There were some fun, some amazing, and some groundbreaking games in 2010. Here, Seth and I team-up to lay out our favorites of the year, and declare two "Best of 2010." For the record, mine matters more.
Best Music Game: DJ Hero 2 (Lucas)
Yup, bucking the trend here a bit. While Rock Band 3 is an incredible game, and the biggest party game out there, with the most options, two games took it by surprise this year. Dance Central, also from Harmonix, made a splash as the breakout title for the Kinect in 2010. But DJ Hero 2 from Activision showed the most improvement of any franchise in the music biz, and stood out as the top of the year. With two turntables and a microphone (where it's at!), this went from an entertaining game to watch to an entertaining game for a group to play. Better freestyle options, fresher mixes, and the additions of DJ sensations like Deadmau5 make for one fantastic game. This is a game to make you like different styles of music, and to show you how cool a 70s classic can sound with last year's dance hit. Not liking this game should legally preclude you from going to any club, ever.
Best Visuals: Red Dead Redemption (Seth)
An accelerated sunset paints the desert a rainbow of browns, oranges and golds. Snow falls between frozen trees. A herd of buffalo rambles around the plains in a fashion that’s as natural as chaos. As empty as the open spaces of Red Dead Redemption feel as your gallop though them from waypoint to waypoint, stopping for a moment to look around should be an Achievement/Trophy by itself. Away from the towns, as the landscape transitions from fields to canyons to deserts to the mountains smoothly, each is populated with its own brands of plant and animal life that (save for belligerent snakes or cougars) goes about its existence without paying you any heed. A fierce thunderstorm can roll up and shake the heavens at any time, graying out the world; and when the sun sets, the stars come out so numerous and bright it’s a wonder that the electric light was ever invented.
Best PS3 Exclusive: Heavy Rain (Lucas)
It's not every day that a developer tries something really and truly new. While the hype leading up to the release of this title centered around its incredible graphics (and justly so), it was the gameplay that made this a stand-out. This is a game that realized what the old point-and-click adventures from Sierra always wanted to be. Come on, it made even the dreaded quick timed events (button pressing sequences) into something entertaining! The mystery had some weak points in the plot and a couple of twists that struck some people in…not so great ways, but over all this game showed why the technology in today's gaming systems is something special. Plus, it set up the best moment of PAX East 2010, when an entire crowd of people shouted "JA-SON" at someone carrying a balloon.
Best Demo: Hydrophobia (Seth)
If the purpose of a demo is to, if you can excuse the pun, "wet" one’s appetite for the full game, Hydrophobia’s delivers. The sample of this sci-fi title teases some action adventure gameplay flavored with psychological/survival horror elements. The demo also shows off the game’s signature water effects, some light puzzle solving and, a rarity for a downloadable title, a full voice acted script.
Best Xbox 360 Exclusive: Halo: Reach (Lucas
This is the ultimate Halo experience. A game that takes the gameplay people have thrown days, weeks, and months of time into, adds to it in the best ways, bumps the graphics up as high as they can, and oh yeah, puts a compelling story into the mix for the first time. Going back in time to an event oft-talked about but never depicted was a great idea, as it allowed a bunch of new characters to be thrown in the mix. The game of course depicts the FALL of planet Reach, so don't get too attached to these fully fleshed-out characters. It really was remarkable how painful it was to see these characters lose their world (and yes, some lives, too). When a game makes you care about people you know are doomed, and relate to super-soldiers who are fighting aliens, well, that's a special accomplishment. Halo: Reach was one heck of a swan song from Bungie, and we can't wait to see what they have up their sleeves next.
Best Single Player Experience: Bayonetta (Seth)
The popularity of multiplier gaming has continued to grow unabated, bringing people around the word together to share their interactive experiences. However, the pure single player game is where gaming got its start and it remains the core of almost every game released. Bayonetta the character, like Bayonetta the game, is such an over-the-top event of a person that there wouldn’t be room for anyone else to share the screen with her if the developer’s tired. Her wild, skin baring combo attacks (multiplied by the half dozen weapons she can wield, including four guns simultaneously) are matched in detail only by the lush world she inhabits. Throw in a bizarre and humorous storyline, homages to ancient Sega games, boss battles so big they rightfully fill up entire stages and an ending so over the top spoiling it should be punishable by death, Bayonetta is the classing gaming experience done in a whole new way.
