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Published January 12, 2011

Another year has passed and another set of top 5 lists has been uttered. As is tradition, I’m not satisfied with leaving it there. I hate the finality and I detest the missing pieces. So while I left my opinion at merely 5 games on the show for the sake of brevity, I’ll subject you to my gaming whims here for far more games. Let’s begin.

Honorable Mentions

Even with an expanded top 10 list there are some games that just don’t make the cut but merit your attention anyways. I could say this under the pretense that all gamers should expand their horizons but I imagine I’d get harassed for such a closed minded statement (“How dare I use the word ‘should’!”). In fact, my lack of turning on my Wii more than once this year indicates that I’m less than open minded, I just feel like there’s a greater appreciation to be gleaned from the games that you do love from the games that won’t make the cut but still have something important to add to gaming.

Happy trails, pardner'

Nothing screams honorable mention like the game that many others list at the top of the games of the year. Red Dead: Redemption stands as an accomplishment in gaming for many reasons, most important of which: it’s the only Rockstar game I’ve ever played to completion. There’s a lot to love about the way the story handles itself, but unfortunately there was a lot to hate about how it mishandles all my good will with an inexplicable (and somewhat random) ending and a sagging middle section in Mexico which left a bad taste in my mouth for the rest of the game. A wise developer would take the good points of the game–the strong protagonist, complex themes and unique setting–and marry it with more compelling supporting characters and a more grounded plot. In fact, I’m really hoping the other Rockstar game coming out does this.

Another game of note accomplishes the impossible. Being a movie tie-in, albeit to a movie from the eighties, and a great game is a most difficult task. A task that Telltale accomplishes with ease in Back to the Future the Game: Episode 1, anyone else would have churned out a complete disaster. And while it was hard to the the notion seriously when A.J. said it on the show; after playing the game it’s almost impossible to imagine BttF continued as anything other than an adventure game. It doesn’t make my top 10 list but certainly is worth a play through for anyone familiar with the movies (which is everyone).

Top 10

10. Metro 2033

Life's not much better above ground...

I didn’t say much more on the show about Metro beyond whatever I felt would compel someone to give it a try. You can drone on for hours about all the things it does wrong. What makes the game stand out, however, is its uncompromising design. The designers stop at nothing to make you feel like you’ve entered the gritty underground tunnels of Moscow, the NPCs are dirty, the guns are crude and broken, you are dirty. Everything is covered in the filth and disgusting grime that a post apocalyptic should be coated in. Very few games can walk you through linear levels nowadays without losing something to the magic of more open environments, yet Metro delivers. It delivers with scripted sequences that immerse you in the world rather than take you out of it, a feat only Valve seems to be able to do in todays post-GTAIII world. So while it’s easy to pass on the game because the whole “bullets as currency” idea doesn’t execute perfectly, or because you don’t like having to flick on the lighter to read the map in the dark; it’s much, much more rewarding to play Metro 2033 instead because it isn’t perfect.

9. Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Playing through Amnesia again is giving me a lot of perspective about what actually frightens me while playing a game. I imagined a repeat playthrough would yield less tensions and dread. What I found out was that the terror this game causes doesn’t lessen even when you know what’s going to happen. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m playing through it again with my new headsets but the things Amnesia does with the soundscape of the game is down right unbelievable. Even when I turn off surround sound mode the faint whispers in the background feel like they’re right behind my ear. If you want to see a company that is slowly finding out how to creep into my nightmares: find a way to get your hands on Amnesia and, as much as it pains me to parrot a statement made in the game, play with a pair of headphones in a dark room.

8. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Connected. The easiest way to describe the best part of NFS:HP is with the word connected. In addition to being a racing game with the same amount of exhilaration and fun as the recent Burnout titles Hot Pursuit is the most online enabled game this console generation. The wall and leaderboards show you where you rank and the game taunts you with friends who’ve beaten your score. The fun of the cat and mouse chases of previous Need for Speed titles is back, all of the cops and robbers dreams you had playing with micro machines is represented on the screen with every race and chase. Admittedly some of my fond memories of playing older Hot Pursuit entries with my younger brother springs to mind each time I play, no doubt pushing this game higher on my list that gameplay alone. But that’s why this is my top 10 list, so neener neener.

