You know what gives me a headache? Besides trying to decide what to get my mother for Christmas, I mean. (Seriously, the woman has everything.) Trying to figure out a “Best Of” list. What do we mean when we say a game is the “best”? The most fun? The highest quality? The one with the most kittens?
Now, favorites, that’s a far easier – and frankly, more fun – list to assemble. The criteria for a game’s inclusion on this list is the enjoyment I derived from playing it, nothing more, nothing less. Many games this year thrilled, impressed, and innovated, but the ones on this list did something even better. They made me happy.
5. Plants vs. Zombies (PC, Mac)
PopCap’s games are so consistently excellent that I’m fairly certain at least one person on staff has made some sort of unholy pact with a demonic entity, but even amongst its brethren, PvZ is special. Brilliantly weird – seriously, fighting zombies with sunflowers and peas? – its addictiveness is surpassed only by its charm and humor. The notes left by the zombies are pure gold, and the descriptions of the zombies in your journal will make you laugh out loud. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve beaten it by now, but I keep coming back to it anyway. I don’t imagine it’ll ever leave my desktop. Oh, and simply because I have to do it to you one more time, here’s that super-catchy theme song.
4. Emerald City Confidential (PC, Mac)
The setup for this adventure game sounds like its developers pulled random genres and settings out of a hat: a noir mystery set in L. Frank Baum’s Oz? That is some serious random, right there. But it works. Brilliantly. Perfectly balanced between grim shadow and whimsical light, it uses the familiar characters and locations of Oz in unexpected, yet very gratifying, ways. Emerald City has everything a great mystery needs – betrayal, loss, love, greed, redemption – but it never loses its sense of humor or whimsy. If you’ve ever lamented the state of storytelling in videogames, restore your hope by enjoying this game’s fantastic writing and character development.
3. The Path (PC, Mac)
I’m not sure The Path is what you’d call “fun,” exactly. I’m not even sure it’s fair to call it a game. What I do know is that it’s beautiful, strange, unsettling, and thought-provoking: welcome qualities in an industry burdened by an overwhelming feeling of sameness. It’s also really, really creepy without ever being overt. It’s short and it’s weird, the only way to win is to lose, and it leaves you with more questions than answers. But the fate of the game’s protagonists – various versions of Red Riding Hood – rests largely in your imagination, making each player’s experience a truly unique one.
2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
There’s a lot to like about this game – jaw-droppingly gorgeous locations, polished platforming and high-speed action, for example – but Uncharted 2 makes my list because of its cast. The search for Shambhala wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without the sharp writing and perfect voice acting that bring Nate, Chloe, and Elena to life. I want Nate to succeed not because he’s the star of my game, but because I genuinely like him – it’s not often that a character can inspire and sustain that kind of emotional connection with the player while maintaining its own identity. Yeah, he’s the kind of imperfectly perfect man that you only find in movies, but I’ll gladly follow Nate on any adventure he takes.
1. Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
My first clue that Dragon Age was something special was when I told someone that I’d “only gotten to play it for about 20 hours so far.” Only 20 hours, more time than I was willing to spend with scores of other games. BioWare’s epic, sprawling behemoth of an RPG certainly has its share of issues, including being fairly hideous on the Xbox 360, but I simply don’t care. Dragon Age makes me actually give a damn about saving the world in ways that games like Oblivion (which I also adore) never did. It’s huge, well-written, better acted, and stuffed to bursting with things to do. It’s even got a dog. What more could a girl want?
Tune in tomorrow for Jordan’s five favorite games of 2009. In case you missed any of our Fave Fives, check out the full list.