Thursday, January 7, 2010

My Top 5 Games of 2009

My Year in Gaming
Now that I'm no longer a student and actually make enough money to live comfortably, my video game budget has expanded a bit. Granted, full-time teaching/administration doesn't allow me as much time to play as I'd like, but I can at least spend that time playing new games for a change. This isn't to say I'm able to afford every game I want, or even that all the games I buy are recent titles--though more were this year than in years past. But it's nice to finally be the kind of gamer who can modestly support his hobby.

All that said, I'm not endeavoring to create a definitive list of "The Best Games of 2009." For one, I don't fancy myself an expert on the subject--I simply didn't play enough games for that. For another, this is more a simple retrospective for myself--if it sparks conversation, great; if not, no worries. And lastly, not all of these games came out in 2009--my budget may have grown, but I'm still not above waiting for games to go on sale 6 months after they came out. So, without further ado, here are My Top 5 Favorite Games of 2009:

5) The Orange Box
This was the first PS3 game I got when the missus and I bought one for our Christmas present last year--mainly because I'd spent all my money on a PS3 and this 5-games-in-1 was cheap. But I'd also heard a lot of good things about all of those games. Still, I didn't really get to sit down with it until after the New Year. What proceeded was a long romp through the Half-Life 2 series (which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite its glaring FPS clich├ęs). Even better, though, was Team Fortress 2, which I'm almost ashamed to say I got pretty obsessed with everytime I finished one of the other games on my list. It got pretty bad actually; once I started getting invited to join clans for my prowess with the Sniper, I decided I'd gone a little far.

4) inFamous:
Having written my Master's Thesis on the very best the superhero genre has to offer made me very wary and critical about what is a "good" superhero story and what's just mindless fan service--so much so I don't really bother with the comics anymore and I'm still not jazzed enough about Batman: Arkham Asylum to pay $60 for it. So a brand new superhero story in the medium of a video game intrigued me right off. And I found just about everything I could have hoped for in a good superhero story/video game. For starters, it's an origin story, which are, to me, the most interesting parts in the lives of soon-to-be superheroes. What is it that makes a superbeing decide to use his or her powers for good or evil?

This story takes that question and builds an entire game around it. You play the character Cole, recently blessed/cursed with superpowers at the price of the near destruction of his home city. Cole may proceed on a journey to save the remains as a hero or destroy them and become a dictator. Now, moral choice systems in video games are still in their infancy, and most (like the one in Bioshock) are so basic your choices generally range from "Cure Cancer" to "Kick a Puppy." But your path in inFamous also affects how you're viewed by the citizens of the city, and your strongest superpowers can only be reached by fully embracing your path.

I'm also grateful that the game is an open-world one. You can go virtually anywhere and, once your powers mature, do almost anything. And yet, the action doesn't run the game. The story does. The story of a struggling hero or villain trying to find his place in the world--another reason why origins are the best parts of superhero stories. Lastly, this game proves that comics have their work cut out for them if they're to hold on to their most recognized genre.

3) Resident Evil 5:
This is going to be a somewhat controversial choice, I know. For one, it's held pretty commonly that this simply wasn't that great of game. But when you add on top of that of all of the controversy it garnered, it's actually surprising so many people played it anyway. There was, of course, the racist accusations thrown at the game, but also those against the developers for greedily trying to get players to purchase "digital" content that they technically bought when they got the game. And on top of that, the content in question (a new multiplayer mode) was apparently too broken to even bother playing anyway!

Call me crazy, but I loved this game anyway. While I haven't played all the games in the series, I've always loved the Resident Evil games, so I might be a bit biased there. Similarly, this game built on the new aspects of RE4 that I loved--the action, the weapon upgrades, even the terrible voice acting and dialogue. In fact, I love this game so much, I'm giving a presentation on it's connection to 19th Century British Literature at an academic conference next month. But the fact that I "have" to replay it for "research", yet again (most recently with my youngest brother-in-law during Christmas break) probably says more than words can.

2) Muramasa: The Demon Blade:
I made no secret of my love for this game when I reviewed it. As I said then, it's simply a hand-drawn masterpiece. Any game that my wife loves as much as I do must not only be great but have a very broad appeal, as well. And while I haven't had the time to go back and replay through to any of the 5 other endings, I plan to play to at least one or two others. The story is as unique as the storytelling, and time and again, the hand-drawn style of the game's art had me trying to imitate it in my Drawing class this semester. There simply aren't enough game like this, and it was easily the best thing I playing on my Wii this year, if not ever. That's a bold statement, I know--especially with so many other interesting offerings on the console this year: Little King's Story, Deadly Creatures, Madworld, etc.--but I stand by it.


