December 31, 2010

My Favorite Games of 2010

I bet you're sick of seeing this headline, eh? I wasn't going to write this, but there were two catalysts that finally pushed me to do so.
  1. I'm tired of seeing Red Dead Redemption not only make every list, but top most of them.
  2. At dinner the other night, my girlfriend revealed that she had kept a list of every new restaurant we had tried in 2010. It was awesome to look back and see everything we'd eaten, all the places we've been. I wanted a similar experience for my see what I really like most.

Red Dead Redemption...
Red Dead Redemption is a beautiful game that perfectly captures the western spirit. Its controls are tight, the world detailed and brilliant, and the story (at least as far as I experienced) really top notch. But, in my opinion, those things don't excuse the game's faults. 

It was insanely repetitive. The mission structure just wasn't varied and after about 9 hours it wasn't much fun anymore. I finally snapped on the ferry to Mexico when I sat on the boat and literally shot about 100 Mexican banditos, or roughly 25% of the entire population of Mexico. It just kept going, and going, and going.

I grew tired of having to ride 5 minutes to every mission. I was exasperated with riding along the road only to get ambushed by one of their dynamic events (which were awesome in concept) and I'd die before I could get my gun out. And then I'd have to do the previously mentioned ride all over again. I also hated, hated the characters in their side quests. It was this juvenile romp to find the most craven, disgusting, wretched characters that could have ever existed in the time period and put them all in the same place. Seth Briars? The old man who was gathering flowers for his dead wife, still in her rocking chair? It got old. 

Most disappointingly for me, at least, the multiplayer failed entirely to live up to its promises. I watched this video and assumed there'd be a vibrant world with tons of players, quests, events, and objectives. In reality, the world had nothing to do (except the same challenges from single-player, though they didn't carry over) and was just a gank fest. 

I have a ton of friends who have offered counters to every point I listed. Even when listening and taking advantage of those, I still didn't care enough to keep playing. I was bored and I sold it to a co-worker.

As for my list...
When people ask me what my favorite games are, I almost always reply with "Strategy" and "RPGs." Yet, in the year Starcraft II came out I didn't play a single game of multiplayer and my experience left me largely with a thought of "yeah, it was fun." I never even played my copy of Civilization V. Hmmm. 

Some good RPGs came out this year, but they won't make my list. I really enjoyed Mass Effect 2. In fact, it was vastly improved over its predecessor, but not game of the year. I also enjoyed Dragon Age: Awakenings, the expansion pack on the original title. Also, not game of the year. Fable 3 left me very disappointed

When I look back and think about the games that really stood out to me, the games I played over and over, they are all competitive shooters. More specifically, team-based (i.e. not lone wolf Halo or Call of Duty), objective-based, class-based shooters. There are some games I'll list outside this group that are also my favorite games of 2010, but it was interesting for me when I realized that I've been classifying myself entirely incorrectly all along.

Favorite Games, in no particular order...

Minecraft: Something need doing?

I really love Minecraft. I haven't played it in a bit, but I will definitely go back when Notch and his team get closer to finishing the game. 

Minecraft is everything I loved about Legos as a kid. Minecraft is incredibly difficult, and therefore all the sweeter when you figure out the strategy to survive, find your base, and prosper. I found myself building everything without cutting any corners. Massive tunnel networks for my trains, towers from which to shoot monsters, mining shafts, naval bases, and weekend getaways. 

It is also insanely fun to play with others, to glorify in your accomplishments. I have written several blog posts showing off things like the Death Star we made, a tour of our world, and more. I love seeing what the community has created and I love sharing stories. Never has a Penny Arcade been more true, at least from my perspective, than their Minecraft series:

Notch has sold 900,000 units of Minecraft. I hope he sells 5 Million more. But more importantly, I hope he makes his next game, and I hope he does it quickly.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Let's make a moment

If you've followed Battlefield and its press releases/producer interviews over the years, you'll see them use the phrase "Battlefield Moments" over and over again. As someone who has had to use such phrases for my many game press interviews, these usually turn my stomach. But Battlefield Moments is a precise, spot on, and perfectly apt buzz phrase.

Before we get much further, let's completely ignore the single player. It's not fun. 

My favorite Battlefield moment was one night when my entire team of 12 was comprised of real life friends, all chatting together with voice chat. We were paired up against a team that undoubtedly was not comprised of 12 chatting friends, and therefore we were crushing them. Two of us had been drinking quite heavily in our respective apartments. With a drunkard's bravado, we decided to finally try our hand at piloting. I took the side gunner's position and my friend directed our wobbly helicopter towards the enemy position.

It was hilarious. We lit up the other team and absolutely wasted them. They were not able to mount a single notion of air defense and we kept shooting them, laughing manically the entire time. It was a great moment in gaming and just one of many with this game.

Bad Company 2 brought back the Medic class. There is something magical about standing amidst bullets, artillery, and armored destruction and reviving your entire squad to take the point from the enemy team. I love how at the end of a round, the destructible buildings reveal an absolute waste that you barely survived. The set of well-balanced classes, combined with unlocks for all and vehicles means you can always play differently. 

