It’s been roughly a week or so since my last report on the matter, but it’s more than time to move on to the next segment of my ongoing retrospective glance at some of my favorite games year to year. Although I’m only covering about a decade worth of time, there have been plenty of excellent releases in that time period and as such some haven’t quite made the cut here and there. This particular post focuses on games that I played to 100% completion in the years 2009 and 2010 and that I thoroughly enjoyed on top of that. As always, please feel free to comment with your own opinions and concerns and give me feedback as well.
2009: F.E.A.R 2, Killzone 2, Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Halo 3: ODST, Uncharted 2, Borderlands, Dragon Age Origins, Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed II.
For me personally, FEAR 2: Project Origin is the premier FEAR game of the three that have been released. Whereas the first was thoroughly chilling and offered some excellent and frenetic online multiplayer, the second upped the ante in every single way and gave us the best protagonist of the series (who would later be unceremoniously exploded in the final game). It combined the perfect amount of bullet-time shooter glory with chilling horror vibes and gore. All things considered, Project Origin was a fun romp and offers plenty of replayability in collectibles and DLC as well.
Killzone 2 is another sequel which is worlds better than the original both in terms of ambition and sheer success. Although Killzone 2 is my favorite game in the series, even I must recognize that the advances both Killzone 3 and Shadow Fall have made makes for a perfectly justified argument for any of Guerilla Games’ excellent shooters. Perhaps it was the initial experience of being able to finally take the war to the Helghast or perhaps it was the gritty and amazing visuals of the time, but Killzone 2 stands side by side with such PSN greats as Uncharted 2 from that time period in my mind easily.
Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena is an amazing and completely underrated and underappreciated game. Not only is it the sequel to the pretty spectacular Escape from Butcher Bay- a game created as a way to essentially push the Riddick franchise and to send it into the world of gaming, but it is also a complete package in its own right. Few other games have nailed the dark and gritty science fiction tones that Assault on Dark Athena did and does and even fewer have managed to pull the entire thing off as well. There are so many innovative elements that I loved in the game and it’s hard to believe that it came out this long ago when it still holds up well today.
Long before Logan embraced his dark side more often on the silver screen, we gamers were treated to a rare thing indeed- a mature X-Men game and a movie tie-in that actually ended up being better than the movie it was based upon. Although X-Men Origins (the film) received plenty of harsh criticism and is a sore point with fans even today, I dare say few people could argue the blood pumping action and adrenaline inducing rage that the game offered. Not only is it a fulfilling and truly invigorating experience but it is one of the few notably good superhero games out there as well. X-Men Origins: Wolverine really laid the foundation for the small niche that is the mature superhero genre.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood may be the last truly great game in the series outside of the mostly on-rails shooting of Gunslinger which semi-made up for the failure of The Cartel which was some garbage to say the least. It’s essentially a game that lets you take the best elements of shows like Deadwood and mix them in with other shows like Hell on Wheels and see what happens. And the coolest thing is that this was all in a pre-Red Dead Redemption world as well, so in many ways it pointed the torch and led to the reinvention of the western game genre after all. The first Call of Juarez is a pretty classic story but the grim brothers the sequel centers on tell an even darker tale.
The Batman Arkham series is perhaps the greatest licensed gaming series of all time and certainly holds the title of greatest superhero series of all time in my mind. Arkham Asylum started things off and like the initial Mass Effect it charted a course which the rest of the series would slowly evolve, modify, and perfect over time. I’ll never forget the first time I got to play and enjoy the dark and thrilling version of Batman’s world that is the Arkham universe or utilize my detective skills in order to piece together a larger puzzle. Sure, I knew things would eventually always come down to me and the Joker but after all what else could possibly go wrong?
Stranger things have been known to happen but I’ll wager that few would’ve thought ODST would be the sleeper hit it turned out to be, despite it bearing the trademark Halo name. Who would’ve thought that what is essentially a detective story and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ mission would turn into one of Bungie’s most successful campaigns of all time and potentially the most memorable and gritty multiplayer offering either for that matter? ODST may not have topped the highs of Master Chief’s adventures in Halo 3 and it may have preceded what is arguably the most complete Halo package of all time in Halo Reach, but it was and is still amazing in its own ways.
In many ways, Uncharted 2-4 are on equal playing ground whenever the argument for which is the best game in the series comes up. Uncharted 2 did things first however and as such I think it deserves the brunt of this discussion for originality and for the sheer fact that it has such technical and graphical mastery and impressiveness for its time. Truly, Uncharted 2 featuring virtually no loading alone is one of the most impressive achievements in any game prior to 2010 and even in any game prior to 2017 for that matter. It was not only a fairly seamless adventure but one hundred times better and smoothed out the flaws to be found in the first jungle romp of Nate Drake. Whereas it may fall in the middle of the series, to me Uncharted 2 features some of the best characters and situations we’ve yet to see in Drake’s adventures.
