Gaming Highs of 2009

Well, following on from my post from 2 years ago, here’s a list of games that I played in 2009 (not necessarily released in 2009) that I think are worthy of a mention:

  • PixelJunk Eden:
  • I’m not sure when I bought this game, quite likely in 2008, but only last month did I get the 50th spectra (and I haven’t really even touched the add-on pack yet). The art style and unique gameplay in this title are totally entrancing, and there’s an amazing amount of playability there, especially given the price. This is the sort of thing that you miss out on by not having a PS3.
  • House of the Dead: Overkill:
  • Sega doing what Sega do best, even if it wasn’t actually developed in-house. If you only bought one Wii game this year (and who would blame you?), this should’ve been it. Clearly heavily influenced by Planet Terror, this game oozes style, humour and various other unpleasant liquids. Just about the perfect length for a light-gun game, I’d go as far as to say that this is the best shooter Sega have ever published.
  • Uncharted 2:
  • Worth a mention – it does nothing new, but everything it does, it cranks up to 11. Some of the set-pieces are truly breathtaking, and it manages to keep up a good pace for the entire game; a massive improvement on the first. Like watching a blockbuster movie.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum:
  • Who’d have thought, a movie-licensed game that’s actually good enough to legitimately be nominated for several game-of-the-year awards? I also love Batman (in a platonic sense), so this was a no-brainer for me. Easily the best use of the Unreal engine so far too, far outclassing Epic’s own Gears of War 2.
  • Killzone 2:
  • This would be worth a mention solely for the amazing technological achievement for me, but it also happened to be a great game too. All FPS games feel primitive after getting used to the feeling of weight and the excellent cover system implemented in this game. Like Uncharted 2, it doesn’t do anything new that’s very significant (except, arguably, the aforementioned cover system), but what it does, it does with style. After the disappointment that was Motorstorm, it was doubly surprising to see a game that actually surpassed its target render.
  • Assassin’s Creed 2:
  • Anyone that played the first could see that there was a good game in there somewhere, marred by inane repetition and lack of direction. So, way to go Ubisoft Montreal for finding it! A much longer campaign than the first, a much more developed combat system, some good tweaks to the free-running system and some great new challenges make this the game the first was promising. I preferred the storyline in the first and I think this one jumped the shark a bit (anyone that’s completed it will know what I’m talking about…), but it was still entertaining. This time round, the story took a back seat to the gameplay, and overall, the game benefited from it.
  • Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time:
  • This is mostly a sympathy mention really, but it’s such a shame this game was overlooked. I’ve disliked almost every other game in the series too, so this came as quite a surprise for me. Some fantastic voice-acting (easily on par with Uncharted 2), some innovative puzzling, very solid core gameplay mechanics and impressive graphics. If this had been released earlier, it would’ve done so much better. As it is, it’s still very much worth picking up.
  • Borderlands:
  • Worth a mention for being the first game to successfully bring Neverwinter Nights/Diablo-style gameplay to the consoles. Not to mention successfully pairing classic western RPG gameplay with FPS gameplay (though Fallout 3 beat it to the punch on this, even if it doesn’t do it as well). Probably not worth playing as much as a single-player game, but really excels in multiplayer.

It’s worth mentioning how disappointing I found Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It has a single-player campaign that should be measured in minutes instead of hours, and although there are moments of brilliance, there are many more moments of needless frustration. The multiplayer hasn’t really evolved since the first Modern Warfare either. Not to say it isn’t a good game, but it was massively overrated. It makes you wonder how much bribery is involved with the review scores of large publications.

New Super Mario Brothers Wii was also very disappointing. The idea of taking the new look and mechanics from the excellent DS game and making a larger, shinier, multiplayer, console version of the game is great. The execution, however, is lacking. The levels and physics haven’t been tweaked significantly enough to allow for the extra players, meaning playing anything other than single-player is a lot more challenging than it should be. The difficulty curve is also far too steep compared to pretty much every other Mario game in the series. Again, still good, but disappointing.

Not sure if it’s worth mentioning how deeply disappointing Halo: ODST is. But there you go, just did it. And an honourable mention goes to Dead Space: Extraction on the Wii for proving that not all Wii games have to look like ass.

It was nice to see the trend of mediocre PS3 ports start to reverse in 2009. Although you’re still better off buying the 360 version of a multi-platform game in the majority of cases, the gap is starting to narrow and there are a very select few titles that are actually better on the PS3. This is quite a testament to the sophistication of the programming techniques and middleware when you consider how different the architecture of the PS3 and the 360 are.

Hopefully games will continue to become more sophisticated in 2010, both in terms of technology and artistry. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Heavy Rain and Gran Turismo 5. Until next year!

R.I.P. Duke Nukem Forever.

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