Games of 2010: The Top 10

2010 has been a pretty good year for games. For every platform there has been a huge number of awesome things to play, ranging from indie classics up to huge releases that lead to midnight openings with thousands of people. Here is my top 10 games of the year.

10. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

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I’ve loved all of the the Stalker series but Call of Pripyat really nails the game down. It has all the enjoyment of the previous games in terms of the free roaming and the living world but with several bugs missing and a much better looking engine.

I do recommend picking up the AtmosFear 2 mod if you intend to play it, it makes it look tons better with much improved weather cycles and some other environmental features to make the game even better.

9. Minecraft

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Describing Minecraft to someone who hasn’t played it is hard. Its a game where you spend hour after hour mining away, trying to avoid creatures and creating the world of your dreams. However, I have yet to find a man who after playing it can stop playing it for any great length of time. Its also a great example of just how well indie games can do if they do something different.

I don’t play it every day but when I do, it eats several hours out of my day and leaves me thinking how the time just flied by.

8. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

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Assassin’s Creed 2 was one of my favourite games of 2009, taking all of the best parts of the first game and making it rather enjoyable. Brotherhood improves this even more with the addition of several new items such as the crossbow and making it even easier to use your favourite throwing weapons without having to switch to them. The Brotherhood stuff is also awesome, merging a set of management challenges to a brilliant backup system where at will arrows can descend and clear the screen of bad dudes. Oh and a whole new city to run around in the form of Rome. As well as all the single player extravaganza, you also have the great multiplayer. Its as a complete package as you want.

7. Napoleon Total War

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Napoleon Total War took all the best parts of Empire, improved the engine and made it a brilliant game. It has one or two flaws but the rest of the game makes up for it with some amazing battles and a great series of campaigns. And it runs so well compared to its forebear yet also making it look even better.

The fact I played it in my last History class of the year and won the battle of Waterloo was also amazing.

6. R.U.S.E.

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If I’d know just what position I’d give RUSE in my Top 10 when I started playing it, I’d have told my future self to stop being stupid. I went into RUSE with low expectations and yet I found a great strategy game that has kept me playing for only a few hours less than king of the time sinks, Civ 5. I won’t forgive them for replacing the RAF roundels on the British aircraft with generic Union Jacks but the rest of the game is the perfect multiplayer game – simple to learn, hard to master.

Pretty damn impressive in terms of the engine as well, easily going from ground level battles up to the planners view, complete with mapping tables and other visual effects to make you feel like a general. If you like strategy even a tiny bit, pick this game up.

5. Red Dead Redemption

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To be honest, I found GTA IV disappointing when it came to PC after all the hype. In contrast, as soon as I turned on Red Dead Redemption it grabbed me and pulled me in. It is a great Western game in an amazing world that just felt alive. Its just a great package.

On top of the main game, there was also Undead Nightmare – effectively the ‘70’s horror film made on the same sets as the gritty Western adventure. Its a complete tonal shift from the main game, very aware that its not serious with characters fulfilling all the stereotypical characters types from a horror film (“I’m just going to go down this dark alley over here”).

Also you can kill a Sasquatch with an Anti-Tank rifle.

4. Mass Effect 2

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Another sequel that took the best parts of the first game and radically changed the rest was Mass Effect 2, the best RPG this year. Its the dark middle chapter, with Shepard (spoilers) dying in the prologue and being brought back to life to try and stop the galaxy from being taken over.

But most of the joy comes not from the main quest but all the side quests. The loyalty missions with each member of your crew, as well as being vital for your survival, are also a set of incredible stories and set pieces. Your teammates in Mass Effect felt one dimension gun wagons – in this, they each have their own deep stories complete with the mission to flesh them out.

On top of that, the gameplay, which felt clunky in the first game is now slick. It feels like a proper third person shooter and plays beautifully. Its now also the perfect time to pick up the game and all its DLC and play through this masterpiece before the story finds its conclusion in Mass Effect 3.

3. Battlefield Bad Company 2

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I haven’t played enough of this game. I really should have played some more. However, this is one of the few multiplayer games I’ve played that much this year. It just feels perfect with the flow of unlocks, amazing scenes, almost perfect balance and so much choice when it comes to modes. It is so much more interesting online than with Call of Duty, with team play actually meaning something more than just having an extra target for your enemies to shoot.

The other thing I love is the destruction – after being pioneered in the first game, it has come into its own in the second. There is nothing greater than nailing that sniper with a grenade launcher round that just blow the front of his hiding place up or being inside a building as it comes down around you due to a tank round. Although the maps eventually reach the same state when most buildings are levelled, its much more dynamic than the static maps of other first person shooters. It was actually quite hard to go back to Call of Duty after having spent matches blowing down walls in order to progress through the map.

