Before we dig into the first weeks’ gaming offerings of 2011 (although we’ve kinda started at the GotGame office), here are 17 notable games from 2010, some of which were downright great, some just worth mentioning for making a unique contribution this year. You’ll disagree on some of these choices I’m sure, but that’s why we have a comments section. Feel free to chime in with your picks using equally unorthodox categories.
Checklist Award â€“ Enslaved: Odyssey To The West (PS3/Xbox 360) /Â Majin and The Forsaken Kingdom (PS3/Xbox 360)
Every year it feels like the industry manages to collectively conquer some kind of technical or artistic hurdle. One year itâ€™s water effects or in other years itâ€™s ragdoll physics or enemy AI. 2010 proved how far escort missions have come along since its many poor executions in the early 2000â€™s. Â It once got so bad that a large part of me wanted to ban escort missions altogether. Now entire games–not just one or two stages–are escort missions and are equally exemplified in two games (coincidentally published by Namco Bandai), Enslaved: Odyssey To The West and Majin and The Forsaken Kingdom. Incidentally both titles differ in that one game gives you primary control of the muscle in the duo while the other game puts you in the shoes of the slightly less brutish companion.
Williamsberg Award – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (XBLA/PSN)
Just look at the screenshot below. If you can find a game that has more hipsters, Iâ€™d be happy to consider it.
Steve McQueen Award – Kane & Lynch 2 (Xbox 360/PS3; Story mode only)
Many adventure games and first person shooters have the occasional scenario where the player has to escape someone or some place. Now studios are making entire games based on escaping a really bad situation. Despite its shortcomings, no escape themed game in 2010 captured the tension and anxiety of getting the hell out of a place than Kane & Lynch 2. The title charactersâ€™ aggro personalities combined with some obligatory twists and the handycam-like realism made it edge out another Shanghai-evacuation title, Army of Two: The 40th Day.
Horseless Carriage Award – Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3/Xbox 360)
In a year that finally saw a new Gran Turismo game and interesting ideas from Split/Second and Blur, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit held out as the top driving game of 2010. This first NFS effort by Burnout designers Criterion Games gives players a huge dose of duality by offering the opportunity to be the pursuer or the prey.
Movie As Game Award – Heavy Rain (PS3)
Just like how Inception was practically a video game movie not based on any game, Heavy Rain became the other side of that coin, as a cinematic game not based on any movie. Of course Quantic Dream’s latest borrows heavily from cinema, with the most glaring reference being the works of David Fincher. Its execution might not have been perfect, but as I’ve said before, it’s one of the most social non-multiplayer games ever made. My first hand example was a dinner party where my guests and I passed the controller to a different person at the start of a new chapter. My Day One playthrough of Heavy Rain was treated like an at-home version of a midnight premiere of a summer blockbuster film, without the need to camp in line. Some say the best games are those where onlookers are just as engrossed as the person holding the controller. Heavy Rain was the best of that kind in 2010.
Best Solo/Cooperative Combo Game – Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (XBLA/PSN)
I donâ€™t know how much of a challenge it was in terms of level design, but I found that Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light did an amazing job in offering both single and cooperative gameplay while doing very few tweaks to the levels themselves when switching between the modes. This wasn’t a small feat in 2010 when games like Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn also had similar drop-in/drop-out qualities.
Best Remake – Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP)
In many gaming circles, seeing a remake of a classic title from previous console generations is almost expected. It is when a sleeper title with a cult following gets remade does it become a pleasant surprise. The latest Ys release by XSEED is one of the best examples of a cult remake in 2010. This Zelda clone (in the best way possible) originally came out during the 16-bit era and this PSP reworking of Adol Christin’s third adventure gets the 3D model overhaul. What really pulls at the nostalgia strings is the game’s faithfulness to the original’s level sequence and flow. If you haven’t picked this up yet, it’s worth it to replay the Genesis version first and then follow it up with this remake, just to see how much Falcom really takes its fanbase seriously. You can also look forward to PSP remakes of Ys I & II next year.
PCU Award – Sakura Wars: So Long, My Love (PS2/Wii)
Whether it’s befriending a Mexican tween wielding six-shooters who yells “Ariba!” with an Italian accent or having to defend the preservation of 1930’s Harlem by talking about soul food and jazz, the levels of political incorrectness in Sakura Wars are so excessive, it’s hard to get mad at the game. After over a decade of releases in Japan, a Sakura Taisen title finally made it to the US, courtesy of NIS America, who did a fine job with its multiplatform release, and giving PlayStation 2 fans a notably more hardcore treatment.
