Monday, December 28, 2009

Top 3 Games of the Year, 2009

Another gaming year draws to a close, and while 2009 saw some very interesting developments on the gaming front, I personally found it to be a much slower year than the previous two with much fewer heavy weight titles taking my interest.

As always, my top 3 can be games from any platform, however this year I almost gamed exclusively on my Xbox 360, so that's where my choices will come from. Also, since I'm not a professional reviewer, I don't get games for free and I simply review what I buy. Keep that in mind when reading the below selections and noting the absence of the occasional triple A release.

3) Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition (Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3). While Fallout 3 is a 2008 release, 2009 saw the launch of it's 5 DLC Add-Ons and this fall, the game was repacked at retail to include all of this content, the Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition. While the 5 DLC Add-Ons are not a traditional expansion set, as they're 5 different experiences added to the Capital Wasteland, overall they amount to about the length of a traditional, focused expansion set and they add a great deal more play time to Fallout 3.

The Capital Wasteland already offers players a large amount of content to explore, taking well over 100 hours for a playthrough, and the DLC content just adds that much more to the experience, and one of them even extends the main Quest and raises the level cap.

Leaving the Vault in which you've been sheltered in since your childhood, you set off in pursuit of your father through the nuclear wastes of post-apocalyptic DC, and your very actions and experiences with the denizens of the wastes will change the course of history.

The sheer amount of variety alone, combined with the solid production values, places Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition as our third place spot.

2) Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3). The surprise hit of the year, Batman: Arkham Asylum came out of no-where and wowed just about everyone who touched this awesome title. Simply put, this is the single greatest super hero game ever developed, and Rocksteady Studios really captured the feel of being Batman, giving it the grim, dark atmosphere of the comics.

Weighing in at about 20 hours, Batman has to stop the Joker and co who've taken control of Arkham Asylum. With smooth combat, gameplay mechanics, and a superbly written story line with top notch voice acting all the way, Batman: Arkham Asylum delights and entertains.

What could have made this wonderful package even better? The initial release price of $39.99, brand new. Started by Walmart, other retailers were forced to follow suit, and since then, we've seen many other high profile titles begin retail at this extremely low cost; a trend I'd love to see continue.

1) Halo Wars (Xbox 360). Innovation. When was the last time you played a game that really innovated and took things to a whole new level, that provided you with an experience you simply have not had before? I'm not talking about a sequel that takes what was awesome about its predecessor and improves upon it, I'm talking about something that really does something new. Yeah, I thought so. Doesn't happen often, does it.

Forget that Halo Wars is set in the Halo universe, that's just a very fortunate by-product. The simple truth is that Halo Wars has provided us with the first, solid, easy-to-manage-and-enjoy RTS on a console. Ever. This genre, once believed to be achievable on a PC only has now been brought to us on the Xbox 360, and while Halo Wars is simpler fair than it's PC RTS cousins, it still features strategy, tactics, and a simple-to-use interface.

Without question, Halo Wars is the single most innovative game I've played through all of 2009. It was original, fun, and proved the impossible could be done. Both with the Campaign, Skirmish, and Multiplayer, I've spent well over 30 hours with the game and will continue to play through it, and the greatest tragedy is that this fine title was Ensemble Studios' swan song and I'm not expecting to see a sequel ever developed.

Regrettably, the console crowd isn't big on RTSes, and so Halo Wars' sales were no where near as strong as its shooter brothers, but that doesn't change the fact that Halo Wars broke more ground than any Halo title in the last few years, and certainly gave us an experience unrivaled on the platform this year. If you're looking for a unique experience that isn't your run-of-the-mill cookie cutter game, check out Halo Wars. The simple fact that Ensemble Studios took a chance at porting this genre to another platform, the fact that a developer took this kind of a risk when most other companies simply safely re-hash what's come before sets it above the ruck of titles this year, and earns it our 2009 Game of the Year.

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