Yes, contrary to popular belief, the TotalPlayStation staff does own systems other than the PS2, PS3, and PSP (well, in the interests of full disclosure, Marc doesn’t have a PlayStation Portable, but he thinks that’s an eminently understandable decision) – and, what’s more, they actively play and even enjoy quite a few games on them, as well (except for Ryan, that is; he suffers from quite a bad bout of acute Fanboyitis. Yes, our prayers are also with him).
Sharp-eyed readers will notice some fancy new titles for some of us editors. No, they’re not typos; this is all part of refining our editorial structure, which is part of refining TPS, which is part of – ultimately – the grand site redesign that has been in the works for the past several months.
Consider it a little sampling of 2011 while we digest the best of 2010…
Now that we’re at the end of January, it’s definitely time to take a look back at 2010 and see which games held our attention, kept us up late at night, and constantly amazed us with their awesomeness. However, instead of the traditional formula, let’s not focus on the sweetness of the PlayStation from last year (blasphemy, you say?!). Instead, what non-PlayStation games were at the top of your list? Was Epic Mickey full of awesomesauce? Did Fable III romance and entertain you? Did you max out your vocabulary with Super Scribblenauts?
I’ll kick it off with a game that was so excellent, that PS users will be able to experience it in the first weeks of 2011. Mass Effect 2 was a great game, which took much of the original and improved on many of the gameplay mechanics and storyline to create an engaging adventure in the cold recesses of space. Thankfully, the horrible driving on planets was jettisoned in favor of planet scanning (which again is a questionable feature, but more controllable). But the commander and his ragtag group of soldiers, scientists, and misfits still manage to get the job done in the end, and the option to have many decisions that were made from the first game impact the sequel was fantastic. I’m looking forward to taking on the third chapter this holiday season eagerly.
So, how about it – what games fired you up from last year?
Marc N. Kleinhenz
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first, shall we? I really enjoyed Halo: Reach (as did Dave Clayman, whom I interviewed on the subject), even though I felt some of its narrative components were a bit on the flaccid end of the spectrum.
On the flip side, I thought Alan Wake was a blast in terms of story but predictable in the gameplay department.
Super Meat Boy and Limbo were terrific in fundamentally different ways, GoldenEye – or what little I played of it – was all right, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn was like my first girlfriend: cute and fun but shallow.
Oh – and I can’t seem to put Halo: Wars down no matter what I do…
There was a pair of games on the Xbox 360 that resonated with me this year. Both Deadly Premonition and, as Marc already mentioned, Alan Wake paid homage to one of my favorite television programs of all time, Twin Peaks (especially DP). Both games contained myriad gameplay “quirks,” for lack of a more graceful word (especially DP), but also deep, rich, and – yes – quirky stories (especially DP, naturally). I loved the atmosphere and emotion in the two towns that are central to each game, and if it wasn’t for this pair of offbeat adventures (and Limbo, of course), I might not have turned my Xbox on this year. I know Deadly Premonition had its share of detractors out there, but I can overlook the tepid-at-best combat system for Swery’s smart, witty, and borderline-actionable David Lynch tribute.
I have to say that my loyalty to PlayStation is pretty solid – so much so, that I don’t always get a chance to play other games for other systems. The consequences of this are that I don’t often “discover” games for other systems until they’ve already been out for a disturbing period of time. That being said, and I know Aram already mentioned it, but Limbo really got my attention. The atmosphere in that game was amazing, which is funny to say because of its understated graphics and simplicity. But despite being black-and-white and 2D, Limbo managed to create enough atmosphere that, at certain points, you really didn’t want to move forward anymore – there was a genuine pang of fear there.
On a more whimsical note, I personally discovered Pokemon at the beginning of last year. Yes… I already hear most of you groaning. But it’s addictive. And that’s, perhaps, the most fascinating part. Think about it: the premise behind the game is flimsy at best, but you can’t help yourself from wanting to catch, train, and breed these cute little monsters. And with the new Pokemon game on its way out (both the Black and White versions), I can’t help but be excited despite my fanboy-esque devotion to PlayStation.
