Yes indeed that time of year has come again when we prepare to drink ourselves into a barely concious stupour to celebrate another uneventful year and ring in the next unevitably boring year. Looking back on the year in video games we have had some excellent releases however there has disapointingly not been an outpouring of new and exciting franchises. Some honourable mentions that didn't quite make the list would have to be Vanquish, a delightfully crazy japanese 3rd Person Shooter, Limbo a frightfully macabre sidescrolling platformer, Call of Duty Black Ops, which in my opinion had a lackluster single player campaign but an excellent multiplayer mode with a plethora of unockable content and Heavy Rain a great advancement in the "interactive movie" genre that had amazing graphics and a great story, slightly let down by undesirable voice casting.
But without further ado here is my official Top 5 Video Games of 2010 List...
5. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
In at number 5 is an awesome JRPG that is sure to be overlooked by most "best of" lists. I have always had a fondness for the Kingdom Hearts franchise for combining my 2 favourite childhood franchises, classic Disney films and Final Fantasy. This game was a joy to play, taking the best from the first 2 Kingdom Hearts games, combining the flashy combat of KH2 with the challenge of KH1. The plot is very convoluted like all of the KH games but if you are already a fan like I am you will lap it up especially with the excellent voice acting of Leonard Nimoy as the truly frightening villain Xehanort and Mark Hamill as the jedi master-like Eraqus (read it backwards). The combat in this game is really fun especially with the new "deck" and "command" systems which allows you to collect and combine different moves, creating an aresenal of awesome swordplay to unleash on the enemies "the unversed". The only downside to this game is that there is not much exploration due to the restrictions of the PSP system, there is also a lack of Final Fantasy cameos (Zack from FFVII is the only one to show up). Overall this is a great addition to the series and is worth checking out by any fan of Final Fantasy or Disney.
4. Halo Reach
As someone who has never been a fan of the Halo series Reach had it's work cut out for it to impress me, but impress me it did. I played Halo 3 and enjoyed it but it could never quite pull me in the way Reach did. It may be the fact that they got rid of all the convoluted plot and stuck to a basic war story or it may just be the way that the gameplay was refined to near perfection but Halo Reach is for sure the definitive Halo experience. Each gun is perfectly balanced for it's specific role, each enemy can be taken down with the correct strategy, each level is expertly designed. For some the multiplayer is the main motivation for purchasing the game and with good reason. Every game mode makes use of the game's mechanic's to the fullest extent. Some of the most fun I've ever had with an online game is flying through the air with a jetpack, hurling a sticky grenade into a group of 20 players all desperatley trying to score points in the base in King of the Hill and watching the carnage ensue. If there is one online shooter to buy this year it is unquestionably Halo Reach.
3. Final Fantasy XIII
A controversal choice indeed. Many people dismissed this game for it's linearity and lack of exploration, however once you get used to the linearity Final Fantasy XIII is a very enjoyable game.This game has a very strong story that can be a little confusing at first, but once you get introduced to all the different elements of the mythology I found the plot very interesting especially the how the different character's roles and opinions of each other effect their relationships. This is not the typical Final Fantasy team dynamic, there is a lot of tension between characters and prejudice that the characters must eventually overcome to achieve their goals. The graphics in this game are some of the best of this generation, especially when viewed in 1080p on a PS3. The world is beautifully crafted and the character models and animation is simply superb. The full CGI scenes look even more incredible and I imagine this is what it would look like if Pixar decided to make a sci-fi/fantasy movie. The voice work is also very good, my only complaint would be the character of Hope who is very annoying and whiny and I honestly wanted to smack him upside the head whenever I had to use him in my party. The combat system is a slightly different affair than we are used to seeing in Final Fantasy games. It does not have to classic turn based style of the older games nor does it opt for a real time system like Final Fantasy XII but instead chooses a middle ground that is a mixture of both. In your party of 3 you queue up the actions you intend to use be they physical attacks, offensive magic, defensive magic, healing spells etc. then your characters proceed to use these moves when the ATB bar has filled up. The timing of when and which attacks hit together is very imortant as building up chains of hits can rack up extra damage or induce the "stagger" state which makes your enemy extremley vulnerable for a period of time. It all seems quite complicated but once you get a handle on it it can be very rewarding. The leveling system is also very rewarding as you can choose what areas of abilities you want each character's strengths to be. Overall FF13 is a worthwhile experience if not just for the excellent story and an awesome way to experience it.
