It’s that time of the year when we all start to look back at our favourite games of the year, taking stock of the incredible experiences we’ve had over the last 365 days. You’ll hear Matt and Daren’s thoughts on the subject in an upcoming podcast but for now it’s the turn of the regular contributors of Midlife Gamer to share their thoughts on what should be Game Of The Year 2010. Each contributor was asked to submit their choice for their personal GOTY plus one honourable mention highlighting a title that might not be the best game of 2010, but did something that they felt was special, with the only stipulation on the proceedings being that all games mentioned here had to see a European release this year. Without further ado then ladies and gentlemen, here are our picks for the Midlife Gamer Contributors GOTY 2010…
Antman: GOTY 2010: Mass Effect 2 – Any regular at MLG knows one thing: I am a curmudgeonly old git, always picking out the negative in everything. My glass isn’t just half empty, but smashed on the corner of the table and thrust into the eyes of a small orphan. And yet, something came along this February and melted what remained of my heart.
Allow me to start my gushing of Mass Effect 2 with the amount of polish in the game. It is the sheer conviction and confidence Bioware clearly have with the source material that lets them cram in all the little things. A sideways glance between characters, the artistic position of the camera and most importantly the gaps of silence in a conversation. These small things add up to a huge difference, lifting Mass Effect 2 right out of Uncanny Valley and into a production that puts many a Hollywood blockbuster to shame.
Heading up the stellar cast is Shepard, the Role-Player’s fantasy. Bioware surely knew that without an entirely convincing anchor to the story, if would fall short of the mark. My Shepard is a lady in charge. She has a good heart, always looking to help the unfortunate. Most of the time she will obey orders from above if they fit in with her moral code. But if you cross her she will kill you, your friends, your wife and a recently blinded orphan to get her revenge. I did not create this Shepard, merely tagged along and gave my opinion from time to time. Such is the conviction of delivery and flexibility of story that allows for all kinds of Shepards. The action was always played second fiddle for me, not that it was lacking in any way.
So, in my 30 hours with Mass Effect 2 I fell in love. In love with the rich world and back story, the freedom of true choice but I’m in love with my Shepard the most, she will always be my auburn-haired femme-fatal. Shame I couldn’t get her to dyke it off with Miranda though… *sigh*
Honourable Mention: Monster Hunter Tri – A “real” game for the Wii you scoff? Damn straight! I genuinely have trouble thinking of a game more “real” or otherwise of this magnitude on any platform. Monster Hunter Tri taps into the hardest of core concepts from the Far East. It won’t be to most people’s tastes, but those who do “get it” will instantly become big fans indeed. Imagine a simpler time, where everything you could ever need is ready to be plucked from the earth, the only things required are effort and work. Most games revolve around the progression of the lead character, either through a numerical level or gaining arbitrary abilities the further you go. If you stop and think about it though it is quite a wishy-washy “gamey” concept, you improve because the game says you are now worthy. In Monster Hunter Tri you are directly responsible for your advancement, every little piece of progress is made by you. I liken it to hammering away at an anvil, you are tempering your character through hardships, the application of heat and pressure is making him stronger. You are also tempering yourself, when the last bead of sweat drips from your brow though, you know that you have earned every bit of respect you will get. That is the most rewarding part of it all.
What fun would it be if it ended there? Virtual villagers lining up to give you a nosh out of respect and that you saved their village. Fun for awhile, but we are now hunters, it is in our blood to be out in the field. Some monsters are so gargantuan that one hunter is not enough, a party is required! Fortunately Monster Hunter Tri is furnished with a better than adequate online play mode. For over 100 hours apiece I teamed up with Hugo Rune, Guernica and Oligon. During our times we laughed, we cried and we spent a lot of time in the dressing room mulling over tiny stat changes in armour. I can honestly say I’ve made some very special friends here, and although we may have hung up our weapons for now, I know there is always a primal link between us. We were proud hunters, and this game made it possible for us.
Brendan Caldwell: GOTY 2010: Minecraft – Technically, Minecraft hasn’t been released yet. Although you can still play the alpha build. Does it still count? Of course it counts. It counts like Sesame Street puppets count. That is to say, a lot.