Borderlands is a love story just as much as Deadpool is. Yes, you heard me right. It may be a love of glory and loot but I’ll wager the infatuation there still counts in many ways and that people enjoy it as such. Although it changed from what was initially pitched as a pretty realistic looking shooter on an alien world, I couldn’t be more than thrilled with the art direction that launched one of the most iconic and well-known gaming series to date. The art and humor often go hand in hand and I think that’s one of the most important design decisions we’ve ever witnessed. A cast of colorful characters and plentiful armaments makes the first Borderlands and all of its amazing downloadable content one of the most complete packages- prior to Borderlands 2 of course and the notably epic Handsome Collection in years since.
Dragon Age is perhaps the most KOTOR-like game since KOTOR II itself and I’m here to tell you that’s an amazing feat on Bioware’s part. Perhaps the graphics haven’t necessarily held up over time and perhaps the experience has since been all but dwarfed in many ways by the expansiveness of Inquisition, and yet for what it’s worth it is still one of the quintessential role-playing experiences in gaming. Origins is one of the lengthiest and most fulfilling RPGs I’ve ever played and the level of choice and consequence for the time truly took my breath away. I’ll honestly never forget some of the storylines and the fact that Bioware has been and will continue to be one of my favorite developers.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 upped the ante in seemingly every way- the campaign was bigger and better, the multiplayer more refined, and the game modes bordered on the insane as the sheer amount of creativity and attention to detail was shown with each new collection of maps and modes released. It introduced the underappreciated special ops missions and an excellent cooperative mode as well. Modern Warfare may be the high mark for the series but Modern Warfare 2 is as good or better in literally every single way. Although I find MW3 to be the most replayable of the trilogy I cannot take away from the fact that at one time MW2 was the best and brightest the series has ever been and were it not so desolate eight years later and understandably so, it would be just as good now.
Assassin’s Creed II is a game that is over eight years old and yet it still represents what is essentially the best iteration of the series in every single way. Sure, we’ve had plenty of excellent experiences in the franchise since but there have also been plenty of mishandled and misguided entries as well. Assassin’s Creed II went bigger in every single way and it pulled every trick off. Whereas some of the other titles since have been hit or miss in many aspects, Assassin’s Creed II is the flawless total victory that the series needed and has been searching for ever since. I’ll never forget stepping into Ezio’s shoes and pursuing my quest for vengeance against the Pazzi Conspirators and across mainland Italia.
2010: Darksiders, Mass Effect 2, Bad Company 2, God of War III, Alan Wake, Red Dead Redemption, Singularity, StarCraft II, Halo Reach, Fallout New Vegas.
Darksiders: Wrath of War is that rare game that comes along and copies a lot of what so many other successful series are doing and yet turns out to be all the greater for it rather than stumbling into the abyss. There are elements of God of War, Zelda, and even Portal unashamedly aped and placed into the Darksiders universe and yet it all fits together so seamlessly even in this first more-linear adventure that it’s actually quite impressive. I’ll never forget when I first placed and realized that each boss battle was going to be one hell of a time and that each gruesome finisher was better than the last. Truly, Darksiders is one of the series I would like to see come back in a big way and I really hope it gets its third chance.
Mass Effect 2 is my favorite game in the series hands down. That’s not to say Mass Effect 3 wasn’t thoroughly spectacular despite a mishandled ending and the critical acclaim it flushed down the drain because of it. However Mass Effect 2 represents the series at a time when it made me feel the most for its characters and when things felt so important and deep and real. The stakes have been higher before in the series but nothing quite made me feel it like infiltrating the Collector base and taking the fight to the Reaper’s puppets in the Omega 4 relay. There have been other amazing Mass Effect moments since, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that Mass Effect 2 represents the Empire Strikes Back of the original trilogy and is in many ways the darkest and best point.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is the best we’ve seen Battlefield in some time, if you’re not considering Battlefield 3 and 4 when they worked and weren’t brought down by so much technical difficulties and crappy campaigns. Battlefield 1 is fairly impressive overall but I’d still go so far as to say that the Bad Company series is the only one to boast actually good narratives in the Battlefield universe. Not only that, but Bad Company 2 features perhaps the most spectacular array of multiplayer maps and modes of any of the core series titles. Hardline is irrelevant essentially and 3 and 4 offer most of the same maps while 1 is a refreshing take we haven’t yet seen, but BC2 just blows them all away. The series introduced Rush and we’ve seen how influential that and survival modes have been since.
