Sunday, February 14, 2010

2009 Games of the Year

And so, as we bid farewell to another essentially worthless year, we look back on the video games that helped us pass the time between sleeps.

My 2009 Top 5 Games of the Year:

5. Saints Row 2

I don't often anticipate new games, and even less often do I actually purchase a game within the first month of its release. But I so deeply enjoyed the original Saints Row that I felt compelled to spring for the sequel immediately. The fact that Best Buy had it on sale for $40 for the first week tipped the scales, and I bought my only new game of the year.

It didn't disappoint. Saints Row 2 has a lot of the same game mechanics as the Grand Theft Auto series, but on a much less realistic level. From hairpin turns to flaming ATVs, it's a more fun and funny take on the sandbox style game. I enjoyed the game thoroughly, and while the best feature from the original Saints Row (insurance fraud) was sort of bastardized for this version of the game, everything else was improved. Good for number five on the list.

4. Plants vs. Zombies

In looking back at the year, I'm glad I was able to include a PC game. I spent a good amount of time playing Civilization II and Rollercoaster Tycoon, but neither of those qualifies as a "new" game for me; I've been playing them since high school.

My cousin Michael posted in his AIM profile a video from the game (this video, specifically), and I was intrigued. I did a little research, and the game turned out to be a tower defense game, where you plant plants to kill zombies. The premise is simple, the execution is fantastic. There are funny little parts like the descriptions of different zombies and plants, but it's also got a good deal of strategy involved. Between the Story mode, where you face off against progressively more challenging waves of zombies, and the Puzzle and Mini-Game modes, there's plenty of variety to keep you coming back for more.

I'm always happy when I can get a lot of play out of a $10 purchase, and PvZ made me happy.

3. Gears of War

No, not Gears of War 2. The original Gears of War. The first time I played this game, I played the first level on two-player with my brother, and I really didn't see what all the fuss was about. The controls felt clunky, the action seemed slow, and while the graphics were nice, they weren't enough to carry the game alone. So it got sent back to the minors, maintaining its rookie eligibility until this past year, when I called it back up to the show, this time just playing one-player.

The difference was night and day. While the first level was still kind of tough to get into, the game blossomed into a more action-oriented version of Metal Gear Solid, one of my favorite games of all time. The futuristic/alien component allowed the developers to create a variety of terrifying enemies, each requiring a different strategy. Some are small and fairly easy to dispatch, others are tough and require some caution. Then there's the occasional huge boss enemy with a minute weak point to exploit. And some enemies you just avoid, and focus on staying alive. The game really strikes a great balance between ass-kicking and discretion.

I haven't played the game online at all yet, mostly because I'm wary of getting waxed. I can enjoy myself while not being the best player in the game, but it's a bit tougher when you're the worst player in the game, and I find myself falling into that category more often than not. Still, I'll likely be giving the online component a shot at some point this year, because I really did enjoy the campaign. But I'm not holding out much hope for doing particularly well.

2. MLB Front Office Manager 2K9

When I first heard about MLB Front Office Manager 2K9, I had just finished reading Moneyball, and was completely in the mindset of how to create a baseball team. As such, I was in a perfect mental place to be an early adopter of the new (and hopefully long-lived) franchise. Chip and I used to play Madden 2005 and ignore the actual football games, just doing the team management part. I loved it, and I expected to love this game as well.

I remember buying the game at GameStop the day it came out. I asked the clerk to ring me up for it, and she said, "You know it got really terrible reviews, right?" I hadn't read any reviews, and had no intention of reading them or listening to them regardless. I was buying the game that day, and that was that. I brought it home, and so began a run with the Washington Nationals that continues today.

The game isn't without its flaws. Other teams seem to get fed up with their players at a frightening pace, and they'll cut players who are very early in very long and very large contracts. Just by watching the waiver wire and free agency, I picked up Scott Kazmir, Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Papelbon, and Joakim Soria. Not exactly the kind of talent you'd normally find sitting around waiting for a phone call. Even though the system isn't perfect, though, the game is just fun to play. And as you may remember from my description of Gears of War, I love finding and exploiting weaknesses in my opponents. And as you may remember from my other blog, I love baseball.

1. Dead Rising

I had thought about purchasing Dead Rising on several different occasions, but had trouble bringing myself to lay the money down. I finally downloaded a demo, and played it briefly (maybe five minutes?) before deciding to purchase the game. Cousin Michael was there. For all the time it took me to decide on the purchase, it was one I'm very glad I made.

The game plays sort of like a Grand Theft Auto clone, with a third-person view and relative freedom within the game's setting (a small town shopping mall). By the game's title, you can guess what's going on in the mall: zombies. It's your job to, well, actually, all you have to do to complete the game is survive for three days. You can ignore everything else, stay in the safe room, and receive an ending after 20-30 hours of gameplay, but that's not fun at all. Besides, there's a mystery to solve: where did these zombies come from? Also, there are folks to find and rescue all throughout the mall, and if a hero like you doesn't do it, no one else will.

The most fun part of the game for me, though, is the way it handles new games. Say you get to a point in the game that you just can't beat ("the convicts" is often a trouble spot). In most games, you'd have to re-load an old game, or start over from scratch. In Dead Rising, you can start a new game, but keep your character's level progression (which means keeping your expanded health bar, physical strength boosts, inventory space, and special moves). So even if you get stuck, you can restart your game and have gotten something out of your previous efforts. I like that.

Also the zombie-killing is fun, and there's something gratifying about saving dozens of innocent folks from certain doom. The sequel is supposed to come out in 2010, and it may be one of those rare games that I purchase new. We shall see.

Oh, and fuck Valentine's Day.

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