Minecraft took a look at the MMO and RPG genres and said, “You know what? Screw this.” Here is a game that single-handedly proves ‘grind’ doesn’t have to be boring. Progress isn’t measured by bars or experience points but by whatever items you have in your back pocket. It removes the dull, overdone “You must earn points to be good and kill things and stuff” paradigm. And it leaves only the loot. Since there are no XP Nazis barking at you to equip this helmet or that sword for +1 Eye-gouging, the items are given meaningful uses. A stone axe can chop trees down more efficiently than a wooden axe, an iron axe is better than a stone axe, the diamond axe beats all. All the tools – picks, hoes, spades, fishing rods – they all have uses beyond that of boosting your stats. And the tools are all inevitably applied to same goal: build whatever the hell you want. Instead of watching a number go up, Minecraft allows you to watch a building go up. Or a huge shaft go down, if you’re into that sort of thing. After the massive, beautiful, geologically random world is created for you, you become the sole architect. Or, if you’re playing on a multiplayer server, you become one of the architects and watch as the football stadiums, Mario murals, monster zoos and obligatory giant penises arise from the imaginations of your cohorts. That’s the beauty of Minecraft. It doesn’t merely walk the line between consumption and creation. It builds a 5-mile, solid gold aqueduct from one to the other and takes a piss on all the other lifeless MMO zombies below.
Honourable Mention: Metro 2033 – Maybe I just like being stuck in dark tunnels. Or maybe Metro 2033 had the best atmosphere of any game I’ve played this year. As a first-person shooter it was a pretty standard recipe – select your preferred meatbag, marinade with bullets. But as a narrative experience it was other-worldly. You spend genuinely terrifying hours traversing the Moscow underground, pumping your flashlight back to life with a hand-powered generator and running away from nasty things. The only thing you can look forward to at the next settlement are mixed feelings. Relief at the prospect of safety in numbers (Christ, the crowds they can squeeze into these places) and unease about how they are going to receive you.
The pessimistic, downtrodden human netherworld of Metro 2033 is the antithesis of Fallout’s humorous, twisted wasteland. It actually excels because of the corridor shooter format. 4A Games went to work on a single train line and they created the most finely detailed and atmospheric road trip game since Half Life 2. The characters are completely unlike the robotic, wandering characters of Fallout 3 or New Vegas. They’re human beings, so busy trying to survive that they’ve forgotten the very concept of the pursuit of happiness. Something scary and compelling that could never happen in an American wasteland.
Dan Frost: GOTY 2010: Heavy Rain – My vote for Game of the Year 2010 is Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain. I don’t consider myself to be a hardcore gamer and a lot of the time when I’m gaming alone it can be quite a passive experience, movies and excellent television will stay with me and leave me thinking but generally, other than a select few (Metal Gear Solid I’m looking at you!) when I switch off that’s exactly what I do, switch off.
Heavy Rain however is an altogether different beast, I would not class this title as a ‘game’, I don’t feel like I’m ‘playing’ it or that I’ve won or lost, it is a title simply to be experienced. I finished the game many months ago and as yet I have not been tempted back for more, usually this may well be a sign of a poor game but the reason behind my neglect is that I feel I have had my experience, director David Cage said that it was meant to be a title you only played once, and I’d agree, for me a second or third visit would only cheapen my initial experience, the joy of Heavy Rain is not knowing who or what to trust.
So what is it that made this game so special? For me I love it when people try something new and innovative, regardless of how successful it turns out to be and one point no-one can argue with when it comes to Heavy Rain is its innovation, whether it’s the gorgeous film noir look, the emotional, exciting and at times frightening plot or the control system that makes the slightest move an act of intricate precision, it oozes innovation right up to the precipice of excess without ever quite tipping over the edge.
Honourable Mention: Tilt To Live – The game I’d like to give a special mention to didn’t actually appear on any of the big consoles and only cost £1.79, my special mention game for 2010 is Tilt to Live on the iPhone. Many people still think that the iPhone is not a valid gaming platform as it lacks a number of fundamental elements of modern day gaming, for example the lack of physical controls or the lack of multiplayer, but for each of these elements Tilt to Live has a technique to combat those arguments.
Lets start with the controls, or lack thereof as Tilt to Live utilises the iPhone’s accelerometer and is controlled by the movement of the device, this has to be hands down the best use of the accelerometer I have yet to experience on the iPhone and creates a fantastic gaming experience. As for the gameplay Tilt to Live is one of the most addictive games I’ve played and has that horrible knack for making you think ‘just one more go before I finish’ (that one more go often becomes 20!). For a platform with a high turnover of games, the fact that this remains a regular title is testament to how well it plays.
But these elements are not why I have chosen this as my special mention, the way in which Tilt to Live utilises multiplayer is the single reason why this game deserves to be recognised, not only are the leaderboards easy to navigate, but more so than any other iPhone title it creates a sense of competition among friends, so when I have that ‘one last go’ not only am I trying to beat my high score, but I’m looking to stay off the bottom of the leaderboard, after all I do have my gaming dignity to hold on to.
