So, another year draws to a close, and with the recent announcements of Uncharted 3, Mass Effect 3, and Elder Scrolls V, it’s hard not to start looking forward to next year’s big games. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t take a minute to look back at the best of the best of 2010, and decide if this was a great year for gaming, or the GREATEST year for gaming.
So here are our favorite moments of this past year. What do you think, guys? Share your own top moments in the comments below!
Playing the demo for Brütal Legend: Ignoring all of the crap people threw at it for the semi-RTS elements that were introduced at about the halfway point, that demo was everything I wanted it to be. The humor, the over-the-top metal everything and the hacking and slashing all came together perfectly for me. I must’ve played the demo at least a dozen times while I waited for the game to come out. And the massive, fire-belching, chrome-skinned beast from the intro is still one of the most fucking awesome things I’ve seen in a game.
The Humble Indie Bundle: Not only were there some fantastic games you could purchase for whatever you wanted, they were actually great games. But even more impressive than the roster was the way most people came together to make it a success. Other developers jumped on after the Bundle had been in full-swing, lots of people donated reasonable amounts of their cash and some generous souls even dropped a couple grand for the cause. Ignoring the thieving assholes, it was quite the success and all for a great cause.
Getting an iPhone: Laugh all you want, but this was a big deal for me. I never realized just how well the iPhone was suited for some surprisingly serious gaming. Super-popular casual games galore, sure, but there are also a TON of clever indie titles and a great deal of “hardcore” games. But what impresses me the most about it is the continued developer support: constant updates for most games month-after-month, with new content and bug fixes.
Saving/maiming all things important in Mass Effect 2: There’s nothing like Mass Effect 2. Well, nothing as good, that is. It was one of the few games in recent memory that after completing the first time, I immediately hopped in for another go-around. Poking at the barriers and limitations of being Paragon vs. Renegade during the storyline was one of the most engaging experiences I’ve had with a video game and hopefully we’ll all experience that same feeling of exploration and wonder with Mass Effect 3 (!).
Literally jumping out of my seat during the Limbo spider battle: I dislike the horror genre, both in video games and movies (but especially in movies). Limbo wasn’t labeled as “terrifying,” which is why I gave it a chance. Holy good gravy smoked ball soup, Batman. That motherfucking spider had me screaming like a starving cat. I jolted upwards and laterally into another room.
Becoming an “expert” at Halo: Reach: My friend (who lives in another town) and I have reconnected over Team Doubles in Halo: Reach, the playlist that was our jam in Halo 2 and 3. Having grown up together, we’ve had plenty of experiences honing our team chemistry by playing paintball, being offensive line buddies in high school, and generally wrecking each other’s shit throughout the years. So when we got on a roll one day in Reach and designated the “rape tunnel” in Sword Base as our point of victory (Sage + shotgun = win time), our two-player strategies started surprising even us. It’s one of the best multiplayer memories I can remember, though this one is pretty good too.
Seeing just how different multiple playthroughs of Alpha Protocol could be: It might not have captured the hearts of the gaming community, but Alpha Protocol showcased what Obsidian does best. Not only in letting characters live or die, but even what you say to them can add or subtract large parts of their story.
The final stretch of Red Dead Redemption: I know a lot of people still haven’t finished this one, so without spoiling things I can say that when when Rockstar fans talk of how talented they are with storytelling, this is what we mean. From the moment John rides to the song “Compass,” through to the epilogue portion, it contains some of the most emotional and beautiful moments I’ve ever had with a game.
Kaidan’s email message in Mass Effect 2: Sure, I could have said the climax of Mass Effect 2, but something more important happened before that. I had romanced Kaidan in the first game, so I looked forward to reuniting him and Shepard in the sequel. Well, it didn’t go so well and I actually felt sad at how they left their meeting. Before the final stretch, Shepard received an email from him, containing an apology for that meeting and a chance to see each other once more. That gave me the drive to jump headlong into the final events with the feeling that Shepard would be able to see him again. One simple moment — and it gave such a deep meaning to many aspects of the character’s actions!
The StarCraft II beta begins: As if it wasn’t obvious enough from my contributions on the website (I think half of the news posts I’ve done were all about the lead-up to SCII), I was ravenously devouring every morsel of information about the game that Blizzard threw my way. So when they finally lifted the curtain and started public beta testing in earnest, it was like Christmas. Literally overnight, Youtube was flooded with gameplay videos, and SC fan websites scrambled to provide updates on the latest beta news. I watched more StarCraft in that first week than most people will play in their entire lives. Topping it all off was the fact that several weeks into the beta, GameStop started offering beta codes to people who pre-ordered the game. Now, I hate GameStop as much as the next gamer, but they were offering nothing less than fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. One backroom deal with a friend who happened to be in GameStop’s employ at the time, and my friends and I were set up with reserved, discounted collector’s editions and working beta codes. Yeah, I was still excited when the game finally did come out months later, but gaining access to the SCII beta thrilled me in a way that very few gaming experiences have.
