It may be fashionable to hate this series and, frankly, quite sensible to hurl some well-deserved opprobrium at Activision, but there’s still nothing better when it comes to the Michael Bay style of action. While Halo is, I maintain, better at actually engaging the brain, Call of Duty is still the place to go for a shot of adrenaline.
And with Black Ops, Treyarch is the closest yet to creating a game that stands up to Infinity Ward’s offerings. The series’ high points, Call of Duty 2 and 4, still stand head and shoulders above the rest, and yes, the plot is spectacularly stupid, but I had a lot of fun with it. Even though I mourn the apparent death of the series’ realistic bent, the campaign is well put together and I’ve probably had more fun with the multiplayer than I have since those heady days when the scope of COD4’s popularity was becoming evident.
It even improves on Modern Warfare 2’s extensive package in areas where fans complained, showing that in Treyarch we might have a competent developer that mercifully lacks the hubris of its related companies. Dedicated servers? No prescriptive ‘we know better’ comments from the studio – Treyarch just did it. It’s almost endearing.
Even if I’ll never be happy with Activision’s insistence on “exploiting” the franchise on a yearly basis – maybe more in 2011 – if standards are maintained and the games can continue to move forward, I’ll be content to drop my £40 each year. Just please don’t make it more than that.
Given that I had precisely zero expectations about this game, and that I only raised my head from my desk in the office to look at it after someone announced that they had unlocked all of its achievements within a couple of hours – I’m still a bit of a whore like that – it must win an award for being a stealth hit. Perfect scores and nights spent trying to one-up friends followed, making it probably the best and most-played score-attack game since the original Geometry Wars.
It’s simple and beautiful, and painfully, painfully addictive, and games like this make me thankful that this kind of thing has been given a revival in the era of online leaderboards, which is the most relevant they’ve been since the original Pac-Man was in the arcades. While the implementation of leaderboards falls short of the high water mark, Geometry Wars 2, this game rivals that one for content and certainly beats it for competitive high scores.
When I play Geometry Wars and look at the top of the rankings, I know I’m never getting up there. In Pac-Man, on the other hand, I’m only a few hundred thousand and, judging by the replays, a couple of eliminated mistakes and some route optimisation short of the top, so small are the margins for error. Let’s be honest: I’ll still never get there, but at least this lets me feel like I’m in with a chance of getting that carrot.
Since the App Store launched, it was only a matter of time before someone got their act together to create the perfect confluence of handheld hardware power and touchscreen-focused game design. Truth be told, there have been a few contenders on iOS this year, but I think this really deserves to be the first.
It is, of course, graphically stunning. Ridiculously so, in fact, on an iPhone 4’s screen, and that it was able to make people forget about Rage within days of id’s game’s release says something. But beyond that it’s a great little RPG lite, designed to be played as you might play a game on a phone – that is to say, for a few minutes, which is enough to get in a few fights – and just as at home if you’re pumping a couple of hours into grinding and mastering every item. Word is that it started out as a concept for Kinect, and although I can see that working, it’s better suited to a portable. Getting me physically tired is probably the quickest way for me to get bored of it.
With more content already arriving and some significant expansions promised, I fully anticipate this being a mainstay of my iPhone for some time, and for more than a graphical showpiece for when I want to show off. Chair has also batted two for two as far as my lists go since the beginning of its relationship with Epic (see: Shadow Complex), and even if its future is in classy short-form downloadable releases while the parent company does the big jobs, it’s rightly cultivating a reputation that makes people sit up and take notice when it unveils a project.
Maybe this year will be the one where iOS devices start getting taken seriously as portable gaming systems, because when put next to my DS and PSP in 2010, in terms of play time it wasn’t even close.
Many talk about how unexpected this was, given the series’, shall we say, inconsistent relationship with the third dimension, but in reality there was no time like the present. The ongoing commercial success of the God of War series and a spate of critically acclaimed games in the genre showed that there was a viable blueprint to follow, and with that, all it needed was some talent.
That’s Hideo Kojima explained, so perhaps the choice of MercurySteam as developer was the big surprise. Regardless, the Spanish dev did what Rocksteady Studios did with Batman: Arkham Asylum last year by unleashing a game on the world that exceeded all expectations, both in its own right and as a reflection of the developer’s pedigree.
Lords of Shadow isn’t particularly original, liberally borrowing from myriad similar games and also anything else that took the designers’ fancy: Pan straight out of Pan’s Labyrinth, an extremely familiar battle against an Ice Colossus Titan that immediately follows, and nods like a trip inside the Great Dekuh Tree – and those are all within the first couple of hours. Regardless, it’s a highly competent game, dripping with atmosphere and putting those high production values that are the mark of Kojima’s involvement to good use for some stunning environments and quality storytelling.
Word on the grapevine is that a sequel will be announced in 2011. With the hard reboot stuff out of the way, give me this with an appearance by a certain dark lord and I’ll be queuing up to indulge.
That’s another year down, and the sixth since I started doing this thing. It’s hardly seemed like a vintage year for gaming, to be honest, but looking back on my highly classified text document in which I keep track of anything that might be worthy of this list from 1st January until now, I was reminded of the Call of Duty effect, which resulted in some of 2010’s best games fleeing the Christmas bloodbath to be equally squeezed out in the year’s early months. Hopefully it’s not a trend, even if this year looks similar. We just have to hope that Activision bleeds COD dry as quickly as it did Guitar Hero, I guess.
So anyway, usual rules apply: any game that was released somewhere in the world in the calendar year 2010 is eligible and… that’s it. In fact, I might be abusing the ‘somewhere in the world’ rule to sneak in a game that I neglected last year. We’ll just have to wait and see.
My lists for 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.
If you’re an owner of an iOS device who’s looking for a way to show off your hardware, Infinity Blade is the obvious choice. It looks simply gorgeous, and on the high-res iPhone 4 screen the image quality is astounding, giving many 360 and PS3 games a run for their money. When something as good-looking as Rage HD is being outdone so quickly, it suggests that iOS gaming is really going somewhere.
But at the same time, if you’re of the opinion that gaming on a phone is no substitute for buttons and a D-pad, it could qualify as your Exhibit A as well. It’s limited, largely on rails, consists mostly of the same 20 minutes or so of gameplay repeated infinitely, and the occasional death because you missed the on-screen dodge button isn’t out of the question.
I’m firmly in the former camp on this one, though. But beyond being a technical showpiece it’s a great little action RPG, ideally suited for playing on a phone and being quite unique in its ability to blend Demon’s Souls with Punch-Out. It’s also nice to have a game from Epic that looks so different to what we now expect from Unreal Engine games, and the fact that this was developed by Chair, the team behind the similarly impressive Shadow Complex, suggests great talent in that studio.
Rage HD is somewhat disappointing in that, beautiful as it is, it’s largely a tech demo with some on-rails score-chasing shooting, whereas Unreal Engine 3 has had its iOS tech demo in the awesome Epic Citadel – and didn’t charge for it. Infinity Blade is a big advert for the engine as well, but it’s also a brilliant little game that would still be worth buying had it looked like a PS1 game. Having put hours numbering well into double fingers into this already, I eagerly await the promised updates with new loot, new areas and – YES! – online play.