Best Wii Exclusive: Batman: The Brave and The Bold (Lucas)
Okay, okay, you've heard me talk about this game enough already. If you still haven't played it, stop reading this now and go buy the game. Don't have a Wii? This is a reason to buy one. This game is filled with such pure joy and fun, it takes the title in a year full of very strong exclusives for Nintendo's little system that could. With animation, voice actors, and writers pulled directly from the TV show, these are really interactive episodes for you to take your part in. Nothing, I say, NOTHING brought a bigger smile to my face in games this year than hearing Aquaman say "HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO" while sea life swam across the screen. Fans of the show, you're doing yourself a disservice not playing this one. Fans of fun, well, you are, too.
Best Downloadable Game: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game (Seth)
Not only the best downloadable experience of the year, but perhaps the best of all the spin-off properties coming out of the Scott Pilgrim franchise. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game brings to life the retro gaming experience that permeates the original comics, bringing the story to life as an active experience. While a simple side-scrolling brawler would have been satisfactory as a typical licensed cash-in, the River City Ransom style RPG system, Paul Robertson’s clever art direction, ‘chiptunes’ by Anamanaguchi, hidden game modes and four player co-op action makes Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game a title to come back to long after the movie ends up in the 99 cent DVD bin.
Best Superhero Experience: High-Speed Diving as Spider-Man 2099 (Lucas)
When it became known there would be four worlds in this year's Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions the first thing I hoped for was 2099. Sure enough, a quarter of the game is spent in Miguel O'Hara's shoes, and it makes for some of the coolest moments of the game, and best superhero experiences of the year. The high-speed dive is something found in a few games from the last couple of years, but they aced it here. More action is packed into the 2099 sections of the game than the other 3 combined, and delivered on the promise of a futuristic Spider-Man look and feel.
Best NPC Character: Bonnie MacFarland (Seth)
More than just the first mission giver in Rockstar’s instant classic Red Dead Redemption, Bonnie MacFarland represents a re-imagining of the stock ‘frontier woman’ characterization and the role of female NPCs in an gaming universe densely populated with handsome, virile male player characters. Bonnie, the last of the young generation of MacFarlands (her brothers all dead or have abandoned the family) is left in charge of the day to day business of running the family ranch by her ageing father. Her mild flirtations with the game’s star John Marston lead players to think that the typical ‘sex as reward’ video game relationship stereotype is developing between them. As the two continue to interact, not only are their conversations used to cement John’s intense loyalty to his own wife and family, but Bonnie’s loneliness, not for mere male companionship, but to have someone around who’s at least a match for her spirit. Like most of the characters in Red Dead Redemption, fate dealt Bonnie a difficult hand, but her failed attempt to find happiness with John doesn’t lead to obsession or tragedy. It doesn’t even get her down for very long.
Best Game of 2010: Heavy Rain (Seth)
There is a scene in Heavy Rain where you, as one of the game’s four player characters, make a plate of eggs for a secondary character that has visited his apartment/office in a state of emotional distress. It’s not an event which will shape the fate of the game’s hunt-for-a-serial killer storyline, or even a mildly plot critical event, but you might find yourself carefully following the on screen prompts because you just simply want to. Despair already permeates the world of Heavy Rain, an ‘interactive drama’ where life and death decisions are mixed in with the mundane, and needless cruelty or thoughtlessness just plain feels wrong. Unlike a lot of games that claim to expand your gameplay choices with false morality path dialog options that ultimately lead to you the same place, choices in Heavy Rain have permanent storyline implications, including character death. Visually and audibly, the game couldn’t be much sharper without being done in FMV, and even the loading screens, which force you to look into the eyes of the PCs as they stare back or shift around nervously, builds their connection with the player. Accessible to anyone regardless of gaming skill level, Heavy Rain is a rare title that should be experienced by anyone interested in seeing not what a game should be, or will be but just what a game can be.
Best Game of 2010: Mass Effect 2 (Lucas)
42 hours first playthrough. Two more plays. Extensive story-based DLC. Deep relationships, amazing sets and alien races, tense decision-making and high-octane shootouts. A story that pulls you along for the nearly two full days it takes to play it, and makes it feel like you just watched a two hour movie instead. This is the best game of the year on so many levels, with fantastic, easy-to-access gameplay, a near-perfect story, amazing sound and visuals, it hits all the notes necessary for an awesome video game. BSG fans going through withdrawals? Play Mass Effect 2. Star Wars fans feel a hole in your life only a solid video game can fill? Play Mass Effect 2. Person who lives on planet Earth and breathes? Play Mass Effect 2. This is the best game of 2010, and for those who haven't played it yet (like you PS3'ers) you have your chance now, with a new release in January for Sony's console, and the trilogy's finale coming next fall.What were your favorite games of 2010?