Epic Halo: Reach LAN: My friends and I have been networking our Xboxes to play Halo since the first game came out back when we were in high school. Throughout the decade that followed the original’s release, we’ve faithfully gathered several times a year for large scale Halo throwdowns. I like playing in big games of Halo, but I don’t much care for Xbox Live, nor its denizens. It had long been my dream to host a maxed-out Halo LAN party, and a couple of months ago, I did just that. We somehow managed to gather 16+ people, several 360s, and half a dozen or so HDTVs in my basement for one crazy-ass night. Lack of hardware, teams being nigh impossible to balance and noise levels were issues (Did you know that it’s hard to sleep in a house with 16 people playing Halo?), but by and large the event was an unmitigated success. We even had a couple of girls there — a first for our group! Thankfully, they didn’t screw anything up, and I think everyone agreed that CTF and Invasion are a total blast to play with a packed house. Good times were had by all, and I hope to repeat the feat again before the new year!
Rocking out with a killer setup: I don’t think any of my Rock Band experiences will ever match playing the game for the first time with a full band — it was a transcendent, almost magical moment for me — but this is probably the closest I’ve come since. In anticipation of the release of Rock Band 3, I decided to upgrade my setup at home, purchasing a new LED-backlit HD display, and hooking it up to a 4.1 speaker system with a subwoofer that rattles the snare on my real drum set from across the room. Once RB3 came out, I picked up the new cymbal peripheral and called my friends over to assemble Voltron. We didn’t exactly make the most beautiful music since we were a bit rough around the edges, and the new peripherals further complicated our already unsteady playing, but the game’s new features and the improved audio and visual fidelity combined to make it a truly memorable experience nonetheless.
Playing my Wii in December: If you had told me I’d be playing my Wii near-exclusively this holiday season, I would have thought you were crazy. Nintendo certainly saved the best for last, however, and with Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, GoldenEye 007, and Metroid: Other M, I find I have the ivory controller in my hand more often than not. Jesus, do I wish it was all available in HD, though.
Oh my God, Mass Effect 2: I liked the original Mass Effect, but the game was certainly rough around the edges. Though playing on the PC alleviated some of the technical bugs, the godawful inventory system still remained on the top of my list of complaints. You can imagine my joy when I discovered that Mass Effect 2 just about completely did away with an inventory system altogether. Throw in a refined combat system and an epic story, and you have one of the best gaming experiences this year.
StarCraft II is finally here: After years of waiting, Blizzard finally released StarCraft II, and it… was… awesome. Familiar and innovative all at once, the game caters to new and old players alike. The campaign is appropriately epic, quelling any murmurs about Blizzard simply trying to milk us for as much money as possible with three separate installments. I’m still playing the multiplayer, and thanks to an excellent matchmaking system, I actually win matches… sometimes. Blizzard, can you please release the next installment in 2011? Please? Hello?
Sinking 50+ hours into Valkyria Chronicles II: In all honesty, I don’t think I was quite prepared for just how much “game” VCII threw at me. The game’s massive, year-long story arc, extensive unit and squad customization, and endless replayability make it an RPG I’ll unreservedly recommended to anyone with a passing interest and a PSP.
Getting chills from Mafia II: As I said in my terse review, Mafia II’s lack of emotional relevance or attachment limited the otherwise decent plot and action it provided. The final, damning instance of this unfortunate truth came in the form of a sudden and obtuse callback to the first Mafia. I recognized it early, being an ardent disciple of the 2002 original, and still I was gobsmacked as the scene played out. For a moment, I was left wondering if this was intended to be a turning point in the narrative, a glorious intervention that would redeem the lackluster preceding events. Then it was over; nothing more was made of what had happened. Though the game had left me with my mouth agape, I couldn’t help but wonder: “Why?”
Abandoning sleep for the Red Dead Redemption feature and review: Few things brought me as much joy this year as taking in the entirety of RDR. Even after spending a good chunk of time completing the main game, I was intent on exploring and documenting as many “little things” as I could. Nothing made me happier than spending the night/morning hours capturing horse deaths, tumbleweeds, and the elusive Wilhelm Scream.
