Posted on Feb 1, 2011 | 5 comments

I’m in my last semester of college, and I’m excited about what the future has in store. I’m also working on a couple more games that will hopefully be out the door soon. And of course, I’m looking forward to GDC in a few weeks.

Here’s the second entry in what I’m trying to make an annual piece – a complete list of every game I remember playing in the previous year, along with a few impressions about it. I especially enjoyed comparing this list to last year’s to see how my gaming habits have changed (more on that in a future post).

Alan WakeRemedy (Xbox 360)
As someone who was never a huge fan of Max Payne, I was more interested in the game’s perceived similarities to Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space. The “use light to kill” mechanic was really cool for the first few hours before it became tedious and repetitive. I was also disappointed by the script and the plot – it seemed to think it was a lot smarter than it was, and I guess the developers expected it to carry the experience when the gameplay couldn’t. That said, it’s original, it’s beautiful, and it’s very playable – that is to say there aren’t many bugs or control issues. This fits nicely with Resident Evil 5 as a good game that could have been great. Finished: NO

APB: All Points BulletinRealtime Worlds (PC)
Read the decon for my detailed impressions.  I had fun with APB despite its flaws. Looking forward to seeing what changes are made when it relaunches later this month. Finished: N/A

Assassin’s Creed: BrotherhoodUbisoft Montreal (Xbox 360)
This is actually the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve played for more than an hour or so. After hearing so many people talking about it for the last two months of the year, I decided to pick it up right after Christmas and I haven’t been disappointed. I love it when open world games give me a map with a bunch of dots that represent things to do outside of missions – I feel like I don’t have to make the commitment of time to continue the story but I can still make progress, and Brotherhood excels at offering a variety of small tasks. I’ve sunk about 12 hours into the single player and I’m less than 40% into the story, and I still haven’t touched the multiplayer. Finished: NO (still playing)

BayonettaPlatinum Games (Xbox 360)
January / February was a crowded release window for arcade beat-em-up games, with Bayonetta falling in last places for sales against Dante’s Inferno and God of War III. The production value of Bayonetta reminds me of Metal Gear Solid, and the gameplay is familiar to any Devil May Cry fan. I’m not a big fan of the genre, but I had fun with this game for a while. The gameplay is fun, even if it occasionally results in button mashing, and the presentation couldn’t be much better. I don’t really know why I put it down…probably just not my genre, but I would highly recommend it to any God of War fan. Finished: NO

Castle CrashersThe Behemoth (Xbox Live Arcade)
This is the first of many games I played this year that came out a while ago, but for whatever reason never got around to playing until now. I played through most of Castle Crashers with some friends at Tech, and it was a blast as a four player arcade game. It does such a good job of making each player feel valuable that I haven’t played it since because it’s hard to get the same group of people together to play it. Finished: NO

Cut the RopeZepto Labs (iPhone)
The iPhone was my top gaming platform in 2010…which I find simultaneously embarrassing and awesome. It’s embarrassing that I was completely and totally addicted for a game called “Cut the Rope” for a while, geeking out about its masterful use of simple mechanics to create fun, complex puzzles. It’s awesome that we’re in a day and age that for under a dollar, over 100 million iPhone and iPod Touch owners have access to a fantastic game that’s simple enough for anyone to play, but deep enough to attract seasoned hardcore gamers. I can’t wait for the next update. Finished: YES

DarksidersVigil Games (Xbox 360)
I’ve told a lot of people that Darksiders is the best Zelda game I’ve played in years. I don’t care if a game borrows heavily from an existing title as long as it manages to be better than its source material. Darksiders is a rare example of that actually happening. It’s a Zelda game, complete with dungeons and a new weapon or accessory every hour, combined with the combat system of God of War. So what if it’s not original – it makes the player feel like a badass for 15 hours without overstaying its welcome.  If it doesn’t define “sleeper hit,” I don’t know what does. Finished: YES

