Now that we've gotten the not-so-top ten, we should move on to the real top ten…
If you haven't played one of these games, go out and do so now.
Seriously, this is the good shit… and it's taken me around 2 days to write this post… so like it… or don't… really, it's your call.
Now can you guess which game will be my top game of the year before you click the jump? 😛
10. Eternal Sonata (Xbox 360)
I seriously didn't expect a game like this. I mean sure, it's normal to find the hordes of Japanese RPG's (J-RPG) get in under the radar and make their mark on society like so many have done before it. There's Phantasy Star and Final Fantasy and ChronoTrigger and Secret of… you get the point.
But Eternal Sonata was different. It wasn't strange & alien like they so commonly are. It was to a degree, but it didn't take you too far from your home world of Earth.
It took you back in time to a dying composer by the name of Chopin. Ever heard of him? If you're not an axe wielding Guitar Hero freak who only loves the eighties and thinks the rest of us can just die well then maybe you might have heard of Chopin. If you are that guitar freak, get a hair cut and stop wearing tank tops: the eighties are over.
Regardless, Eternal Sonata takes place in the mind of a dying Chopin meaning everything you see is an illusion. The story, the characters, the magic… it's all fake. That starts to push out continuity error and logic error pretty quickly as you might start to wonder that… wait… if I'm in the mind of a dying Chopin… and I — as Chopin — are aware that I'm in my mind… why the hell do I have to start at level 1 and work my way up?!
The answer is simple: best not to think about the stupid story and appreciate the RPG for what it is, a work of art. Really, that's what Eternal Sonata is. Art. No video game has managed to get the anime style so perfect like this before. Made in an entirely 3D world, you can see shades of Miyazaki with backgrounds, characters, and textures all retaining the look of a brilliantly crafted piece of theatrical anime. The sound too gets the same brilliant treatment with excellent music and a wonderful Japanese dialog soundtrack. I advise people use the Japanese soundtrack with English subtitles anyway as it's a hell of a lot better than the pointlessly acted and language converted English vocal track which kind of makes you feel you're engaged in a cheesy love affair with a blow-up doll named Fred who's not very happy to be there.
While the fighting sequences all sort of resemble your typical "hey, we're all standing in a row for no apparent reason" J-RPG combat scene, at least you can run over to which ever enemy you want and smash and bash until your heart is content… or at least your combat metre runs out… whichever happens first.
Eternal Sonata could be likened to a lot of games out there. You could say it's like Blue Dragon or Final Fantasy or any other long winded role-playing game with ridiculous amounts of long narratives that requires naps in the middle. But there's one thing that it does better than any of them: it represents the art of anime by looking like an anime and for that, it's well worth a play through for any geek… even you.
9. The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS)
The Simpsons have been around a while and as such they've probably been one of the franchises that have seen more games than… well… God, really (go on Sid Meier, make a comment… I dare you). I can still remember pumping money into the arcade game The Simpsons that let you play as everyone but Maggie and let four people take on Springfield as you battled to get back Marge's baby girl.
I should say that there have been a lot of lousy Simpsons titles. Almost every one was crap, in fact. I think I've liked that original arcade game and Hit & Run which was really nothing more than a GTA clone set in The Simpsons universe.
But now, EA have come along and changed all that. You see… EA have made a Simpsons game into something that really respects the license it comes from.
Taking place in Springfield, The Simpsons Game is a game that pokes fun at itself. Much like how The Simpsons have poked fun at the real world and pop culture for years, The Simpsons Game parodies itself, Electronic Arts (its creator and publisher) and the video game industry brilliant. As a result, it's absolutely loaded with in-jokes from many, many games and even has God-game legend Sid Meier (as mentioned earlier) as one of the bad guys.
Voiced by the original cast and scripted by some of the people responsible for what The Simpsons is putting on TV right now, there's a ton of new animated sequences with even more in-jokes for the fans of The Simpsons. And let's face it, who isn't a fan? Who seriously doesn't remember the infamous rake scene with Sideshow Bob…
One of the most brilliant things about The Simpsons Game is how it is over the various platforms. At its heart, The Simpsons Game is little more than a basic 3D platformer that you can finish easily in a day and has a relatively decent amount of replay value if you want to find every nook & cranny or explore Springfield. But what EA have also done is make it available across the other platforms and while they don't change drastically on systems that use basic stick-button controls like the PlayStation and Xbox consoles, the way you play the game changes on the Nintendo systems to make use of the innovative control systems.
