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2010 was positively bloated with games. The big business of blockbuster games, combined with the ease of distributing downloadable arcade titles, and a thriving indie subculture has left us with more great games than any one person can play. The PC Department staff sat down to sort out the best and worst of the year. Here's what Charles Battersby, Ari Runanin-Telle and Mark Quinlan came up with for Player Affinity's Best and Worst in PC Gaming for 2010:
Most Vaporous Vaporware: Half Life 2: Episode 3
MARK: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but wasn’t the point of releasing their games in an episodic format supposed to allow for faster turnaround times and thus put out the games faster? Why does Valve take longer to develop a single episode than the time needed for some full games? I WANT GORDON FREEMAN!
Runner Up: Crysis 2
ARI: Crysis is one of the finest examples of why to be a PC gamer, and Crysis 2 looks to be the same. That said, I was sincerely hoping for it to arrive last year, rather than being announced for Holiday 2010 and then being pushed into 2011.
Biggest disappointment Medal of Honor
MARK: I got this game expecting it to match and easily outperform the king of the hill of first-person shooters, Modern Warfare 1&2. Instead, what I got was sad derivative schlock that barely had a storyline connecting a series of unrelated characters as they pounded the hell out of a mountain range. Other than referring to the fact that it was supposed to be adapted from true events, it really helps to have some sort of plot to explain why players should care.
Runner Up: Bioshock 2
ARI: The original Bioshock is one of my favorite games of all time. However, that is only because it had a great story, a great new world to roam, innovative combat, and interesting characters. Bioshock 2 seems to ignore all of those things, and it included multiplayer;the last thing a Bioshock game had to have! Bioshock Infinite is the true sequel.
CHARLES: I, on the other hand, was very pleasantly surprised by Bioshock 2 and it is one of my favorites for 2010, however, I was looking forward to the two promised batches of Single-Player DLC, which came out for consoles, but not PC. It’s allegedly on its way to PC, but we should have got it the same time as the consoles.
Most infuriating Social Networking Game: Farmville
MARK: I don’t really use Social Networking, but the game that people really annoy me with is Farmville, a game that involves getting other friends to help you develop a virtual farm associated with your Facebook page. While I liked Harvest Moon, I got the urge to farm out of my system a long time ago and have no wish to return to such a time.
CHARLES: This was the very first Facebook game that I silenced. Who knows how many request I’ve received to feed someone’s goddamned unicorn in the months since I clicked the “Silence” button. The fact that half the game industry is scrambling to emulate this piece of fertilizer just makes me want to drive a tractor through Zynga’s headquarters.
Runner Up: Mafia Wars
MARK: Wow, talk about a pointless game that is more of a number cruncher than an actual game. As a rule, I think a game should be entertaining, but this one is more like a pen-pal daily quest than anything actually fun.
Worst Game: Final Fantasy XIV
ARI: Final Fantasy XIV had a chance to contend with World of Warcraft. It had the fanbase, and the unique gameplay to back it up. However, Square Enix, in all of their infinite wisdom, ran all of that good faith into the ground and continued the downward spiral of the Final Fantasy series. FFXIV was released in an unfinished state, one that was made far worse by the already grinding and monotonous design.
Runner Up: Prison Break: The Conspiracy
MARK: The game is pretty much just stealth movements around a prison from the TV show, with little combat or anything else to make it special.
Biggest Game You Don't Care About, And Didn't Play: Call of Duty: Black Ops
CHARLES: I’m loosing nerd cred here, but I’m definitely going to wait for this to hit the bargain bin. They make a new Call of Duty every couple of months, so I’ll just wait until next year when Call of Duty Black Ops 3 is out. By then, this one will be going for like five bucks at Best Buy.
Runner Up: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
Best Game On Your Backlog That You Really Intend To Play: Fallout: New Vegas
CHARLES: I still haven’t gotten around to playing Fallout: New Vegas. I wrote an article about all the extra stuff included in the Collector’s Edition, but never found the time to actually play the game that came with all those shiny things. Part of the problem is that my Steam account tells me that I played Fallout 3 for One-hundred and thirty four hours! I know that the second I start New Vegas, I’ll loose two months of my life.
Runner Up: Starcraft II Multiplayer
ARI: Starcraft II is awesome. I love the singleplayer, and have played through for as many achievements as I can get at my n00b status. However, I cannot for my life play the multiplayer in Starcraft II! I have vowed to myself again and again that I'll play multiplayer, but I keep shying away from it in fear of getting into a match with a South Korean professional.
