2009 has come and gone with the blink of an eye, and saw a slew of quality releases over the course of the year. While there are several Game of the Year candidates that I did not get the chance to play, there were several games that I enjoyed this year. This is the third year I have created a list like this. Mass Effect was a close second to BioShock in 2007, but last year Dead Space, by far, was my favorite game of 2008. This year is not as easy of a decision for me. While there were a lot of quality games, there is not one game that stands out above the others. What follows is a list of games that I have nominated for my personal Game of the Year award.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360) – This game is on a lot of Game of the Year lists, and deservedly so. This is most likely the best Batman game to come out since Batman on the NES in 1989. The graphics, voice acting and level design stand out to me. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill were absolutely spot on, as usual, in their respective roles as Batman and Joker. When the combat system worked like it was supposed to, it was beautiful. Often times though, your combo string would be interrupted (especially when encountering the larger enemies) and you'd lose that thrill of taking on multiple dudes in one big combo string (and the feel of being Batman). The comic book nerd in me doesn't like the inclusion of certain villains (way too many Scarecrow encounters, Croc and Bane are too similar) and the combat system was wonky at times, but overall I had a great time with this game. Every time I unlocked a new character Bio I'd wonder, "Why isn't [insert villain's name here] in the game??" Hopefully we'll get to see some of the more iconic characters in the sequel; Mr Freeze, Man-Bat, Clayface, Penguin, Riddler (in person this time).
Borderlands (Xbox 360) – This game is basically a First Person Shooter version of a game like Diablo, Baldur's Gate or Champions of Norrath. A very loot heavy game. You are constantly obtaining new and bad ass weapons; trying to figure out what to use next. The biggest problem this game has is that the story is almost non-existent. You're just some dude (or dudette) trying to find some legendary vault of treasure. That's basically it. I hear the DLC is much more story focused, but I have yet to play it. Another smaller issue is that you only have so much room to keep the countless number of the awesome weapons you will find. Eventually you get 42 slots to hold stuff, but even that isn't enough!! I hear the next DLC pack contains a bank that lets you hold more items, but I bet even THAT won't be big enough! I really wish I had tried the co-op in this game, because I'm sure I'd love it. Overall, I enjoyed every minute of it and I can never put it down when I'm playing it.
Dragon Age: Origins (Xbox 360) – Oh Dragon Age, how I miss thee. I could write an entire blog post just about Dragon Age and my issue with it. I have not yet finished the game, even though this was hands down the most enjoyable single player game I've played all year. I was about 43 hours into the game, probably about 75% complete, and somehow my save file got corrupted. Not just one save file, but all 4 of them!! I had been saving the game regularly, at 30 minute or less intervals, and somehow every single save file was corrupted. BioWare & EA have been informed of this problem but do not seem to even acknowledge the fact that this issue exists. To my knowledge, nothing has been done about it, and there are so many different glitches in this game that no one has figured out what actually causes the game to corrupt save files. Because of this fact, I refuse to play the 360 version ever again, until this problem can be fixed or it can be confirmed what causes the issue.
Other than that, I was loving every second of the game. This is a surprise for me because I was not looking forward to its release. All the preview footage I had seen did not interest me in the least, but I bought the game mainly for the armor you can use in Mass Effect (and because I like BioWare games so I had hope that this would be good). The dialogue, the story, the voice acting, and the combat are all fantastic. The only issues I have are the glitches, and then the graphics absolutely SUCK on 360! Oblivion looks 5 times better and that's been out how long now? 3, 4 years?? Overall, I love this game and I'm dying to play it again. I just don't want 43 hours to go down the drain again and lose all my progress. I'd play the PC version but I don't think my PC can handle it.
Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2 (Xbox 360) – I'm a big Gundam fan and this game easily the best Gundam game I've ever played. I know it isn't a great game in terms of gameplay, control, sound, etc. but the Gundam fan in me loves playing out famous battles from the course of the anime series, sequels and countless alternate universes.
