Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 Game Of The Year Awards

What a year 2009 was! While much of the year for me was spent catching up with the XBox 360's vast library of great games, it was the new releases that really blew me away. We live in a time where really great games are released with alarming frequency, and even games with mediocre review scores can provide many, many hours of fun. Believe it or not, things weren't always this way, and there would often be months between game releases that were any good at all. You kids don't know how good you've got it these days.

And now the awards. As always, keep in mind that these selections are my personal opinions based solely on what I played over the last year. I neither have the time nor the money to play everything that comes out, but I came pretty close to doing just that this year, and the acquisition of a Playstation 3 late in 2009 has allowed me to pick whatever I want to play from every current generation console's game library for the first time in over a decade.

Winner : Demon's Souls (Playstation 3)

Touted as the "spiritual successor" to the King's Field series, this unique RPG by From Software certainly recreated the dark, moody and desperate medieval fantasy environments of those games, this time in a third-person view. While reviewers and players alike often cited the game as punishingly difficult, as a veteran of those King's Field games, I knew the truth. Demon's Souls is no arcade hack-and-slash, but rather a dangerous adventure that requires careful and considered exploration, measured combat moves, and clever use of the environment to survive.

Innovations in Demon's Souls include the unique use of an online server to allow players to play co-op, or even invade other player's games and attempt to playerkill them for extra challenge. Not since Ultima Online have I felt such a sense of heart-pounding dread as multiplayer PvP spilled over into my single-player game, and I loved every minute of it. Other interesting online features included the abliity to leave messages to other players playing in the same area and seeing ghost images of how they died. Demon's Souls was a refresingly different and truly engaging masterpiece that once again proved that no one can do dark and moody environments like From Software.

Runner - Up : Batman : Arkham Asylum (XBox 360)

There have been many superhero games over the years, but this is by far the best. Batman finds himself trapped in the Arkham Asylum as part of the Joker's schemes in this third-person game of smooth combat, clever gadgets, and challenging exploration. Great moves like swooping down on henchmen and hitting them with remote-controlled Batarangs make the gameplay varied and fun. Fantastic characters, cut-scenes, and those mind-altering Scarecrow sequences help take the interesting story to a level better than any of the Batman movies, and in-game collection quests provide the player with plenty of Batman lore to enjoy. The bar for superhero games has been raised to a very high place thanks to Batman : Arkham Asylum.

Runner - Up : Borderlands (XBox 360)

Borderlands is an amazingly polished and playable hybrid of frantic first-person shooter action and character/equipment developing role-playing that works far better than it should. With a visually stunning cel-shaded art style and loads of content stretched over a vast group of playable areas, I found myself shooting and looting for several weeks, refusing to leave any quest undone for fear of finishing the game too soon. There are lots of wacky characters and funny pop culture references all over the desolate planet of Pandora, and downloadable additions to the game (The Island of Dr.Ned and Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot) have added more. Borderlands is proof that a first-person shooter can have all sorts of depth and still play like one should.

Runner - Up : Assassin's Creed 2 (XBox 360)

I finally caught up with the first Assassin's Creed game (released in 2007) this year, and while enjoyable, the repetitiveness and baffling story left me a little nonplussed. The sequel fixed all of that and established Assassin's Creed as one of the premiere storrytelling epics of this generation of games. Third-person free-running and combat across the gorgeously realized cities of Renaissance Italy reveal a story of revenge and conspiracy set against a wider historical backdrop that invites many questions about the nature of humanity. Intense puzzles, breathtaking vistas, and plenty of combat options make Assassin's Creed 2 one of the more unique and interesting games I've ever enjoyed.

Remember, it's very likely that I alone hold the mantle of the longest continuously running videogame of the year awards, so these selections join a mighty pantheon indeed!

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