Greg Giddens: GOTY 2010: Mass Effect 2 - It’s all about the story with me. Passive or interactive media that pulls me into a wondrous universe that I want to see more of, with character a want to know more and actually care about will always impress me the most, and This year Mass Effect 2 scratched that itch.
I simply couldn’t put it down. hours and hours of content with beautifully written and delivered dialogue, exciting and exhilarating combat and a deep and highly detailed universe made my time with Mass Effect 2 some of the best hours of the year, dare I say of my life. It’s truly magnificent storytelling with a structure that, despite it fantastical sci-fi setting is believable and immersive.
It also made strides in improving the experience beyond the original. Elements that proved to bog down the flow were eliminated, equipment inventory I’m looking at you, and the dodgy vehicle sections were omitted from the main story and kept as optional side missions through DLC. It’s Bioware paying attention to their fans and analysing their games correctly; there’s no resting on laurels here, and it a refreshing and highly respectable practice that more developers should take note of.
The story itself continued the gripping tale from the previous game, exploring the Reapers and the races of the council further. The quality of each races backstory is sublime, once immersed this quality and quantity of detail makes it tangible and interesting, and with humanity now playing a far larger role in council matters, it’s delightful to see how humanities greed for control and power affects their relationship with the other, more established, races. Outside of the main story where Sheperd is gaining strength and knowledge to repel the Reapers, there’s a whole host of additional stories going on in the background that you occasionally find yourself passing through. It’s a living breathing world and for these reasons of masterful storytelling, Mass Effect 2 is my game of the year.
Honourable Mention: Dead Rising 2 – The premise alone makes the Dead Rising series a star in my eyes. Thanks to a design that allows you to choose how you wish to play, it’s like playing your very own personal zombie apocalypse. Dead Rising 2 continues this trend of surviving being your primary goal but with the addition of an infected daughter character to care for, and it achieves a bond between you and the daughter character effortlessly. You feel compelled to save her and the experience benefits from this greatly. Several improvements over the original, such as the difficulty curve are addressed and the joy of zombie slaughter has never been more fun thanks to the ‘use anything and build your own’ weapons. I keep coming back to this and I can’t wait until the DLC arrives.
Matt Pitman: GOTY 2010: Mass Effect 2 – Ah, 2010. Like a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, for many of us this year has been a case of strict rationing and grabbing only what we can carry (or in this case, afford). Keeping our wits about us, we’ve been sticking to what we consider sure things, leaving unproven titles we’d have hoovered up in times of plenty by the wayside. So it is fitting, then, that for me this year’s triumph in essential gaming was none other than… wait, Mass Effect 2? Oh, all right then. Way to spoil a perfectly good article intro, Bioware!
In all seriousness, I was ready to give Fallout: New Vegas my top ranking for 2010 before I even bought the game. It was, after all, the follow-up to my most-played and beloved title of 2008. It had an exciting setting, more weapons, a hardcore mode and faction reputations that allowed you to complete the game in a multitude of ways. Sadly, there was something – besides the ludicrous number of bugs, glitches and broken quests – stopping me from making NV my GOTY. Something intangible that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. An… invisible wall, if you will. Or lots of invisible walls. Everywhere.
Mass Effect 2 was another sequel borne of excellent pedigree. I thoroughly enjoyed the original game, with its superb balance of story, character development, action-packed battles and exploration of side-content. The second game builds on the momentum of the first, propelling us headlong into the action.
The game encourages us to invest our emotions into those under our command, allowing you to tour your ship and converse with everyone from the pilot to the ship’s cook. As the story progresses there is the very real danger that any one of these people might die, but your actions and decisions allow you to do the very best you can to protect them. Each of the squad members you can recruit in your journey has a rich, layered history and a well-defined personality. From the avenging spiritualist to the blood-thirsty berserker, it is difficult not to respect each of them for their beliefs, even if you openly disagree with them. It’s up to you how much you use each of the support team, but your actions and the extent to which you explore each character’s side missions will have a deeply meaningful effect on their fates.
Once again, Bioware has woven a superlative story in a universe of staggering breadth. Some of the features of the first game were removed or altered, and while it’s disappointing that you can no longer explore the surface of planets on a lunar buggy, much of the additional content more than makes up for that loss. That Bioware has released a considerable amount of worthwhile DLC this year only serves to cement Mass Effect 2′s position as the finest, richest and most rewarding gaming experience of 2010.
