We’re into the top 10 of the Guardian review team’s favourite games of the year
After the “shock” of Super Mario Galaxy 2 appearing outside of our top 10, today’s could be the most controversial instalment yet. None of the following games received universal critical acclaim, all are flawed to some degree. But when the reviews team submitted their individual top tens at the start of this rather gruelling compilation process, all five of the following titles figured incredibly strongly. They are interesting games, created with care and individualism. With the possible exception of number eight, you wouldn’t mistake any of them for anything else.
Enough with the justification, on with the list…
No fan of the N64 original could dare dream that its return would be this good. Certainly, the modern interpretation was never going to make the same impact as Rare’s classic, but it takes both the bones of the story and the guts of the missions we all remember (the opening dam sequence, Frigate, Runway) and augments them into a solid, thoroughly enjoyable shooter. This is a remake that understands the unreality of nostalgia; it knows that our perception of the past is irrevocably painted by the present – hence, for example, the seamless replacement of Brosnan with Craig. Consequently, though a little scrappy and worn in places itself, it indulgently salutes our memories of a legend rather than rubbing our noses in the reality of that 1997 relic. Maybe we shouldn’t love this game so much, but we adored its predecessor, and the new GoldenEye carries its spirit somewhat intact.
(2K Marin, PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Here was another follow-up that some of us expected would go badly wrong. Developed by a fresh studio and seeking to build on a rather singular piece of creative brilliance, Bioshock 2 might have been a Jaws 2. Or a Godfather 3. Instead, it’s a proper follow-up to the Bioshock vision, set ten years after its predecessor and putting you into the clomping boots of a Big Daddy out to find his Little Sister. Once again, philosophy plays its part in the background story, as competing doctrines slug it out over the husk of Rapture – Objectivist ambition against Stalinist community. Meanwhile, there are spine-tingling enemies, beautifully decrepit surroundings, new weapons and plasmids, shocks and revelations. And all games should reward exploration with astonishsing sights. Often they just don’t. This one does.
(EA Sports, PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
The obsessives at EA Canada made some controversial decisions this year, tweaking the passing model for added directional challenge and “improving” goalkeeper AI to rule out the last vestiges of the old generosity toward 60-yard punts and cheeky lobs. But it also simplified the Career mode, brought in 11 vs 11 online play and accentuated the individual genius of star players – all intriguing additions. It took many of us a while to get used to the changes, but the result is a challenging, enthralling simulation, that dearly wants to replicate the unpredictability and variety of the real sport – and often gets very close. You can play this game everyday (and believe me, some of us probably have) and spot new stuff all the time – that’s what Pes used to be like. On that subject, Konami’s series is on the up again and a couple of our writers had it on their personal lists. The crown is there to be snatched back; Shingo ‘Seabass’ Takatsuka and his team are within grabbing distance.
(Ninja Theory, PS3, Xbox 360)
It’s short, it’s comparatively easy and the enemies are repetitive, yet Enslaved somehow contrived to be one of the most compelling action adventure titles of the year – for us, anyway. Taking place on a futuristic Earth plundered by intergalactic slavetraders, the game follows a displaced warrior named Monkey who escapes from a crashing spacecraft and finds himself protecting a young woman – Trip – as she heads back to her tribe. Yes, it’s a modernisation of the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West, and yes, the interplay between the two characters is the focal point as they shift from mutual distrust to friendship and codependence. It is the development of this relationship, played out via a decent script by Alex Garland and some fine virtual acting by Andy Serkis, that makes the game such a pleasure to spend time with. Not everyone was prepared for an interactive sci-fi rom-com, of course, but there are plenty of games out there for gamers who just want to shoot stuff. With its endless identikit robot baddies, Enslaved is almost a riposte to ritualised virtual slaughter. It says forget the baddies, it’s the characters that matter. Not everyone will agree, but how brave to pursue this vision in the era of multi-million dollar development.
(SCE Santa Monica, PS3)
And so one of the defining ‘franchises’ of the modern PlayStation era comes to its predictably bloody conclusion. God of War III has no handbrake; it is a hurtling maelstrom of carnage. Kratos is a machine of revenge, slicing deities with his signature chain blades, bludgeoning his way through the pantheon. The visuals are truly spectacular, the sense of scale simply awesome. The combat mechanism is hack-and-slash game design near-perfected, a visceral combo of accessibility, variety and depth. Somehow, there is even a mini sex game – just in case your senses hadn’t been brutalised enough. A few of the reviews team argued vociferously that Bayonetta should be here. But despite that game’s idiosyncratic genius, not enough of us were truly passionate about Hideki Kamiya’s masterpiece. The God of War won.