2009 has been one of the better years to be a gamer. Never have we felt so out of pocket with such a wide variety of great games to choose from. Me, being spoilt like I am, pretty much bought all of the games I wanted and will probably get to them by the time I retire but there were definitely a few standouts as far as my Playstation 3 collection goes.
So counting down the top 5…
5. Borderlands: The cel-shaded, role playing shooter with “87 bazillion guns” was a tough choice because it has it’s share of flaws but the good far outweighed the bad and there was a lot of fun to be had.
On the surface Borderlands seemed like another average first person shooter. The enemies didn’t animate very well, they randomly and annoyingly spawned in the same places and seem to have little AI as they would often get stuck on rocks or stairs leaving them sitting ducks for anyone with a gun.
A few other blemishes also existed, such as some dodgy collision detection (especially when leaning out from behind cover to seemingly head shot the bad guy only to notice your bullet didn’t make it that far as it hit in invisible barrier around the jagged rock you were behind) and a feature which seems to be present in other Unreal Engine games where upon entering into a new area all of the texures are blurry and low res for a few seconds until they finally loaded in.
However, despite its flaws, Borderlands was one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played.
The RPG elements are probably the biggest reason behind that statement as it was so much fun to be playing a customisable shooter. Even from the get-go, we are given the choice of the type of character we want to play, be it a Hunter who can throw his pet bird at enemies while staying back and sniping, a Tank type who is stronger up close and with melee attacks or one with super hero like powers or even the ability to spawn an auto firing turret gun to assist in wiping out the bad guys.
And with those character choices comes a level progression system, much like WoW, Final Fantasy or the old school Ultima RPG’s. With each kill and each mission completed and ‘handed in’ your character earns XP (experience points) and each level has an increasing total of XP needed to reach the next. When you do level up, your skills and health points increase and you can also take on higher level enemies and carry better weapons as they too have level requirements.
There are apparently 15 million or more weapons in the game too, with some being dropped randomly from kills, some being bought from vending machines and other hidden around the world in storage chests. Different options such as fast firing and low damage, slow firing and high damage, guns that have a random % chance of causing explosions or corroding enemy armour, guns that will fire multiple shots at once and many more keep the game interesting and add to the addiction as we always want to know what weapon upgrade is just around the corner.
There are also upgrades and modifications for grenades, shields and even the class of character you have chosen. For my Hunter, I originally had a mod that gave double damage on my pet Bloodwing but found a Sniper mod that gave me double XP for all enemies killed with a critical hit (generally a headshot for me).
When you see just how vast and deep the game really is, suddenly it’s flaws seem tiny in comparison to all of the good stuff on offer.
Some interesting and welcome boss fights, the ability to go online and play co-op with friends (or strangers), a lengthy story with heaps of side quests (most people seem to finish the main story around level 35 or so and with a level cap of 50, that leaves plenty of time to finish all the game has to offer) and great downloadable content (zombies anyone?) round out an overall top 5 game of the year.
4. Demon’s Souls: The super difficult but super rewarding action RPG was sort of a sleeper hit. Originally a Japanese game, it was finally translated and shipped around the world to rave reviews from many websites and gamers, myself included.
I won’t be able to go into as much detail with this pick as I am only slowly progressing through the early stages of the game but even this early on, Demon’s Souls has a certain quality and depth about it that you don’t find in many games.
Originally feeling like I was playing Oblivion’s dungeons in 3rd person all over again, it quickly became clear that this was actually something very different.
Yes, you do battle through dungeons and other similar areas but the fighting mechanic works so well. Unlike Oblivion, you cannot just button bash and kill your enemies, you actually have to pick and choose the correct moment to strike and use your shield to block often. You’ll fight skeleton warriors, wolves, trolls and more and most definitely die. A lot. But you are meant to (more on that later). The fighting is not easy but certainly very rewarding.
As mentioned, you will die in this game. It’s here where the Soul part of the games title comes into play. When killed, you become a soul and can still take part and battle in the world. Your aim is then to kill enemies or search for fallen warriors to help replenish your soul. It’s a little bit like dying in WoW and being able to run back to your corpse but here you still have full control and continue on.