Honourable Mention: Minecraft – I can’t finish an article about 2010 in gaming without bringing up Minecraft. By now I suspect Minecraft has come close to matching ME2 in terms of sheer hours that I’ve played it, but as it stands currently the game is still in alpha development (Beta as of later this month) and as such I don’t think it’s quite eligible for GOTY yet. Minecraft has proven that you don’t need flashy graphics, a huge marketing budget or even – as yet – a plot, to create a gaming phenomenon. With more features and conventional gaming structure being added in the new year, it’s safe to say that Markus Persson’s baby could be an early contender for GOTY 2011.
Sam Turner: GOTY 2010: Red Dead Redemption – I have never been a fan of Grand Theft Auto. Maybe it was constant mindless violence, the lawless city or the way that your character ran around the screen. Something for me never really clicked, a boundless world without rules is sometimes not the most enjoyable. Red Dead Redemption though seemed to change all of that. For once you were rewarded for upholding the law. People only feel the sharp end of a bullet if they are holding someone in desperate peril or threatening your own path of justice. Paced like a good western should be, the moments in between the fights are just as beautiful and endearing as the smoke filled revolvers curling round a victorious trigger finger. The world around you is also so finally tuned that the first time you sit down to a campfire story and you hear that it is full of your own exploits you quiver with delight. It is this shift in emphasis from Rockstar that I admired most this year, a bountiful landscape filled with a gravitating emptiness.
When you play Red Dead Redemption you feel masterful on your horse yet vulnerable from the depth and nature of the world around you. It is a world that threatens and embraces at the same time. Where you hold on to what you have, where a steed is a companion to be loved from colt to carrion, and where a game of Poker can reveal more of the world around you than any of the plot itself. Red Dead Redemption is the game of the year, because not many would have Jose Gonzales plucking astride the mountains of Mexico whilst the sun cascades in between and have the judgement to make it one of the most heartfelt moments of the last twelve months.
Honourable Mention: Joe Danger – Any game that I can compare to the feeling you get when sniffing an empty packet of Tic Tacs certainly deserves nothing more than this mention. The first game from indie company Hello Games, Joe Danger reeks of style and sophistication. No game this year has really flowed in the way Joe Danger has, and I have spent more time with this title than probably any other. It is as addictive as it is innocent in its presentation of fun and fortitude and not many other titles have gone so far out of their way to make a game that mechanically is close to perfection. Everything just feels right with Joe Danger, and for an independent and debut title Hello Games should be proud that during this year it has proved that sometimes video games are all about enjoying an experience that is both effervescent and exhilarating.
Xero: GOTY 2010: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle – Without doubt the best made ‘art game’ this year, NMH2:DS takes the fundamental core concepts of the original and refines them, doing away with much of the busy work found in the first trip round Santa Destroy and instead streamlining the experience for a more focused story of greed, revenge and decapitations. Goichi Suda’s trademark exploration of games as a medium, inclusion of some pretty heavy subtext and fascination with punk returns, but stronger, dissecting the acceptance of violence and sexualisation of women within a counter-culture of game players. Some of the best use of camera work within games, vivid colours and 8-bit flourishes as well as an abundance of minute detail go to give No More Heroes real personality and warmth, leaving a distinct and lasting impression.
Though the pure mechanics of the game can – at times – be testing, there’s a feeling that every flaw and odd decision was put in on purpose as an artistic statement, as opposed to an oversight by Grasshopper Manufacture. One particular area of the game is an unwieldy platforming section with a control scheme not built for such precise character movement and it feels like a chore to reach the end of the level. The character, from a narrative perspective, is supposed to be nimble and light on her feet, so to have the only platforming in the game appear here is more about message than implementing an awkward new type of play. A riot of a game from brutal start to open end, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is accessible art for the gaming masses and is consequently my unequivocal GOTY.
Honourable Mention: Medal Of Honor – Why this game didn’t pick up better scores when it came to review I will never know, Medal Of Honor is absolutely this year’s best shooter in terms of presenting a truly naturalistic war experience. Though critics have pointed to it as lacking the bombastic notes of the latest Call Of Duty games, it never struck me as setting out to be such a title. Playing as an elite group of Tier-1 operators should feel subtle and guided and the new MOH does this fantastically. The story is the biggest draw, with moments of intensity having real clout as opposed to Modern Warfare’s constant thrill ride of bigger and bigger jumps over the shark. Finally, this game’s ending is wonderfully ambiguous, a combination of pride and regret that never quite settles on a definitive statement towards the war against terror, leaving the player asking whether their actions had effect in relation to the bigger picture, a thought that lasts well after the credits roll.
That’s the writer’s opinions, what are yours? Let us know in the Midlife Gamer Forums right here.