In a year where we also saw a nearly God of War clone in Darksiders, it’s only fitting that the reigning champ of bloody brawls and the toppling of veritable gods comes back into the picture with its best game yet. As thrilled as I am to see Kratos reinvented in Norse mythology in the future, God of War III is the best we’ve ever seen the series go as it went bigger and beyond anything ever done before and nailed each and every moment. It’s not GOW without some controversy along the way, but I truly have loved the narrative and gameplay elements of each title in the series and this final console iteration (well prior to the mediocrity of Ascension) is no different. Kratos is brutal and unrelenting and one of the greatest anti-heroes of all time, if he can even be considered anything remotely heroic.
Remedy has crafted some gems throughout the years but one of the best and perhaps the cultiest of all of them has been the original Alan Wake- a slightly toned down horror thriller that missed some steps but retained its heart and essence despite bundling the true ending behind downloadable content. Although it essentially pulled an Assassin’s Creed II and hid chapters from players unwilling to pay for them, Alan Wake is an original and trippy experience and one I’m ever so glad I’ve had. I’ve played the game many times as it also has a somewhat arcadey feel to it and makes for an easily enjoyable and visceral experience. Alan Wake plays like something of a combination of Joss Whedon writing, Stephen King, and the X-Files but it is something that is so much more than all of its inspirations as well.
At least until we finally get to see Red Dead Redemption 2 and compare the two, Red Dead Redemption is the greatest western game that you will ever play and it holds up by today’s standards as well. Rockstar is well-known for crafting some of the most expansive and amazing open world games and Red Dead is no different. Outside of GTA V it is undoubtedly the greatest world they’ve yet to create for players to explore and take advantage of. Not only is there so much of a story and plenty of content but it’s all actually entertaining and interesting and something more than a lot of fetch quests and filler material. The story has undoubtedly been spoiled time and time again in the years since its release and yet it still carries so much emotion and sway with gamers everywhere even nowadays. RIP John Marston.
Singularity is the very definition of a cult classic game- it has some wonky controls at times and it has received some pretty mixed reviews over the years and yet it is such an original and enjoyable and thought provoking experience. Many games could perhaps compare to it nowadays but at the time it was relatively alone in what it achieved and what it forced players to consider. It is very much a conversation on time and its effects and yet it is also a thoroughly engaging look into the Cold War and the changing of history for better or worse because of obscure decisions that could or couldn’t have been made. Raven Software always has something tricky up their sleeve and this game made me appreciate them more than ever- it’s just a shame we’ll more than likely never see anything else come from that universe because there’s so much more potential there.
StarCraft II is perhaps Blizzard’s most anticipated and greatest game of all time. And that’s saying something for a company that seemingly only churns out amazing products whether it be the Diablo series or World of Warcraft or Overwatch. Seemingly everything Blizzard touches turns to gold and StarCraft II pushes the boundaries of what the initial game did in so many ways that it essentially challenges the RTS genre it firmly established itself as the leader of. We’ve been hearing about the potential for a StarCraft I remake lately and that just gets me thinking about how much it would mean if a third game game out since it’s somehow been a whole seven years almost since the sequel released. Blizzard constantly provides content for their games so far beyond their release that sometimes I forget just how old they are.
Halo Reach is the best Halo game we may ever see and certainly Bungie’s greatest testament to the series. It is a love letter to space marines everywhere and features a memorable cast of characters as well as a tragic narrative, which is always a win in classic stories after all. The story of Noble Team and the glassing of Reach by the Covenant isn’t particularly new but having everything come full circle kind of in a Rogue One way and tie into the initial Halo game itself was not only masterful but fan service at its best. Combine that with the fact that Reach offered virtually every multiplayer mode from every previous Halo iteration including ODST and you’ve got a recipe for a game that is entirely playable even seven years later. Take that Call of Duty.
Fallout 3 may be my favorite game in the series but New Vegas is truly the gift that keeps on giving. I feel like every time Obsidian gets the chance to work on a sequel to somebody else’s project they just go out of their way to truly one up them and make the best product possible. Look no further than KOTOR II and New Vegas. New Vegas is more ambitious than Fallout 4 in many ways and still offers new surprises for me even today. Graphically it didn’t push the series in any direction but in terms of story and characters it is world ahead of the other current generation Fallout titles. New Vegas also offers the best downloadable content outside of Brotherhood of Steel and Point Lookout and pushes the series in such interesting directions in and around the Mojave area of the wastes that it can’t help but be aesthetically and intentionally pleasing. Come on- a post apocalyptic Zion? Gorgeous.