Animated sequences are a treat in this game. Can you see all the in-jokes in this scene? Old video games from past episodes in the posters on the wall as well as a failed Nintendo system poster on the counter…
Take the Nintendo DS version which has you using the touchscreen more often than most stock-standard conversions would have dreamed of. You still have some of the animations though they are cut down and seem rendered differently, but the game experience you get is similar and as enjoyable as thos
e same high end consoles. You even get a virtual pet Homer in the Nintendo DS edition complete with heart paddles to save him in case you feed him too much fatty foods!
All in all, EA have created a gem. While The Simpsons Movie was more or less uninspiring, The Simpsons Game makes up for it and gives you your daily dose of The Simpsons in a slightly more interactive sense.
Now you too can bring The Simpsons everywhere you go… what else could you want?
8. Orcs & Elves (Nintendo DS)
As I was going through this list and deciding what to put on, I found myself having a lot of trouble deciding. There were a lot of good titles this year. Some seriously excellent developments. If you've only just been brought into existence as far as gaming is concerned, you've had a brilliant year.
And if you owned a Nintendo DS and you haven't looked at the superb Orcs & Elves yet, run — don't walk — to your nearest video game retailer and ask for a copy. And then pay for it, because this game is worth it.
You know you might be looking at a piece of art when you realise that Orcs & Elves is created by gaming genius John Carmack, one of the legends behind iD Software. Oh, and then you see that well duh… Orcs & Elves is made by iD anyway!
Orcs & Elves is actually very similar to the old school role-playing games of yesteryear. You follow along dungeons with the aim of completing a quest… a quest of great magnitude… by order of the talking wand!
I will slap you all over the floor with my wand! Err… that wasn't a sex joke, either…
Yeah, okay, it's a bit of a strange story. But hey, you can get drunk with dwarf creatures and such! And who doesn't like getting drunk and doing evil deeds on a console that Nintendo have tried to stop all bad deeds on!
Seriously, I can't really explain why Orcs & Elves is so good. It's just a lot of fun. You can see the nods to older games and it only serves to make the experience just that much richer. I don't know if it's the best game on the Nintendo DS… but it's certainly up there.
Setting slime on fire and walking around with an big mallet-thingy are just two of the things you'll do in Orcs & Elves.
7. Command & Conquer 3 (Xbox 360, PC, Mac)
As a Command & Conquer fan, I should probably say that I'm biased. I love the Command & Conquer series. Always have. I wasn't someone who sat there as a Warcraft fan… I thought C&C ruled and there was no way of breaking me from that idea.
And then Westwood brought out Tiberian Sun and I started to question Westwood. But then EA came and made things better with Red Alert 2. And then ruined it with Generals.
So I was a bit skeptical with Tiberium Wars, the third entry into the Command & Conquer timeline.
But lucky for me… it really is fun.
You can comment on the kitsch & camp videos 'till the cows come home infested by blue tiberium and mutating into something not even a commando would go near. You can do all of that and it's still fun. With roles by Cylons Grace Park & Tricia Helfer, Lando Calrissian's alternate identity Billy Dee Williams, the guy from Starship Troopers with the iron hand who usually goes by the name of Michael Ironside, some guy from Lost named Josh Holloway, and even that doctor Dr. House wants to shag, actress Jennifer Morrison.
Oh and there's Kane. Joseph Kucan returns as the bald leader who will have you shouting "Kane Lives!" up to the point where you see the crappy ending for NOD at which point you go "wait… wha–?!"
Okay, so the endings are your typical C&C weakness. Only the first one really had good endings.
But using a better version of the General engine with brighter colours and a more C&C-like interface, Tiberium Wars shines.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack is weaker without the series' use of Frank Klepacki and some of the sides needed some balancing early on, things that patches seemed to have cured.
Regardless, Command & Conquer 3 is loads of fun. Hell, I usually play a skirmish game after work every few days.
6. Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Bioware have been known for some of the more interesting games with "choice systems" in them. Games like Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic allowed you to become a character in the Star Wars universe and based on your actions and reactions to situations, your character would become good or bad. This in turn set in motion different paths your character would take creating, in essence, a different game story each time you played (provided you changed your attitude).
Well now Bioware are back with a game based off of their own IP, Mass Effect. Set in a space frontier where humans are really fighting for equality, you'll take on the role of a character named Shepard, someone who can either be male or female and who can take on the appearance of whatever the hell you desire (that the system allows). This means you can make some pretty men & women as well as some pretty ugly men & women. Finally, a game that lets me make the hero as ugly as I am! Woohoo!
You'll then set off in a universe where a series of events are about to unfold that will ultimately leave you in charge of saving the universe… like so many other games. Really, Mass Effect is no different in regards to an ultimately linear story that you can play out in whatever way you want provided it still ends in a rather linear fashion.
