Video Game Feature: The 10 Best Games of 2010

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CHICAGO – We may be a little late to the wrap-up of the 2010 video game party, but there’s still time to take one final look back at the year that was before we get (more) addicted to “Little Big Planet 2” and “Dead Space 2.” What were the outstanding titles of the last twelve months? And what games will you still be playing in 2011? Chances are, these are the ten titles that won’t be leaving your console anytime soon.

Let’s start with a look back at 2010 as a whole — Was it a good year for video games overall? Mostly. There were at least three games that I believe will have a massive impact on the gaming landscape (“Red Dead Redemption,” “Mass Effect 2,” “Heavy Rain”) and two of the best shooters of all time (“Battlefield: Bad Company 2,” “Call of Duty: Black Ops”) competed for the title of the most notable multiplayer experience of the year. As for consoles, the Xbox and PS3 pulled further away from the Nintendo Wii, in part through their additions of the Playstation Move and Kinect. Neither technology really took off in 2010, but they clearly indicated two companies looking forward while the Wii treaded water in every way (only two exclusive games for it are mentioned in this piece).

Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
Photo credit: EA

The trend of the year had to be the increase in downloadable delivery. It would have been easy to make an entire top ten list of amazing DLC. 2010 was the year where the future of gaming became crystal clear, in that many of the best releases were available on PSN or XBLA, and developers started to use the delivery system for more than just nifty avatar costumes or multiplayer maps.

As far as specific add-ons go, “Undead Nightmare” for “Red Dead Redemption” was one of the best in history, delivering more bang for the buck than most standalone discs released in the heated fourth quarter. “Vietnam” for “Battlefield: Bad Company 2” expanded on the already impeccable shooter with one of the most impressive multiplayer maps ever released through downloadable delivery. Finally, “Dead Rising: Case Zero” proved to be an amazing teaser for the full game, hinting at the true future of gaming by giving fans way more than just screen shots or teaser trailer to entice them to pre-order.

As for standalone DLC, “Limbo,” “Joe Danger,” “Puzzle Quest 2,” and even “Marvel Pinball” all sucked away literally dozens of hours of my life. Go buy them all. And had I chosen to include DLC, at least two, maybe even three, would have been in my top ten or in the runner-ups. Call it a cop out, but I stuck with on-disc titles for this year just to narrow the field. It’s probably the last time I’ll be able to do that.

If you’re missing any of these must-own games, click on the title for purchase details.

(Quick Note: 3 of the top 4 games of the year came out in the first quarter of 2010. In other words, we could be in the best quarter of 2011 right now.)

The Best Video Games of 2010

Runner-Ups: “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood,” “Bayonetta,” “Bioshock 2,” “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow,” “Darksiders,” “Fallout: New Vegas,” “Halo: Reach,” “Just Cause 2,” “MLB 2K11,” “NBA 2K11,” “NCAA Football 11,” “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions,” and “Splinter Cell: Conviction.”

10. “Alan Wake”
Release Date: May 18th
Platform(s): Xbox 360

Alan Wake
Alan Wake
Photo credit: Microsoft

If the sadly-truncated second DLC hadn’t been so disappointing then this game could have been even more revolutionary and higher up the list. Honestly, if the future of downloadable episodes go the way that I expect, more and more games will be structured like “Alan Wake.” Divided into (roughly) two-hour episodes, complete with “Previously On” segments and wonderful song choices to end them, “Alan Wake” was a brilliant mystery spawned by a creative team who clearly loved Stephen King, “The Twilight Zone,” “Twin Peaks,” and even “Lost.” With such unique inspirations, the game felt like nothing else released this year. It became a bit too repetitive by the end and should have been more atmospheric, but the storytelling was riveting from beginning to end (at least before the DLC). As I looked over the games I played in 2010, it was often the stories that stood out as the form becomes more and more built around cinematic experiences. “Alan Wake” is the type of game that I expect we’ll see more of in the future. At least I hope so.

9. “Super Mario Galaxy 2” & “Donkey Kong Country Returns”
Release Date: May 23rd, November 21st
Platform(s): Nintendo Wii

Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Photo credit: Nintendo

It’s admittedly cheating to include two great games in one spot, but I’m so pissed off about the lack of creative development on the Nintendo Wii that I don’t want to give them 20% of my top ten list and both of these titles are fantastic. Having played as many ugly and lackluster games on the Wii as I have, it’s startling to put in a title like “SMG2” or “DKCR.” It honestly feels like a different system. It’s as if Nintendo’s own franchises are being given a different set of development tools. There were very few games that provoked the same nostalgic fun as “Super Mario Galaxy 2” and “Donkey Kong Country Returns,” two of the most creative platformers ever made. Game critics write a lot about things like storytelling, character depth, and online functionality, but most of us got into this business because, like you, we want video games to be FUN. It’s one of the cheesiest things to say about a game, but both of these titles made me feel like a kid again and jealous of the current generation of youngsters that will surely be inspired by both of these titles.

8. “Rock Band 3”
Release Date: October 26th
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS

Rock Band 3
Rock Band 3
Photo credit: MTV Games/EA

The team behind “Rock Band 3” have probably read all of the articles and message board posts claiming that the music game genre is on life support. Rather than simply playing their fiddle as the genre burns (like way too much of “Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock”), they accepted the challenge and reinvigorated an oversaturated genre by wisely refusing to stray too far from what made it popular in the first place. Just as great rock bands don’t so much reinvent the genre as rediscover what worked about it to begin with, “Rock Band 3” builds instead of reboots. With new tools, a more modern look, and a great set list, “Rock Band 3” offered something for everyone with the most gameplay depth yet seen in a music game. Everything about “Rock Band 3” simply feels more refined than the last installment. Even the new songs seem more expertly-designed with better sound and note timing. The game takes what worked about the franchise to date and didn’t change a note of it, merely building on what came before. It’s like a studio debut of a great local band — a bit more polished without losing what made the group successful in the first place. Who said rock was dead?

7. “Fable III
Release Date: October 26th
Platform(s): Xbox 360

Fable III
Fable III
Photo credit: Microsoft

I don’t understand why this game hasn’t shown up on more lists. Perhaps it’s because the hype led people to believe that it would be a game-changing experience that redefined the “good or evil” foundation of “Fable II.” Expectations were that it would blow people’s minds like “Red Dead Redemption” or “Bioshock” and just because it wasn’t the BEST game of the year, it’s been dismissed. “Fable III” entertained me from first minute to last with deep storytelling and a fully-realized world. As in my favorite titles of the year, I felt like the decisions I made truly shaped the world of Albion. And the ambition of this story — one that implies that every decision, whether it’s a traditional good or bad dilemma, comes with a cost — was remarkable. The sense of rising and impending doom led to a stunning pace that made the title more and more fascinating. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next and what decision would come back to haunt me. If not for a slightly-disappointing finale, it would be even higher.

Anonymous's picture

It’s time for video games

It’s time for video games to move forward, but designers (and publishers) seem to be dead-set on keeping them stuck firmly in the past

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