2010 and Me: A Personal Journey
Perhaps most surprising is how front-loaded 2010 was with great games. I was mostly disappointed by the big holiday releases, and if you weren’t predisposed to geek out over Kinect it was hard to find a lot to hang your hat on through November and January. The biggest change this year in my own gaming habits was the acquisition of a PSP, opening up a whole new library of really interesting software. We’ve seen the big Japanese publishers struggle to find a way to succeed on the HD consoles, but they’re doing some very creative and inventive things on the PSP.
Without further ado, here are the games I had the most fun with in 2010.
Mass Effect 2 (PC/360) – Although I was disappointed by the brevity of the “Suicide Mission” the entire game was building towards, I still felt ME2 provided one of my most enjoyable gaming experience this year. Bioware did the smart thing cutting out all the RPG cruft they had tried to wedge into the first game’s combat to deliver what Mass Effect should have been all along, a clean shooter experience linked together in a sprawling, nonlinear RPG structure. The writing for the individual recruiting and loyalty missions was almost uniformly excellent, and this would be my, hands down, favorite game of the year if it had delivered an entire third act once you journey through that last relay, and not a single combat encounter. Despite that missed opportunity, still one of the best games I’ve played all year.
Alpha Protocol (PC/360/PS3) – Sadly savaged by much of the press, AP delivered an admittedly janky experience in places, but it also delivered some of the best writing and the most dynamic and reactive narrative of any RPG this generations. Lots of RPGs these days let you tackle quests in any order you like, in Alpha Protocol that order could change the experience dramatically, opening and closing doors, altering relationships and shifting the plot seamlessly.
Half-Minute Hero (PSP) – Anyone who says there’s nothing worth owning a PSP for reveals nothing but their own ignorance. Half-Minute Hero is an example of the kind of amazing, lo-fi RPG charmers that have been coming out of Japan for the last couple years. Adopting a retro, pixel-art style and playing on JRPG cliches to great effect, HMH is both a love letter to 8 and 16 bit Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy titles, and a brilliant deconstruction of those series’ conventions. The time limit, auto-combat and scenario designs turn each round into a puzzle unto itself. You are also given multiple modes of play, including an RTS and Shooter. I’ve dropped a dozen hours into the game and still only scratched the surface.
Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (PC) – In another great twist on the traditional JRPG genre, Recettear puts the player in charge of a stereotypical item shop you might find in one of those games. Required to make increasingly large payments against your missing father’s enormous dept, you have to buy low, sell high and hire adventurers to plumb the depths of nearby dungeons for valuable relics. Just the zen of haggling with townspeople and arranging your inventory is pleasurable, but the addition of optional action-RPG dungeon crawls and a funny and charming localization elevate this indie game from Japan.
Assassin’s Creed II (PC/360/PS3) – I’d apologize for being late to the party on this one, but the PC version didn’t come out until early this year. But, man, what a fantastic game. Truly gorgeous, incredibly satisfying mechanics and the best sense of vertigo I’ve ever experienced in a game. I’m really not good with heights and some of those climbs were simple terrifying. I’m extremely excited to play Brotherhood as soon as it gets a PC release next year.
Final Fantasy V (SNES/PSX/GBA) – Despite having bought this game multiple times for multiple platforms, I’m shamed to say it was not until this year I actually beat the game. The cast isn’t as big as the other 16 bit Final Fantasy titles, nor is the plot as complex, but the job system makes character development more interesting and it has a wonderful score. One of the shorter FF games, but that’s not a bad thing when you’re just trying to get through your backlog of shame.
Portal (PC/Mac/360/PS3) – I know what you’re thinking, but no, I did not wait until Portal was free to play it. Admittedly, I missed it on the first go around since I already had Half-Life 2 and didn’t want to buy the Orange Box, so I waited a long time for the stars to align on the right Steam sale for Portal ala carte. As you’ve no doubt heard many times before, Portal is brilliant and hilarious.
Battlefield: Bad Company II (PC/360/PS3) – Looking back at the year in military shooters, I have to admit Bad Company II actually delivered my favorite experience. Medal of Honor had moments, but in the end came across as half-baked. Black Ops was so preoccupied with delivering a thrill a minute experience that you never got a chance to breath. Bad Company II has great mechanics, cool destructibility, a genuine sense of humor and gravitas. Best of all it’s paced such that the quieter moments actually help you appreciate the crazy shit.
Valkyria Chronicles II (PSP) – Not having a PS3, I missed the first Valkyria Chronicles, but the sequel was kind enough to skip its way over to the PSP. I can’t evaluate exactly how well the mechanics of II compare to the first title, but I’ve been quite satisfied with the tactical combat and squad management it presents. The visual novel storytelling may be excessively verbose, and no doubt offputting to some, but there’s no arguing with the actual battle mechanics.
Z.H.P.: Unlosing Ranger Vs. Darkdeath Evilman (PSP) – What do we have here? Another charming PSP strategy/RPG title out of Japan! ZHP is from Nippon Ichi, makers of the Disgaea games, and represents that grindy style of gameplay taken to extremes. I’ve only just dipped my toes in to this game, but you have to love a title that apologises for only containing a single battle before the game starts. Twice. Most of the game you will spend leveling up your character through a series of training dungeons, reincarnating every time you die, but retaining some of your built-up stats. Also: you are married to a penguin who brings you lunch mid-dungeon, should you ask.