The only non-Sony game I even got this year that was any good was Halo: Reach. It probably stands out so much because it is the only good Halo game that came out since the original. A Halo game with an (overall) good story? Containing (something close to) character development? Show Spartans as vulnerable people and not super apes? The game runs well and is the best game Bungie has ever released. It is a shame it is wasted on the Xbox community.
But, really, what else came out that was good? Everything else mentioned so far didn’t do it for me, especially Limbo (not to call you out, Andy; I mean to call you out, Marc). Of all of the non-Sony-exclusives, the really good ones were third-party titles, so I can’t really count them. That and I didn’t play too many games on the other platforms.
I guess if I had to pick it, it would be StarCraft II. It turns out I really don’t like StarCraft games anymore, but it was all right. It took too long to get into the story, and the multiplayer is at a level where you have to care to enjoy it (so that is out). Did the iPhone version of CivRev come out in 2010? That game rules all y’all fools.
Sir Gordon Wheelmeier
I think that what we’re seeing this year is a bunch of great stuff that didn’t release in 2010 because MS and Sony were so involved in getting the Move and Kinect to market. If that’s true – that is, great non-motion-centric games were scheduled for 2011 early on from a marketing standpoint to leave room for the motion titles, thereby giving them extra development time – then we’d actually owe a bit of 2011‘s awesomeness to last year’s (boring) motion control battles.
Or it could simply be because Sony tends to give its development houses the time they need to make great games rather than rush them to market, and they just all happened to be ready this year.
I’m actually inclined to believe it’s a little bit of both columns…
I could go on about the awesome multi-console releases I enjoyed (*cough, cough* Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow *cough, cough*), but in the spirit of non-PS fare, here goes.
Top of my list: Mass Effect 2. This game has the best narrative structure I’ve played in any videogame I can recall (though I look back fondly on MGS3’s). Aside from the game’s many amazing features (near-perfect fusion of quality gameplay/graphics, interactive character development/customization, and rich and multi-faceted story), it is constructed in highly-manageable mission chunks with consistent rising action-climax-descending action – a formula often used for character missions, I noticed – making each sit-down with the game memorable, fun, and exciting. Scanning planets got old, to be fair, but hearing Mordin sing Gilbert and Sullivan ranks among my “best moments of 2010″ – worth the price of admission.
Alan Wake surprised me; it somehow managed to captivate my attention above that of Red Dead Redemption at launch, primarily because of its success at embracing its subject matter in an earnest, multimedia-oriented fashion, which – for lack of a better reference – reminded me of Enter the Matrix. I remember watching the “Bright Falls” viral videos – painfully released only one at a time – hoping, like Twin Peaks, to gain some insight into the mystery of Alan Wake, even before the game came out. And the collector’s edition; frankly, if you didn’t get this, you missed out, for no better reason than the amazing Alan Wake Files work of fiction-within-fiction. This rare work of love is a hardcover book (roughly 144 pages) written in the voice of a fictional author, documenting the last known whereabouts of the titular character, one of his pursuers, and the mystery behind the town of Bright Falls itself. All of these elements merge into one overarching saga that expands beyond the sum of its parts, and – like every great mystery – leaves you desperate for answers you’ll never get.
I would certainly acknowledge Limbo and Super Meat Boy as achievements (no pun intended) for the well-structured gaming service that Xbox Live Arcade is. The games ooze nostalgia but wear it with pride. Limbo brought back to mind that silent protagonists – I think of Gordon Freeman here – can be effective at allowing the player to project his/her emotions into the scene, rather than being JRPG-born, ellipsis-churning mannequins; for a game primarily concerned with creeping you out, it is eerily effective in this capacity. And Super Meat Boy has become my addiction these cold winter nights, its manic levels haunting me, evoking a mantra of “I know I can beat this level!” as it hones my reflexes bit by barely noticeable bit.
