Andrew’s Top Ten from 2010

Game of the Year Lists are, of course, a common anomaly around these parts, perhaps even trite. Still, I just couldn’t go on without throwing two pennies at you, Dear Reader. So brace yourself for my 2010 Top Ten Games:

 

10. Laura Croft and the Guardian of Light. A game that single-handedly saved one of the oldest icons in our art form. Lara was badly in need of an overhaul, and this neat little Arcade title fit the bill perfectly. Although a remarkably solid “Diablo for Consoles” in its own right, “Guardian” was more a symbolic gesture than anything else, a sign from Crystal Dynamics that they were ready to evolve their brand. Wise move, guys. Now if only you’d gotten the co-op out on time, you’d be higher up the list.

9. God of War III. I admit, I’m not the biggest fan of “God of War.” Or let me be specific: I’m not the biggest fan of Kratos. Aside from being one of the worst-voiced characters in history, he’s an amoral, unsympathetic brute, and he’s the franchise’s single biggest problem. Still, I can’t resist the vicious perfection Santa Monica Studios has achieved in designing third person action combat. They have brought the art to a place of finality, there’s almost a sense that it simply can’t be done any better. And the sheer scale the game achieves is a stunning testament to the largely dormant processing horsepower of the PS3.

8. Super Mario Galaxy 2. Speaking of sheer perfection, Nintendo brings the “Mario Galaxy” formula to its fullest and final conclusion. The original left me wrung out and exhausted, I couldn’t imagine the concept had much juice left in it, but they proved me thoroughly wrong, as they often do. Not a single level sags, every game play element balances perfectly, and the thrills are almost too many to name. Microsoft and Sony both spent millions of dollars and three times the graphical power trying to recreate half of the palm-sweat spectacle that our Italian plumber friend can still pull off with his eyes closed.

7. Infinity Blade. A completely revolutionary product, and the definitive banner that marks the iOS’ entrance into serious gaming. Developed by Chair, the geniuses behind “Shadow Complex,” “Blade” is an Unreal-powered beast that puts images on the screen you simply cannot believe until you see. Sure, id’s little “Rage” prequel did a similar trick, but that game sucked.

6. Donkey Kong Country Returns. The game that proves, as if it still needed proving, that you don’t mess with Retro Studios. While Rare goes down in flames, following bizarre kids projects and Banjo-Kazooie racers (???) into oblivion, Retro steps up and adapts yet another Nintendo IP for the modern age. Far from a one-trick horse, though, Retro elected to go in the opposite direction from “Metroid: Prime” and stay 2D. The results are what “New Super Mario Bros” should have been in many ways: challenging, nostalgic, and precision engineered. “Returns” is proudly not a game for the whole family, it’s for the die-hards. God bless you Retro.

5. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Whatever genius decided to let Criterion make a NFS game should get a raise. Or two raises. The “Hot Pursuit” remake is a perfection fusion of the classic title and “Burnout’s” relentless sense of speed and excitement. I have such admiration for how doggedly Criterion attacks the engineering of an arcade racer, polishing it almost obsessively. There’s simply no other studio out there so committed to the refinement of that experience (although Black Rock is starting to make waves). And of course, the AutoLog is the kind of kick in the pants racing needs right now.

4. Red Dead Redemption. We all know Rockstar makes great sandbox games. Fine, whatever. But here, for the first time, they gave me the wholly engrossing narrative I’ve been waiting for. John Marsden is their best protagonist ever: a tough as nails man of few words with a real sense of decency and a hatred for federal government. Also, the Wild West ends up a much more manageable atmosphere for a sandbox title, and the game glides with a smoothness and polish not possible in the “GTA” titles. Combine that with surprisingly innovative, grind-quest style multiplayer and some really neat DLC, and you get one dynamite package. Also: there’s poker. I’ve lost so many hours to that damned poker.

3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2. A masterpiece. There is simply no reason to play a “Call of Duty” title this year. “Bad Company 2″ is every bit as sharp in a corridor shootout, then throws in vehicles, class structure, massive scale multiplayer, completely destructible environments, and a “Vietnam” DLC just to rub it in “Black Ops’” stupid face. Don’t let those idiots at IGN ward you off the campaign being disappointing, either, they’re just making crap up. DICE is the bus driver, and they’re taking Treyarch to school.

2. Halo: Reach. The penultimate “Halo” experience, completely without peer both within its franchise and throughout the shooter community. The balance is so perfect that the rush of the “Halo” experience comes back fresh. New features like daily challenges, a revitalized rank system, expanded Forge capabilities, newly perfected Firefight, armor abilities, and space combat leave the game bursting at the seams. And then, of course, there’s the stuff we take for granted: Forge, four player co-op, Firefight, full replay functionality in all game modes, the list just keeps going. Without question, “Halo: Reach” is as superb a first person shooter as has ever been made.

1. Starcraft 2. Revolutionary in almost no way, but exceedingly brilliant from head to toe, “Starcraft 2″ is so perfectly delicious that it’s almost hard to stand it. The soul of the original game is lovingly preserved, but it’s hard to even imagine going back to it after experiencing this thing. All three races receive perfectly executed overhauls to unit structure, the Battle.Net functionalities are fantastic, the new tutorials are super-helpful, map editing is back in all its glory, and the story is rife with delicious 80s-style cheese. But best of all, “Starcraft 2″ features the best campaign I’ve played all year, and one of the best in Blizzard’s esteemed catalog. It’s long, full of surprises, and ramps up to an exhausting conclusion. Every second was perfect, maintaining challenge and fun without compromising either (a rare achievement). Now I know multiplayer is a big deal these days, but for me, “Game of the Year” is about who creates the definitive single-player experience. There is no question in my mind that Blizzard takes the cake on that one.