The Top 10 Games of 2010
Another year has come and gone and there were certainly no shortage of games throughout it. As we try to do every year, it's now time to reflect back on the games that we found to be the most memorable over the past 365 days. As always, I'd like to preface this with a few things. This is just one guys opinion and it's probably not even that well-rounded of one. I don't get paid to play video games nor do I have an infinite amount of free time. I also have access to every system, but I usually play games on my 360. So if there's a game that you have played thirty times this year and its subsequent omission from this list offends you in a profound matter, then that's cool. There are games not on here I wish that I played this year (Peace Walker, StarCraft II, Donkey Kong Country Returns), games I played and didn't like (God of War III, BioShock 2, Black Ops), and games that I not only completed but thoroughly enjoyed (New Vegas, Heavy Rain). If you disagree, that's great. In fact, I almost encourage it because I always enjoy seeing what other people have to say on matters like this. So now that that's out of the way, let's delve into what we here declare the Top 10 Games of the Year!
I love sequels as much as the next guy, but we've definitely seen an influx of "sequelitis" this year. What I mean by that is games that spend forever in development only to come out feeling half-baked and underwhelming. The biggest offenders this year were Fallout: New Vegas, Crackdown 2, Bioshock 2, and Black Ops. Not that any of those are bad games, in fact, they're all pretty damned good. It's just the fact that they're so dreadfully similar to their predecessors that it's impossible to really feel like a brand new experience. However, out of all these, Dead Rising 2 seemed to try it's hardest to provide something new. Obviously, it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel, but it adds a few tweaks to the formula that makes it a hell of a lot more interesting.
The risky move of introducing a new character paid off as Chuck is every bit as cringingly cheesy and likeable as Frank West was. The introduction of multiplayer is a welcome one and the Terror is Reality mode can be a fun diversion to play with your friends. The true fun stems from the co-op mode where you and a pal can take on hordes of zombies together throughout the entire campaign. It's a tad bit cumbersome at times, but something as simple as letting a friend join in makes the game all the more fun. The only reason I'm putting this game so far down the list is that it still has the same annoying problems that Dead Rising 1 had. The save system is still woefully archaic, the time limit gameplay wears out its welcome quickly, and the implementation of cooperative play and the loading times could be a lot better. Complaints aside, it's safe to say there is nothing quite like Dead Rising 2. Seriously, just watch our video countdown and tell us of another game that can replicate that sort of madness.
Let the controversy begin! Final Fantasy XIII is certainly one of those games that will have equal amounts of both supporters and naysayers. While people would argue that the Final Fantasy brand doesn't have the cachet that it once had, anytime a game in the main series is released, it is most certainly an event. Honestly, what can I say about the game that probably hasn't already been said? At its heart, Final Fantasy XIII is everything that the series has stood for over the past two decades. The visuals are superb, the music is good (not Uematsu good, but good nonetheless), the story is passable, and the characters are likable. Honestly, most of the complaints I've heard from longtime FF fans have centered around disdain for the story, which I find hard to believe. The Final Fantasy games have represented many things, but coherent and brilliant storytelling was never really their strong-suit in my opinion. However, FFXIII introduced the characters in a very organic way and it at least compelled you to see what was going to happen when you got to that next cutscene.
My main problems concerned the technical and design standpoints of the game. Neither of them are inherently flawed nor broken, they just seem conflicted. The battle system is different from Final Fantasy XII, yet it's also different from the ATB systems of yore. What we're left with is a weird sort of bastard child that doesn't really show its true potential until extremely late in the game. Even then, the game treats you like a child and only slowly gives you more control over the system. By the time you have a chance to exert you complete influence on your party, their abilities, and the paradigm system, the game is pretty much over! It's not really good or bad, it just kind of seems wrong. The pacing of the game is rather strange too as it forces you on these linear paths with constantly changing party members until they all converge upon one location. After you've been trained to simply walk down paths going from battle to battle, you're thrust into a gigantic open-ended world with tons of side quests to tackle. Just like the battle system, it's not a huge issue, it just goes against everything you'd expect from a game in the FF series. It feels like two different groups of people were involved with this game and had totally different ideas about what it should be. Compound this with the fact that Square Enix probably isn't the most efficient developer on the planet and it's rather obvious why this game occasionally has that "what were they trying to do here?" vibe. Chances are if you're a purist of the FF series, you've already played the game and have an opinion about it. If you're one of those people on the fence, I suggest you hop it. The gameplay is engaging at times, the characters are somewhat interesting and voiced well, and it's all wrapped up in a pretty package. It may not be the exact game you're expecting, but that certainly doesn't make it bad. Definitely try it out if you're a fan of JRPGs.