Lastly, I would be remiss to neglect a sweet little B-lister that captivated my heart with its unabashedly Japanese sensibilities: Deathsmiles. Aksys games – whom I would consider the second coming of Working Designs, for their love of sweet “omake” – even released the game with its fantastic soundtrack and a (now-defunct) Xbox 360 faceplate, featuring the darling gothic lolis. But even with all the sweet swag packed in, the game is an excellent and challenging shmup, reminiscent of those quarter-gobbling arcade games that made pizza places have to stock up on extra change back in the ‘90s. It’s cute, packed with great music and level design, and just good-natured fun.
The first big game of 2010 for me was Mass Effect 2. It was a big improvement in every way over the first game, and I am really looking forward to Mass Effect 3. All of the DLC that BioWare created for it was also amazing and added a lot of extra hours to an already long and rich game. I liked the way the character interaction worked, and the more streamlined RPG and combat systems were very well-done; it felt like an improvement over the original while not dumbing it down, which is what a lot of sequels end up doing.
Red Dead Redemption was the second big game of the year for me. The huge, wide-open game world was beautiful – easily one of the best-looking console games to date. And although I had a lot of complaints about the reliability of the multiplayer component, the single player was top notch; it had a very long storyline that covered most of the game world and offered plenty to do in-between, as well. It didn’t at all feel like Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West, which I really appreciated.
StarCraft II was the biggest out of everything this year. This game is absolutely perfect, and Blizzard again proves that they are grandmasters at their craft: stunning graphics, amazing single-player campaign, and multiplayer that doesn’t get any more perfect. It’s a very well-balanced and competitive game. I almost enjoy watching StarCraft II more then I enjoy playing it; the tournaments that take place worldwide are something else to watch. The professionals that have made a living out of playing StarCraft have proven that this is the best real-time strategy game, and nothing else can even come close to matching its complexity and depth.
If I can be different for a minute, I would also like to talk about a game that caused a lot of disappointment, too. I had been waiting over four years for Final Fantasy XIII, and while I put over 90 hours into the game, I still left it feeling very unsatisfied. The incoherent storyline; awful dialogue; simplified, dumbed-down combat system; lackluster upgrade system; pointless grinding; and a terrible balance left this game feeling like it was an experiment gone horribly wrong. It was also the start of a bigger problem, what I feel is the downfall of Square Enix in terms of quality control. They used to release some fantastic games, but, in the last two years or so, they have just continually dropped the ball. FFXIII really failed to please a lot of fans – and let’s not even get into Final Fantasy XIV.
There were two games that have already been mentioned that also stood out to me – while StarCraft II seemed to take forever to come out, I found it to be worth the wait. Like Kyle, I liked the single-player story a lot, and, like Ryan, I found the multiplayer to be where the majority of my time was spent once the single-player experience was long gone. I also found Super Meat Boy to be lots of fun in a fast-twitch, perfect-timing sort of way.
But that kind of highlights much of my focus this past year – I dove back into PC gaming wholeheartedly. It wasn’t hard to see why, given this past year, either, but I’ll mention a few fun highlights: the release of a new Sid Meier’s Civilization game is practically a holiday for my wife and me, and Civ V was no exception. I probably played it for two weeks straight, creating every strategy that I could imagine to dominate the world.
As much as I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t do it, I also found myself diving into Puzzle Quest 2 once again and getting stuck in the Bejeweled-style gameplay. Then again, I could say the same thing when Bejeweled 3 came out – yeah, yeah, I know, they’ve got casual gameplay that isn’t necessarily as involved as a shooter or strategy game, but considering that one of the RTS games that I had been waiting for was a huge disappointment (C&C4 and EA, I’m talking to you – that was a horrible ending to a great franchise), I’d rather spend the time with a casual game than get let down again.