Games

Moving Pixels: 2010 Game of the Year Edition

As the diversity of our picks reveal, 2010 was a difficult year to pick a single Game of the Year for, which has only been a good thing for gamers.

Yes, 2010 was full of sequels and other extensions of franchises, but it also saw some unique properties, some oddball worlds, and a few indie offerings that rounded out mainstream publishers efforts to refine, rather than innovate this year. Refinement is probably the major theme of some of the games that my Moving Pixels cohorts and myself chose as some of our top picks for the year. Games like Mass Effect 2,Super Mario Galaxy 2, Dead Rising 2, and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (or even Red Dead Redemption if one assumes that Rockstar's foray into the Old West is a broadly defined refinement of their typical open worlds) were all follow ups that tweaked, added onto, and otherwise built upon the foundations of previous franchise installments.

However, experiment, some smatterings of the avant garde, strong narrative and characterization, and other general weirdness were also present in new intellectual properties like Heavy Rain, Deadly Premonition, Enslaved, and Loved.

So, without further ado, we present the Game of the Year, as seen by several Moving Pixels bloggers and contributors. As the diversity of our picks reveal, 2010 was a difficult year to pick a single Game of the Year for, which has only been a good thing for gamers.

 

Heavy Rain, Sony Computer Entertainment

Kris Ligman, Miss Anthropy

With Heavy Rain, developers Quantic Dream promised us a completely interactive movie with the captivating quality of a good suspense thriller. Did they deliver? Not really.

However, the talk surrounding Heavy Rain leading up to and following its release was, if anything, more exciting than the game itself. Designers and critics alike often entertain something akin to Ender's fantasy game, an interactive experience so adaptive that it can account for any possible player action. We are a long way from achieving that, and if the limitations of Heavy Rain are anything to go by, we may not actually want what we think we want. It's all well and good that a game permits me to explore life and death decisions, but if it fails to follow through, as Heavy Rain does, the fundamentals of player choice are forever broken.

Nevertheless, while we have a tendency in media studies to historicize the evolution of a medium in terms of its successes, there's just as

much to be written about those works and technologies that didn't succeed. Heavy Rain represents a gigantic missed opportunity, but the fact that we're able to recognize that and formulate how it might have looked instead allows for a brighter future in game development.

Kris's Honorable Mention:

Loved, Alexander Ocias

 

Deadly Premonition, Ignition Entertainment

G. Christopher Williams, Neuromance

Every time that I discuss Deadly Premonition, it begins with the same preamble: “Look, the graphics are outdated, the inappropriate load screens are unforgivable, and the combat is nothing short of completely wretched, but . . .”

And it is that all important “but” that has left me and a number of other critics entranced by Access Games's love letter to David Lynch. Hybridizing survival horror with an open world structure might, at first, seem insensible, but the result is enchantingly bizarre. Once one gets past the aforementioned flaws (and, believe me, they are some righteous flaws), exploring the mind of protagonist Francis York Morgan and the environs of Greenvale is whimsical, surprising, and macabre in equal measure. Making the schizophrenic quality of the experience of playing as a character in a game one of the central problems of the main character (through Morgan's own multiple personality disorder) results in a perspective as weird and off kilter as the town and inhabitants of that town that Morgan has been charged with investigating.

The game asks much of the player: first, in terms of one's patience with some staggeringly bad design choices, but ultimately, in terms of reconsidering the kind of story that can be told in a video game about a fictional player and about the player who occupies that persona themselves. The game is a challenge to initially enjoy but reveals a narrative, style, and world that is “challenging” in a more positive sense. If you can get past its rawest edges, this is a world (and head space) worth living in for awhile.

