The new year brings with it a host of little rituals that bring a welcome variety to our otherwise hideous existences, and not just the ones where you drink yourself inside out and mouth along to the only person in the room who actually does know the words to Auld Lang Syne. There’s choosing a new desk calendar. Spending the first few weeks putting the wrong year on official forms and checks. And, of course, the inevitable slew of 2010 retrospectives, so that at one point the front page of The Escapist resembled an airport arrivals board at around ten minutes past eight in the evening.
Coming up with a top five and a bottom five was quite enjoyable, because the most interesting games to write about are the ones I really really hate and the ones I really really love. It was an opportunity to not have to come up with things to say about the just plain mediocre stuff that execute themselves reasonably competently but fail to hit any joy buzzers. Even I was surprised by Just Cause 2 going in at number one, but once you’re going into broad assessments rather than picking through all the individual bits, I find it better to take more of a meta-analysis. JC2 and Dead Rising 2 were both games I ended up wanting to play once my obligation as a critic had ended. Which is not to say that playing most games is a chore these days, but once a video is up the need to move on and get started on something for next week’s video is an overpowering one that only a truly special game can penetrate.
The rest of the top and bottom 5s were a little harder to pick. There are still quite a few titles from the year that deserve being retrospected for one reason or another, so through the medium of Extra Punctuation, ever the sober Wednesday clarification of Thursday’s manic knob gag jamboree, here are the honorable (and dishonorable) mentions.
First of all, one rule I decided on early in the creation of my top 5 was that any expansion pack sequel (as in, a sequel that plays virtually identically to the previous game just with different levels and a few new mechanics) would be automatically disqualified, no matter how much fun they were. Because that fun belongs to the original game and the year that game came out. It doesn’t get to put a new hat on and take part in this year’s race, too, that’s just not fair on the other kids. With that in mind, Mario Galaxy 2 and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood were both out, despite being good. Brotherhood‘s multiplayer was a nice addition but hardly enough to elevate it any higher than DLC territory, and encouraging Nintendo to keep turning the handle on the money grinder makes every instinct in my body want to explode messily from my nervous system.
In no particular order, I want to pick up Dark Void again. After starting out on a bit of a stumble with rather generic combat and a main character voiced by Nolan North, whose portrayals of heroic characters make me want to knock their pearly white teeth out with a chunk of concrete on the end of some bent rebar, the game suddenly and unexpectedly took to the skies like a mighty eagle when the jetpack mechanics were introduced. Then the rocket fuel ran out and they crashed into a nursery school, but they still get the polite thanks-for-trying round of applause.
I had high hopes for Alan Wake that weren’t exactly met, which is probably why I was less than kind to it and all that sticks out in my mind when I recall it is long periods of token combat breaking up characters acting absolutely incomprehensibly while saliva drooled from their poorly-animated botox mouths. But the atmosphere was built nicely and it’s good to see a game focus on a strong single player experience with a carefully constructed plot, so yay Remedy I suppose. And speaking of things sticking out in my mind, Bayonetta certainly does that, although probably not for the right reasons.
Lastly, on the indie front, Super Meat Boy was a nice bit of retro arcade-y fun that demonstrates that the best way to have a game that kills the player over and over again and still be appealing is to keep a fast pace and a good soundtrack. The victory recap where you get to watch all your previous attempts take on the level simultaneously was like a spectacular fireworks display. Shame about its tiresome fondness for “random” humor. Oh, he’s a doctor who is a fetus in a glass tank with a hat. Good thing I wore sturdy trousers because I just LMAO’d.
I’m still in a slightly festive, upbeat New Year mood so I’m disinclined to go into much detail on the dishonorable mentions. I’m rather tempted to just say “everything else,” but that’s unfair. Let me just warn you particularly away from boring creepy-unblinking-mannequin-face extravaganza Lost Planet 2; the unpleasant token appearance of Splinter Cell Conviction; and Darksiders, the game as bereft of new ideas as a student’s laundry basket is of pleasant spring breezes.
Finally there are two games I’m strangely neutral on, that fit comfortably in neither the honorable nor the dishonorable mentions, and yet I cannot consider them mediocre, either. The odd ducks. The Thalidomide babies to mediocrity’s drab, fish-paste-eating accountants.
The first is Mass Effect 2. The game has featured prominently in many top 5 lists, but Mass Effect as a series still gives me this feeling of strangeness I can’t quite put my finger on. The story’s perfectly fine, the gameplay’s functional if not outstanding, the space exploring is exactly the sort of thing I should like. But the plasticky, expressionless faces, the overly clean environments, the unconvincing voice acting and the unnatural animations that don’t sync with the dialogue rather eerily put me in mind of The Prisoner. It’s like I’m steering marionettes around a pen and paper campaign put together by an autistic from space.
And lastly, Heavy Rain. It’s a hard game to classify, to the point that I’m a little dubious about even calling it a “game.” The quick-time-event action sequences are completely ridiculous, the plot has more holes than a men’s room cubicle made entirely of sponge, and the voice acting’s up there with daytime TV adverts for debt consolidation firms, but I’ll be buggered if the concept doesn’t have some potential. I can’t deny the self-mutilation scene is one that has stayed with me like few other moments in games, and not just because I think all parents of small children should have their extremities cut off.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.