The final instalment of our 2010 video game countdown. What was the Guardian’s favourite title of the year?
It’s Christmas Eve and here’s the final part of our Top 20! These are the five games the Guardian reviews team played and enjoyed the most this year. Have a look and if you think we’re mad, add your own favourites to our reader’s list.
Okay, here we go…
(Obsidian, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Yes, there were bugs. When originally released, New Vegas was so littered with technical issues, a subsequent patch contained over 200 fixes. But the latest title in the post-apocalyptic adventure series was a victim of its own ambition – the best way to fail. And of course, this is no failure. Switching the action to America’s West Coast, it’s another freeroaming quest in which various tribes, the remnance of humanity, carve out violent lives amid the wreckage of civilisation. The game’s appeal is similar to Red Dead’s – as Jake Arnott put it in his review, “Perhaps its greatest strength is the fact that everybody can play it differently. Rigidly follow the main storyline – or wander off and ignore it entirely. Try and be as moral as possible – or kill and rob the first merchant you come across. It’s a tailor-made gaming experience where everything can be done at your own pace and in your own way.” I also love that within the chaos, writer Josh Swayer has used the New Vegas setting as a satire on contemporary financial markets (see our interview with him here) – it is a city of sisyphean madmen risking everything and doomed to lose, never understanding the absurdity and inhumanity of it all. New Vegas is Wall Street: the casino on the edge of Armageddon.
(Polyphony Digital, PS3)
Once upon a time, Gran Turismo was cutting edge – now it is a belligerent iconoclast clinging to its late-nineties vision of how a complex driving simulation should look and feel. Hence, rudimentary collision detection and sketchy AI, but a massive roster of cars and circuits; an atavistic celebration of storage capacity. “But it has a sheer appreciation, and love, for cars and driving that is difficult to resist,” wrote Nicky Woolf in his review of the title. “At times it feels less like playing a game and more like indulging in a hobby.” And that is Gran Turismo 5 all over. Away from the complex interplay of A-spec, B-spec and License tasks, it’s game about obsessing over cars, tweaking them, learning how to get the absolute most out of them, and then driving them around dozens of beautiful courses. Swapping them, as regular inhabitants of the Gamesblog’s Chatterbox forum have discovered, is also an engrossing pleasure. In the first part of this list, I joked that Final Fantasy XIII was the Gran Turismo of RPGs, because both games adhere to their own game design rulebooks, quite apart from advances elsewhere. But the GT series has always been RPG-like in its obsessions with stats and inventories – GT5 is the culmination of that. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit has the thrills, GT5 has the crazed depth. It should have its own Haynes manual – it probably will.
(Quantic Dream, PS3)
The only game of the year to involve changing a nappy, making an omelette AND cutting your finger off, Heavy Rain is a phenomenal work. Like Alan Wake, it is a psychological thriller with a disintegrating hero at its core. But the tale of Ethan Mars, who must perform a series of grotesque tasks to save the life of his kidnapped son, is somehow so much more grim and immersive than Remedy’s supernatural romp. It is amazing really that this weird and ambitious game ever got made – created by cult French studio Quantic Dream and published by Sony, it’s like an indie title that’s somehow been greenlit for international distribution and handed a multimillion dollar budget. While not everyone enjoyed the stilted control mechanism, the staged structure or the reliance on ‘quick time events’ for the major action set-pieces, it was a game you just had to experience. And as plot twists go, Heavy Rain’s is a nasty ontological trick that could only work in an interactive medium. Groundbreaking – not in terms of gameplay systems, of course, but in terms of what can be achieved with story and character in games.
(BioWare, PC, Xbox 360)
No one else in the world makes games like BioWare. In many ways, the talky, rambling, complex Mass Effect was a throwback to the era of the original computer RPGs and text-based adventures – difficult, intellectually challenging, conceived by and for adults. This mammoth sequel, another quest to save human colonists from various intergalactic foes, does make concessions to modern gamers, with its simplified structure, cover mechanic and streamlined narrative. But this remains an action RPG and the emphasis is on having to communicate with and understand other characters. Even with an improved combat system, this is far from the realms of Halo or Gears of War. And the fact that you can load up your character and situation from the first game gives the whole Mass Effect universe a sense of epic continuity, like those bulky sci-fi novels that range over several books. And now Mass Effect 3 has been announced and the quest will continue – if you haven’t already met Commander Shepard and his crew, now would be a very good time to get acquainted.
(Rockstar San Diego, PS3, Xbox 360)
For me, this was never in question; it was always Red Dead. The first time I played, I saw an outlaw murder a prostitute on the steps of a saloon; I chased him and gunned him down. It was a tiny piece of emergent narrative, but it spoke volumes about what this game was – a universe equally created by the designers and every individual player. Rockstar vainly fought comparisons with Grand Theft Auto; the similarities are obviously there. Yet, by moving the action to the dying years of the Old West, the publisher’s San Diego team lent this open-world epic a sense of profundity, of grandiose meaning that GTA never attained, even when GTA IV tried to talk about the tragedy of immigration and belonging. The story of John Marston, the ex-outlaw forced to track down his old gang, is the classic stuff of Leone – it is about the inescapability of the fate we draw for ourselves. Red Dead Redemption is a game that understands, as the best Western movies do, that the West is about mythology, it is filled with ghosts. You need never face it, though – you can just ride out into the scrubland and never come back. You can ride and shoot and enjoy the evocative soundtrack and feast on the DLC, and turn away from what Marston has in store. It is always your story.