thanks to Kinect, Playstation Move et al – it is always, and forever should be, the games that count, and Heavy Rain is, in this respect, without equal.
Limbo (Xbox 360)
I was reminded of Limbo’s brilliance not through another recent playthrough, but over a conversation at that most venerable of institutions, the office Christmas party. In fact, I haven’t played Limbo since launch week, such is the indelible impression it can leave on even the most jaded of gamers. Actually, that last bit isn’t true.
It’s beautiful monochrome aesthetic has also been held up as a sign of indie gaming’s innate conservatism, and the resolutely unforgiving gameplay is considered by many, not unfairly, a little too old-school in its punishment, a touch regressive when compared to the likes of Braid.
But I fear this is missing the point. Limbo is a game of memory – the use of memory that it demands on you, the player, and pointedly the memories it leave you with once the small yet perfectly-formed experience ends. “Have you seen that game Limbo?!” my excited colleague asked. “Yes, yes I have”, I replied, jumping onto the restaurant’s table whilst punching the air. There wasn’t another game quite like it in 2010.
Sports Champions (PS3)
D+PAD never got around to reviewing Sports Champions, which is a real shame as I think it stands up as one of the most engaging, innovative and enjoyable releases of the year. You may laugh at that claim, and, on many levels, rightly so – Sports Champions is very easy to criticise with a choice of ‘sports’ that is eccentric to say the least, slightly charmless characters and visuals and a fairly limited range of play modes . But despite all this, when the game is working in perfect harmony with the PlayStation Move the results are (subtly) spectacular.
While each of the 6 sports included are a lot of fun, there is one main portion of the game that has made me highlight Sports Champions as one of the year’s best – namely its version of table tennis. The degree of authenticity that it achieves in recreating this particular sport is nothing short of astonishing, ably demonstrating the potential of the Move controller as well as being one of the most convincing demonstrations of the potential of motion-controlled gaming on a broader level. Slices, smashes, top-spin or defensive play all feel exactly as they should and the movement of your on screen paddle is wonderfully realistic.
The gradual ramping up of the difficulty of opponents is also extremely well executed, with your progression through the tournaments running parallel with a masterfully implemented difficulty curve; the next round is nearly always just that little bit tougher and each victory is immensely satisfying as a result. Make it all the way to the latter tournaments, and the pace of play and the skill required makes for one of the most satisfying sports titles of recent years. I also think that Sports Champions’ table tennis stands as something of a landmark in terms of its mechanics; arguably, it is one of the most accurate videogame representations of a particular sport ever created. And that’s quite an achievement for a measly launch title…
Alan Wake (Xbox 360)
Forget Gran Turismo 5, the most interminably long development process for any game released this year had to have been Remedy Studio’s Alan Wake, which endured a full gameplay shift (open-world to linear) before its eventual release in May this year. While Wake may have been the biggest casualty in the all-conquering Red Dead Redemption juggernaut of Spring, for its long-suffering followers it was well worth the wait.
A survival horror that owes huge debts to 90s TV show Twin Peaks, Alan Wake was an atmospheric, beguiling and menacing release, as players struggled towards the light in an increasingly convoluted yet gripping search for their missing wife. Armed with little more than a shotgun and a flashlight for most scenarios, the stunningly-realised mid-western US town of Bright Falls is a haunting and lived-in playground for the title’s six episodic instalments.While the thriller’s subsequent DLC couldn’t match the physical releases thrills (recurring assets and re-used locations suggest poor sales thwarted Remedy’s original vision), Alan Wake’s sublime storytelling and unparalleled atmosphere will live long in the memory, should a sequel fail to materialise.
My enjoyment of character action games like God of War and Devil May Cry tends to swing back and forth quite a bit. I don’t dislike them by any means, but they require something special to hold my attention for any length of time. It was lucky for me then that Platinum Games’ Bayonetta won me over from the very outset. Needless to say, this game is absolutely bananas. Its quintessential Japanese eccentricity and absolute disregard for anything sane and within the boundaries of moderate taste made it a complete manic joy to journey through.
There’s an abundance of cheesy flamboyance at every corner of the angel-infested world, but it’s that loving brand of corny that’s easy to get behind. Bayonetta herself is a great character as well, as she powers through each new crazy scenario by exuding a mixture of female empowerment and a considerably crass level of female exploitation. But most importantly, Bayonetta is just a lot of fun to play. It controls well, looks fantastic and balances difficulty expertly. I didn’t expect to say it, but Bayonetta was definitely one of my favourite titles of 2010.