I find that every Battlefield gives me something new to enjoy. I need to pick up the Vietnam expansion and I wholeheartedly look forward to the fabled Battlefield 3. This is, and has been, my favorite franchise since Battlefield 2.

Team Fortress 2: We must poosh leetle cart!

Wait...didn't this game come out in 2007 as a part of the awesome Orange Box from Valve? Yes! But, the game is still updated constantly  in awesome ways and I recently fell in love with it. I didn't like Team Fortress 2 much when it came out. I felt like the maps were too focused with too few chokepoints, I wasn't very good, and there was no persistence. 

Three years and hundreds of updates later, the game has tons of maps from the developers and amazing community, there are new weapons and gear for every class to change how you play, weapons drop randomly and aren't just tied to achievements, there are new game modes like Payload, player crafting and trading exists, and Valve even creates holiday events like an MMO. (Note: the two event links take you to the TF2 blog to read about them. They are very funny and worth reading)

All of this combines to make a really rich experience. I think TF2 best exemplifies my favorite aspect of class-based shooters; every class is designed for a role at which it excels and has very strong weaknesses. However, every class, in the right hands, can be changed to fit other roles and improvisation is rampant in the midst of a clutch game.

The game is also funnier than ever, with the heavy clearly the star of the show. And how many games let you be a sniper with a jar of urine to toss at opponents? Somebody even took the Yakov Smirnoff meme and applied a coat of TF2 paint to it:

I only put 10 hours into Team Fortress 2 on my first go around. In the past 2 weeks I've played over 20 hours, spent $15 on items in their in-game store, and doubled almost all of my previous best stats. Great game.

Monday Night Combat: Big publishers observe 

Monday Night Combat has a fun horde-mode style game for the more PVE inclined players. However, I fell in love with their Team Fortress 2 meets League of Legends style game mode. It's so fresh and I hope to see many more games like it. 

The premise is that you pick one of several classes, each with 3 abilities to level up and improve. You improve them with gold earned by killing enemies or assaulting their base. The ultimate goal is to escort your AI controlled robots down their lanes to enter the enemy base and destroy it. It's fast, smart, and often very funny. 

More importantly, there are several games in which I'll see a group of players use a certain "build," i.e. 3 engineers will rush, or a tank and gunner will pair up. By observing and experimenting, players are constantly coming up with new ways to attack and counter-attack the enemy team. It was incredibly satisfying when I finally figured out how to dominate the engineer trio that was beating us in under 2 minutes. 

Everyone should own this game on Xbox Live.

EVE Online: I am the catalyst of this universe

Though it seems my time with EVE Online is drawing to a close (almost 2 years with no subscription interruption), the game has really opened my eyes for interesting designs and given me some amazing moments. You either like EVE, or don't, so I'll just tell one quick story.

My small corporation decided to move into low security space, which is pirate infested and incredibly dangerous. The NPC police force known as Concord does not fly in low security space. You are alone. The reason you take on this risk is that the profit potential is exponentially better.

A corporation of Russian players called H-O-U-S-E had set up a blockade on a crucial chokepoint system and they were killing our industrial convoys. We decided to put a stop to thise. We spent a week on our forums planning the ambush, discussing the ships we would fly, the roles, and more. We observed what the pirates flew, the times they operated, and how they acted.

On a Saturday morning around 10 AM, we all met in our home system and formed a fleet. We sent our scouts forward and eventually gathered at the warp gate outside the system in which they were perched. We sent in a lone battlecruiser, designed to act as bait. They took the bait and began tearing into our battlecruiser. However, he hit one of their battleships with a warp scrambler, which prevents the pilot from escaping. Suddenly, 7 of us jumped into the system and dog piled onto the battleship -- they had taken the bait. We ended up destroying a battleship worth 250 Million ISK (the in game currency). A personal high occurred when I managed to tackle (i.e. hit with a warp scrambler) the battleship pilot's pod. After a ship is blown up, pilots eject in a pod. Tackling one is very difficult, but I managed to do it. By destroying the pod, we cost the pilot an additional 50 Million ISK in implants and cloning fees.

In the weeks that followed we destroyed several more ships of the pirates with no losses of our own. Eventually, they asked for a truce, which both sides have since observed. 

We moved to the wild west, killed the outlaws, and carved out our own territory. It was all player driven content and it was amazing. 

Bejewled Blitz: Why I hate my girlfriend

Wait...what? Oh yes! This free-to-play Facebook game (or iPhone, as I prefer) has consumed so much of my time and pride. Every week it ranks you amongst your friends who are also playing. At the end of the week, it's reset and it begins all over again. The game is so competitive, quick, and addictive that it has consumed untold hours of mine while waiting to sit in restaurants, commuting on the bus, or waiting to fall asleep in bed. 

It's also one of the only games my girlfriend plays. Not only that, she slaughters me at it. I want to beat her so badly, yet every week I fail again. She just laughs and taunts me.

But, 2011 is another year. Oh yes, it is.

What were your favorite games of 2010? Anything really surprise you?

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