Best Story – Halo: Reach (Xbox 360)
Iâ€™m always impressed when games like God of War III and Assassinâ€™s Creed: Brotherhood preserves the overall story arc by resuming the story right where the previous installment left off. Â Halo: Reach actually managed to do it in reverse, by ending the game right were the very first Halo started. Iâ€™m a sucker for this kind of circular storytelling and made for a fitting swansong for Bungieâ€™s involvement with the franchise. Most studios do not get the opportunity to present a multi-game story with so much cohesion.
Most Promising Game of 2011 -Â Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS3)
Sure, many of us only have that fiery building scene to go by, but Naughty Dog has given us no reason to doubt that this is so farÂ the Day One purchase of 2011. The studio clearly knows the expectations they have to live up to and almost makes me wish I wasnâ€™t a videogame writer as part of me wants to experience the full version with fresh eyes. The last time I felt that way about a game was with Metal Gear Solid 4.
Scariest Game Award – Alan Wake (Xbox 360)
What was the string instrument that accompanied the many camera shots of murders stalking Mr. Wake? A violin? A cello? A fiddle? Whatever it is, Remedyâ€™s long-awaited adventure in the Pacific Northwest certainly helped in freaking out its share of gamers. Iâ€™m usually the completist type who likes to kill all the enemies I come across. Yet Alan Wake turned me into one-part Ichabod Crane, one-part large-breasted cheerleader as I took my share of opportunities to make a break for every light upcoming light source that kept me safe, provided the light stayed on.
Sales Pitch Award – God of War III (PS3)
Riding along the Titans gave the feeling that God of War III really made the most of its Shadow of the Colossus influence. How can you do anything less when it is a war against the gods of Olympus? Despite how divisive consumers were on how the rest of the game compared to the first hour, itâ€™s hard to deny how God of War IIIâ€™s opening scenes made for ideal home theater demo material.
No Focus Group Award – H.A.W.X. 2 (Wii)
While the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of H.A.W.X. 2 played it safe by dipping into the Tom Clancy playbook, the Wii version feels like it was developed by a studio who didnâ€™t feel they had to cater to any one specific audience. Describing it to friends is part of the fun: â€œSo the story is told as if Tom Clancy was an anime writer; you also get to skydive from space; at one point the game gets bored of putting you in jets so by Mission 19 youâ€™re controlling a bird, and itâ€™s not even a hawk, get it?!â€
Best Visuals – Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii)
I don’t care if this textured cloth visual style is the new cel-shading. Epic Yarn might very well inspire a slew of poor knockoffs soon but that shouldn’t take away from this inspired effort by Nintendo. The cavity-inducing sweetness will certainly win over your less-hardcore significant other gamer. Â Comedian Daniel Tosh, in one of his well-known comedy bits, dares the audience â€œTry to frown while riding a WaveRunner. Itâ€™s impossible!â€ The same can be said about Kirbyâ€™s Epic Yarn. Itâ€™s difficult to get upset at a game where you technically canâ€™t die, but that doesnâ€™t take away from the gameâ€™s platform-based challenges.
Rerelease Award – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Game of the Year Edition (PS3)
The only way to top the near-unanimous 2009 Game of the Year is to rerelease it 12 months later with all the related DLC that has come out since. Highlights include the Eye of Indra motion comic and the add-ons to the multiplayer modes. Even with its competitive price of $49.99, no 2010 rerelease comes close.
Game of the Year – Bayonetta (Xbox 360, definitely not the PS3 version)
Even before this year started, there was a sense that 2010 would be one of the best years in videogames in a very long time. You could make a case for a number of titles as Game of the Year contenders, from the sci-fi noir richness of Mass Effect 2 to the ambitiousness of Red Dead Redemption. It was a win-win year for gamers except when it came to their wallets. Little did anyone realize that a game that came out in the very first week of 2010 would be one of those contenders? Bayonetta strikes that careful balance in delivering some forward-thinking Devil May Cry-influenced gameplay, while keeping one foot in the past with its twitch challenges and old school homage. More than anything, Bayonetta was one of many titles that proved that the demise of Japanese game development were greatly exaggerated. Just take a look at Vanquish, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, Super Street Fighter IV, most anything by Nintendo, Fragile Dreams, Nier, 3D Dot Game Heroes, Sin and Punishment 2, you get the idea.