The Best of 2010

January 3, 2011

This is a hard post to write, as I was spectacularly out of commission for a lot of 2010. Last game I really played before I got sick was the epic Just Cause 2. The first game I really played after I got home was Halo Reach. I will forever be bitter about the fact that I bought Halo ODST and received free access to the Halo Reach beta, only for me to be laying dying in hospital when it was going on. Frustrating. Also frustrating is that I bought MLB 2K10 right before I wound up in hospital, and my relief pitching career has languished ever since.

In short, it was a weird gaming year for me. For example I had pre-ordered Out of the Park Baseball 11 in February. I never actually got to see it until August, let alone play it. Something I’ve still not done as much of as I would like. (I create fictional baseball universes. Why? Because I’m 6’8″ of nerd driven goodness. That’s why!) Yet I will probably still pre-order this years version, because I’ve supported Markus since Out of the Park 3!

Of course even though I was benched for a good half a year, there was still gaming goodness to be had and fortunately, in the case of one game it got me before the pancreatitis did.

My overall game of the year would have to be Just Cause 2 on the Xbox 360. A game which very nearly lived up to its absurdly awesome advertising campaign. Not a claim many games can make.

www.totalvideogamesThe game gives you an open world from the start, with no idiotic restrictions like another well known open world game routinely does. *cough*gta*cough* You can explore all you want. Don’t even have to advance the plot. Just nick vehicles, cause a bit of chaos, earn money to pay for other items to cause even more chaos with.

The game isn’t without its flaws. The difficulty of the enemy forces starts to become quite tedious after a while. At first they’re little more than an annoyance that are fun to taunt. Sadly though they quickly upgrade and you’re soon having heavy ordnance lobbed at your head with depressing regularity. This sucks a lot of the fun out of the game as you start to have be more strategic and careful. in a game like this, that had the potential to be so much fun without getting bogged down in all that nonsense it’s a bit disappointing. What’s interesting is you see none of these units anywhere in game really, right up until the moment they start blowing you to hell. Frustrating. The game really needs a “Key to the City” mode like the merely okay Crackdown 2. I don’t even mind paying for it. HEAR ME, SQUARE?!

The grappling hook and parachute may be one of the most fun game mechanics ever. So much fun to be had, as evidenced in the advertising linked above. Like tethering. Get a helicopter. Grapple a vehicle to it, take off with it. The pendulum effect can lead to hilarious, and often times fatal consequences. That’s half the fun. Simply cocking about on a tropical island. A lot of people berate the voice acting, and with good reason, but for me that just adds to the charm. Bolo in particular is so absurdly ridiculous that it just adds to the whole character of the game as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve not devoted enough time to Just Cause 2 because of my illness, but it’s a game I know I’ll revisit repeatedly over the next few years. It’s just that good. Pick it up, cause some carnage, put it away. No plot to worry about really. People compare the game to GTA but for me the feeling is more akin to the original Mercenaries. I poured hours into that game as it was just so much fun. Seeing rival forces fighting with no input from you. It truly felt like an immersive world, and so does the tropical paradise of Panau.

Super-Meat-BoyOn the PC front this was a hell of a year for indie games. So much quality came out, but none finer than my PC game of the year, Super Meat Boy, and it’s in a genre I typically despise. From my earliest days as a gamer I really never enjoyed platform games. I tried the Xbox demo and wasn’t that impressed, but was curious enough to wait for the now legendary Steam sales and lo and behold, to many a gamers chagrin, it was on sale just a few short weeks after release. For a mere $4 or so I consider Super Meat Boy to be the absolute bargain of the year. Even at its regular price, having now played it, it’s still a bargain.

I don’t like this genre. I’ve hated this genre for a long, long time. The last game I truly enjoyed in this genre was Auf Wiedersehen Monty for crying out loud. Even though I consider myself a Sonic fan I never felt any real love for the games. Monty was the benchmark for platform love. I can tolerate Mario, especially Super Mario World on the old Gameboy, and New Super Mario Bros. on the DS. I just don’t rave over them. They’re well written games. They do nothing to excite me. That’s it.

