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Gaming Class of 2010

December 31, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming to tonight’s Gaming Class of 2010 Awards Banquet.  Let’s get started right away, shall we?

“Most Likely to Play Over and Over Again” Award
Halo: Reach
I played it through 3 times – solo and co-op, heroic and legendary – and I still would probably play it again on legendary co-op.  I’m not a multiplayer fan so I can’t get my fix that way.  It’s going to be a long dry spell until we get more Halo goodness.

“It Came Outta Nowhere” Award
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
I follow gaming stuff pretty closely.  I read all the big blogs regularly: Kotaku, Joystiq, and the like.  And I never heard a thing about this game until it was released.  All the more surprising: I played the demo and it was good!  Perhaps the only game I bought this year by virtue of playing the demo.  Not destined to win many awards, but definitely worth a pickup if you find a good price.

“Game You Should Have Played But Didn’t” Award
Alan Wake
I was tempted to give this to Metroid: Other M, but it’s got to go to Alan Wake.  This is the category that beloved gems like Psychonauts and Beyond Good and Evil belong to.  It definitely deserves a sequel, but did it sell enough to warrant one?  Remedy is not saying.  Pleeeease, Remedy!!

“Wanted To Like More Than I Did” Award
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
I kept playing and playing, waiting for that point at which I could think of little else until I completed it, and I actually finished it before that point ever arrived.  Which was no small task, as it’s a looong game.  Maybe a little too long?  Not “Castlevania” enough?  Because I suck at “God of War” style games?  I actually stuck with it to the end, which says something about it I guess, but if I had it to do all over again, I might not have even played it.

“If Only It Was Achievements and Not Trophies” Award
Final Fantasy XIII
I didn’t hate this game nearly as much as the gaming press wishes I would have.  That’s not to say it didn’t have its faults, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  So much so, in fact, that I put in over 100 hours on it.  And I got every trophy you could get in it, except the one where I’d have to buy all of the equipment in the game (and hence the platinum trophy as well).  I calculated that I’d have to grind for 6+ hours to make enough gil to do that.  If I had played the Xbox version, I might have done that, to have a complete game and 1000 gamerscore (something I’ve only done twice before).  But you gotta play Final Fantasy on the PlayStation, right?  That’s been a rule since FF VII, hasn’t it?  And I don’t care a fig about trophies, so I never got there.

“It Came Too Early To Win Major Awards” Award
Mass Effect 2
The integration with your save game from Mass Effect 1… awesome.  Nearly all the changes were improvements.  Nearly.  (I’m looking at you, planet scanner!)  It set the bar high for 2010.  But it came out January 26, 2010.  Will it garner any Game of the Year awards with the short term memory crowd, or will Call of Duty overshadow it by virtue of release date?

“Made Me Schlep To The Store With Other Geeks” Award
Dragon Quest XII: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
No, I’m not talking about a launch event.  Just look at Black Friday… people will stand in line in the cold for hours for $5 off a jacket.  I’m talking about standing around an electronics store with my DS open hoping that someone else that’s doing the same will sync a treasure quest to my game.  DQ XII has an interesting online quest sharing function, but it’s local wireless only, which might work fine in DQ obsessed and people packed Japan, but not so great in the suburban US midwest.  So I went to an event to try it out, and got a few quests that were way above my level that I still haven’t been able to do yet.

“Would People Give It Such High Praise If The Graphics Were So-So” Award
Infinity Blade
I get it. The graphics look great. But in 15-20 minutes you’ve basically seen what you are going to do in the whole game, and then you do it over and over again. Why is everyone raving about this game? Has everyone really turned into such graphics whores? I mean, I like the game in general, but The Second Coming of Portable Gaming it is not!

“Who Knew Michael J. Fox Had A Twin” Award
Back to the Future Part 1 – It’s About Time
Great Scott!  That “not Michael J. Fox” guy does an awesome Marty McFly, doesn’t he?

But enough with the silly awards… what is my top game? I only pick from games I’ve played, and the critics and I usually do not agree.  To me, it boils down to a choice between five games, and they all have their merits.