Chris's Honorable Mentions:

Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar

Loved, Alexander Ocias

 

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Eidos Interactive

Jorge Albor, Experience Points

While not as grandiose, as spectacular, or even as daring as the two honorable mentions on my list, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is one of the most entertaining video game experiences of 2010. Developer Crystal Dynamics, creators of the well received Tomb Raider: Underworld, put in every effort to fill this game with cleverly designed puzzles and enough optional challenges to keep you playing well after the game has earned its cost. While the single-player is fantastic, the game truly shines in cooperative mode. Lara and Totec, the titular Guardian, upgrade weapons separately and each have a few items all their own, which demand players work together to overcome obstacles. Some of the secondary objectives are both silly and challenging, which makes for both thrilling and hilarious gameplay moments. DLC this good makes me wonder whether Lara Croft needs her inevitable reboot after all.

Jorge's Honorable Mentions:

Mass Effect 2, Electronic Arts

Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar

 

Super Mario Galaxy 2, Nintendo

Scott Juster, Experience Points

Super Mario turned 25 this year, making him a Methuselah among video game mascots.  However, 2010 has shown that Mario refuses to slow down: Super Mario Galaxy 2 demonstrates that the series is as strong and as relevant as ever.  With the original Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo proved that there were new ways to explore three-dimensional space.  Super Mario Galaxy 2 fully realizes its predecessor's vision.  Individual worlds contain gameplay concepts strong enough to carry the entirety of less ambitious titles.  Levels that start off as side-scrolling homages to the past are literally turned on their heads as the camera swings out to show spherical mazes and anti-gravitational walls.  Players of all skills and interests are drawn into the game’s non-Newtonian universe by challenges that teach technique even as they challenge. Perfectionists can relish the precision skill required to collect the secret stars, while virtual tourists can accompany a guide via a low-pressure co-op mode that still allows them to retain agency.  Super Mario Galaxy 2 carries on the Super Mario tradition of presenting players with a fantastic world that still feels intuitive and welcoming.  It is a superb work of art that draws on past triumphs while eagerly embracing new challenges.

Scott's Honorable Mentions:

Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar

Bioshock 2 (and its add on: Minerva’s Den), 2K Games

 

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Ubisoft

Nick Dinicola, Utter Miscellany

At first, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood looks like an unambitious game since it sticks with the same setting and character from Assassin's Creed II, but the most impressive thing about Brotherhood is how it improves on the already winning formula of Assassin's Creed II by giving me new features and refinements that I didn't even know I wanted.

I loved the old, slow paced combat, but the new kill chaining makes combat so fluid that I pick fights just for the fun of it. I enjoyed rebuilding Monteriggioni, but I never could have predicted how obsessed I'd become with owning every shop in Rome. The very notion of multiplayer seemed like an anathema to Assassin's Creed, but Ubisoft has given us a unique game of cat and mouse that feels like a natural fit for the series. Then, there are the Assassin recruits, maps of collectibles, and tons of varied side missions. It's that dedication to improvement, that refusal to let the franchise grow stale, and the fact that I just love stabbing dudes, that makes Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood my game of the year.

Nick's Honorable Mentions:

Mass Effect 2, Electronic Arts

Heavy Rain, Sony Computer Entertainment

 

Rock Band 3, MTV Games

Mike Schiller, Unlimited Lives

Despite constant advancements in technology and the ability for games to tell stories, there are few games that can inspire the people who play them to pursuits beyond the games themselves. Rock Band 3 is one of those games, a game that may require a substantial investment to play to its fullest potential, but also a game that inspires players to learn -- in an admittedly limited way -- how to play actual musical instruments. The addition of the keyboard peripheral is the most obvious advancement beyond the well-established four-piece music game setup, but a player willing to put an extra 150 bucks into the game might actually learn to play guitar as well. Work your way up to expert in any of the pro instruments, and you’ll be able to plunk out recognizable versions of Rock Band 3’s songs on guitar, drums, or even the piano.

The popular knock on music games has always been the question of commitment to a “game version” of an instrument, when a similar commitment to the actual instrument would be a more productive use of time. While productivity is certainly subjective, Rock Band 3 is the first true answer to such a criticism.

Mike's Honorable Mentions:

Angry Birds, Clickgamer Media/Chilingo

Etrian Odyssey III: The Drowned City, Atlus

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