Voyage across a frightening land.

7. Limbo

I still need to go back and find the remaining few eggs in Limbo and I never thought hanging around in the afterlife would be so much fun. Or is it the subconscious of an injured child? I guess that’s what I loved about the game, game design in concert with art direction creates a wonderful experience even if it is macabre. A puzzle platform is nothing special to write home about, but Limbo is something bigger, something better. From the way the main character clings to each ledge or interacts with objects in the level, Limbo seems to be designed to help you play. It’s as if the character has a mind of his own and wants to make it to that ledge, reaching right when you want him to reach.

The small touches of the animation seem to fill a dark foggy world with character, and it’s not limited to the main character either. The strange lost boys running around the world. The large spider you encounter early in game. The insidious worms that wrest control from you. All these 2D sprites were created with such care that they become something much more than black and white sprites. They inhabit a world that you can explore. Sure it’s not a nice place, but it sure is pretty.

6. Halo: Reach

Even though it’s a cookie-cutter story of doomed soldiers valiantly perishing one by one, I liked the story in Reach. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one that did because I was willing to give it a chance. The fall of Reach is an incredibly important part of the Halo mythology, a mythology that I’ve never been that deeply invested in, but important nonetheless. Despite never falling in love the Master Chief and Cortana I’ve been a party to their story because of the gameplay. After playing Reach to the bitter, and I mean bitter, end I’m glad I was there for the whole trip. The knowledge of the story past the fall of Reach seems to lend more gravity to the proceedings of Reach. Besides, the characters that inhabit the Halo universe have never looked so…human-ish. Tack on the best multiplayer matchmaking interface in the FPS rogers outrank business and you have a game that put up a good fight to get into my top5, but ultimately fell short.

5. Alan Wake

I’ve finally gotten to the part of the list that has been covered on the show. So I’ll try to sum up what makes each so special.

Alan Wake is uncompromising in its homage to Twin Peaks and Stephen King and backs up its ambition with the best interplay of light and dark I’ve seen in a game. Light and feels like salvation and an oppressive thick blanket of darkness that doesn’t obscure what you need to see to make you jump out of your socks.

4. Star Craft 2: Wings of Liberty

As I mentioned this week on the show, the map editor and tools are more complex than the average gamer may be capable of using but they provide an endless amount of flexibility that seems to rival and maybe even outdo Justin’s future game of 2011 Little Big Planet 2. Oh, and the story mode is a 60 dollar game all by itself, the unending content you can find online is just a bonus.

There goes the neighborhood.

3. Civilization 5

One more turn, a mantra that most avid board gamers are familiar with is foreign to most gamers. The concept of something not working in real time can be daunting, but rest assured ADD riddled gamer, good things come to those who wait. Civilization V will pay dividends to those who wait, with a single match taking as much time to complete as some entire story modes of other games on this list; you might never need another game.

2. Battlefield: Bad Company 2

In a single multiplayer match of Bad Company 2 you will find yourself parachuting onto the battlefield, working with your team to push down objectives, resuscitating fallen teammates, sheltering yourselves in a building getting blown apart by an enemy tank and sneaking around to flank the final enemy hold out and win the war. Each match of Bad Company 2 can feel like an entire war, except you’ll be jumping right into the next war as fast as you can hit reload.

1. Mass Effect 2

There is nothing left to say about Mass Effect 2 other than: “When is Mass Effect 3 coming?”


  1. mik mik

    I really need to try out Metro 2033 and Amnesia now that I have a capable PC. I’m always a sucker for a shooter that tries doing things a little differently. I think if I bumped my top 5 to a top 10, it would look like this:

    1. Alan Wake
    2. Red Dead Redemption
    3. Mass Effect 2
    4. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
    5. Alpha Protocol
    6. 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors
    7. Civilization V
    8. Gran Turismo 5
    9. Super Scribblenauts
    10. Bioshock 2

  2. Kaz Kaz

    I’m really liking 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors so far, and it’s a terrible shame that I haven’t tried Super Scribblenauts after loving the original despite its massive flaws.

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