2010: The Year in Review

I’ve not been as active on the Slowdown as I’ve liked lately, something I hope to rectify this year. As it happens, I was actually playing games! Which left me with less time to write about them. 2010 was a very busy gaming year for me; the sheer number of quality titles was staggering, and I’ll try and give a brief mention to some of my personal favourites.

While I did enjoy a handful of the huge AAA releases in 2010, I would have to say that I’ve gotten stuck in deep into the indie scene, playing countless magnificent small scale titles be they fleetingly minimal or elaborately ambitious. RPS brought charming indie effort Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale to my attention, for which I’m ever so grateful. A cute little JRPG that turns the institution on its head and offers a twist on the tired formula of grinding and item management, Recettear had me spellbound for the duration of its campaign - after which there is still much more to discover. I will most definitely return to it to tackle its postgame modes. I spent a lot of time platforming too, mostly with VVVVVV and Super Meat Boy, two triumphant celebrations of the genre. Both incredibly challenging, but hopelessly addicting.

Despite being hopelessly terrible at strategy games, I continue to be fascinated by the many indie strategy offerings out there. Flotilla, from Blendo Games - the same nutters behind oddball Gravity Bone - is a quirky turn-based strategy adventure, reminiscent of previous procedural exploration series Infinite Space. I dig the flat-shaded glowing graphics, the simplicity of its mechanics and the bite-sized gameplay, all of which make for a great quick-fix. I am very much looking forward to the asynchronous turn-based Frozen Synapse, due out very soon. I fired up the beta client often the past few months, and enjoyed the Introversion-like aesthetics and intricately detailed command controls. The second Humble Indie Bundle contained a gem of a tower defense game, Revenge of the Titans, which overcame my dislike for the subgenre and wooed me with its distinct look and tight design.

Having joined the smartphone bandwagon this year, I have been trying to find good games for it, but the selection is disappointingly small save for a few fun time-wasters. Angry Birds has been quite the success story, and I can’t deny that I’ve spent many an idle moment trying to topple some towers. Game Dev Studio, the popular iPhone game about making games, finally came to Android so I was able to get a taste of its completely addictive grind.

I had a good time with all of these titles, but what blew me away in 2010 were the three games I was anticipating the most.

Assassin’s Creed 2 came to the PC a little later than its console counterparts, so I had to wait quite a while to get a chance to play it. The ambitious sequel takes off at a brisk pace right where the first game left off, and doesn’t let up until its bizarre, fourth-wall-breaking finale. I haven’t been a big fan of the story in the series, but it’s the moment-to-moment gameplay that brings me back each time - the AC games have the best melee combat mechanics and environment navigation controls I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Not to mention that there sure is an astounding number of things to do in the beautifully reproduced world of Renaissance Italy. Brotherhood can’t come soon enough.

I was excited about BioShock 2, but I never thought a sequel was particularly needed to the adequately self-contained first game. I was curious whether 2K Marin had anything more to say about the world of Rapture, or if this was just the cashgrab that it could so easily be. They proved themselves worthy of the mantle: BioShock 2 is an understated and eloquent return to the tragic underwater city, with a story that takes the ideas of choice and agency in its predecessor forward into the realm of consequences and legacy. I look forward to playing the well-received DLC mission, Minerva’s Den, and whatever next 2K Marin come up with.

At this point, I have become a complete Mass Effect fanboy. I’ve invested in the world and characters created by BioWare - played the games, read the books - and am fully committed to seeing the trilogy to its end. So Mass Effect 2 was going to be no small event for me, and I couldn’t have been more happy with the way it turned out. It’s a daring reinvention of the RPG Shooter, stripping away many things that were thought staples of the genre and of the series. What was broke, wasn’t fixed: it was removed entirely or replaced with something better. The resulting game felt like a tight third person shooter with a tense plot and a fresh sense of player ownership over the direction of the story. I have my canon Commander Shepard and all of her painstakingly-made decisions ready for the final chapter, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

2010 was a great year for games, and I’ll be revisiting a few of these titles as well as other notable releases to examine them in more depth here in the coming months. 2011 looks promising too, so I’ll be previewing some of the upcoming games that interest me most. Stay tuned!

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