Welcome to another year-end awards article with more opinions from one guy who couldn’t play everything and can’t afford a PS3, Wii, or gaming PC! This is the RedRingCircus list of games that rocked or sucked in 2009!
Games that Rocked
Assassin’s Creed II
for: Outstanding Single Player Game, Interactive Mystery
With Assassin’s Creed II, the first game’s ideas blossom into an unbelievably engrossing adventure. The beautiful rooftops and streets of Italy house enemies, fortunes, and mystery around every corner. There’s so much to do that it’s nearly impossible to put the game down. The conspiracy that pushes the plot along is left for you to discover. This creates a page-turner of a game that strings you along with compelling bits of intrigue. It’s a carrot on a stick that actually pays off – for as great as it is to leap around Venice to Jesper Kyd’s amazing soundtrack, Assassin’s Creed II will most likely be remembered for its mind-blowing ending.
for: Characters, Animation & Art Design, Soundtrack
Brutal Legend’s mad mix of open world driving, combat, and competitive action-RTS gameplay was a little too much for many people to handle. It’s experimental and a little rough around the edges. Get past that and you’re left with one of the most aesthetically pleasing video game adventures in years. Developer Double Fine’s metal world is amazingly realized and its lovable cast of characters fight and love and die in ways you’ll genuinely care about. Top that off with an epic soundtrack that’s brilliantly tied into the action and you’ve got the game of the year for metalheads and anyone who just loves a good story.
Modern Warfare 2
for: Bravado, Controls, Complete Package
Modern Warfare 2 is completely insane. It is easily one of the most exciting and overwhelming games of all time, and it manages to one-up itself from beginning to end. Thanks to perfect controls, Keith David, and some truly shocking and experimental moments in game design, MW2’s single-player is a quick and dirty home run. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg – the expansion of the original’s hectic multiplayer offers an amazing wealth of options for customizing your soldier. It’s an experience that’s challenging and rewarding, but still offers a lower barrier to entry than say, Halo 3. Top that off with a co-op mode that offers the variety of ten other game’s co-op modes, and you have a title that earns its command of millions of gamers.
for: Genre Revival
Shadow Complex doesn’t do anything particularly original. Sure you can shoot in 3D space despite being tethered to the second dimension, but that addition is more of a gimmick than anything that feels genuinely fresh. What Shadow Complex does offer is an expertly crafted exploratory side-scroller in the vein of Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and not a whole lot else. Shadow Complex won’t go down in history the same way those classics have, but it’s a rare gem to be treasured nonetheless.
I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1
for: Comedic Synesthesia
This Xbox Live Indie Game is the most fun you’ll ever have with a game for exactly thirteen minutes. It’s your basic twin-stick shooter, well designed, but nothing mind-blowing. What pushes it over the edge is that the on-screen visuals are synced up to the coolest and funniest song to grace a video game since Still Alive in Portal. The result is a mix of visual and aural stimulation that makes the action far more fun and exciting than it deserves to be.
for: Old School Charm, Soundtrack, Swinging Mechanic
Yes, that Bionic Commando. That wretched boil on Capcom’s annual report is also the game that provided me with the most simple fun this year. A little context: I really like the NES Bionic Commando and its remake, Bionic Commando Rearmed for XBLA. And I don’t like them in that rose-tinted memory sense. I played the NES game for the first time last year and it still holds up. This 3D remake takes the neon graphics, linear gameplay, catchy soundtrack, and retarded plot and adapts them with care. The world is stunningly colorful and abstract in that same way game worlds were in the 80s and 90s. The orchestrated soundtrack retains the catchy looping melodies of the original game while adding a soaring sense of excitement to swinging around with your bionic arm. Swinging past killer robots through the rainbow-colored wreckage of a nuked city, leaping through the air as the music hits its crescendo, I felt a chill down my spine that no other game this year could match.
‘Splosion Man began its life earlier in the year as a simple, charming, and challenging platformer. It had indie cred, a brilliant ending, and a catchy song about donuts. It also had a co-op mode – one that seemed amazing, but was crippled with lag. One long-awaited patch later and you have a game that defines cooperative design. Players must time their jumps together, often conducting a symphony of platforming action. There is nothing else like it, and even 4-player Super Mario Bros. feels sloppy and impure in comparison.
Dead Space Extraction
for: Reinventing the Light Gun Shooter
With Dead Space still standing as my game of the year of 2008, I had to steal someone’s Wii and see if Dead Space Extraction held up. This prequel takes the world of the original game and works it into the context of a guided, on-rails shooter experience. It’s more than just aiming at the screen and shooting – the game has you juggling melee attacks, ammo conservation, flashlight power, weapon selection, and more. The depth propels the game well beyond the brief enjoyment of House of the Dead or Time Crisis. This is an experience with interesting characters, set-pieces, and a 6-7 hour playtime. The gauntlet has been thrown down.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand
for: A Stunning Grasp of Irony, Big Ass Ramps
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a competent Gears of War clone – more importantly it features Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and his G-Unit ensemble waxing domestic on the finer points of interior decorating and architecture. The utterances of two armed gangster-rappers should not be this funny or bizarre. It’s clear that the developers and perhaps even “Fiddy” himself are in on the joke. He did have to say this ridiculous nonsense after all. Played with a co-op buddy, Blood on the Sand is this year’s most hilarious way to spend an afternoon.
Games That Sorta Missed the Point
Not bad games by any stretch, these two titles irked me in one way or another, highlighting an aspect of game design that I feel needs to change.
Street Fighter IV
for: Retaining the Hardcore Crown Through False Advertising
Street Fighter IV’s runaway success is a slap in the face to the death of fighting games. The genre has been reborn thanks to the immense popularity of this excellent and technical game. However, SFIV’s approachable rethinking of fighting games is a total sham. Its systems and technicalities are just as baffling and punitive as ever, and no attempts are made by the game to explain them to new players. Everyone is playing Street Fighter IV because of the strength of its pedigree and some brilliant moves on the part of Capcom PR. It’s a powerful shot of adrenaline, but it’s only a matter of time before people need to start seriously rethinking this genre.
for: Leaving Some Players Out of the Fun
It seems like everyone loves Borderlands. This game has had a ton of success and proved that there’s still something to a well-designed dungeon crawl. But I can’t help feeling that people love Borderlands because they love World of Warcraft. For the uninitiated, that design philosophy doesn’t fit so well into a console FPS. I found it frustrating to be inundated with boring paragraphs of text while my friends rushed ahead to kill or collect X things. The quests don’t have a ton of context, and without that the game can feel like a waste of time. On top of that it’s punishingly strict in regards to differences in level. It can be hard enough to assemble a group of like-minded friends, but making sure they’re all the same level as you is nearly impossible beyond the first day of release. Still, Gearbox has pledged to support this game for a while and the DLC releases thus far are already beginning to address these issues.
Game That Sucked
This one is actually just really bad.
for: Unrealized Potential
Sure, Ghostbusters was a pretty awful game, but it never really stood much of a chance. Scribblenauts, on the other hand, was riding high on the hopes and dreams of an entire industry. The final product, despite the cool premise, is a complete mess. Besides being broken in so many ways, the game just isn’t all that fun.