Game that never ends: Grand Theft Auto: Episodes From Liberty City
ARI: Grand Theft Auto 4 is my personal favorite game of all time, so the fact that the expansions made it even better appealed to me greatly. The stories in each of the expansions, The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, weren't as good as GTA IV's, but the characters were memorable and the improvements were many. From parachutes to choppers, these are worthy expansions to a great game, and together, are nearly as long.
Runner Up: Fallout: New Vegas
MARK: Vegas really shines in this category as it lasts for tens of hours before you reach one of many possible permutations of ending. The possible areas, factions and equipment, each balanced for maximum fun allows for lots of experimentation and replay after the initial game. Even then, the vistas will make for tons of exploration that encourages both longer play times and a sense of accomplishment.
Best use of limited time: Splinter Cell: Conviction
ARI: The Splinter Cell games have always been great stealth games, and Conviction is no different. You'd think the short story gameplay time would make the game inferior to it's predecessors, but it actually improves it. With a great core gameplay engine, and variety throughout the campaign, Splinter Cell: Conviction manages to be more memorable than it's forebears, even with the short 5 hours it has.
Runner Up: Amnesia: The Dark Decent
CHARLES: This indie horror game lasts about six hours if you are brave enough to run around the spooky castle where it takes place. The scary monsters who roam the castle are attracted to the sound of fast footsteps, so my playthrough lasted… somewhat longer.
Best currently-running MMORPG World Of Warcraft
MARK: Unlike the new startups that began a short life to crash and burn, World of Warcraft continues to vastly outstrip the competition with a massive user base. A bonus of having a successful launch so long ago means that tweaks, refinements and improvements can be continuously added, making the game a more positive experience for all players. It currently provides the best player experience in a MMO, as well as value for money with vast troves of content.
ARI: Is there even a question here? Every MMORPG that comes out has to go up against 6 years worth of updates, refinements, and user support. World of Warcraft is the only MMO that easily makes a profit right now, and with Cataclysm, it looks as if Blizzard isn't going to stop giving the players new content yet.
CHARLES: Okay, silly question. There are plenty of reasons why this one is still king of the hill, while newer games are going free-to-play. However, I think we’re going to see some sort of pack assault on WoW eventually, and Bioware’s The Old Republic is likely to lead the charge. This time next year, the answer probably won’t be so clear cut.
Runner Up: EVE Online
MARK: EVE tends to survive simply on the willpower of its players. A game almost entirely run by players, EVE makes for an accountants dream game of trading, fighting and forming corporations in space to conquer the galaxy. The problem for most casual players is the massive time commitment to actually make any progress, as well as the otherwise boring gameplay….zzzzzzzzzz
Best PC exclusive indie game Amnesia: The Dark Decent
CHARLES: An awesome example of how all you need is a solid, functional engine, and a good creative team. You don’t need multiplayer, fancy graphics, or a bunch of bells & Whistles when you have the story-telling right, and a good idea.
MARK: This game was really spooky and fun. By forcing you to explore a haunted castle without any way to defend yourself as well as invoking insanity in the player character, Amnesia makes the gameplay experience a unique and terrifying jaunt that explores the inner reaches of anyone’s soul.
Runner Up: VVVVVV
ARI: VVVVVV, a seemingly simplistic platformer by Terry Cavanagh, is one of the best 5 dollars you'll ever spend. The level design, music, graphics, gameplay, and text-only dialogue all come together to form a unique game that has a clear reverence for early PC gaming. Made by about 3 people in total, music included, VVVVVV is one of the biggest arguments for small budget game development this year.
Best Mission, Quest, Or Level: Mass Effect 2 - Suicide Mission
ARI: Leading up to Mass Effect 2's release, Bioware definitely hyped up how the suicide mission actually was a suicide mission, how it was very possible that your team members or Shepard could die. This is what makes the last mission in Mass Effect 2 so great. Simply knowing the fact that your squad members could die in any cutscene from a bad decision or mistake gives the final mission a lot more weight than it'd have otherwise, and makes all the close calls feel tense. It may have been a bit too transparent as to which stuff could happen, but it was the most memorable mission this year.
