Best of 2009 #7: Halo 3: ODST

Can an expansion qualify for a GOTY list? Is Halo 3: ODST an expansion at all? Legitimate questions all, but I think that ODST, besides being a standalone release, is different enough to qualify. To be honest, beyond name recognition, did it even need to be painted as part of Halo 3 at all? Most of it happens concurrently with Halo 2, after all.

Semantics aside, I thoroughly enjoyed ODST, even as a relative disappointment after the massive event that was Halo 3. It’s partly a victim of Call of Duty usurping Halo as the 360’s premier franchise and, I think, partly down to people simply getting bored of the games, and I hope that Reach is different enough to win people back around.

So yes, a disappointment. But playing it, I was reminded of how much I enjoy Halo. To say that it’s been made irrelevant by Modern Warfare is extremely unfair because they play very different games, and I love Halo’s unscripted, free-form battles just as much as Infinity Ward’s brand of breakneck, scripted Hollywood action. ODST further courted my affections by somehow feeling more like the original, possibly down to the added vulnerability that comes from needing health packs, and it was a welcome challenge after playing through two Halo games in which you’re the baddest motherfucker in the galaxy.

Plus Firefight was pretty awesome. Expect to see variants of Gears 2’s Horde mode showing up throughout 2010’s shooter line-up.

Halo still needs a kick up the backside, though. Most will pick Modern Warfare 2’s success as the thing to do it, but I think that me only putting it seventh on this list will be the thing to do it. Wait until Bill Gates sees this…

Best of 2009 #8: Borderlands

I don’t have any more categories than an overall top ten when I pick my game of the year, but if I was going to nominate the best value purchase of the year it would certainly be Borderlands. It cost me less than £18 and I got far more out of it than most full-price purchases. And thankfully it’s not been completely overlooked either, as it’s the fastest-selling new IP of 2009 and has sold handsomely.

It’s one of those surprise packages that I didn’t see coming at all, looking like nothing more than a random gun gimmick that got a quick facelift to stop it being completely lost in the shuffle as another FPS with RPG elements set in a deserted wasteland. How wrong I was. It’s a genius idea, taking the best bits from first-person shooters and MMORPGs and blending them masterfully to create something that can be played alone or with friends, and is also immense fun whichever way you do it.

I have friends who wouldn’t touch an MMORPG with a ten-foot pole but fell right into Borderlands, in one case spending over 15 hours with it over a weekend, and I’m really excited to see where the framework is used now. We know that a sequel is coming and that ‘Borderworlds’ has been trademarked – the fact that it’s plural is the really interesting thing in that title – and more of the same, perhaps with some more varied environments and a bit of visual character customisation, would be brilliant and a certain purchase for me, but Gearbox should really take it to its natural conclusion as a true MMOFPS. This with an active and populated world could be the MMO recipe that finally manages to click with me.

So well done, Gearbox, for coming onto this list with the latest entry and being one of the year’s genuinely nice surprises. Here’s to Borderworlds.

Best of 2009 #9: Resident Evil 5

Alas, adding co-op to the framework for one of the best action-adventure games ever made wasn’t enough to blow minds as the same formula managed to do in 2005, but Resident Evil 5 still deserves recognition. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing you could accuse its developer of – besides being staffed by massive racists, obviously – is only making minor improvements to the game that netted dozens of game of the year awards not too long ago. They must be mad.

Some of that was simply down to how things have moved on since Resident Evil 4, as shooters with the same perspective and arguably more friendly mechanics are ten a penny these days. Some of it was also down to the fact that, unless you had more dedicated friends than me, you had to spend the whole game reliant on an AI partner, and you’re a lot less willing to forgive the mistakes of that than you are a real person. The notion of this being survival horror went out the window with the last game and it’s even less so now, and the proliferation of this style has, perversely, left what was groundbreaking only a few years ago feeling aged.

As always seems to the the way, I’ve ended up sounding really down on this game, and I’m not at all, because it’s still an excellent adventure that just has flaws that you need to be willing to look past, which, people tend to forget, has always been the way with Resident Evil. To change it too much, to bow to the pressure of its predecessor’s pretenders, would stop it being Resident Evil, and that’s what I still want from this series; if I want to play Gears of War, I’ll play Gears of War. This felt like a member of the series, helped by the reappearance of series tropes that had gone walkabout recently.

There’s big pressure on the next one, and if it’s as good as this one I’ll be at the front of the line. We’ve got Umbrella back, so how about some zombies?

Best of 2009 #10: Killzone 2

Graphics aren’t everything, but they are something, and when they look as spectacular as Killzone 2, they’re really something. Even if it wasn’t quite what was promised, Guerrilla got closer than anyone thought it had any right to, creating what is arguably the best-looking game on consoles today. It’s an advert for just how important animation and effects are to visuals and is certainly the closest thing to photorealism we have right now.

The best part of a year on from its release, the forgettable story has almost completely passed from my mind and I’m left with the game itself, which I thoroughly enjoyed despite the hotly debated issues with laggy controls. I think it gives the game a sense of weight that complements the gritty style. It wouldn’t be Killzone 2 if it had the tight, twitch controls of a Call of Duty.

It also deserves credit for one of the year’s best multiplayer modes, shorn of some of the deliberately obtuse control elements in the name of competitive play, and I enjoyed that enough to put it up there with Warhawk as one of my favourite PS3 multiplayer experiences.

It’s too flawed to be a bona fide classic, I think, but Killzone 2 does enough right to justify its plaudits and firmly establishes the series as a contender rather than the also-ran that it was in the PS2 days.

Best of 2009

Rather than cliches about how hard to believe it is that another year is down – although it is pretty hard, to be fair – I’m just going to kick straight in tomorrow with the first of my countdown of the year’s best games. No games for Christmas means no messing around in the first days of 2010 to make room for any late additions, so this will be a straight run to see out the end of the year… maybe with a little surprise to look back on the 2000s as a whole at the end.

I know the tension must be torture, so, in the meantime, you can peruse my lists for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Aren’t I good to you?


It’s not often that a Hollywood blockbuster comes along with the full force of the hype machine behind it and doesn’t end up disappointing, but this is not one of those times. Avatar comes saddled with a budget big enough to bankrupt a small country and stories about how technology had to be invented just to make it possible, not to mention that it’s the poster child for this 3D film gimmick that’s apparently the next big thing. Oh, and the small matter of it being James Cameron’s first film in over a decade, following up his last modest success.

One compliment that I can pay it is to say that it didn’t even feel close to its 162-minute running time, and in these days of increasingly lengthy blockbusters that overstay their welcome – in Transformers 2’s case, by around an hour and a half – that’s rare. But if that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise… well, here goes… Continue reading Avatar