My Top 10 Video Game Picks of 2010
Here's my obligatory list of 2010's top 10 video games, in no particular order. Yours would no doubt look different. That's the point of lists, after all: To throw our favorites out there, then stand around comparing and critiquing.
On a different day, in a different mood, I might've picked Bayonetta, Dead Rising 2, Gran Turismo 5, Mass Effect 2, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Street Fighter IV, and who knows, maybe even Heavy Rain and Dragon Quest IX. After all, you don't get annual top X lists right, only published.
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Red Dead Redemption
For: Xbox 360, PS3
Someone finally made an interactive western that's not a crummy arcade shooter or repulsive ethnic assault game. Red Dead Redemption continues Rockstar's sardonic critique of American exceptionalism, this time channeled by a retired outlaw sporting scars clawed from nose to neck. Nothing else this year so pitch-perfectly combines a sharp-eyed narrative, lively gunplay, memorable characters, spectacular scrub-riddled landscapes, expertly paced challenges, and masterful mini-games. I tried not to fall for this one and failed completely.
DCS A-10C Warthog
Developer: Digital Combat Simulator
Digital Combat Simulator somehow pulled off the best simulation of the A-10C Warthog close air support (CAS) jet in the world this year, and I'm just talking about the beta. It's probably also the most authentic consumer-grade simulation of a multimillion dollar aircraft yet attempted. Play in arcade mode if you want quick thrills, or study the 663-page manual and revel in the resplendent avionic fidelity, which includes fiddling dozens of switches and onboard mini-computers just to properly start the plane up.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
For: PC, Mac
You'd be facile to call StarCraft II ho-hum just because it's a slicker version of StarCraft. Is football mediocre because it's the same game every year? Last year's Beatles remasters somehow less for being the same tunes? Blizzard minced no words about StarCraft II's e-sports pedigree or slavish devotion to B-grade sci-fi, both of which it delivers unsurpassed (to the chagrin of contrarians). If competitive real-time strategy's your bag, here's its apotheosis.
Across the Dnepr 2
No one plays wargames these days, or they just flirt with dilettantes like the Total War series or AGEOD's board-gamey titles. Shrugging, SSG gave us Across the Dnepr 2, an expansion to last year's brilliant Kharkov, an operational-level World War II hex game inspired by David Glantz's peerless Kharkov: Anatomy of a Military Disaster. What's so special? The same thing Kharkov delivered: A turn-based wargame that deftly mitigates a decades-old wargaming problem--hindsight--by mixing historically restricted areas and formations with unguessable force outlay variants.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Developer: Frictional Games
Amnesia just might be the scariest survival horror game yet made. I keep saying that and I'm not kidding. You play in a creepy German castle, as terrifying for what it doesn't reveal as what it does. Your only weapons are your wits. No really, the game hands out tinderboxes and candles in lieu of guns, crowbars, or chainsaws. It's the best game of hide and seek (but mostly hide) you've ever experienced. Forget Resident Who and Silent Whatever, and play this.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Developer: Ubisoft Monreal
For: Xbox 360, PS3
No one's telling a better story than Ubisoft Montreal, or making fewer design compromises. Brotherhood picks up where Assassin's Creed II left off, but with a turf war angle in which you assault fortified towers to liberate swathes of Rome. That's grafted onto a mammoth city-improvement simulation and smoothed over with dozens of compelling, subtly iterating challenges. That, and the series gets its first taste of multiplayer: A brilliant game of round-robin in which you're both hunter and hunted.
Command Ops: Battles From the Bulge
Developer: Panther Games
Another fascinating, fantastically wrought wargame the mainstream sites and strategy blogs blinked past. You shouldn't. Not if you're into exquisitely drawn World War II maps, meticulously crafted scenarios, carefully folded-in historical fidelity, and relentlessly shrewd, frighteningly aware computer opponents. Battles From the Bulge was the most sophisticated real-time strategy game released this year, and you've probably never heard of it.
Developer: 2K Marin
For: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
BioShock 2 got nearly everything right, sidestepping BioShock's narrative flaws and story-wrecking three-ring-circus of a finale. It further refined psychedelic action mechanics pioneered not by BioShock but Looking Glass's System Shock in 1994. And it made us care deeply about a haunted child, then let us play as one.
Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising
If Blizzard's the slickest real-time strategy outfit, Relic's the craftiest. Their standalone Chaos Rising expansion adds snarling Chaos Space Marines and a gorgeous ice-crusted planet to last year's intrepid tactical-scale Dawn of War II, but also an artfully scripted and optionally cooperative solo campaign with a strategy-fiddling morality angle. The ethical consequences are perhaps underplayed in the end, but you'll agonize over their tactical ramifications for the full duration of this clever, darkly compelling ride.
Final Fantasy XIII
Developer: Square Enix
For: Xbox 360, PS3
In the war between Western and Eastern style roleplaying games, I so hope we lose. Western game sites embarrassed themselves by calling Final Fantasy XIII "too linear" instead of looking more closely at its daring, incredibly elegant core battle system. Instead of wasting your time with lifeless villages populated by brainless citizens and placeholder shops, FFXIII's only concerned with propelling you forward at warp speed to grapple with iteratively elaborate battles, no two enemy encounters alike.