So I’m making up for lost time and today we catch up with the last 5 years of gaming. This is the second of two posts, the first cane be found here, along with a more in depth explanation of how the lists are put together. The Winners are italicized, the runners up are not, and the honorable mentions are below the runners up. It’s quite a long list, but every game in it is a gem.
Portal (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
You saw this one coming, but come on, it had to be on here. Great gameplay, hilarious writing, and super voice acting. It was a surprise hit for me. I bought The Orange Box for Half-life 2, which I never finished, but Portal, that I replayed multiple times and bought it twice. If you haven’t played this game, what the hell is wrong with you? Run! Buy it now!
Mass Effect(Xbox 360, PC)
The other obvious choice. I had to put it in a tie here, as I just couldn’t decide. 2007 was a great year for games, especially new franchises. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, BioWare is my favorite developer. This game really cemented it, as they brought their A-Game from previous titles and put it towards their own original sci-fi universe.
Storytelling, writing, combat, visuals, this game had it all. The focus on building personal relationships with your team, is something BioWare excels at and it’s in evidence here. Their new dialogue system streamlined speech in a way that RPG’s had been needing for some time, and the paragon renegade options make for some great surprises. One of the biggest things though, is the feel of freedom granted by owning your own ship in which to travel the universe and explore worlds to your hearts content, even if it could be a bit tedious at times.
BioShock (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
My first first runner up was one of the aforementioned new franchises, although it was a spiritual successor to a previous work. Bioshock had a world and an atmosphere unmatched by most games, and the story, wow the story. Since I can’t give it away, suffice it to say, you’re in for a wild ride if you have yet to play it, and if you’ve played it, you know what I’m talking about. Also, I must recognize the enjoyment of some of the gameplay elements, like plasmids. I’ve always been a fan of powers and gun combat, as evidenced by Advent Rising and Mass Effect.
Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
The fight was finished and the story brought to satisfactory conclusion in 2007. Since then, we’ve gotten other great entries in the series, but Cortana and the Chief will always be at the center of Halo for me. A story and game of epic storytelling proportions and with much of the magic that made the original game so great.
Honorable Mentions: Eternal Sonata(PS3, Xbox 360), Lost Planet: Extreme Condition(Xbox 360, PS3), Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All(DS), Sam & Max Season One(PC, PS3, Xbox 360), Assassin’s Creed (Xbox 360, PS3)
Fallout 3 (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
The sequel that was not a sequel. A new developer tried their hands on the Fallout franchise this year and totally changed up the formula. Instead of an isometric RPG, we got an FPS. Sounded like a recipe for disaster, but Bethesda got it right. They made a great RPG, an enjoyable new combat system, and a full time addiction.
The story was sufficient, though not the greatest. World building is what Bethesda excels at, and boy did they ever excel here. Who would’ve though wandering through so much brown and grey, stealing everything that’s not nailed down and shooting body parts in slow motion could be so compelling? Having Liam Neeson do the voice of your father didn’t hurt one bit either.
Fable II (Xbox 360)
Much of what I had to say about Fable previously applies here, except with a grander scale. The world was opened up more, the character evolution as well. You could now own and rent every piece of property in the world, have children and see them grow. Much of the promise of Project ego was realized here, though it still didn’t quite meet up with it. Still a great and memorable romp in Albion though, with some surprisingly powerful narrative at times for what is usually such a light game.
Prince of Persia (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
So much hate. I can still feel it. Yes, the game was lacking in some areas, mainly combat variety, but the classic wall climbing platforming elements were still great. Beyond that, I feel the game deserves recognition because it went in a direction that I feel should be the future of gaming. One where storytelling comes first. Where you don’t fight the same boss 100 times destroying the flow of the story by having to begin at the beginning again and again. No, I’m not talking about games being easy, I’m talking about games flowing well. Every time you failed in Prince of Persia, it was no different than dying and having to reload in any other game, except that you didn’t have to waste that time doing it. There were almost no loading screens or a HUD or anything to distract you from the world. It worked entirely on visual cues, and short animations as checkpoints. This is how storytelling should be done in games.
Honorable Mentions: Phantasy Star Portable(PSP) Star Wars: The Force Unleashed(Xbox 360, PS3) Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360)
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
Ah Batman, for so long had a good game eluded him, but all this changed in 2009. Arkham Asylum was a damn near perfect game. For one, the developers went with the animated series voice actors for Batman and the Joker, which by far the best choice they could have made. Mark Hamill is and always will be THE Joker to me. Then add a great story, amazing graphics, and some truly enjoyable gameplay, and you’re got a AAA title that will be long remembered.
Of special note, is the combat. It is simple enough that anyone can pick it up, with a good diversity in the basic enemies in their abilities. However, the way it flows so well, and is somewhat deep while still being accessible is a marvel. One attack flows to another with so many well designed animations that you can’t help feel like a badass. Other devs should take note. This is how combat should be done.
Assassin’s Creed II (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
While the original game was solid title with a great story, the gameplay variety left a lot to be desired. The sequel however, delivered all the improvements necessary in spades. They fixed the lack of variety in missions, and even one-upped them in the story department. The new protagonist was also a very well put together change. As if all that weren’t enough, there are plenty of new gadgets to play with and even Leonardo Davinci gave it his stamp of approval.
However, the most compelling portion of the game had to be The Truth. Small hidden hints, with puzzle you had to solve to unlock little by little, the truth of the world. By forcing you to put the pieces together yourself, the prize felt like so much more than just some crazy conspiracy theory. Storytelling at it’s best.
Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360, PC, PS3)
BioWare did it again. They wanted to back to their roots and do something along the lines of Baldurs Gate, and they did a great job of it. A great cast of characters and as usual a thrilling story. As always, character development and interpersonal relationships with your team are a central part of the game, as well as some tough decisions at times.
Honorable Mentions: Halo Wars(Xbox 360), Ghostbusters: The Video Game(All), Halo 3: ODST(Xbox 360), Forza Motorsport 3(Xbox 360)
Mass Effect 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
And yet again, BioWare. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise. They somewhat crippled exploration and the world, but the new story and characters and relationships made this a grand time. Being able to lose friends and gain them, resolve conflicts and yes even have some of the games main characters die really lent weight to your decisions. It was in the original game, but neither that, nor any other game has done it on this scale. Where yes, even you the protagonist can die.
Alan Wake (Xbox 360, PC)
A complete and utter surprise as I am not a fan of horror/survival games. However, the story wand premise intrigued me, and they did not let down. A perfect thriller through and through complete with twists and mysteries. Great atmosphere, storytelling, and voice acting made for on overall memorable experience. Sad this game didn’t get as much sales as it deserved, but I’m glad that doesn’t seem to be deterring development of sequels.
Halo: Reach(Xbox 360)
A different year and this may have been my Game of the Year. Possibly the best Halo game in the series, it kept all the good from 3 and added some new gameplay elements that improved the gameplay so much for the better. Not to mention quite possibly the best told and written story in the series, Reach brought things full circle in a truly satisfying way. It wasn’t alone as a sequel that added and improved on series below. I wanted to note that my honorable mentions below are there for just that reason. They took something already great and made them greater. This was a year of GREAT sequels.
Honorable Mentions: Fallout: New Vegas(Xbox 360, PC, PS3) Fable III(Xbox 360) Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood(Xbox 360, PC, PS3) Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction
Portal 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
I guess I just don’t get tired of the obvious choices. Many of us wondered if lightning could strike twice for Valve with this series, and the answer quite simply was, “Hell Yes!”. A slew of awesome new test chambers, a GREAT new cast of character, imaginative new gameplay mechanics, and yes GLaDOS. It gave use everything we loved from the first, without being a rehash. It was fresh and new and chock full of oh so delectable writing.
Dragon Age II (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Oh, what’s this? Not an obvious choice? Did I surprise you finally? Dragon Age II is considered by many to be BioWare first major blunder. Hate abounds for the title, and I see venom directed at this game all the time. Many people hate it I think, just because they are expected to. However, that’s not to say that much of the criticism isn’t valid.
To be honest, BioWare did screw up in a big way with Dragon Age II. The world they built was atrociously lazy. Having to navigate the same 5 rooms for every mission in the game was something so mind-bogglingly absurd, one can’t help but wonder how this could have possibly happened? How could anyone have looked at this and said, “Yeah, it’ll do.”?
So how then, could I possibly name this as a Game of the Year? Because it’s one part of the whole. Yes, level design was basically a copy/paste job, although individually they were great, as a world it fell apart seeing the same room copy pasted over and over or revisiting the same damn mountain a thousand times, but that’s all it was. The setting, the window dressing. Definitely important, but there are other parts to the whole package, and in those Dragon Age excelled.
Among these, were the voice acting, storytelling and writing, which were till top notch. The gameplay, menus and combat were streamlined and much more useable from Origins, and very much a blast to play. However, where Dragon Age really got me was the personal relationships and the decisions you are forced to make in the course of the story. It has much more added weight if you played the expansion to the original game. I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say, some of the decision I made in that game, and the direction the story turned to because of my decisions. . . Well, no other game has ever made the consequences of my decisions so relevant, personal, impacting, and powerful as any Dragon Age II did.
Some of the decisions and their repercussions still conflict and haunt me, and will stick with me, maybe for the rest of my life. The people and the relationships I’d built affected me in ways games rarely do. This one, more so than any other game before and since. For that alone, Dragon Age II gets it’s place on my list right next to Portal 2.
Batman: Arkham City (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
I debated whether I could do a three way tie, but in the end, I said screw it, this game deserves it. Much of what I wrote for Arkham Asylum applies here, but there is also more. More enemies, a bigger and more open world, a deeper plot, and some amazing storytelling. Mark Hamill’s final performance as the Joker(he’s retiring the voice) couldn’t have been more fitting. Truly batman at his finest and most badass.
The issues with the first game were all fixed, and all the additions welcome. More intriguing boss battles, with a greater variety of enemies and all kinds of environmental challenges. The Riddler puzzles were especially well done and a very addicting challenge. Not to mention the large number of well written and put together side stories. There wasn’t a single thing I’d change about this game.
L.A. Noire (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
A new franchise, that may be the only entry we get sadly. A classic detective story with some amazing new facial capture technology made for a truly new and interesting experience. It combined some of the best elements of older Adventure games and put them in an open world setting along with a good variety of gameplay and missions. A stellar for both acting, and facial expressions, which is a first. Let’s hope Rockstar finds a way to keep this one alive.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim(PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Easily the best Elder Scrolls experience yet. A smaller world true, and there it definitely has it’s share of glitches. But Dragons! Yes DRAGONS! Well done dragons, an interesting main story, and a truly epic final set of story missions. Several enjoyable side quests, and some very quirky ones as well. Add to that a much more visually impressive world, perks system, and a more lifelike world, and you get 200 hours of gaming crack!
Honorable mentions: Alice: Madness Returns (Xbox 360, PS3, PC), Catherine (Xbox 360, PS3), Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Xbox 360, PS3, PC), Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)