Like any good RPG, there are also weapons and equipment to gather and upgrade and characters and shops where you can spend your soul points on these items and on improving your player’s stats.
I still have a long way to experience everything this game has on offer but one feature that really blew me away was the online connection.
Here you can team up and take on quests in co-op but there is also another cool take on the online interaction. While playing (and connected online) I noticed a number of random ghosts in my level, hacking and slashing and didn’t think much of it. However, I learned that these ghosts were actually other players and while I couldn’t touch them or even see what they were fighting, I could see their movements which was pretty interesting.
There are also bloodstains on the ground and with these you can activate them to see a quick replay of how other players have died or read messages other players have left. One message that made me laugh was left at a bloodstain on the top of a tall stairwell. It read something like, ‘you will die if you jump down from here’ and played a short replay of someone jumping down. I didn’t react quick enough to see where and how he landed but thought I would test not just the note but also the how the game dealt damage for high falls. I jumped. I died. I become a soul…
It’s this sort of unique online interaction that really wowed me and whet my appetite for writing my own bloodstained messages.
Demon’s Souls is easily one of the best games I’ve played this year and that’s from barely scratching the surface, so I’ll be sure to post more in depth opinions and comments as I progress further. But for now, it earns it’s place in my top five of 2009.
3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: Drake’s return was a little predictable and rushed but still one of the most cinematic and thrilling action adventures any gamer could ask for.
Developers Naughty Dog did it again and created a benchmark in gaming. Uncharted 2 was full of action, adventure, romance, gunplay, platforming and did it all with style.
It really gave us more of what we loved in the original. The 3rd person over the shoulder shooting was top notch and as good as any standalone shooter. The aiming, the cover, the weapon options were great and all simple to control. The devs should really be commended on the quality.
The puzzles and platforming were interesting, challenging and stunningly cinematic, which is what we’ve come to expect from Uncharted. It really has left games like Tomb Raider in the past and struggling to catch up.
There’s really not much you can say wrong about Uncharted 2, it is a system seller and something Sony should be proud of.
A couple niggling personal complaints do however keep it from the top spot.
Firstly, the story for the first third of the game seemed extremely rushed. Drake was running from location to location and the game didn’t really have a breath to stop and develop the new characters or expand on the returning one’s. Even the [SPOILER WARNING] two characters that were killed off were not worth remembering simply because we didn’t even get to know them.
Secondly, the [SPOILER WARNING] blue native people were not really needed. Apart from looking like they had walked off the set of Avatar, it was almost like they were only thrown in so late simply to fill the apparent requirement of every game in this series to have a supernatural being.
I do really want to make mention of the games visuals. Simply stunning and possibly the best I’ve ever seen in a game. Solid environments filled with detailed textures, crisp and beautifully contrasting colours and silky smooth animation and frame rates. Another area where a benchmark has been set.
We really are spoilt in this current age of gaming. More and more games are offering the complete package of story, visuals and varied gameplay and Uncharted 2 is among the best and has earnt it’s spot in my top five of the year.
2. Infamous: An unlikely supercharged, super hero (or villain) was so fun to play! Take GTA4 and replace the guns with electricity… well sort of.
Infamous was similar to GTA in that it was based in an open ‘sandbox’ world. You also received various missions which had you travelling all over the map to kill certain people, save certain other people and generally wreak havoc. However, the main character you play is not your everyday hero. After being caught in the middle of a massive explosion in the middle of the city, Cole wakes up with special powers based on electricity.
Without revealing too much of the very interesting and twisting story, it revolves around finding out why the blast happened in the first place and we meet several shady characters along the way all the while gaining new and more destructive powers.
The many different powers really make the game interesting and addictive and when you are completing so many quests it helps keep the game from becoming a chore.
I’ve rated inFamous so highly because it does so many things right and at an almost perfect pace. I touched on the story and like how it really draws you in but one thing I didn’t mention was that as you gain your powers and choose your missions, you actually have the moral choice to use them for good or evil.