Defense Grid: The Awakening Hidden Path (PC)
I picked this up because I had heard good things and it was cheap in a Steam sale. It’s a very simple tower defense game with all the mechanics you’d expect, but it’s amazingly polished. The “speed up” and “checkpoint” functions should be in every game in the genre – unlike most defense games, Defense Grid doesn’t punish the player for failure by forcing repetition of parts that have already been completed. If you fail on wave 49 of 50, it’s ok – you can just start back at wave 45 instead of restarting everything. I ended up buying the DLC so I could keep playing. Finished: YES

GalconPhil Hassey (iPhone)
I bought Galcon after watching a friend play the iPad version. Although the experience isn’t quite the same on the iPhone, it’s still an addictive little strategy game. Penny Arcade called it “Space-Risk in real time,” and that’s pretty much what it is. The online multiplayer functionality is particularly impressive for the iPhone, and it’s become one of my go-to games when I have a few minutes to kill waiting for a bus or train. Finished: N/A

Global Agenda: SandstormHi-Rez Studios (PC)
As the latest subscription-free MMO on the market, Global Agenda doesn’t have a clear identity. It’s really three games in one, loosely connected by a “social” overworld. PvE and PvP missions are confined to their own maps outside of a persistent game world. The bulk of the game, the mercenary missions, feel like rounds of Team Fortress 2 more than they do an MMO. That’s not a bad thing, mind you – it’s a lot of fun – but it’s not really clear what the developers were going for here. This is a fun multiplayer shooter with an MMO slapped on top of it. Finished: N/A

Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown WarsRockstar Games (iPhone)
It’s GTA on the iPhone. At the time, it was a showcase for what the platform was capable of. Now that Infinity Blade is out, it’s just another top-down iPhone game. It’s a lot of fun, and it doesn’t feel like much was sacrificed in the transition to the touch controls. The problem is that it doesn’t do a good job of dealing with being on a phone. If you get a call in real life during an in-game mission, say goodbye to your progress. Finished: NO

The IncidentBig Bucket Software (iPhone)
I don’t know how to describe The Incident. It’s…odd. I liked it. Here’s a video. Finished: N/A

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit TracksNintendo (DS)
Spirit Tracks takes the repetitive open-world sailing segments of Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass and transforms it into a series of repetitive on-rails segments. The dungeons are good fun, but everything in between felt tedious to me. I put about five hours into it before putting it down. Finished: NO

Lego Rock BandTraveler’s Tales (Xbox 360)
I actually have a half-finished decon on this one sitting around that I should wrap up someday, but this game became my go to Rock Band game for a while. It has a fantastic set list for the population of the world that doesn’t like metal, and the campaign elements add depth to the series that Rock Band 2 didn’t come close to. The simple addition of a “rock den” was enough to make me play songs I didn’t care about just so I could earn enough money to decorate my virtual space with Lego-fied rock staples. It pales in comparison to the stellar Rock Band 3, but it’s a great pick up now that it’s sitting in bargain bins all over the place. Finished: N/A

LimboPlaydead (XBLA)
I didn’t like Limbo as much as everyone else. It’s not a bad game, but I certainly didn’t think it was brilliant or even one of the top XBLA games this year. Who knows, maybe I’m just missing something. I wrote about it here. Finished: YES

Machinarium Anamita Design (PC)
I can’t resist anything labeled as an indie darling. Machinarium is a point-and-click adventure game – a genre I’ve only gotten into in the past few years, but it’s different from the other ones I’ve played in that it isn’t comedy-driven. The art is beautiful and often carries the game, and its ability to convey emotion without dialogue is Pixar-esque. It’s perhaps too difficult in some parts, but I found myself still wanting to experience more of the game’s world every time I got stuck so I invested the time necessary to figure it out. It’s a must play for fans of the genre. Finished: YES

Mad Chad – Rock Software (iPhone)
This is a pretty standard runner I bought simply because I’m an Ochocinco fan. The premise is cute, the gameplay is polished and functional, but the graphics and sound leave a lot to be desired. It’s only $0.99, but considering what else $0.99 can get you on the App Store, it’s probably not worthwhile if you don’t care about the character. Finished: YES