There's also a lot of dialog. A lot of dialog. An incredible amount of dialog. So much that you can't actually shut it up most of the time and if you find yourself stuck in a loop that the developers forgot to patch up, well tough luck: just endur
e it like the rest of us did.
The problem with Mass Effect is what makes it so incredible is how addictive it is. Once you get involved in the story, you simply won't want to stop playing. With side quests that change based on how good or bad you are as well as that "main mission" to adhere to, there's a lot to see in the game. I'm not entirely sure why Bioware needed to throw in a vehicle as badly designed as the Mako in, but you'll also end up blowing stuff up and running things over things that just won't die to go with all the shooting and back-stabbing you'll be doing in the first place. It's really not the combat that excels but how well-developed the story is.
And with graphics and camera motions that make you feel like you're watching one of the best animated movies since Final Fantasy, the direction and story really make you feel involved. There's known and unknown voice actors that do brilliant jobs like Seth Green, Keith David, Marina Sirtis, Lance Henriksen and others, as well as some voice actors that do absolutely horrible jobs, but that only adds to the atmosphere of Mass Effect.
In the end, you're left with a game that really plays out like a feature-length movie and which has more replay value than most games would ever hope to achieve.
5. Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
What can you say about Halo 3 that probably hasn't been said a thousand times by so many other gaming publications?
It's more or less a legendary gaming franchise and Halo 3 concludes the Master Chief saga by perfecting the mold that made Halo and Halo 2 so popular to begin with. The controls have been tweaked again to provide better controls than they've ever been. The soundtrack too has been pumped up with a more symphonic take than Michael Salvatori did last time around. Yes, last time was very rock-y but this time you feel more like you're taking part in an epic movie with orchestral movements that feel beautifully composed at times.
Why there was even some music I had to cut out when my brother had brought back footage for me to edit for our early video review. I cut it out and stuck it on my mp3 player and just listened to it on loop. It was wonderful. Still is.
The graphics don't feel like they've changed a lot, but you don't care because Bungie seem to have cleaned up the textures and given everything a really nice shine. As a result, Halo 3 cleans up nicely and looks spectacular.
And while a lot of people might not care for the simplistic story, you can bet that the game is fun. It doesn't burden you with choice, with logic, with a sense of morality that can plague other titles. It offers you a first person shoot-em-up experience where you get to blow up the goofy & freaky looking bad guys while being engaged in some sort of story that doesn't suck.
Then there's the multiplayer… which people are still playing. While I personally think that Forge is little more than Half-Life 2's Garry's Mod for Halo, it is still a welcome addition as is the brilliant theatre mode which has made all those kids who dream of making Machinima with Red Vs. Blue suddenly erect and… well… very happy… yeah.
All up, Halo 3 is a great game.
4. Colin McRae DiRT (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
Colin McRae DiRT beats out games like FORZA 2 and PGR 4 because of one thing that really sets it apart from the competition: it's rip roaring fun without any bullshit.
You don't have to stuff around with tunings or pick through an exhaustive list of hyper-advanced cars that only Jeremy Clarkson wannabe's start salivating over digital translations of; you just loaded up one of the many rally events and played through a truly excellent game. Because that's what DiRT is: a truly excellent game.
I actually don't have a problem with the tuning man FORZA and model crazy Project Gotham. I think they're both fine games. But they're not DiRT. They don't have the sheer lunacy that DiRT has nor do they push out the level of earth crunching fun that you get from racing over some of the dustier tracks on the planet. With leaves, snapping twigs, and doors that can fly off if you hit them hard enough, you really get the sense that the sun is beating down on you as you race through the events in Colin McRae DiRT.
Whether you choose a standard rally racer, a 4×4 monster or even a big rig, you know that there something for any day and you can see that the team behind it really went to great lengths to put as much as they could in. Hell, even the loading screens are cool with your statistics displayed in a sleek rotating text feel similar to that of the great menu system that DiRT adopted.
It's hard to dance around how good DiRT is. I'll try is another way.
DiRT is one of those stand-out racing games that lives on in the minds of those who love racing games much like the original Daytona USA and Sega Rally Arcade games did. Good luck finding anything else like it.
3. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii)
Super Mario Galaxy could probably be best described as a stand-out in video game design.
In a year that brought us loads of Wii games — many of which were crap — it's always nice to see something that truly stands out and is a breathe of fresh air in an otherwise stale pack.
Super Mario Galaxy does just that by providing a trippy 3D style that merges brilliantly with some of the best thought out Wii controls to date.
Usually, it's the controls that people aren't getting right with the Wii. And that's really the problem with the Wii, because while the accelerometer based controls should theoretically make games more interactive & more interesting, most developers seem to struggle with what they can make their games do.