2. Super Mario Galaxy 2
What is left to be said about Super Mario Galaxy 2? At it's release it was showered with perfect 10 reviews, and with good reason, Galaxy 2 is simply platforming perfection. Each level is crafted with love and care, providing equal levels of childlike wonder and unforgiving challenge. The format is classic Mario fare, the Princess has been kidnapped once again by Bowser and the responsibilty once again falls on the pudgy plumber to blitz through a series of unique and insipring planets collecting as manny power stars as possible to generate enough power to launch an interstellar assault on Bowser's fleet of battleships (...or something like that). The story is irrelevant all that matters is that the same platforming magic we have come to expect from Nintendo is present and this time with even more content packed in. Unlike Mario Galaxy 1 which often felt too easy to breeze through, Galaxy 2 is shockingly difficult, don't get me wrong it is not unfairly cruel as more often than not you will lose your lives cursing your own lack of skills than the game's almost faultless mechanics. To complete the main story you will be challenged a lot and each of the level's challenges will take a decent amount of time to complete, but if you want to strive for 100% completion know that you have a very tough slog ahead of you, but don't worry you'll love every second of it. Various new powers have been brought in for Mario to make use of, the most significant of which is your dinosaur pal Yoshi, who when jumped on his back will allow you to zip around much faster than Mario. My only complaint I have with SMG2 is the pointless comet coins you are forced to collect if you wish to unlock every star. Rather than being achieved by completing specific goals like stars, comet coins are randomly strewn across the levels often in extremley difficult places. Finding these coins is a chore and was a mistake to be put in the game. Aside from this tiny complaint SMG2 is simply one of the closest to perfect games we have seen in recent times, even the constriction of being on this generation's most underpowered systems does not hold Galaxy 2 back from being one of the best looking games this year. Each colour drenched environment is georgous to look at rivalling the graphics of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The only reason this is not my number 1 choice is that it is very similar to the first game. For a fan of platforming, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is pure bliss and proof that Nintendo are still setting the standard for game design across the genres.
And now for my number 1 choice, drum roll please....
1. Red Dead Redemption
Well no surprises here, right? No other game this year deserves the title of Best Game as much as Red Dead Redemption. Right from the get go you know your in for something special. As we see John Marston riding the train into Blackwater listening to the banter of aristocrats and preists you gauge the atmosphere instantly. John is part of a dying breed. The old West is fading away. Marston is an outlaw in a country that desparetley wants rid of him and as such must hunt down the people he once called friends, outlaws, theives and muderers to secure the safety of his wife and son. The plot is executed suberbly with an outragous cast of characters all with excellent voice actors, each one likeable and unlikable in his or her own ways and has John doing everything from herding cattle to leading the Mexican revolution against the dictatorship of the government, which all builds to one of the most effecting conclusions I have ever seen in a video game.
The world of Red Dead is vast and beautiful, spanning the Austin area of Texas and a part of Mexico. Many towns and settlements are dotted around the enormous map each one with it's won distinct personality and inhabitants. The main story of the game is devided up into 2 main activities; riding horses and shooting people. The controls handle very well one you get used to the weight of things and it soon becomes second nature to whistle for your horse and gallop at full speed to your next destination. The shooting is very similar to Grand Theft Auto IV. Pressing LT to aim your gun will snap to the nearest enemy allowing you to nudge the analogue stick to target specific parts of the body such as the head. This makes shooting very simple and enjoyable, especially when picking enemies off as your riding your horse. You can also use a bullet-time like ability known as Dead Eye to target multiple enemies in slow motion. The main campaign is varied and a decent length, taking at least 15 hours, perhaps longer depending on how many side activities you indulge in. There are a plethora of other activities to engage in whilst not in story missions such as hunting, duelling, bounty hunting, cattle rustling, clearing gang hideouts, herb picking, treasure hunting, helping strangers etc, not to mention just shooting some civilians and going on the run from the law (although this will hurt your honour and fame levels). If that's still not enough for you there is also the robust multiplayer in which you can take on a number of different classic multiplayer games such as deathmatch or capture the flag or even just roam around the world with a group of friends making trouble for NPCs. Overrall Red Dead Redemption is a superbly original and well made game that has something for everyone; a strong story, fun gameplay and exciting muliplayer, it's only drawbacks being that it is sometimes a little too easy andthe occasional bug/glitch.
If your looking for an incredible open world adventure or even just an insanley fun action game you can't do any better than Red Dead Redemption.
Thanks for reading!
- Jack Ridsdale