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.


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First Details of XCOM Land

The shroud has been lifted from 2K Marin’s new first-person shooter, the re-imagined XCOM. Several magazines hitting the shelves this month contain the first details and screenshots. PC Gamer’s article briefly surfaced online courtesy of Games Radar, but has mysteriously disappeared since. The damage has been done, though, the details are out.

You play as FBI agent William Carter, tasked with combating an invasion of alien forces on idyllic 1950’s America. The tranquil and perfect suburbia setting is only a cardboard-thin façade that is set to be torn apart in the brutal destruction to come.

It’s a world where people feel comfortable and everything is optimistic, they feel that there is a great future ahead.
– Jonathan Pelling

The screenshots are raw and unpolished, and the game is obviously still early in development. But already the distinctive style of the era is starting to come together in the art direction.


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X-COM: The Re-Imagining

The reports of an X-COM remake have finally been confirmed by 2K Games, with a bit of a twist. XCOM, a “re-imagining” of the classic MicroProse series, is an FPS under development not at Irrational Games – as the unrelenting rumour went – but at 2K Marin, the studio behind BioShock 2.

XCOM is the re-imagining of the classic tale of humanity’s struggle against an unknown enemy that puts players directly into the shoes of an FBI agent tasked with identifying and eliminating the growing threat. True to the roots of the franchise, players will be placed in charge of overcoming high-stake odds through risky strategic gambits coupled with heart-stopping combat experiences that pit human ingenuity – and frailty – against a foe beyond comprehension.

A release date hasn’t been specified as yet, but the game will be coming to the XBox 360 and PC and there is a bare-bones website up already. No doubt the news will be received with mixed feelings by the community: the well-loved original series was a mix of turn-based tactical combat and strategic base-building, a far cry from the announced first-person action remake. And the last couple of attempts at changing the genre have not been very successful. Diehard fans can still take solace in the unconfirmed portion of the same rumour, suggesting that Civilization devs Firaxis are handling a turn-based version of the IP. For the rest of us, it’s worth remembering that against all odds 2K Marin more than proved themselves with a worthy sequel in BioShock 2.

Only a single screenshot is available at the official site, not giving much to look at. The newest issue of OXM, out in May, will feature a story on the game; the two covers shown above give a hint of the art style. Judging by the clothing, the game could possibly be set in the 1950s, just like the Destroy All Humans! series. Supporting this is 2K’s ARG in progress, which started a couple of days back and has had fans receiving letters and packages from secret governmental organisations discussing classified cases of human abductions from the Cold War era.

I suppose the biggest question now is, how is it going to work as an FPS? Will there be a strategic element at all? I am reminded of Division 9, the scrapped tactical shooter that Irrational pitched before moving on to BioShock. In addition to the basic SWAT 4 FPS design, there was to be a strategic layer with base-building and resource management. Could this be the foundation for XCOM’s design?

So if 2K Marin is handling XCOM, what’s Irrational actually up to? Just the other day there were hints that it’s an original IP they’re working on, which we have more reason to believe now that we know it isn’t X-COM related. Whatever it is, we most probably will hear about it at the upcoming E3 in mid-June, as well as more information on XCOM.

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The Big Bad Behind The Rise Of Rapture

This week GametrailersTV brings BioShock 2 back into the spotlight, with some brand new footage of the game. In the latest episode of GTTV (embedded after the break) Geoff Keighley talks to Creative Director Jordan Thomas and scoops some heavy spoilers about the story and some of the key characters. Those who don’t want to know anything in advance about Andrew Ryan’s successor would be wise to skip the video – or at least watch it on mute.
Bioshock 2
Most of the footage is entirely new, revealing a new splicer, the Tank-like Brute, as well as a new area in Rapture, the city’s red-light district known as Siren Alley. Not only is the singleplayer action shown, there is some multiplayer gameplay too, now more representative of the experience than the debut trailer. Hit the jump to see the GTTV episode.


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