#5 – Metroid: Other M

I had high expectations for the new Metroid game, and it met those in most ways.  While I’ve struggled several times for play through the first person Metroid Prime series, it in some ways just didn’t hit the right notes for me.  I like that 2D side-scrolling action.  Metroid: Other M struck that nice middle ground for me.  I was not, as some were, put off by Saums’ backstory, and I found the action very satisfying.  It was the game I played the fastest this year (calendar-wise), not because it was short, but because I couldn’t put it down, and I played it obsessively to the end.  I even ruined a Wiimote in frustration on one of the boss fights!  I certainly wouldn’t put it at the top of my list, but it rightfully deserves a spot.

#4 – Final Fantasy XIII

Say what you will, but I liked this game.  I spent more time playing it than any other game this year.  But does that make it my #1?  No.  It just didn’t last with me like other games.  When I was (finally) done with it, I was done with it, and in my convoluted mind that drops it down a few notches.

#3 – Halo: Reach

What can I say?  Halo: Reach is like the definitive FPS.  It does so many things right and it does them so well.  Plus, I’m a sucker for tragic stories.  IRL I’ve been a huge Titanic buff since the late 70’s, and have read innumerable accounts of what happened that night.  Knowing the ending adds to the fascination.  It doesn’t detract from it.  The story of Halo: Reach is the same way.  I played the campaign 3 times, twice alone and once co-op, and would probably play it on legendary co-op if I had the chance.  I just can’t give it #1, though, for essentially the same reasons.  It was exactly what I knew it would be.  The same way that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the 2nd highest rated game on Metacritic ever, but doesn’t make my list.  So I’m looking for memorable and unexpected….

#2 – Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 is nearly the perfect game IMHO.  I remember playing it in late January 2010 and thinking “Wow, this is the gold standard for every game this year.”  Immediately followed by “Will anyone remember it 11 months from now when the awards are handed out?”  The gaming industry is often fickle, and the last hot thing is often the “best” thing.  So I worried myself that if a game unseated Mass Effect 2 in my mind as the best of the year, would it be because it was newer?  And that game did come.  Mass Effect 2 was certainly memorable.  I can picture the whole game still nearly a year later, and I immersed myself in the universe via books and comics.  it was unexpectedly much much better than the original Mass Effect.  Going beyond just a few tweaks, Bioware threw all the bad from Mass Effect out the window and added so much more goodness.  You never know with sequels.  It seems like a simple thing, but some many companies get it so wrong.  But in the end it was still more Mass Effect, wasn’t it?  What if something was memorable, unexpected, and unique as well?  Along came…

#1 – Alan Wake

I loved Alan Wake.  I love the setting, the humor, the atmosphere, the music, the chapter structure, the engrossing narrative, the plot twists and turns… everything.  It stayed with me well past my first playthrough.  Well past my second playthrough.  I completed the original game 100% on the Xbox 360 (1000 achievement points).  When the DLC packs came out, I downloaded each the day it was released and played through them THAT DAY.  I can’t say that about the Mass Effect 2 DLC, which I downloaded but still have not played through.  I thought Alan Wake looked interesting when I bought it, and I thought that the LE packaging was neat and dovetailed nicely with the fact that you play a writer, but I really didn’t expect to be hooked by the game.  I almost wasn’t.  I played the first bit of it, and then stopped, because I was going on vacation and didn’t want to get too wrapped up in something and then leave it for a weeks.  So I put it down for more than a month, and unlike most games I do that with, I came back to Alan Wake with a vengeance.  You could describe it in non-gaming terms, with its elements of Twin Peaks or Stephen King (another personal favorite), but it couldn’t be described well in gaming terms, like so many “unique” games are today.  It wasn’t “a supernatural Call of Duty” or a “God of War meets Grand Theft Auto with flashlights.”  it was memorable, unexpected and unique.  It left me wholly satisfied and yearning for more at the same time.  The fact that it didn’t sell as well as was hoped for and might not get a sequel just breaks my gaming heart.  Alan Wake was not the highest rated game of the year by critics or gamers, but it was “my type of game” in nearly every way, and it is my #1 Game of 2010.

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