Grant's Game of the Year Picks! (in no real order)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of the best games I've played in years. It also almost single-handedly justified my Playstation 3. The sequel is overall a better, prettier, and more awesome experience.
Obvious highlights include the stunning visuals. Furthermore, the visuals that span a lot of distinct locations. You're in the icy mountains, ruins, and caves of Nepal, the more temperate plains below the extreme mountains, jungles, Turkey -- the game looks phenomenal everywhere. Most games just nail one visual style. This one rocks about 5.
I also love the story and all of its components. The dialog and plot are simply a lot of fun. The voice actors are perfectly chosen and the motion capture during cinematics is some of the best I've seen. It also helps that the game so naturally drifts between cinematic and gameplay. You never get tired of watching anything.
Aside from the tighter gunplay, my favorite part of the game is how they have re-defined "quick time moments." In the past, developers would make cinematics interactive by adding knee-jerk button presses. Lately, these have become "so not cool." Naughty Dog takes these types of moments and integrates them into the normal game. My favorite example has me sliding off a large slab of Nepalese ruins that is collapsing. While I'm sliding, I'm trying to shoot a mercenary (also on the slab) before he kills my love interest. That's awesome.
EVE Online didn't come out this year, but I started playing it this year. Seeing as how the game is constantly tweaked and iterated upon, I feel that it's new enough to deserve a spot.
EVE isn't so much an awesome game to play as it's an awesome game to think about. I have had a lot more fun discussing EVE than I have playing EVE. That's weird, I know. But no other game lets me have long debates over whether I should do Covert Ops (cloaking, scanning, infiltration) or mining. Or, go straight for the battleship juggernaut vs. being a small scale fighter jock. It's an entire universe of possibility.
My hopes for 2010 is that I find a nice casual player corporation and I finally get to join in on the war, risk, and economy I hear so much about.
This was the best real-time strategy game I played this year. Granted, you may be saying, "but Grant, it was the only real-time strategy game this year." True! But, despite the baggage of being a console RTS Halo Wars is truly a great RTS experience.
I loved the controls so much that I didn't think about them. They just worked. Unlike other developers who have tried to shove a PC RTS onto a console, Ensemble designed Halo Wars from the ground up to be experienced with the controller. Instead of precise unit placement, you can rely on the tanks, fighters, and marines to do their jobs. Special abilities like rockets and super strikes are mapped to a button and brought forward in the UI. Waypoints are easily set, and the game automatically uses presets like your base, largest troop contingents, and more to let you jump around.
Co-op is where the game really shined. Outside of skirmish mode co-op really hasn't been done for RTS games. C&C Red Alert 3 did it really well, but Halo Wars did it better. My preferred division of labor was for me to handle base building, unit construction, logistics, and research while my friend commanded the front lines. I kept feeding him troops and he would take the fight to the enemy. So much fun!
The game is a great entry into the Halo universe, especially with their incredibly sharp cutscenes. My hope is that the new teams that formed with the closure of Ensemble are hired to make a sequel.
I hope this game gives Gearbox the autonomy and respect they deserve. Borderlands is just such a great game if you like shooting things, loot, role-playing games, gorgeous art styles, or co-op.
The game is so simple that I'm surprised nobody has nailed it before. It's a very good Halo-esque first person shooter. The skill trees add ways to make your character far more interesting. My soldier evolved into a medic, whereas my siren became this beacon of death. Every time I killed an enemy I ran 50% faster and lit everything around me on fire. That's just cool.
Conversely, previous attempts (Mass Effect) would level you up by making your guns actually useable. My sniper in Mass Effect wielded his weapon like an alcoholic until halfway through the game. That isn't satisfying progression.
After 2 1/2 playthroughs of the game, 4 characters (one at level 50), tons of co-op, and 100% of achievements earned for both the base game and DLC, I can safely say I love Borderlands. It's amazing bang for the buck.
League of Legends is so amazingly simple to pick up, yet so incredibly deep to master. It's the retail release built by the guys who made one of the most popular mods of all time: Defense of the Ancients (Warcraft 3 Mod). The game combines competitive RPG action, some RTS flavors, loot, and skill building.
The real meat are its 40+ champions from which to choose. Each one offers a different experience. There are ranged champions, healers, stealth fighters (i.e. assholes), tanks, dudes with cannons, mages, and more. It's the ultimate buffet. Unlike other class games where I typically settle on just one or two, I'm constantly changing my champion for League of Legends.
At $30 it's a fantastic value. Hell, you can play the game indefinitely for free (with a far more limited roster of champions). You can even take the free version and buy champions a la carte. I feel like this is easily one of the best values of the year.
Other Fun Games
Modern Warfare 2 is really great. Short, but essentially perfect in its execution. It's really good.
I've just begun Assassin's Creed 2 but it's great so far. I have high expectations.
Torchlight. It's $20 and basically cocaine. I dare you to find cocaine that cheap.
Halo 3: ODST had a lot of great levels and a fun story. Co-op on legendary is always a blast and Firefight took Horde mode to excellent new heights.
Battlefield 1943 is the best parts of Battlefield distilled, tweaked, and perfected. 3 amazing maps for only $15?
A Kingdom for Keflings is Ninja Bee's latest XBL Arcade title. I try to buy all their games b/c they are so much fun. Kingdom is a city builder where your avatar is a giant building a community for the Keflings. Love it.