Greatest Game of 2010: The Competition
2010 is one of the strongest years we’ve highlighted so far. Limbo was amazing, but so were a number of other games that came out this year. I had quite a bit to say about these games, so be prepared!
Many of the decisions you make when you play games tend to feel incredibly inconsequential. No matter where you turn or how you react to a situation, you’re on a set path and you know you’ll eventually reach an end that will be identical to the ending that everyone else who beats the game will experience. Where Heavy Rain really succeeds is in providing the player the control over the narrative. In providing real consequences for your actions, the entire experience feels much more personal. Heavy Rain allows you to play the story of four characters who are related in that they have been in some way affected by a criminal named the Origami Killer who has been kidnapping and drowning young boys in the community. The controls of the game are wholly unique, and it takes essentially the first two hours of the game to teach them to the player. This is my only major complaint about the game: The story takes a long time to get into. You’ll find yourself setting the kitchen table, changing your clothes, playing with your kids, and other daily tasks that are designed to teach you how to play as well as give you a deeper connection to the characters. Some players may be turned off by the slow start, but those who are able to make it through this will be treated to one of the greatest stories a video game has ever told. If Heavy Rain was a movie, I’d rate it a solid 3 1/2 stars. The ability to play and effect the outcome of the story really pushes this game over the top.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
I love Mario games, and this game is no exception. The level design in Galaxy 2 is what sets it apart from other games. (Almost) every level is fun and incredibly varied. Each new level has a new and different play mechanic, and solving the level is very rewarding. I found Galaxy 2 to be slightly more difficult than its predecessor in that some of the harder levels involving purple coins or shadow Mario clones can get incredibly tricky. One of my biggest criticisms of the game comes in some of these later levels. You will find yourself fighting against the controller in a few of these levels. This won’t affect most who play the game. You can get to about 110 stars (out of a possible 120) without any issue, and it’s certainly not enough to avoid the game altogether. However, the stages that require precise movements that are mapped to waggling the controller or tilting it in one direction or another can be infuriating. Again, this happens in only in a couple of levels, so it shouldn’t dissuade you from playing the game. One minor comment is that the game does not feel as original as the first Galaxy game. While the levels are new and Nintendo was able to create a lot of new play mechanics, the general dynamic of being in space is obviously not new. I should also mention the graphics, which take full advantage of the Wii’s underpowered engine. The game is beautiful, and during many sequences I wondered how this was coming from this system. This game is a joy to play, and anyone who owns a Wii is doing themselves a disservice if they don’t play the game.
Red Dead Redemption
Mexico. If it weren’t for Mexico, I could easily see Red Dead Redemption being one of my favorite games of this generation, but more on that in a minute. Let’s start with what Red Dead does right. The first thing you’ll notice is that it feels a lot like Grand Theft Auto 4. The camera is in the same place, the map works the same way, and you’ll move in and out of cut scenes fluidly in the same manner. In addition, your character follows missions in much the same fashion. You play as John Marston, a criminal in the Wild West who is seeking to change his life and turn himself into a family man, devoted husband, good father, and simple farmer. Before you can put that plan into action, however, you must first deal with the demons of your past. The burgeoning government would like to put you behind bars or kill you for your crimes, but it decides it would be a better idea to blackmail you into finding the members of your old gang and turning them over to the law. The only issue here is that your old friends no longer trust you and recently left you for dead. What that leaves you with is the task of hunting these men down.
You are able to do that on horseback and with an impressive arsenal of early-19th-century weapons. The combat in the game feels great as you ride your horse in and out of battle and lasso or shoot enemies with ease. The missions are varied and interesting. The game world is huge, and it is really fun to just explore the West. Despite the fact that this game does a lot of things right, there’s a giant problem that spoils the entire experience. This problem is Mexico. Without giving away too much, I can tell you the game’s story is essentially split into three parts and the second part of these three is set south of the border. Here the story derails, as you get drawn into a war that doesn’t have anything to do with your overall goal. The Non-playable Characters (NPCs) here are all terrible; they abuse women and have no discernible positive qualities. There is much less to do in terms of side missions, and really the game world doesn’t even look that cool. The only thing I liked about it was the Jose Gonzalez song that played as you rode over the border. I put the game down for weeks and found myself struggling to get through this section. The only reason I finally finished this section was because I heard how great the last third of the game is.