But not Nintendo. The people who developed the Wii know exactly how to
get the best from their console and Super Mario Galaxy is no exception.
It is brilliant.
Some people might not like how kid friendly Mario Galaxy is and sure, the story is pretty simplistic and would appeal to anyone 6 or older.
But to those of you refusing to play Super Mario Galaxy because of its younger sort of feel do yourselves a favour and heed my words:
remove that coat-hanger that points out so sharply from your rectum and place it somewhere that won't bother you so you can feel what it's like to be a kid again.
Super Mario Galaxy is fun, colourful, insane, interesting, and on the whole a very special game that no Wii owner should be without.
2. The Orange Box (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
You have to give credit to Valve: they really know how to make a great package.
The Orange Box probably represents the best value game… ever.
With Half-Life 2, Episode 1, and Episode 2, you already have a great deal. The Half-Life series proves itself time and time again and bundling the original games for people who have never played them is a good way to let them see the new part, Episode 2, for all its value.
Then Valve decided to throw in the long-awaited Team Fortress 2, a game that started really as a modification for Quake and has been sitting more or less as a stagnant reminder that Valve can be like 3D Realms in getting projects done as this title has been on their webpage for… well, forever. It's not as bad as Duke Nukem Forever… by the time that comes out, geeks will have moved on and have found sex with doormats as a viable alternative to kicking ass and chewing bubblegum.
Back onto The Orange Box:
The final game that Valve packaged would be one of the best titles of the year if it wasn't packaged with The Orange Box in the first place: Portal.
For those that don't know, Portal is a first-person shooter intertwined with a puzzle game that combined an interesting interpretation of physics, comedy, and what I'm sure is some level of quantum mechanics I'll never understand. Really, it's just a brilliant title and there's no going around how something like Portal might just change the landscape of games forever.
Seriously, The Orange Box has something for everybody.
And really, is there any better gaming deal around?!
1. Call of Duty 4 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC)
I'm not the sort of person that normally likes first-perosn shooters, especially ones with an emphasis on tactical… err… tactics. In fact, I've never really enjoy the genre much with the exception of the Half-Life series and lately the Halo series. But when Call of Duty 4 came in and I read "Modern Warfare" on the cover, I was instantly interested. And when you play it, you realise one thing:
Call of Duty 4 is a gem.
There. I've said it.
It's hard to pull yourself away from its excellent story which is told by means of a direction that is nothing short of brilliant. It's a fast paced energetic blow-by-blow drama that rivals anything that Jerry Bruckheimer tries to pull out of his productions and even gives that fun that Matthew Reilly brings to his books a good run for its money. Set somewhere in an unstable region of the Middle East, a president of a nation has just been executed and you'll play as one of several people set to undo the damage that's just been done. You'll find yourself as a Marine and a member of the SAS as well as even going back in time and becoming a sniper on a mission in the radiated region of the world that is Chernobyl. Missions like this as well as many others serve to fill in the story brilliantly while providing you with a fast-paced tactical adventure unlike any you'll have seen in ages. The effect that you get out of Call of Duty 4 is nothing short of spectacular.
Adding to this is the control system which is one of the best I've ever seen making even those people normally uncomfortable with FPS controls instantly happy and at ease. There are several configurations but the one it comes with serves as an excellent way to introduce you to the slick mechanics. Working with the tutorial in the beginning, you know you're about to find yourself in a world where you'll be in over your head but that doesn't matter provided your controls are as good as this. It's really nice to see a game too that doesn't ask you to remember a ridiculously stupid set of controls or memorise complicated procedures just to play. It is a truly intuitive control scheme.
Then there's the presentation which is amazing. Graphics are sharp, clear, and while not the same level of texture brilliance that games like Mass Effect have, still look amazing and at points incredibly realistic. Light falls like light and things around you fall and blow up just like you'd expect them to in a fast paced war-zone. The loading screens look like something out of a high budget war flick with wireframe animated models taking the screen right before a GPS is often about to locate you in real-time. It's all very quick and only serves to show you how much effort Infinity Ward put into this game. Sound is also top-notch with high quality voice actors and amazing weapons & explosions. It'd be hard to imagine a firefight not sounding like this game.
Multiplayer is an excellent addition and with the way it's built and a bit of time, you can really see this taking over Counter-Strike as one of the higher rating multiplayer tactical games of our time. You really can.
Couple all of this with one of the best programmed autosave systems for all those inconvenient deaths you might suffer (and there probably will be a few) as well as some of the best video game direction that begins to rival the quality of many a motion picture and you start to realise why Call of Duty 4 is the best game of the year.
Simply put, this game is brilliant. I want more games this well made.