Bad Company 2 is also an example of how to do DLC with its Battlefield Vietnam 2 expansion. Although I haven’t managed to play it yet, it seems as though it could have easily been released as a Battlefield 1943–like product with the sheer amount of maps, weapons and vehicles. The fact its only £10 and uses your profile from Bad Company 2 to unlock stuff means you see the good stuff much quicker. When the Steam Sales (also known as “Oh dear, where has all my money gone”) are over and done with, I might pick it up and have fun with the flamethrower.

2. Civilisation V

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The Civilisation series has to be one of my favourite series of games and Civ V is the best so far. It may be missing one or two features from Civilisation IV (like religion) but more than makes up for it by making everything else better and more polished. War, what Civ always ends up being, is now more than simply sweeping a pile of units around the map. Instead, its now a game that uses the terrain, where chokepoints can be exploited to defend your kingdom and units can back other others thanks to clever positioning.

It also looks the best Civ ever has. Thanks in part to it hex based system, the worlds rendered by the game look beautiful, blending together to create ones that look plausible. The UI, clunky in the previous game, now looks like a work of art. Its Art Deco styling makes it a joy to use.

I reiterate my This Is My Joystick review: If you don’t have this on your Steam list, buy it now.

1. ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead

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If scores were given based simply on how much time you’ve spent on a game, Operation Arrowhead would probably be pretty near the 100% mark.

Its complex, its broken in some parts, it won’t appeal to everyone. But this is partly why I like it; the reason its broken is that its so ambitious. It does everything from single man night infiltration up to pitched battles with tanks rolling by and helicopters flying overhead. There is nothing like seeing a special forces team, walking down a valley at night with targeting lasers glinting in night vision goggles while in the distance a group of A10s hit a target covered in tracer.

It may not entirely be beautiful, but find yourself on a ridge line as the sun rises and the landscapes look amazing. Admittedly, the game would probably use that point to snipe you out of your wonderment but that’s what happens to people sightseeing in a warzone.

Finally, the multiplayer is perhaps the best fun I’ve had all year. Joining a server, piling into a helicopter and flying to the fight only to be killed by the pilot crashing the helicopter is hilarious, especially with the right group of players on voice chat who all fall about laughing as the pilot (often in broken English) apologises. The community Operation Arrowhead created is among the best in the whole gaming scene – happy to bring in new players but act like a dick and off you go.

For all these reasons, ArmA II: Operation Arrowhead is my Game of the Year

Games of 2010: Honourable Mentions

So I’m in the midst of writing my top 10 games of 2010 (check back soon for that) but I keep finding games I’ve enjoyed playing through but don’t quite reach the height of Game of the Year material. Here are the runners up – good games all that deserve to be played and enjoyed

Just Cause 2

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Just Cause 2 is the best game to play when you just want to sit down, watch stuff explode and pull off crazy looking stunts in a beautiful looking world. Basically, its a dumb Michael Bay movie.

My advice is to pick up the DLC and grab a hovercraft before going on a rampage, easily crossing from sea to land, crashing through huts and blowing apart the local population. Or just jump on a plane, fly really high and jump off. Just don’t think too carefully about the plot or voice acting or physics or realism. Or any part of it.

Darwinia+

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I will buy pretty much anything Introversion produce. This isn’t just because they are awesome dudes (which they are) but because all their games are great fun in a distinctive art style. Darwinia+ is more than just a rerelease of Multiwinia and Darwinia on the Xbox 360 but a package specially designed just for the console. It plays perfectly on a console and is great fun.

The other reason to get Darwinia+ is that the next game from Introversion is an amazing looking heist game called Subversion. Darwinia+ (or even better the PC editions) puts money in their pocket to make this game. Please buy an Introversion game because I really want to rob some banks in a procedurally generated city

Bioshock 2

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Ok, so it wasn’t quite as good as Bioshock but I have to say that the second game is a much better playing experience. The flow of using the plasmids and weapons in combat is just so intuitive, making you feel like a god.

Additionally, it presents another view of what has to be one of the best gaming worlds ever created. Rapture is a place I’d love to explore with so much history implied and not shown.

Also it has a Schrödinger’s cat joke. Therefore it wins.

Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising

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Dawn of War 2 is great. The singleplayer is an amazing blend of RTS and RPG while the multiplayer is great for both massive games and a quick pick up and play. Chaos Rising took this and made it better, adding a new race, units and a whole extra campaign.

