Ask me to name the best games of 2010, then ask me to name my favorite games from 2010, and you’re going to get two vastly different lists. Not because I have lousy taste in games (though I’m told that I like “a lot of weird stuff,”) but because I’m actually two different people: the person who writes about games for a living and the person who plays them for fun.
The games on this list weren’t chosen because they were particularly innovative or groundbreaking, because they took design risks or launched a new and brilliant IP – though some of them did several of those things. The games on this list were chosen because I had a great time playing them. They’re the games that I recommend to friends, that I think about playing while I’m at work, that I revisit after I’ve beaten them because I can’t bear for my time with them to be over.
If you have a Kinect controller, this is the game you bust out to show off its impressive body-tracking tech to your friends. Unlike dance games on other platforms, Dance Central tracks your feet, not only increasing the challenge – no more faking it by just waving your hands around – but also the feeling that you’re genuinely dancing. Harmonix is exceptionally gifted at designing games that persuade you to willingly make a fool of yourself in living room, and even though the music featured in Dance Central isn’t going to suit everyone’s personal playlist, the easy-to-learn/difficult-to-master dance routines will have everyone in the room itching to take their turn.
It’s not the biggest or the deepest RPG out there, but it is certainly one of the most endearing. Its story, about rescuing your sibling from a bunch of candy-collecting monsters, seems perfectly reasonable within Costume Quest‘s whimsical and adorable world. The game’s Halloween-drenched aesthetics, complete with trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, and candy corn, feels a bit out of place this far from October, but the costume mechanics remain brilliant at any time of year. Each costume you find grants you different abilities in the turn-based combat, and if there’s anything more satisfying than using a giant rainbow-spewing unicorn to beat the crap out of monsters, I’ve yet to find it. The DLC, Grubbins on Ice, manages to make the Halloween mechanics work in a Christmastime setting (mostly), and serves up a few more costumes, including the hilarious Pirate.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
This choice should come as no surprise to regular readers of The Escapist; I’ve been singing this game’s praises since it came out back in August. I’ve always been a fan of Lara, but her games have sucked for so long that I’d pretty much forgotten what it was like to not sigh with disappointed resignation whenever I saw the twin pistols and short shorts. But Guardian of Light strikes just the right balance between brain and fingers, mixing clever environmental puzzles with wave after wave of beasties trying to eat your face. Stuffed to overflowing with collectibles and replay value, Guardian of Light‘s best feature is its exceptionally well done co-op mode, which now finally also has both online and local modes. Totec could’ve been some kind of vestigial tagalong, but instead he’s just as fun to play as Lara, though I do have to wonder how an ancient warrior who’s been stone for centuries manages to master firearms so quickly. Forget everything that the Tomb Raider games have been doing wrong for years, and remind yourself why Lara became a gaming icon in the first place.
Enslaved‘s platforming is nothing to write home about, its combat is pretty ordinary, and its camera just plain hates you. From a straight-up gameplay point of view, it’s utterly forgettable, its few nifty ideas overshadowed by its ordinary mechanics. You should play it anyway. It’s set in a dystopian future years after some immense catastrophe, and yet it’s not the grim brown that we’ve been trained to expect. The world of Enslaved is lush and vibrant as nature reclaims the land from civilization. Offices, cars, computers and televisions might all be the junked relics of a bygone people, but there is still a great deal of beauty in the world, giving hope for new beginnings. Enslaved also has some of the best voice acting and motion capture to ever grace a videogame; the performances of Andy Serkis and Lindsey Shaw are impressively subtle. Serkis’ experience in movies serves him extremely well as a digital storyteller; the cut scenes in Enslaved were some of the most entertaining and enthralling moments I experienced in a game all year. Think of it as a movie interrupted by button presses if you must, but treat yourself to the journey of Monkey and Tripp.
Mass Effect 2
Outstanding writing. Exceptional voice acting. Side quests that actually mean something. Moral ambiguity. A suicide mission that will save the universe. Show tunes. About the only thing Mass Effect 2 was missing that could’ve made it a better experience was ice cream.
Mass Effect 2 took everything its predecessor did well and did it just a little bit better, combining satisfying thumb-testing combat with a rich story featuring complex characters. Along the way, BioWare made sure to fix the things that were broken like Mass Effect‘s headache-inducing inventory system and boring resource gathering. Ok, well, maybe not everything got fixed, but with memorable characters like Mordin, a consummatable romance with Tali, and perhaps the most striking opening seen in this whole year of games, it was easy to forgive a bit of planet-scanning. Mass Effect 2 is a soaring space opera that delivers finely-tuned drama without forgetting that the greatest defense against despair is a good sense of humor. The first Mass Effect showed us that Shepard was heroic; its sequel showed us that she’s human. Bring on the end to the trilogy, because I can’t wait.
Susan Arendt will take you to Funkytown.