Forza 3 (Xbox 360) – Forza has become what Gran Turismo used to be for Simulation racing. Its innovative assists help any player feel like they can drive a race car just as well as the pros. The rewind feature is a welcomed addition, but I fear it can be used too often and takes a lot of skill out of the game. However it is greatly appreciated when you are racing a 10 lap+ race that takes a half an hour (or more) and you screw up in the last seconds to lose the race. The design of the menu system and the community areas are greatly improved and easy to use. Overall, this is the best Forza game to date and Polyphony Digital has extremely tough competition whenever they finally release GT5.
Ghostbusters (Xbox 360) – A video game sequel to one of my favorite movie franchises of all time, this game did not fail to deliver. I felt like I was playing the third Ghostbusters movie and it was awesome. The only negative thing I have to say about this game is the AI. I played the story through all the way once, on the hardest difficulty. The achievement whore in me decided this was the best way to go. There are some technical issues with your fellow Ghostbusters' AI that make this difficulty setting almost unplayable in spots. Your teammates will die (almost constantly on later levels) and you are forced to either fend for yourself, or run over to them to revive them, usually dying in the processes. There is a point towards the very end of the game that seems impossible to pass because of this issue. Other than that, I enjoyed playing as a Rookie Ghostbuster and saving the world once again. Sometimes I'd just have fun messing around with the Proton Pack, shooting everything in sight just to hear and see the iconic sound and visual effects the proton stream makes in the movies. This game is definitely a top contender for Game of the Year.
Peggle (Xbox Live Arcade) – Normally I'm not a fan of puzzle games, but the pinball/pachinko style of this game is a hell of a lot of fun. Great game to waste some time, but tough to complete all the challenges.
Red Faction: Guerrilla (Xbox 360) – When I first heard that this was going to be an open world game instead of a straight up First Person Shooter, I was worried, but the game turned out solid overall. It did get a bit repetitive and the story wasn't much, but I enjoyed it. I had a hell of a lot of fun taking down buildings with nothing but a sledgehammer, but it would have been nice if there were more variety to the structures I was demolishing. Most of them were basically the same. The difficulty was a bit off as well. I think I ended up switching to easy later on and just enjoyed the game without worrying about dying constantly. Oh, and it needs more walker mechs! Those things were fun as hell to run around killing people and smashing buildings with. Easily the best part of the game for me!
Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360) – The sequel to one of the best Resident Evil games ever made, and it does not disappoint; however, not in the way you'd expect. As an action game, it is absolutely fantastic and fun as hell. As a survival horror game, it fails miserably. I played through this game cooperatively with my friend James, several times, and we had a total blast each and every time. This is the definition of co-op gaming in my opinion. However it's hard to come to terms with this game as it is so different than the previous main series Resident Evil games. I think you just have to treat it as an action game and nothing more, if you try to think of it as a Resident Evil game, you will not like it. I think I had the most fun playing this game more than any others this year. (Almost forgot, the QTEs in this game PISS ME OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Shadow Complex (Xbox Live Arcade) – The best XBLA game I've played this year is Shadow Complex. I'm a huge fan of Castlevania:Symphony of the Night (and the games that followed on the handheld systems) and this game feels like a fresh take on the grid map system. The 2.5D effects are great, and the story helps drive you to finish the game and figure out what the hell is going on. The puzzles are fun to solve, the combat is great (especially melee!) and the platforming works well (jetpack FTW!).
Suikoden Teirkreis (DS) – a rather simple version of the Suikoden combat system and story, but overall I enjoyed it. It never gets old growing your personal army and recruiting all 108 Stars of Destiny!
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Xbox 360) – At first I thought this would be nothing but another God of War style rip-off, but it's actually a hell of a lot of fun. It also suffers the stereotype of "bad movie games." However, I think this game is much better than the movie! It is also very violent and bloody; definitely not for the faint of heart. I have no problem with the violence though. I love nothing more than to decapitate, disembowel, and literally tear the enemies to shreds. This is what a dude with 3 Adamantium claws in each hand should do. I think the only thing I didn't like about this game is the Quick Time Events. I hate QTES!!!