2010: A Games Odyssey
2009 wasn’t a great year for gaming. It was dominated by the return of Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and Halo, giving the impression of a scene that was treading water. There were no real surprises and no delicious lemons; it was just so massively meh-inducing. Indeed, it wasn’t until the gawd damn sploicer nazi-maiming antics of The Saboteur that I even got that excited, and that was released right at the end of the year, but 2010 promised a lot more, with brand new IPs and the return of some old favourites. Well, we’re in the summer drought now and the games are trickling in far too slowly for my liking, so I figured some sort of epic retrospective will tide us over, at least until the going-to-be-unbelievably-great Two Worlds II is released.
The post-Xmas release list had some big names on there. I’ve never understood that…releasing a game just as everyone is watching their pennies. Anyway, there was much to get excited about with plenty of hype being thrown about the place and stuffed into our faces, the most-heralded release being the instant cosplay classic, Bayonetta. There has always been something about skinny, well-armed women that makes chubby cosplayers want to be them and Bayonetta combined it all, from the Emma Peel style catsuit to couture shoes with guns in the heels. Coming across as a slutty librarian, Bayonetta was tasked with battling demons for reasons that I can’t possibly go into. The reason for that is that the ridiculously frequent cutscenes ended up annoying me so much that I ended up skipping them all so that I could get back into eye-traumatising beat-’em-up action as quick as possible. After four levels of mashing X and Y, I skipped the game as quickly as possible and moved on. This clearly wasn’t the game I was looking for.
Still, January gave us options though and mashers of X and Y were equally well-catered for by Darksiders – a game that represents the biggest ever disparity in fun between the first level and everything afterwards. Opening with some epic in-engine destruction, the game sees apocalyptic horseman War (as played by you), slaying all manner of monsters as humanity’s reign on this planet is ended by a demonic invasion.
With slick, fun combat and a host of different weapons, Darksiders was initially very exciting. The fun soon wore off though as every new room brought with it a host of Zelda-esque puzzles involving crates, water levels and switches. A hopeless map didn’t help things either and before long, the game had gone from being a potential gem to being an actual prick; some of the levels in the game represent the least fun I’ve had since being in a taxi with the radio set to The Kooks. Completing the trilogy was Dante’s Inferno but, after Bayonetta and Darksiders, my appetite for scrolling fighting games was well and truly extinguished.
The first big sequel of the year was Army of Two: The 40th Day. Now, only an idiot would say that the original Army of Two was a great game but it certainly was a promising one. The co-op needed tweaking, the movement was a tad sluggish and the game’s two protagonists, Salem and Rios, needed to not be massive pricks but Army of Two’s flair for the dramatic, with some stunning set-pieces and firefights, meant that a problem-fixing sequel did have the potential to be a classic.
Oh dear. EA didn’t so much drop the ball on this one but, rather, set fire to the ball and bury its remains on an ancient Red Indian burial site. Everything was wrong about it. From the lack of variety in the levels (they are all set in Shanghai which is a crumbly, neon mess that looks awful and obscures the action almost constantly), the ridiculously stupid dialogue (the ‘fucking a panda’ anecdote is absolutely the most awful thing to ever be in a game) and not one decent set-piece in the whole game, Army of Two: 40th Day rates as one of the least progressive sequels ever seen. If the original game was a comfortable seven out of ten, 40th Day barely scores a four. The co-op netcode was also hideously broken.
The first classic of 2010 arrived when Bioware delivered a sequel to their much-loved first-person RPG, Mass Effect, one of the console’s most conversational shooters. Mass Effect 2 didn’t improve much on the shooting but it streamlined the RPG elements and delivered a game that didn’t disappoint fans of the original.
Alien Vs. Predator was next up. The oft-retreaded battle of the species arrived to a lukewarm reception; everyone really wanted Colonial Marines rather than a re-envisioning of Rebellion’s creaky old PC series. Things went rapidly downhill when you actually played it. With last-gen graphics, tired FPS gameplay, a rubbish plot (based loosely on the horrifically awful AvP movie), hideously unbalanced online play and three ridiculously short campaigns, the game failed to deliver in almost every conceivable way. It was, however, a lot better than AvP: Requiem but, then again, so is cancer of the face.