Runner Up: The prison level from Mafia II
MARK: I liked the first person entrance into this one. The prison really imposes its gravitas on the player as the normally third-person game becomes first-person: the game puts you into the character’s shoes, who then has to fight off rapists in the shower! Good times!
Best Single-player experience: Mass Effect 2
ARI: Mass Effect 2 has a large amount of content for a singleplayer game, but that's not what makes it special. The choices that you make in Mass Effect 2 and made in the first Mass Effect alter your experience dramatically. This feeling of the story being yours and yours alone definitely highlights ME2’s singleplayer experience.
CHARLES: This game didn’t need multiplayer, and I hope that the next ME game doesn’t get some tacked on deathmatch thing. Are you listening Electronic Arts? It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it! It did add End Game, so that you could go around completing all the missions you skipped before the big finale, something lacking from recent Bioware games. And there’s so much to experience in ME2 that you do want to stay in that universe to complete all of the little subplots.
Runner Up: Fallout: New Vegas
MARK: Vegas wins this title because it really puts in the effort to make the player feel like they’re in a living, breathing world where anything is possible, with little to no hang-ups when the player goes off the beaten track. The quests allow for a gradual or sudden increase in difficulty, allowing players to explore areas depending on how serious they want their experience to be; it definitely has one of the most immersive single-player experiences of the games released this year.
Best multiplayer experience: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
MARK: I really enjoyed BC2 due to the insane battles that seem to always be happening, either right next to you or just over the horizon. The amazingly useful sound design allows the player to feel like part of team in a vast firefight, as explosions echo through the hills, sniper shots audibly whiz by your head, and teammates automatically shout important battle updates as you fight with them, giving you a heads up on all sorts of threats and assistance as they happen. The very malleable terrain allows for different battlefields every time, adding for great replay value.
ARI: Streamlined, engaging, and tactical multiplayer experience that is the best that this year has to offer.
Runner Up: Left 4 Dead 2 DLC
CHARLES: This technically came out in 2009, but there’s been a constant stream of DLC in 2010, so I’m putting it here. Despite my claim earlier that too many games get tacked-on multiplayer, L4D2 was build from the ground up around multiplayer, with plenty of extra content given to us PC gamers for free (Unlike those console saps who had to pay for all the DLC).
Best story/writing Mass Effect 2
CHARLES: I love how Bioware always find new variations on the Hero’s Journey story format. This time, instead of sending the player around to a series of random objectives before revealing the “Innermost Cave” where the big showdown happens, ME2 starts by telling you where you’ll have to go at the end, then lets you assemble as big or small a team of Companions as you want on the way. It focused on pursuing relationships with those companions, rather than “Go here and investigate” sort of missions.
ARI: Mass Effect 2's story may be somewhat simpler than the original, but it more than makes up for that in how great the characters, choices, and voice acting are. It's very easy to get invested in these characters, which makes the points in which you may inadvertently doom them that much more poignant. This would all be nothing if the actors didn't pull their weight, but luckily, the all-star cast in Mass Effect 2 handles the script easily.
Runner Up: StarCraft 2
StarCraft 2 was tightly written and a fun ride through the StarCraft universe, referencing old and new characters and fleshing out their backgrounds and personalities. Raynor and Mensk were great to hear again, and the ability to explore your surroundings really helped make the player feel at home.
Best PC Game of 2010: Mass Effect 2
CHARLES: When I play a game by Bioware, I always promise myself that I’ll just play the main quest and not get sidetracked trying to do every little side quest. Invariably, I end up spending 50 hours savoring all of the subplots- Then I do it all over again with a different Alignment/Gender/Class. Mass Effect 2 had you recruiting team members, then earning their loyalty, which meant that there was an endless series of great characters to learn about, and interesting stories to resolve.
ARI: Singleplayer is something that has been forgotten in the past couple of years, which is why I'm so happy with Mass Effect 2. It manages to make a compelling and personal story, improve everything about the original, and set up Mass Effect 3 in a very exciting way. If Mass Effect 3 is as large an improvement as Mass Effect 2, then it's going to be one of the best games ever created.
MARK: Mass Effect 2 really made me return to this series with a vengeance. A killer soundtrack, unique and personable characters, and a seemingly futile final mission really made this game a blast to play.
Runner Up: Starcraft II
CHARLES: The hardcore crowd will nitpick this game for years, but the rest of us will be having a ball humiliating ourselves in the multi-player, and replaying the solo campaign.