Before I announce my favorite game from 2009, I thought I’d post about some of the games that didn’t make the cut. Now this is a bit different from the usual “Best of the rest” list, in that these are all titles I felt like I either needed to spend more time with, or that I didn’t get a chance to play at all. As someone who gets paid to work on the news and sports desk and plays and writes about video games when I’m able to find time, I don’t have the luxury of being able to keep up on every new release or big downloadable hit.
While I am aware of most major releases and what other gamers think of them, it’s just not possible for me to spend dozens of hours each with “Dragon Age: Origins,” “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” and “Left 4 Dead 2,” three huge games that were released on consecutive weeks in November. So I did what any gamer would do: I picked the titles I thought I was most likely to enjoy (“Dragon Age” and “Left 4 Dead 2”) and vowed to go back and play “Modern Warfare 2” another day. With that said, I’ll kick my list off with:
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 and PS3, $50 on PC): Yeah, I get it. People like this game. But the draw is online multiplayer. Because I write my column and blog, I generally only really have time to play about one or two multiplayer titles at a time. One of those this fall was perennial favorite “Culdcept Saga” (about as far away from “Modern Warfare 2” as you can get). The other was “Left 4 Dead 2,” which came out the week after “MW2.” If it’s any consolation, I expect the oft-derided single-player portion of “MW2” would have left me cold the same way “Killzone 2” did. For what it’s worth, I tend to prefer solid single-player and cooperative multiplayer to the meat grinder of online free-for-alls.
“Assassin’s Creed 2” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 and PS3): This falls into the same category as “Modern Warfare 2.” It came out in November, and the original is still sitting on my shelf, waiting to be played. Nonetheless, this one looks fantastic. I’m hoping I’ll be able to play catch-up on the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise at some nonspecific time in the future, as the whole series seems right in my wheelhouse, moreso than the “Modern Warfare” games.
“Borderlands” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 and PS3, $50 on PC): I was positively jazzed to try out this hybrid first-person shooter/role-playing game. The drop in/drop out four-person, online co-op made it seem like a perfect fit for my core group of four gaming buddies. But two of my friends, a married couple who game together, traded in the game once they realized that split-screen play was local only, meaning they couldn’t play with me online. It’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I’ll have to find some new friends to play it with. The little bit of time I spent with it made it seem like something I’d dig, if I played with the right people.
“Demon’s Souls” (rated M, $60 on PS3): This is another game I actually own but just didn’t get to spend enough time with. It’s a great, medieval-style hack-and-slash adventure game, light on story but heavy on killing. It reminds me a little bit of “Diablo,” but with a cool, modern game mechanic which lets players of the single-player title interact online, thanks to a feature that lets you leave messages for other players and occasionally invade other people’s games. I can see already that this’ll be one of those classic games that no one played, and eventually some other game will come along, implement some of “Demon’s Souls'” core mechanics, and become a runaway hit.
“Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars” (rated M, $20 on DS, $30 on PlayStation Portable), “Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story” (rated E, $35 on DS) and “The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks” (rated E, $35 on DS), among other portable games: I commute roughly an hour by car each way to work. If I took the bus, which doesn’t run late enough at night to get me home, I’d play TONS of games on the DS and the PSP (which I have yet to buy). But I pretty much do all my gaming at home, so I pretty much pass on portable games. (The most recent portable games I bought were “Robocalypse” and the “Chrono Trigger” remake, both November 2008 releases.) In the process of researching this post, I discovered that the poor-selling but well reviewed “Chinatown Wars” is down to $20 on the DS. At that price, I’ll buy it on principle and save it for my next cross-country train ride.
“New Super Mario Bros. Wii” (rated E, $50 on Wii): I picked this up to play with some friends on New Year’s Eve, but it left me a little disappointed. As you’d expect, the classic, 2D “Super Mario Bros.”-style game is, at its best moments, a hilariously chaotic free-for-all. But the game is missing some crucial balancing. By killing off any characters who fall too far behind, “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” forces those of us who know our way around the platform-jumping genre to constantly hang back, waiting for our less game-savvy friends to struggle repeatedly with the trickiest jumps, as they’re forced to apologize as the in-game timer ticks ever closer to zero. And what’s with the lack of online play, Nintendo? While it’s true the Wii isn’t known for providing a robust online experience like the Xbox 360 or PS3, online functionality was integrated successfully into “Mario Kart Wii.” We should expect no less for “NSMBW.” I get the feeling that this is a great game for families or groups of similarly skilled players, but sadly, most of my friends who can hold their own in a video game live thousands of miles away.
“Street Fighter IV” (rated T, $30 on Xbox 360 or PS3, $40 on PC): I’m just not that into fighting games, although this is, by most accounts, a very good one.
“DJ Hero” (rated T, $120 on Wii, Xbox 360 or PS3): I’m equally comfortable with hip-hop or electronic music, so the failure of Activision’s newest rhythm game to commit to one or the other didn’t particularly bother me the way it did some gamers. Ultimately, the biggest obstacle to my picking up “DJ Hero” was that I’d have to find room in my crowded apartment for a fake turntable, on top of the two real ones I already own, not to mention all my “Rock Band” gear and other gaming accessories. At some point, you just run out of room. The $120 price tag and crowded fall release schedule didn’t help either. Still, I’ll likely pick this up when it’s on sale at some point.
“Forza Motorsport 3” (rated E, $60 on Xbox 360): I’m not enough of a fan of the racing genre to make even the best driving game my game of the year. That said, I spent a few hours with “Forza” and found it to be the most polished racing title I’ve played this generation. The addition of the rewind feature is a nice nod to casual gamers that doesn’t break the game for hardcore gearheads.
“Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City” (rated M, $40 for Xbox 360): “The Lost and Damned” and “The Ballad of Gay Tony” got gamers to revisit Liberty City all over again this year. Except for this one. I’d love to give these two chapters a try, but it’ll have to wait for another day.
Countless independent titles and games from Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network and WiiWare: Not having enough time to keep up with everything was the big obstacle here. I grabbed “The Maw” and “Shadow Complex” when they were on sale from Xbox Live Arcade over the holidays, and “Flower” was the first thing I bought off the PlayStation Network. But other than “Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers,” I just didn’t dive far into downloadable games this year.