5. Bioshock 2 (PS3/360/PC - Played on PS3)
Not on its own. Bioshock 2 and Minerva's Den are the perfect juxtaposition of frenetic action and compelling narrative. The intial product managed to address many of the control issues of the first game, allowing players to duel-wield weapons and plasmids. The addition of Big Sisters and Eve Harvesting made for some exciting encounters, and ensured that the return to Rapture wasn't just retreading water (ha! underwater dystopia pun). The story was a mixed bag of with the shallow, ideological conflict between Sophia Lamb and Rapture's father, Andrew Ryan; and the protagonist's quest to be reunited with his Little Sister, which just happens to be Lamb's daughter, Eleanor. The battle between Lamb and Ryan plays out over the series' staple of audio logs, and never sounds overly meaningful. If Lamb was such a powerful political opponent to Ryan, you would imagine that she would have played a far more prominent role in the city's downfall. Not so. The principal pursuit of a reunion with Eleanor however, is particularly forceful; and where politics bemuse, love prevails. Minerva's Den is the stronger narrative experience, with some truly surprising and stirring moments. There were few meaningful additions as far as gameplay is concerned, but Sigma's battle to liberate The Thinker is an essential experience. The final hour in particular, features several fantastic set pieces and the second biggest tearkjerker of the year. I'd talk about the multiplayer component, but this dispensable failure only serves to diminish my fervour for this exceptional sequel.
4. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker (PSP)
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker is easily the most visually impressive game released on the PSP. It also happens to feature the most fluid control system for any shooter released on Sony's portable console, and rarely provided frustration while sneaking through the jungles of Nicaragua. For those with the patience to delve into the game's economy, a plethora of weapons and equipment will be developed for your various play styles. You can opt to go naked, to carry more weapons with the trade-off of being more visible and susceptible to damage. On the other hand, you can don a sneaking suit and attempt to move undetected. The boss fights are grand in scale, and clearly designed for cooperative play. With the right equipment and strategy however, they can be conquered alone. The action is deep, but the narrative is easily the most memorable aspect of this title. What starts off as a reasonably innocuous investigation of military activity, quickly escalates to full-scale nuclear tension between world superpowers. Add to this the apparent sightings of Naked Snake's mentor, and you have a legitimate and essential chapter in the MGS canon. Snake's reunion with The Boss is the biggest tearjerker in recent memory. The end to the final confrontation forces players to relive the most horrific moment of the protagonist's life over and over again. Both characters may look (VERY) different, but questions of The Boss' betrayal still linger; once again forcing Snake to question his ideals. The story doesn't end there, with many missions and audio files to plough through upon finishing the main quest.
3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PS3/PC/360 - Played on PS3)
Bad Company 2 is unbridled fun with firearms. Either alone, with friends or anonymous foes, the sheer chaos that unfolds on screen will demand hours of dedicated play. The single player campaign progresses at a frenetic pace, with breathtaking on-rails sequences and epic firefights. The story may not be essential, but it does tie these events together competently. While there were some missions towards the end that digressed to the grind of other checkpoint-based FPS campaigns, the overall pace of the title was exceptional. Bad Company 2 also features one of the most hilariously zany conclusions I've had the joy of playing through, with violent exchanges of gunfire on a plane, followed by a skydive chase. The multiplayer suite is well supported, with several updates and map packs being made available after release (most for free if you bought a new copy of the game). The addictive class-based play affords players numerous strategy, and is as deep and rewarding as the competition. The true star though in both the single and multiplayer offerings, is the almost-entirely destructible environments. There is no safe hiding place, and the absence of a sanctuary forces players to engage in sometimes unbelievable acts of heroism (and/or vengence). For an example: in the map, White Pass I had taken refuge in the second floor of a farm house, and had snaked a few cheeky kills with a mounted turret. An opponent stealthily entered the structure and stabbed me in the back, taking my precious dog tags. Enraged at my own assassination, and thankfully spawning within a short walk of my previous location, I proceeded to demolish the ceiling of my former safe haven with an underbarrel grenade launcher so that my assassin was exposed. Alterted to my presence (stealth was not part of the plan), my enemy returned fire and nearly killed me. I jumped into a nearby well, popped out, and killed my rival and two of his teammates with a spirited burst of fire. I felt like a hero. A murderous, vengeful hero (but a hero all the same).
2. Red Dead Redemption (PS3/360 - Played on PS3)
What can I say about Red Dead Redemption that has not gone unsaid by myself, or most other critics for that matter? While some were happy to assume that the game was essentially Grand Theft Auto with Horses, John Marston's quest to redeem himself and save his family was the most involving single player adventure to be released this year. The second chapter of the story is perhaps a bit too long, and the numerous fetch quests do become somewhat tiresome, but the endearing characters and thoughtful dialogue ensured that I was engaged from start to finish. Aside from the principal tale, there are hours worth of side-quests, and a complex economy to observe. It is easy to get lost on the frontier for hours on end; stopping thieves, hunting game, helping strangers, and even picking flowers. The multiplayer was an interesting concept, but unfortunately the action didn't translate perfectly from the solo campaign. It was fun enough, but was ultimately nothing more than a distraction.
1. Halo: Reach (360)
Do you know what I find to be the most annoying idiosyncracy amongst almost all of the gaming websites I visit?
The "Game of the Year," award almost never goes to the game which attained the highest score over the course of the year. Now that I'm involved with a blog, what do I do? Engage in the same irritating behaviour.
I loved this game. After I had finished the campaign, and proceeded to play other games, I felt like I was cheating on it. I felt like my game time was not being spent effectively. Halo: Reach is my sentimental favourite for the year. Sure it may be similar to every other instalment of the series, but when the action is this good, does it matter?
The action is rarely not grand (read: EPIC) in scale, and Bungie expertly allows players to feel as though they are on the losing side of a war. More than that, the pace shifts constantly with brilliant vehicle sequences (including an excellent space dogfight); intense, on-foot firefights, and well-directed cut scenes. Noble Team (with the exception of Kat) are all a likeable band of rogues, and that makes the final hours of the campaign all the more poignant and vital. The fall of Reach is easily more engaging than any previous narrative instalment in the series, and was a great joy to experience. The single player quest demands multiple playthroughs (although so far I've only managed one). Game-changing Skulls are all available from the outset too, as are multiple difficulties, ensuring that the experience can be altered to suit your tastes. I am determined however to earn the achievement titled "A Monument To All Your Sins," for finishing the game alone on Legendary difficulty; an Xbox Live friend has it, and I often gaze upon it, seething jealous rage. Two missions down, eight to go.
The multiplayer offering introduces Armour Abilities into the standard, low-gravity combat and is as enjoyable as ever. The maps and new weapons offer a visual and strategic feast that any Xbox 360 owner should indulge in. There is plenty for competitive and cooperative enthusiasts, with Firefight mode returning from Halo 3: ODST and new modes like Invasion bringing large scale battles to the series, and add much to the already strong (not to mention, diverse) multiplayer suite. Best of all, a persistent reward system operates across both solo and multiplayer activity, which means no time with the game goes without recompense.
Halo: Reach may not be the most original game released in 2010, however it is easily the most polished. A gripping, sometimes moving narrative, coupled with white-knuckle action that can be enjoyed alone or with company; Halo: Reach offers more fun than any other game released this year.
What was your GOTY? What would you like to see from Unbearable Dutch next year?
That's it from me this year. Have a happy and safe holiday season, and I'll see you all back here for my first regular post of 2011 on Monday, 3 January.