I’ve already written about why “Dragon Age: Origins” is my 2009 Game of the Year, as well as explained why a few games weren’t really considered. Now, I’d like to talk a little bit about the other great 2009 games I played. These are all titles that, were I never to play them again, I’d still look back upon as being among the top titles of this year. All of them are titles I played to completion, and some of them are games I expect to revisit many times in the month ahead. Here they are, in roughly the order I enjoyed them. Consider the first three games on this list tied for runner-up, with the other titles falling in line below them.
“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” (rated T, $60 on PlayStation 3) [review]: This is topping a lot of critics and players’ Game of the Year lists, and I can see why. It’s a beautiful, big budget title with a movie-worthy script, brilliant pacing, fantastic voice acting and a well-tuned multiplayer experience.
“Left 4 Dead 2” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360, $50 on PC): [review forthcoming]: I wouldn’t have guessed when this game was announced that I’d end up liking it so much I’d forget all about the first game, one of my favorite titles. But that’s what “L4D2” has done. The addition of melee weapons, the new special infected and the well-thought-out finales make the sequel a blast. I’ve already logged dozens of hours, and my friends and I have really only played Campaign mode.
“1 vs. 100” (rated E, free to Xbox Live gold members) [review]: It’s not really fair to put Microsoft’s online game show against the likes of a 60-hour experience like “Dragon Age: Origins,” but when you think about it, “1 vs. 100” is arguably this year’s most innovative video game. True, game shows and trivia video games have been around for a while, but no one’s successfully fused the two to create free, advertiser-driven entertainment you might consider planning your evening around. In an age where nearly everything can be taped, TiVoed or watched on Hulu, “1 vs. 100” emerged to show that it’s still possible to get the whole family gathered around the TV every night at a set time. It just took a video game to do it. The game also gives a select few the chance to compete for real prizes from the comfort of their living rooms. Whether “1 vs. 100” is a harbinger of a bold new form of interactive entertainment or simply a blip on the radar screen, destined never to be repeated, remains to be seen.
“Brütal Legend” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 or PS3) [review]: As my Game of the Year selection would indicate, I’m a sucker for a good story, and the latest game from Sonoma native Tim Schafer was the year’s most original title. The genre-hopping adventure game’s heavy metal-inspired setting, characters and soundtrack are like nothing else in the world of gaming. The controlled anarchy of the game’s strategic stage battles rubbed some gamers the wrong way, and while they weren’t my favorite thing about the title, I liked them well enough.
“inFAMOUS” (rated T, $40 on PS3) [review]: Plenty of games let you live life as a superhero, including “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” But “inFAMOUS” allowed gamers to be there with Cole McGrath on Day 1, as he was transformed from a bicycle messenger into a lightning-slinging force of nature. While the story had some plot holes large enough to drive a truckful of bicycles through, many critics overlooked thematic undercurrents dealing with the trustworthiness of government and the news media (both corporate and independent).
“The Beatles: Rock Band” (rated T, prices vary based on bundle, available on Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3) [review]: With apologies to “Wii Sports Resort” and “New Super Mario Bros.,” this was the party game of the year. While I’ve never stopped enjoying the Beatles’ music, I think I’d forgotten how timeless it was until I rocked out with my review copy of “The Beatles: Rock Band” and my 8-year-old nephew during the last week of August.
“Batman: Arkham Asylum” (rated T, $60 on Xbox 360 and PS3, $50 on PC) [not reviewed]: This came out back in August, but I only just finished it this week. “Arkham Asylum” brought back many of Batman’s nemeses for one hellish night in which the Joker (voiced expertly by Mark Hamil) hatches a plan to finish the Caped Crusader and turn Gotham City upside-down. Packed with plenty of DC Comics lore and terrific fan service, this game seemed to come out of nowhere to become a megahit. One of the year’s great success stories.
“MLB 09: The Show” (rated E, $40 on PS3) [review]: Back before I started writing about video games, I was really into baseball titles, specifically “MVP Baseball 2005.” I’d take over my beloved St. Louis Cardinals and play through an entire season, gradually raising the difficulty level as I went. The ability to promote and demote players, set ticket prices and execute trades while playing what was, at the time, the best-looking baseball game ever made, had me in sports nerd heaven. Because I’m always moving from one title to a newer one, I didn’t get to properly enjoy Sony’s “MLB 09: The Show.” But if my 2005 self were writing this blog, “The Show” might have beaten out “Dragon Age” for Game of the Year. It’s hands-down the best baseball game I’ve gotten my mitts on.
“Halo Wars” (rated T, $40 on Xbox 360) [review] and “Halo 3: ODST” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360): The “Halo” franchise got short shrift from gamers in 2009, as a lot of us overlooked “Halo Wars,” a fantastic real-time strategy game that was released the first week of March, and “Halo 3: ODST,” a not-quite-expansion first-person shooter that didn’t star the series’ signature hero, Master Chief. Though the campaign, set in the sterile, hospital-corridor-like streets of New Mombasa, left me a little cold, I’m still having fun with Firefight Mode, in which up to four friends can face off against wave after wave of Covenant troops. Meanwhile, another critic rightly called “Halo Wars” “the best G.I. Joe game ever made.” That about sums it up.