Having beaten the game, I’m glad I forced my way through this section–but I think it’s a a real shame. Had they simply removed this section of the game altogether (or made it a couple of missions instead of six hours), the game would have been greatly improved. Moving past that, however, the ending is one of the best I’ve ever experienced in a video game. Make sure you play all the way to the credits as well. The use of licensed tracks at three specific points in the game is some of the best use of music in a game I can remember. There’s no doubt Red Dead Redemption is great; I just wish some simple editing had been done to make it legendary.
Final Fantasy XIII
This is one of the most criticized games of this generation, and I understand why. I’ll get it out of the way right now, FFXIII is not a typical Final Fantasy game. The game is VERY linear. There are no towns, no airship, and no overworld. Side missions and quests don’t exist. You can’t find hidden playable characters. Here’s the thing: I knew all that going into the game, set my expectations accordingly, and really enjoyed myself. The reasons for this are twofold. First, the combat system is incredible. Second, the game is gorgeous. The cut scenes in the game are some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen in a game and are better than some of the best Blu-ray movies I’ve ever seen. Back to the combat for a minute. FFXIII uses a system called paradigms that requires you to shift on the fly to what your party members are specializing in. Will all three of you attack the enemy? Or would it be more practical to play defense, lower the enemies’ shields, and cast helpful spells on yourself first? Or would a more balanced attack including some healing be the best course of action? Your proficiency in this won’t be tested until later in the game, but when it is you’ll find yourself changing paradigms incredibly quickly to match what the enemies are doing. All battles receive ranking, and getting five stars in a battle is a very satisfying experience. Although I was able to look past some of the basic criticisms of the game, a few things continued to bug me. While the music is good, it’s not as good as other Final Fantasy games. I really liked some of the characters (Lighting and Sash, for example), but some of them (Hope and Vanille, I’m looking at you) were annoying. At times exceptionally so. Overall, though, the game was a very rewarding experience. Just know what to expect before you play it.
The Halo series is a major reason for Microsoft’s video game success. Personally, I didn’t enjoy Halo 1, 2, or 3 that much, in as much as I felt the story in the game was never very compelling. I didn’t really care about the characters or what was happening around them. Reach changed that. The characters were interesting, and therefore I was concerned with the outcome of the game. The ending was also quite original. Halo games have always allowed you to play the campaign multiplayer, and that doesn’t change with Reach. While that is fun, the true multiplayer draw is the Firefight mode, which charges the players with fending off a hordes of baddies, round after round. First introduced in Halo: ODST, this mode provides some of the most memorable gaming moments I’ve had in the last 7 years.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Fighting through the noise of military shooters from this generation isn’t easy. Call of Duty has a proverbial choke hold on the entire genre. EA’s attempt at a Call of Duty killer, in my opinion, does just that. I would much rather play the multiplayer offered in Bad Company 2 than that of COD: Modern Warfare 2. The main reason for this is that you can score points for doing all sorts of different things that don’t necessitate you killing the other players on the map. The main goal in Battlefield‘s multiplayer is a more complex version of Black Ops‘ Demolition, in which you have to destroy points. The main differences is that once you destroy one set of points, the map will open up for two new points you have to destroy. This happens four to five times before the match is over. Although destroying the points is the main focus of the match, you can get points by killing other players, repairing vehicles, giving ammo to teammates, and various other activities. I should also mention the vehicles that have been a staple of Battlefield games. You can drive everything from a one (or two) man buggy to a tank with three of your teammates to a chopper that can wreak havoc on the opposition. The use of vehicles and the ability to destroy the environment are both very cool. Full disclosure: I heard the single player game is decent, but I never played it. Also, the reward for working as a team is always greater in Battlefield games than in Call of Duty.