1) Demon's Souls:

There's no question about this one. I love this game. Yes, it's relentlessly hard, but no, I'm not going to talk about my "love/hate" relationship like every other positive reviewer of the game. There is no hate. Let me explain. Over the last few years, I've gotten pretty tired of games that are either too easy or are hard in repetitive ways. Demon's Souls is neither. Yes, I've heard lots of complaints about  the need to level grind, or the lack of save points, or how cheap bosses are. But I think there's simply a fundamental difference in gameplay between this game and any other of this generation. Most action games allow you to run in "guns blazing," allowing you to take several hits without any real danger. Then you're showered with equipment or health or whatever currency the game deals in. But for a gamer like me, who has always been a defensive player, staying as far from the action for as long as possible (must be the lifeguard training), I was actually able to proceed through the game reasonably far between deaths. And none of the deaths were "cheap." I was simply unprepared. The deaths were my fault, where most gamers are used to blaming their deaths on someone/thing else. If they die twenty times, it must be because the game is broken. I saw it time and again in the little blood spots in-game that show you how other players died; nine times out of ten, I watched them charge blindly, weapon over head, right off a cliff. What I'm basically trying to say is that I'm glad for a game that finally treats me like an intelligent person, rather than an instant-gratification machine bent on beating the game as quickly as possible. Everything about this game requires patience. And I love giving it mine.

Honourable Mentions:
There were, of course, other games I enjoyed this year--just not as much. For one, I really liked Little King's Story; it was definitely one of the most underappreciated titles of the year. But the game got too repetitive too quickly, and I never quite got around to finishing it--I'll have to go back. A couple of other downloadable games I really got in to were Fat Princess (the hilarious online, capture-the-flag game) and World of Goo (the brilliant, Dr. Seussian puzzle game).

Biggest Disappointments:
I've already discussed, at length, my perclivities concerning Okami, so I won't go on about that. Other disappointments, however, have to include The Conduit. When I reviewed it, I mentioned the importance of such a risky game. The single-player wasn't very interesting to begin with, leaving players with the hyped up online mode. With time, however, even the multiplayer seems to have broken. Player-exploited glitches of invincibility and invisibility have taken almost all the fun out of the experience.

But perhaps my biggest disappoint this year was the lack of attention my DS--formerly my most useful system--received. Very few games I was interested in came out early in the year, and I didn't get around to Scribblenauts or The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. But this brings me to the end of my post.

Games to Look Forward to in 2010:
To start with, my wife and I got tons of games for Christmas: Bioshock, Heavenly Sword, Assassin's Creed, and a Wii points and PS3 card. So at least the next couple of months are covered!

After that, there's not too much I'm crazy psyched for. MAG's promise of 256-player, online battlefields sounds great in theory, but we'll have to see how it turns out. I'm also understandably excited for the promised Legend of Zelda 2 for Wii--though, let's be honest, that probably won't come out until next year at the earliest. Final Fantasy XIV also shows promise. Oh! And Metroid: Other M looks awesome! Lastly, Heavy Rain seems interesting if only for its innovative design promises. But only time will tell.

Well, now that I've shared my two-cents, feel free to share in return. I'm always open to suggestions!

2 comments:

Veronica said...

Well Sir, your two cents were very nice but as I am the gamer-want-to-be that watches you play all these wonderful games from over your shoulders, I would like to add my two cents.
First, The Orange Box; I want to play it.
Second, inFamous; I enjoyed watching you play this game. The music wasn't over the top or repetitive, the cut scenes weren't bad and the voice acting was manageable.
Third, RE 5; I need to try and play it with you again and I'll try to keep my eyes open.
Fourth, Muramasa; I FREAKEN LOVE THIS GAME! It's beautiful, it plays so smoothly, it is such a inspiring games and I love that they choice not to dub the Japanese actors over with American actors.
Fifth, Demon's Soul; The pancake face chick pisses me off, "Solth the mind key to lives ether" or what ever the shit she says. Other wise it was a fun game to watch you play.
But after all of this I am glad to finally have some PS3 games besides LittleBigPlanet to play. I believe of all my gifts this year Heavenly Sword is the best and my favorite. Thank you for that.

Ben Villarreal said...

Look at my little budding, hardcore gamer ;-)

I'm sorry you don't have as much time to play games as me :-/ Maybe it'll inspire you to not work so much and actually come home once in awhile ;-)

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