Stone-cold classic number two arrived in the butched up form of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I say stone-cold classic but I never played the fucking thing. The rest of my friendlist played it solidly for months though, so it’s probably quite good. I think I’d rather play a game of ‘drink directly from a kangaroo’s cock’ but, you know, whatever. No-one plays it anymore mind, something about a lack of maps. It’s all very sad.
The year’s first big sandbox title was a sequel to the barkingly mad Just Cause, a game that managed to put a tiny amount of screen furniture into a game world the size of a small country. The hope was that Just Cause 2 would provide a more focused gameplay experience…unfortunately this was not to be and the game delivered a million square miles of fuck all. With some of the least exciting story missions ever conceived and more collectibles than you could shake an orb at, Just Cause 2 managed to outstay its welcome very quickly and, trust me, another forty hours play after that didn’t improve things one iota.
It was quickly followed by a refreshingly linear but no less shit sequel to the obscure one man and his dog ‘em up, Dead To Rights. Subtitled Retribution, Dead To Rights followed the story of an annoying cop who solves most crimes by shooting everyone in the immediate vicinity. He also looks like Frank Lampard. Suffice to say, I hated him. The bland third-person shooting action was spliced with hilarious stealth sections (where you play as the dog for fuck’s sake) and the whole game was an immature swearfest (and that’s coming from me) with less substance than a Rwandan kid’s stomach.
A less obscure sequel then arrived with the ‘why are they still making these’ stealth series, Splinter Cell. Conviction saw you stepping back into the bright green mask (seriously, how do the bad guys not see the three dots?) of Sam Fisher. Despite the main campaign being simultaneously short and dull and Sam being voiced by Michael ‘sounding older than Yoda’ Ironside, the game managed to redeem itself, thanks to the excellent ‘Deniable Ops’ mode which played much like the Terrorist Hunt mode from Tom Clancy’s other series, Rainbow Six. It was even better in co-op and required a decent grasp of strategy as well as some skill. Splinter Cell: Conviction wasn’t a classic, it wasn’t even the best game in the series, but it was better than you’d think and it can be picked up for less than twenty quid now. Can’t say flara van blat.
Stone cold classic number three was Red Dead: Redemption from everyone’s favourite shock-devs, Rockstar. Yet again, this one eluded me thanks to a near-pathological dislike of GTAIV and a complete disinterest in the Wild West. Also, it arrived a little too soon after Just Cause 2, just as my interest in sandbox gaming had given way to excessive self-harming. Still, the whole world liked it. So that’s nice.
With Super Street Fighter IV (the same game as before but with more characters and a better price-point), Alpha Protocol (a spy-flavoured Mass Effect that lacked any kind of quality at all), Darkstar One (a flawed-but-addictive Elite rip-off), Metro 2033 (Fallout 3 flavoured FPS that sits somewhere near the top of the 360′s huge list of spooky FPS titles) and Pure Football (five-a-side nonsense with the world’s worst netcode ever) popping up in the schedules, there was nothing particularly notable until last month’s long-awaited sequel to the cult classic, Crackdown.
Crackdown 2 was developed in eight months and it shows. Recycling the same game world as before, Crackdown 2 dishes up a second helping of tedious orb-collecting, repetitive missions and horrible races and manages to kill the series stone dead. It’s a shame as Crackdown truly was a gem. It does add four player co-op, which can lead to some fun if you completely ignore what you are meant to do and just spend time throwing cars at each other, but it’s all so limited that everyone will be bored of it by the time you’ve finished reading this sentence.
That’s us mostly up to date. The rest of the year sees the return of Mafia, Halo and, of course, another Call of Duty. So basically it’s not looking like a vintage year if you’re a fan of new ideas. Then of course you’ve got FIFA 11, which will probably add coloured bootlaces for your £40 investment while Pro Evo promises a ‘rebuilt from scratch’ game with ‘improved AI’ that will play like the old PS1 games but not quite as good.
The only hopes are Two Worlds II, a spiffy looking sequel to the much-maligned-but-totally-awesome original RPG, and Dead Rising 2 which should be excellent as long as they don’t do a Crackdown 2 and give us the same game all over again. Either way, it’s going to have a less hardcore save system – you can bet your tasty flesh on that. To see how the rest of 2010 plays out, keep pressing F5 on Gaming Lives obsessively like you’re playing Heather Mills’ Decathlon. We’ll keep you updated.
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