Super Meat Boy on the other hand fills me with love for the genre. I think because it never pretends to be anything it isn’t. It’s hard. Brutally hard at times. Yet it has that certain something that makes me love it rather than want to brutally murder the developer in his sleep. This is in part due to the honesty behind it. The developer admits it’s hard. That’s fine. You go in knowing you’ll have your meaty ass handed to you, and you do.

By far the greatest feature for me is when you complete the level. You get a replay that shows all your attempts. (Sadly only for that current loading. I wish it saved them all.) Dying is fun in this game, as your “juices” are splattered around the level and stay for the duration of your current attempts. It adds a certain atmosphere to the proceedings. In the replay, all your little Meat Boy’s start out full of hopes and dreams. All but one doomed to die. It’s hilarious to watch. My only wish is that you could trigger this at any time which, as far as I’m aware, you can’t. I’d like to see it after 20 or so attempts as a little light relief before I try again.

Despite the number of huge titles released this year for the PC, the fact is for me personally, the game of the year by a huge margin is Super Meat Boy. It represents everything I love about the indie scene, from the design, to the price, to the music… It’s why I love supporting the guys and girls out there who develop outside the mainstream. Continued success to you all!

Ironically both Just Cause 2 and Super Meat Boy are available on the opposite platforms. The benefits of Super Meat Boy on the PC are the upcoming level editor and portal. The benefit of Just Cause 2 on the Xbox over the PC is no need for bloody Windows Vista or the imaginatively named 7. That, and playing on a 37″ Samsung HDTV from the comfort of my couch.

Finally, a special year end award to Arcen Games for AI War. (Not just for raising more than $10,000 for Childs Play either!) I have yet to play this game properly due to its depth. I have, however, bought every expansion. It’s an RTS game. Sort of. Only instead of a handful of units, you control thousands. I really can’t think of enough superlatives to heap on both this game and the developers themselves. So much devotion to the title. How devoted? They ported the entire game over to Unity, a free upgrade for existing users. Not to mention they support the Mac!

So much new content. At such a good price too! Seriously, if you consider yourself a gamer of any sort, try the AI War demo. Arcen Games deserve exposure and kudos, and I will continue to promote AI War on my blog, simply because I love it and look forward to getting a deeper understanding of the game. What’s not to love about giant fleets of ships kicking the holy hell out of each other? NOTHING, that’s bloody what!

Other notable games from this abbreviated year of mine (not necessarily released in 2010, but my first experience of them was).

Solium Infernum – A turn based strategy game where you fight for the throne of Hell. Had two play-by-email games going earlier this year. (I love a nice bit of PBEM) Had to leave both due to not feeling well. As it turned out that was a good idea, or the people I was playing with would have had to wait six months for me to do my turn.

The Polynomial – I am a sucker for visual experiments like this. Especially ones that sync to whatever music you feed it. If you want to really blow your mind, get some anaglyph 3D glasses (the cheap plastic kind with the colored lenses) and take a trip. Gameplay? It’s there. You don’t need to do it to enjoy. I consider this game to have created an entire new genre. I’ve called that genre Ambient Gaming.

Poker Night at the Inventory – Characters from different games, including my beloved Heavy Weapon’s Guy from the increasingly being ruined and turned into a hat simulator Team Fortress 2, get together and play poker. Fun.

Dawn of War 2 – Yes I know it’s technically not from this year but I didn’t get it until this year. It’s Warhammer 40K. I love the WH40K universe. End of story.

Angry Birds – I want those cuddly toys! Angry Birds is a legitimate gaming phenomenon. Pigs steal your eggs. You fire birds at structures to kill the pigs. Sounds idiotic. Easily the only iPhone game I’ve gotten hooked on other than Canabalt. The Seasons edition, with Halloween and Christmas themed levels was a veritable advent calendar of awesome, even if some of the levels did beat me. (I have very little patience in such matters.) The great thing about it is the accessibility. Over Christmas on Twitter I was reading of people who were letting their parents and grandparents play it and who were having a whale of a time! I hope they release it on other platforms so non-phone or iPod Touch (in my case) owners can give it a try as it truly is an astonishingly fun game.

Aside from the new Batman game nothing in 2011 really excites me currently. That will no doubt change. However right now, there is nothing on the horizon that gets me hyped up like Just Cause 2 did.

Hard Surface!

Happy New Year!

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