The campaign took your stats of your leader units from the first game and brought them in, a feature that should be used more often in games to link sequels. It then lead to a series of missions intertwined with a series of difficult decisions. Do I risk my squad corruption and damnation by wrecking that tomb in order to gain more powerful equipment or do I struggle on, safe in the knowledge I am still loyal to the Emperor and not likely to be thought of as traitors. And all the time, you worry just which of your beloved characters is the traitor and will leave you, taking away his gears and skills from your selection. Moral dilemma me thinks.

Metro 2033

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Russians! They have really depressing fiction based off what little I’ve read. Metro 2033 is a pretty good book and the game takes it and turns it into a really atmospheric and enjoyable game. I played it on a PC using DirectX 11 and it has produced some of the best looking scenes this year. The game has a few flaws in the later areas but the early levels are great. It’s an enjoyable roller coaster through a fully realised world.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days

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Okay, before I go any further this is not the world’s best game. It has major issues, its way too short and the multiplayer has gone silent. But as an example of a clever idea it packed full of them. The first is the art style – it may make you sick but I love it. It perfectly captures the idea and makes it feel just like youtube clip of a bunch of criminals running through a horrible, shitty world.

Second is the world. As I mentioned its about bad people living in a horrible city doing horrible things. Every environment is just gritty. Each feels just like it should do – the airport in the finale is bleak and muted while the city centre is vibrant and filled with neon signs. The art director on this game should be applauded.

Finally is the multiplayer. Each mode is a great idea from the simple Fragile Alliance mode up to the Undercover Cop. They are great ideas that developers should shamelessly copy because they are great.

Find this game for dirt cheap, buy it and enjoy this unpolished bundle of ideas.

 

So that’s my runners up, check in the next few days for my Top 10 games of 2010.

Thoughts On… Shattered Horizon

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Publisher: Futuremark Game Studios
Developer: Futuremark Game Studios
Year of Release: 2009
Platforms: PC

Men floating in space is something not normally used by games. We have games about ships in space, civilisations in space and fighting inside space craft but very men are actually about someone just floating through the Deep Abyss. Dead Space had section of zero gravity but many were just on the outside of a ship or inside certain regions, staring into the infinite blackness between being munched by enemies. But there is nothing like flying around with a jetpack. Futuremark, the crazy tech guys who make 3DMark, the benchmarking tool, have also made a game called Shattered Horizon all about mano-mano space combat.

Its set in 2049 after a mining explosion causes the moon to explode (a good start) sending meteors of moon rock towards the earth and into satellites such as the ISS. This traps astronauts from the International Space Agency in orbit, unable to get home and forced to defend themselves from members of the Moon Mining Cooperative with some of the last supplies sent from Earth – guns. The story is a nice idea and a good setup, but next to nothing is said about it in game apart from a few map descriptions. This is a shame, as a singleplayer campaign would have been a nice addition

MEN! IN! SPACE!

The games plays as a first person shooter but with a few little twists. First is that your in space – it is total Zero-G environment where enemies can come from any direction ready to puncture your oxygen tank and send you spiralling off into the black. It might sound like this would be a pain to control but actually is instead very intuitive. WASD moves you in a lateral plain with shift and space moving you down and up the y-axis respectively. Holding the right mouse button also allows you to rotate to orientate yourself. It can be slightly off putting to start with but after a while you’ll be jetting through the air doing flips and stuff. You can also anchor yourself to a flat surface as well should you need but the benefits of balanced weapons is outweighed by the risk of being exposed. Another twist is silent running. At the touch of a button, you shut down your suits extra systems and drift through space. This allows you to evade radar detection (there isn’t enough electronics for scanners to pick you up) but does mean you can’t hear either your teammates or gunfire due to the fact they are being generated by the suit as sound doesn’t travel through a vacuum. Its a cool effect that can be useful but it feels more like it was added just to show off the team’s science knowledge.

Up until the Firepower update, the game only had one weapon and a set of grenades. This was a serious issue for the game as it lacked some repeat interest. Luckily the update changed all this and allowed players to now choose from one of five weapons. Theses range from the shotgun and SMGs for close quarters up to the long range railguns and heavy machine guns by the way of the ubiquitous assault rifle. All the weapons have a nice kick to them and are great fun to use. The assault rifle and SMG are locked to the suit but the rest of them actually throw you backwards if you fire them while floating. Your spaceman also has six grenades that can be deployed as one of 6 types. This system is good as it doesn’t limit you to a single role in a life allowing you to switch it up depending on what’s going on. Your choices are ice (effectively smoke), flare (flashbang), MRP (concussion), EMP (knocks out enemy suits), pulse (find enemies) and decoy (hides your approach). Each feels like it has a use and although it is some times simpler to just shoot enemies repeatedly it is more satisfying to get someone you’ve emped and blow a hole in their oxygen tanks.

