I don’t know who lit the fire under third party developers this year, but there were some amazingly strong titles kicking around. Every game (save one) on my High Points & Surprises list was triple platform: PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. Unfortunately for you Wii-only owners, only two of them showed up there – and both of those are the music games.
## High Points & Surprises
In a rare moment where I held off on pulling the trigger until it was on sale, I acquired Dragon Age: Origins a day before we were going to leave for Japan. I managed to clock maybe three hours that day – enough to get through my character’s prologue, but not enough to get into the full story. Even that little taste was enough to give me a slight case withdrawal while halfway around the world. I’m not even close to done, which means I’ll be holding off on Mass Effect 2 for quite a while.
Perhaps you saw the overwhelming praise that Rocksteady Studios (say it with me: *who?!*) got for their superhero game and scratched your head. Licensed superheroes never have good games – that’s the rules of gaming, right? And an unknown studio couldn’t bat their first major title out of the park, could they? They can, they did, and they probably will again. Sure, Batman: Arkham Asylum nails the atmosphere, the characters, and the backstory from top to bottom – you know why everyone loves it, though? Because it’s the best 3D Metroidvania game you’ve ever played.
After making a huge mess with Saint’s Row 2 (see the forthcoming PC post for more on that), Volition polished the engine and made something a bit more focused in Red Faction: Guerilla. As someone who loved the first Mercenaries game, this speaks to my deep-seated gaming urges to be able to take down buildings in any fashion I choose to. Possibly the most underrated gem of the year, based on how many of my friends haven’t played it.
There weren’t a lot of racing games filling 2009, so “best racing game” could have practically been a default. Codemasters didn’t slouch, though: DiRT 2 is a ridiculously fun time, and builds on everything they got right in 2008’s GRiD to make a satisfying rally racer. It will tide me over until Gran Turismo 5 finally hits, if not longer.
Harmonix opted to not release Rock Band 3 this year, instead focusing their efforts and love to produce The Beatles: Rock Band. All bands should strive to have such a legacy that people want to make games like this about them.
There’s a class of gamers who thrive on games where randomly generated equipment drops from enemies, and after a rigorous examination and comparison process, characters are made incrementally better and excess loot is sold. If you are one such gamer – and there’s a reasonable chance you are – you may have been lamenting the long lead time that Diablo 3 is taking. Rest easy; Borderlands will tide you over until D3 finally ships. It is a hell of a drug in its own right – satisfying on both the loot front and the FPS front. If only the plot wasn’t garbage.
My biggest surprise of the year: even though it was an Activision game filled with generic characters, even though it featured yet another space-filling plastic controller, and even though the DLC is priced absurdly high, DJ Hero managed to actually be kind of enjoyable. Thank the extremely well produced soundtrack of unique mashups and mixes for that one.
Finally, I would be remiss to not point out that if you don’t own Street Fighter IV, you are part of the problem. (“Problem” here meaning “people who miss out on excellent fighting games”.) Penance can be achieved by purchasing Super Street Fighter IV, which is due out early 2010.
## Low Points & Disappointments
Realizing that I just got done railing on Nintendo over a nostalgia cash-in: nostalgia isn’t always off-limits in games. The Beatles: Rock Band, pointed out above, is essentially a nostalgia game/love letter. And while it’s hard to believe that anyone might want a well produced nostalgia trip about professional wrestling, WWE Legends of Wrestlemania failed to come across as anything other than a mid-year gap filler in THQ’s wrestling line-up. I tore through it in a weekend, and never looked back. I miss the days when we had proper wrestling titles.
It is hard to take a beloved title and make a sequel that squanders almost all of the good will that the first game had. Hard, but not impossible – hell, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix made it look easy. By leaving too much of the core gaming mechanic to chance, intentionally road-blocking game progress with timed puzzles, and just generally sucking all the fun out of the experience, Galactrix is one of the few games this year where I honestly wished I could get a refund. When I have to hack the game configuration to make the game playable, you have done a disservice. (Good thing I was on the PC – the DS version, by all accounts, was worse and couldn’t be hacked.)
Speaking of killing goodwill – Capcom came off a huge high from Resident Evil 4 and released the fairly mundane Resident Evil 5, which returned us to the level of nonsense plot we hadn’t seen in a few years. The last twenty minutes of the game play like a parody of Resident Evil games, with the COMPLETE GLOBAL SATURATION and Chris Redfield vs. The Boulder.