West and Zampella ousted from Infinity Ward HQ: While seeing the Infinity Ward heads lose their jobs wasn’t a highlight moment for me, watching the story unfold was. Back in May, a tweet from Patrick Klepek (then still with G4) broke the story of how the IW HQ was “under siege” from security, who confiscated cell phones, policed the comings and goings of employees and generally made the Triple-A developer’s’ offices feel like something out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The continual slow trickle of updates made the whole thing feel like some bizarro version of a hostage crisis or other critical media event and I sat glued to my computer as each new update rolled in. The phrase “games journalism” gets overused and misused all the time, but whenever I think of it, Klepek’s dissemination of that tense situation’s events is always one of the first examples that comes to my mind.
Kid Icarus returns: Longtime Nintendo fans have been pleading for a Kid Icarus revival for… well… pretty much since the original. After a few years, the begging and cajoling had become almost rote and by-the-numbers from the faithful, who by that point had begun to lose the faith themselves. When CFD! liveblogged the E3 2010 press conferences, Nate, Sage and myself were talking in a virtual war room on Skype during Nintendo’s affair and they can attest that when the announcement was made that Pit was not only returning, but was making his debut on the upcoming 3DS, I squealed like a little girl. I marked out so hard for that moment, you have no idea.
The Climax of Mass Effect 2 — Zero Casualties: One of the biggest elements of the last act of Mass Effect 2, as has often been stated, is the fact that both yourself and members of your team can die in the final assault (they don’t call it a suicide mission for nothing). Pretty much everyone I know who played the game lost at least one crew member during the events that follow entering the Omega 4 Relay. As the game pressed on and I grew more and more attached to the crew (save Zaeed and Miranda – fuck the both of them), I was worried about who I would end up losing. Would I make the right choices? Hell, would I make it out alive? Despite white-knuckling the controller through the post-Omega climax, and agonizing over every decision when it came time to pick people to lead secondary fire teams, perform specialist duties, etc., every single member of the Normandy’s crew made it out the other side intact and alive (even Miranda, whose loyalty I gained, but later lost when I sided with Jack over her, and Zaeed, whose I never gained in the first place). No FAQ consultation. No spoilers beforehand as to who to pick or what to do. We just all survived and I felt like the best starship commander in the galaxy as the credits rolled.
Getting good at online multiplayer: I’ve never been a big online gamer, preferring single-player experiences since my Atari 2600 days. Sure, I dabbled in Halo 2 and 3 online, like everyone else, but it wasn’t until Uncharted 2 at the beginning of this year that I realized how much fun these games can be… and how much I kick ass. Then Reach was released. Over a thousand multiplayer matches later, I’m a Colonel as of the time of this writing, and I can destroy you. If you don’t believe it, I’m BarenakedDustin on Xbox Live, so hit me up!
Tim Schafer wanted to help me beat Costume Quest: This might be a bit of an overstatement, but I had some difficulty with Costume Quest’s final boss. A quick tweet to Double Fine’s head honcho about how the boss was a real bastard got me the response “@thisdustin Have you beaten him yet?” I assured Tim that I had finished the game by that point, and didn’t hear back, but there’s something pretty kick-ass about the idea that the man sat upright in his chair and said, “Dustin needs my help!” Seriously, though, Twitter has led to a new level of interaction with gaming legends, and that’s totally awesome.
Kinect: The tech is too new to say one way or another, but so far it looks like Xbox 360′s Kinect has a good chance of being the next big party gaming system. Dance Central and Kinect Adventures barely scratch the surface of the peripheral’s potential, and everyone who’s played it at my house has had an absolute blast. Here’s hoping that the future of Kinect rises to the potential, instead of falling flat like the Wii did.
And because I’m editing the piece, I’ll allow myself one extra… my favorite of all:
Watching my wife become a gamer: Last year Mrs. Stevens, traditionally not a hardcore gamer, got into Dragon Age: Origins. But this year things really kicked into overdrive. First, after watching Pirates of the Caribbean, she asked me to buy her a sword-fighting game for the Wii — the first time she’s ever asked me to purchase a game. She got Wii Sports Resort as a result. Then, one day, she texted me out of the blue to tell me she had learned of new Dragon Age DLC before I did. Not long after, she asked me about Fable II… turns out she’d been looking for another fantasy RPG and did her own research to find the next game she wanted to play. Now she’s asking me when we can get Fable II and Dragon Age 2. God damn, I love that woman!
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t say what was, without question, one of our favorite things this year: You, the readers. Thanks for an excellent 2010, and let’s get ready for another kick-ass year of gaming! 2011, here we come!