SPACE!!!!!!!

After the Moonrise expansion, the game now has a total of twelve maps. These are nearly all beautifully arranged, from the wreckage of the ISS to fragments of the moon floating through space. There are two game modes. Skirmish is a simple deathmatch while Assault and Defence is more like a linear conquest mode. They are simply multiplayer modes we have seen before in many other games and they are pretty serviceable though you might be wanting a little extra to go with it.

As it comes from 3D Mark you’d expect it to be rather good looking and it does not disappoint. The backdrop to all the battles looks pitch perfect for space and it looks fantastic. However, the player characters seem to lack in character animations and the weapons have a slightly plastiky look to them. In a similar way, the sound is serviceable yet nothing to write home about.

Overall, Shattered Horizon is a fun game that is only let down by its lack of singleplayer content. It is no longer held back by its overpowering requirements like at launch. Even so, the biggest problem now is the lack of players – it’s into the afterlife of a multiplayer game where the only constant players are the hardcore who know the levels like the back of their hand and will brutally murder any new players. Keep your eyes open for Steam weekends, where cheap (and we are talking sub-£5 cheap) copies are to be found and new players swarm in.

Thoughts On… Civilisation V

altLet’s get this out-of-the-way first of all; Civilisation V is the best Civilisation game so far. If you don’t have it on your Steam account and have even the smallest interest in some turn-based strategy, stop reading this and go and buy it. You won’t be disappointed. However, if you aren’t sold yet, let me explain why you should be losing hour after hour to this masterpiece.

Let’s be civilised!
Sid Meier’s Civilisation is perhaps one of the greatest series of PC games ever made. Its addictive gameplay has led to many a sleepless night, while its huge variety of options and races means its replayabilty is massive. The basic set-up and gameplay ideals are unchanged in this latest incarnation but a few tweaks have been implemented to allow even newcomers to enjoy this series.

World Domination in fourteen turns
As always, you and your chosen nation start at the dawn of time, with only a settler and a warrior to your name and you must then build up through the ages, fighting barbarians as well as other nations before winning through military domination, cultural victory or by simply going off into space. This has been the same approach since the start of the series, but Civilisation V makes a few changes.

The first is a welcome one to most war gamers, which is the replacement of squares with more naturalistic hexes. The effect of this is two-fold; units can move diagonally and the generated worlds look a lot more natural than those in Civilisation IV. Civilisation V also manages to get rid of a big problem in the previous game; the Tower of Doom. This is where you would simply create stacks of units of differing types to be able to beat back any opposing units. Civilisation V requires you to be a little more tactical as stacking of military units is now disabled. Instead, units can provide flanking bonuses while ranged units can bombard over the top of other, close combat units. Due to this, placement and bottlenecks become key to military victories. Thankfully, defending cities is no longer a concern of most units; they can provide useful defence bonuses but cities can also defend themselves at a seriously long-range which is great to fend off early barbarian raids.

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Yep, that’s the Great Wall in London

Another addition to the game is the new City States concept. These are dotted around the map comprising only a single city and its associated territory. They provide a few benefits for you, such as extra units or resources, but only as long as you keep them on your side by either paying them off or doing missions they give to you. I like their addition as it offers an avenue of diplomacy where only one side is out to screw the other.

The final major addition is the social policies. These are minor perks you can implement via your cultural output. It’s a pretty handy addition allowing you to theme the bonuses you receive around how you play. There are also a multitude of other smaller changes that just make the game even better and easier to play. There is only really one tiny issue I have with game’s AI. The lower difficulties, which posed a large challenge in Civilisation IV, are walkovers 90% of the time. Veterans of previous Civilisation games should jump in at the higher difficulties in order to feel suitably challenged. However, even at higher difficulties the AI will make some pointless or stupid moves, such as waiting around for your units to easily outfight them.

A beautiful view of history
Civilisation V is the best looking game in the franchise so far. Thanks in part to the new hex-based system, the game world looks a lot more natural. Transitions from mountain tops down to flat valleys gently curve rather than a sudden change in the square-based preceding games. The maps generated, be they strings of islands to focus on the naval powers, pangea-esque layouts for the all-conquering armies or the earth layout for those wanting to fight over our world as is, all look breathtaking and easily create areas perfect for epic stories. The game also features DX11 elements, if your PC can handle it, which is subtly used to make the game look even better. The streamlined UI is also expertly stylised with an art deco look that wouldn’t be out of place in Bioshock. Overall, the game is a visual treat.

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Yep Napoleon. CRUSH HIM!