Choices such as keeping food packages for yourself to survive on or distributing them to the crowds of people in the streets will help determine which path you are going to take and the game gives you a level to indicate your chosen side. Plenty of others choices will arise such as saving hostages or not or choosing whether to take damage from a burst gas pipe in order to complete a mission or letting it seep onto the streets while saving yourself.
The path you take even determines the type of powers you are given and reflect in red coloured electricity and a scarred face for the evil Cole as opposed to the blue/white powers of the good side.
I found the open world to be a perfect setting for this type of game and the devs delivered with stunning graphics. It may look a little dark and brown, much like GTA 4, but it sets the mood and feels like you are playing a super hero in a living comic.
Great voice acting compliments the story and the overall package.
I don’t think I’ve ever played my PS3 for such long sessions as I did with inFamous. The story, the gameplay, the cool powers and varied missions add up to something special and nearly my favourite game of the year. I hope a sequel is in the making but for now I’ll play through it a second time, this time being evil…
1. Batman: Arkham Asylum: Who would have thought a licensed videogame could be so good? A mix of action, stealth and adventure combine to make the best game of 2009.
Batman AA is the new benchmark for not just licensed games but all 3rd person action games in general.
It has taken a darker, grittier approach to the Batman universe (much like, although not based on the recent movies) and created an addictive and engaging story for gamers to enjoy.
Another over the shoulder 3rd person game, Batman AA is part fighting game, part stealth game, part detective adventure, part platformer and does such justice to all components that any individual section could be it’s own game from start to finish. But that’s why the game is rated so highly, it does everything so well.
The fighting was something I was really concerned about when first reading about the game. But I was completely wrong in assuming it would just be another button bashing beat-em-up because the devs have created a brilliant fighting engine that requires skill, timing and co-ordination and rewards you with combos and achievements.
The stealth play is very well done. Batman can sneak up behind enemies and take them down with silent kills or use his grappling gun to launch into the rafters onto gargoyle statues and use all sorts of aerial takedowns. My personal favourite being when he hangs upside down (like a bat…) and strings up his unsuspecting enemy. Great fun!
Batman also has a number of detective skills and gadgets at his disposal. He can use an X-ray like vision to detect enemies and traps, C4 like spray to bust through walls and a zip cord gun to get to hard to reach places.
As the game progresses Batman learns new moves and obtains new gadgets which leads to a bit of backtracking to enter previously unreachable areas but it’s backtracking done well and never feels repetitive.
The story that ties the game together is well written and the voice acting is simply brilliant. Basically, The Joker is captured and sent to the Arkham Asylum but during his arrival breaks free and takes control of the institute and all of it’s prisoners. Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Killer Croc and superb scenes from Scarecrow are all present and perfectly placed throughout the game. It’s also great to finally see Boss fights brought back and done so well!
There are plenty of trophies to unlock, riddles to find and solve and even separate challenge rooms to master that add to the games length.
Batman AA is simply put, a masterpiece. Stunning visuals, great gameplay, story and acting and a perfect challenge make it my game of the year for 2009.
Other honourable mentions were Killzone 2 (a little too repetitive but still a great game), Resistance 2 (a little too generic and ‘forced’ but still very good), the Japanese Ryū ga Gotoku 3 (Yakuza 3 in the rest of the world March 2010 – could well be my favourite game but given that I was playing through a Japanese only game with so much dialog, I couldn’t understand enough of it to fully enjoy it but look out for it early next year!)
Dishonourable mentions go to well just one game, Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2. Sorry but the engine feels old now and I couldn’t stand the wreck that was the multiplayer. Oh and any game that has a scene like the airport terrorist massacre doesn’t deserve jack. How that snuck past the cen$or$ I’ll never know…
Bring on 2010 where I’ll personally be looking forward to Gran Turismo 5, God of War 3, Final Fantasy 13 and Battlefield Bad Company 2 in the early months of the year!