2010 was a pretty good year (Yes, I write letters and burn my CDs.) It was my first 12 month span as a full-time games journalist and I was able to meet some great people and attend some amazing events like GDC, San Diego Comic Con and PAX East. I am nothing but thankful for my time here at The Escapist and I’m looking forward to more in 2011.
Sentimentality aside, I also played a crapload of games in 2010, probably more than in any year of my life because, hey, it was my job. Some of the games that made my favorites list were games that I reviewed for work, but the ones that I played the most I found just like you did. I got a recommendation from a friend, or read a review from someone I trusted, went to the store (or digital marketplace) and bought it. Then, if it was good, I played it to hell. Like Susan Arendt said, these are the five games of 2010 that I would tell people to play because they are just amazingly well-made.
Playing the multiplayer beta this spring with my fellow Escapists was fun and all, but I was honestly more excited for the singleplayer campaign. Jim Raynor did not disappoint. I enjoyed the branching storylines and I found the voice-acting in the cinematics to be entertaining, especially the Southern drawl of Tychus Findlay. Some people didn’t like the script, but I was swept up in the space opera feel and the cheesiness seemed somehow appropriate.
Then there’s the gameplay, which perfectly nailed the classic RTS feel for which its predecessor was known. Juggling the sometimes competing responsibilities of mining resources and collecting vespene gas all while trying to fend off the pesky Zerg, Protoss and sometimes even fellow humans held all of the strategy and tactics that I could have wanted. The missions of the campaign are all well-designed and disparate enough to challenge different parts of the brain.
The huge multiplayer community and the addictive achievement system allows almost endless replay. And thanks to the excellent matchmaking system, my Protoss ass doesn’t get cremated every time I search for an opponent online. For a complete strategy game that is sure to have years of value, you can’t get much better than StarCraft II.
Basketball is my one non-dorky pastime and having recently gotten back into watching the NBA with the rise of my old team, the Boston Celtics, I was impressed with how well NBA 2K11 translated the game of professional basketball. It also shows a healthy appreciation for the history of the sport by paying homage to the legacy of its greatest player. The Jordan Challenges lovingly recreate ten of his Airness’s best performances and you as the player must match Jordan’s statline to complete the challenge.
The coolest part is that these historical games get everything right, from the (mostly) correct rosters, to the arena interiors and a newly recorded audio commentary specific to that game’s place in history. There are just so many different ways to experience basketball in 2K11 like the deep My Player career mode, league and online multiplayer, and slam dunk contests and 3v3 pickup games with your favorite NBA star or rapper.
Even if you hated that ballhog Jordan like I did, anyone who loves basketball, or sports games in general, will get something out of NBA 2K11. Here’s hoping that more sports games go the historical route in 2011. How cool would it be to play a game from the 70s, complete with audio clips from the original announcers and in-game footage?
Mount & Blade: Warband
This gem from TaleWorlds Entertainment is a medieval war simulator that lets you lead a troop of hardened soldiers as you increase your standing in the realm of Calradia. You start out as a lordling from one of the six factions, each with their own character and specialties in battles, and travel from village to town recruiting your army. Warband is played in two major views: a world map that shows terrain and location of other bands (or their tracks if you have the skill) and a first/third person view for entering towns or battles.
Skirmishes against bandits take place in a third person action sequence in which you swing your sword as your mount runs them down. Like an RPG, defeating enemies earns you XP, which you can spend to specialize your leader, but you can also “level” your troops and followers (NPCs with names that advance like you do, lending their skills to the party.) As you level up, and cozy up to your liege, you will find yourself assaulting castles and gaining fiefs under your control. Or, you can get rich by buying low and selling high, and equipping yourself with the best equipment to support the bid for a bastard to claim his throne. You can even court a lady and get her to marry you to increase your power.
There is no railroad in Warband, and no real story, except for the one that you write yourself. The open-world feel of Warband more than made up for its somewhat dated interface. No game combines feel of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones with a truly sandbox Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game better than Mount & Blade: Warband.
Civilization V does what the sequel to a beloved franchise should: bring back the core gameplay that we love (building a network of cities), make some changes to improve the game (ranged combat), and add some new features (city-states). The hex-based no-stack combat adds a great new element without changing the fun of researching technologies, defeating barbarians and blowing that god-damned Montezuma back to the stone age with a well-placed nuke.
It’s far from perfect, the diplomacy system could use an overhaul, and the AI can’t quite figure out how to use the new combat rules effectively (both of which I hope the latest patch will alleviate.) But despite its flaws, I spent more than a few nights playing one more turn of Civ V until I realized that the glare on my monitor was the sun coming up. I hadn’t felt like that since, well, the last Civilization came out and that convinced me that No. 5 was the continuation of a legacy that began on my tiny 386 PC back in 1991.
Mr. Pitts covered the Undead Nightmare, but I want to talk about the core game. Red Dead Redemption is the first great Western game and the first game that, for me, told a story on par with the greatest in literature and cinema. John Marston’s trials as he’s coerced to take out his former gang members after he’d gone straight is indeed a story of Redemption. It’s The Godfather, Tom Sawyer and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly combined, with hints of the absurdity of Catch-22 and Vonnegut.
But the excellent story is just gravy. The real pleasure of Red Dead Redemption is had just riding around the territories of New Austin on horseback, collecting herbs, and shooting birds, bears and robbers alike. I spent hours walking around the many towns and communities which are so full of life. Some nights, I spent more time playing the Liar’s Dice or Poker games than I did firing my Evans Repeater.
Rockstar Games have always included minigames but Red Dead Redemption is the first title in which they were fun enough for me to want to complete each challenge and collect every outfit. Getting 100% completion wasn’t a chore or even terribly difficult because the activities required were so inherently fun. Track animals and shoot them. Done. Collect herbs from every area. Already did that. Look dapper in all my cowboy outfits? Damn straight.
Red Dead Redemption is easily my favorite game of 2010.