You hear that? It’s the sound of change..
Sound is also a rather strong element in Civilisation V. Every leader speaks to you in their own language, be it Elizabeth I in English or Napoleon in French adding to the sense of actually conversing with the leaders during your diplomatic meetings. Rather than the world music of the previous game, each race has their own race specific music which plays quietly in the background to provide an ambience that really draws you in. The whole music setting is perfect for long games that last until early in the morning.

Diplomacy with Friends – What Could Go Wrong?
Civilisation 5 has multiplayer (via Steam or local area network) although it is missing two of the major options; play by email and, my personal favourite, hot seat. I’ve played a few games and it seems to be not quite as stable as Civilisation IV, with several disconnects and even lag. One thing to bear in mind with playing Civilisation V online is that it will take a long time to play, especially in larger games with more human players. Luckily you can save mid-game and reload it online as well, as long as the same host is maintained.

Speaking of save games, Civilisation has full support for Steam Cloud, so saves be passed between computers (a god send for playing it on the go). It also has an integrated mod-manager and downloader which make it pretty easy to get hold of some of the community’s best stuff. A word of advice on the DLC; I’m not a huge fan of the maps they’ve added thus far, but the new race is great fun to play with. I should note that the game requires Steam to play online.

Just. One. More. Turn…
So as I said at the start, Civilisation V is the best Civilisation game so far. It is the easiest to get into thanks to its streamlined UI and comprehensive Civilopedia/tutorials. It’s the best looking thanks to its new engine and it is still just addictive as heck. Buy this game and enjoy taking over the world!

Thoughts On… Poker Night at The Inventory

altIf you were to tell me that Telltale were going to make a poker game, I’d laugh at you and tell you to go somewhere else with your madness. If you were then tell me you were playing Max, Strong Bad, The Heavy (from Team Fortress 2) and Tycho from Penny Arcade, I would kindly ask you to go away. Add to that some TF2 unlocks and I’d probably be calling you crazy.

Guess what Telltale just released on Steam?

Welcome to the Inventory…
Poker Night at the Inventory is, as it sounds, a poker game that takes place at “The Inventory”, a shady bar populated by your favourite Telltale game characters. You’ve been invited to an exclusive, high stakes tournament with four instantly recognisable characters that most Steam users should all find pretty funny. There is no real story to it, but there is definite progression; as rounds go by you the characters will open up slightly more as well as introducing some of their special items.

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You will learn to love this screen

Poker? I never touched her!
As you might guess, Poker Night is a poker game. You play through some Texas Hold ‘em with the four other guys and it functions pretty well as a game of poker. All the usual stuff is here and it’s pretty easy to pick up. If you’re like me, who plays hardly any poker regularly, it has a handy tutorial and a quick reference sheet of different hands to let you get in on the fun. So far, so standard poker. However, Night at the Inventory also comes with some Team Fortress 2 unlocks earned through standard gameplay. It’s actually a well implemented system; on a few random turns, one character will be unavailable to pay his way in and so instead will use collateral. The items themselves are awesome from Strong Bad’s Dangeresque sunglasses to Max’s characteristic Luger. However, the rounds that actually include the items are few and far between and on top of that you lose focus in any round that they are included in as you have to knock out the contributing player.

Can’t read my Poker Face!
Telltale have their very own engine that they use in all their adventure games and it’s been put to good use in Night at the Inventory. It looks very similar to the Sam and Max games in terms of its art style but other characters have their own look; from classic source engine of the Heavy, right up to the heavily cell shaded look of Tycho. It can be a bit odd to watch the varying styles in motion but it does make sense to keep each of them independent. There are also one or two clipping issues with characters (primarily the Heavy) which can be a little jarring. I do quite like the various sets of poker table and card textures though as they are unlock after a number of wins.

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What could possibly go wrong?

The Chips are Down… but the Voices are turned up to eleven!
I think a major part of Poker Night at the Inventory is the sound due primarily to the extensive number of lines written for your fellow poker players. There seems to be a good variety in them, and they are all rather good, but they seems to repeat themselves quite a lot. It can be especially irritating with some of the stories which don’t quite hit the humour mark. All the voices match the character’s, especially Tycho’s which matches up to his slightly off kilter personality and his chilling love of giraffes. To match up with this is a rather nice ambient selection of music that evokes the feel of a speak-easy without being too blaring. The voice work is the star of the show here.

The reviewer has: Full House!
Poker Night at the Inventory is a competent poker game that happens to have a set of hilarious conversations strapped on top, if you know the characters. It’s fun to play and although lacking in multiplayer, is well worth the £3.25 buy-in, doubly so if you’re a Team Fortress 2 fan. Buy it.