In the AAA-Franchise environment we live in today, it's inevitable that games are going to get overlooked. When Alan Wake released alongside Red Dead Redemption, a lot of people questioned whether it would be able to still make a showing. The short answer to that was no, no it couldn't as the game sold rather poorly. Low sales aside, Alan Wake is a damn good game. The approach it takes is certainly a unique one and the novel motif that it wears on its sleeve really adds to its immersion. The gameplay is basically that of a third person shooter with a light and dark mechanic thrown in. It's definitely stuff we've seen before, but it's executed very well. However, just being a competent game isn't enough as the real allure of Alan Wake comes from its simply superb setting and storytelling. The fictional mountain vista of Bright Falls manages to be the perfect backdrop to the Twin-Peaks style of exposition. It comes off with a very realistic feeling that turns to that uneasiness you get when things start to go awry.
The locations are varied and range from a believable Main Street you'd see in any small town to the dark and ominous back woods that you'll be trekking through for most of the adventure. The voice acting is well done for the most part and the monologues that the main character gives to progress the story really make you feel like you're playing a Stephen King novel. As much as Alan Wake impresses with its storytelling and mystique, it eventually becomes its downfall. While you will no doubt spend a great portion of the game almost on the edge of your seat while you try to discover the secrets that Bright Falls holds, the ending comes too abruptly. Compile this with the fact that the ending itself is very poorly done and you have that classic bittersweet feeling where you almost feel cheated. Those gripes aside, everything Alan Wake has to offer is superb. The characters, the setting, the gameplay, and the little easter eggs are all extremely well done. Definitely do yourself a favor and pick this game up if you get the chance.
I can hear the groans through the internet now, but I have little problem giving Reach a spot on this list. Despite the fact that it doesn't try to reinvent the formula whatsoever, the tweaks it adds makes an already fun franchise even more entertaining. Reach goes back before the Master Chief and tells the prequel of one of the most prominent set pieces in the Halo universe: the Fall of Reach. While the game might not be as epic as previous telling of that event have led us to believe, the game is amazingly balanced and a load of fun to play. The campaign is the average Halo fare with a few twists like space dog-fighting thrown in. The real draw to the story revolves around the fact that it's common knowledge that you're fighting for a lost cause in the first place. This notion creates a sort of dramatic irony that actually makes the campaign worth seeing through. The levels are paced well, the voice acting is above average, and the music is as brilliant as always.
Now that I've addressed the one percent of people who actually care about what the Campaign has to offer, let's talk about what the other 99 percent of you probably already know. As with previous titles, the real core of Halo Reach stems from its robust and complete multiplayer modes. Everything you've loved from previous iterations of the franchise has been carefully woven into one complete package making Reach the only Halo experience you'll need for a long time. The addition of armor abilities adds an undertone of strategy to the carnage and certainly trumps the experience of Halo 3 and equipment outright. Forgoing the standard experience system for the more refined credit approach is both a popular and efficient choice that allows for a sense of accomplishment without playing the game for hundreds of hours on a weekly basis. Instead of thinking of Halo Reach as an attempt to evolve the franchise into a totally new direction, it's easier to think of it as the ultimate refinement. After their departure for Activision, Reach is the final Halo game they'll have their hands on and it's clear that they sought to make it the best one yet. With a sturdy foundation to build upon and a dedicated community that vies to keep the game both fresh and interesting, Reach is undoubtedly your definitive multiplayer shooter solution for this year.
One of the pleasant surprises of this year for me has to be Super Street Fighter IV. I never really played the original SF4 extensively and when I noticed that they released a new version with bevies of new content for forty freaking dollars, I jumped on it. In a world where DLC and yearly sequels run wild, it was nice to see a wallet friendly game appear with so much to offer. Don't let that discounted price fool you either, because it's one of the most complete and polished experiences you can find this generation. Honestly, the last fighting game I played was random sessions of Mortal Kombat 3 with my friends over Xbox Live. When I caught wind of SSF4's discounted price, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try to ease my way into a new fighting experience. At its core, SSF4 has all of the working of a great game. It's polished to a mirror's sheen and it's easy enough to pick up and play. However, beneath the glossy and pretty surface is a game that is unfathomably deep. With thirty-five characters out of the box, all of which who have their own unique play-style, you'd be hard pressed to find a game with more depth.
As with the standard Arcade and Versus modes you'd expect, SSF4 has tons of trial modes and other minigames from previous iterations that will test your dexterity to its limits. The biggest change from the original SF4 is the total revamping of its online mode. There are tons of options and a great lobby system that makes it a snap to join up and play with all of your friends in an instant. The game also has a great community and very active support on both the player and development side of things. Tons of tweaks to gameplay, new game modes, and optional stuff like costumes are constantly being rolled out to sweeten the pot even more. If that wasn't enough, with the release of the SSF4: Arcade Edition in Japan this month, the promise of DLC adding stuff like new characters is all but certain for the console versions. Simply put, there isn't a more complete fighting game on the market today. It has the power to please both the regular guy looking to play with some friends on a Friday night and the guy who seeks to dominate all of his foes whether be online or at the nearest tournament. Fan of fighting games or not, at forty dollars, Super Street Fighter IV is simply too good of a deal to pass up.