Madden NFL ’11 – EA Tiburon (Xbox 360)
The defining characteristic of this year’s Madden is the commentary by CBS announcer Gus Johnson. He’s much more exciting than previous announcers, but almost to a fault. The game goes from being an awesome football simulation to being hilarious when Johnson’s tone shifts so radically from play to play. “Second down. He drops back. FIRES DOWN FIELD!!!!! …and the pass falls incomplete.” The critics will tell you that the real defining characteristic is the new Gameflow play calling system, where the game essentially calls plays for you. To be quite honest, it seems like somewhat of a natural evolution to me, and the fact that it’s still optional means it isn’t as big of a deal for gameplay as everyone makes it out to be. Finished: N/A

Mass Effect 2 – Bioware (Xbox 360)
I was one of five people on the planet who were disappointed by the first Mass Effect. My friends told me about a sprawling space opera with deep worlds and emotionally compelling gameplay, and I breezed through it in about 11 hours when Bioware said it had 60 hours of content. Clearly I’m not their target audience. Mass Effect 2’s combat was significantly more polished, and I found myself doing more of the side quests just because I wanted to level up my gear before the big boss fight. When I got to one boss, I paused, saved the game, and did my laundry. Then I returned a day later and beat it, only to watch the credits roll. Apparently I missed out on this emotional connection somewhere, because I thought the game was approaching a turning point rather than a final battle. Apparently I’m not the kind of person who should play Mass Effect, but that won’t stop me from getting the third game this year. Finished: YES

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom – The Odd Gentlemen (PC)
I passed up Winterbottom on XBLA. For some reason, the art style really turned me off. It seemed cheap rather than stylized. Playing it on my laptop, though, I got over it and found a thoroughly enjoyable puzzler underneath. The graphics grew on me too. My only gripe is that the puzzles aren’t so much a test of wit as much as they are a test of skill – meaning you just have to be good with a controller to beat them. I would have preferred more of a balance between the two, but then again, maybe that’s what Braid is for. Finished: YES

Monday Night CombatUber Entertainment (XBLA)
From the previews, I assumed MNC would be a cheap Team Fortress 2 rip off. Although it isn’t revolutionary, and certainly isn’t my go-to game for Xbox Live multiplayer, it adds more to the genre than it appears at first glance.  It borrows mechanics from DotA and Team Fortress without remorse, but defines its own identity in the process with its sports-arena setting and humor. Worth a try if you’re a fan of quality downloadable titles. Finished: N/A

NCAA Football ’11 – EA Tiburon (Xbox 360)
NCAA ’11 is significantly better than NCAA ’10 in that it actually compares to its contemporary Madden counterpart. The new lighting engine creates the kind of graphical leap expected from a new hardware cycle – far beyond the annual iterations the series is used to. In terms of gameplay, not much has changed. My biggest gripe with the series has been and will always be that it pales in comparison to Madden’s production value. Although they try every year, Tiburon hasn’t really nailed down the feeling of a college stadium on gameday. Finished: N/A

Osmos – Hemisphere Games (iPhone)
I didn’t “get” Osmos on PC, but it hooked me on the iPhone. I’d like to buy a beer for the designer who came up with the game’s touch controls – it’s the only time I’ve seen two and three finger touches work well without getting confusing. This is actually the only game that has made me wish I could play it on an iPad, because it would probably be even more beautiful there. Finished: YES

PixelJunk Monsters Q Games (PlayStation Network)
Although it lacks the addictive quality of PopCap’s tower defense below, the main attraction of PixelJunk Monsters is hidden in its co-op play. I played through a good chunk of the single player campaign and put it down before a friend introduced me to the co-op, and it feels like a completely different experience. It’s couch strategy at its best, and easily worth a pickup if you have someone to play it with. That said…it’s really damn hard. Finished: NO

Plants vs Zombies PopCap Games (iPhone)
I had already bought this game on the PC, but the idea of getting zombies off my lawn while I’m out and about seemed appealing. The port made the game feel like it was made for touch controls, and some of the touch-exclusive parts were a lot of fun. Finished: YES

Plants vs ZombiesPopCap Games (XBLA)
I had already bought this game on the PC and iPhone, but the idea of getting zombies off my lawn with a friend while getting achievement points seemed appealing. The port made the game feel like it was made for the Xbox controller, and the multiplayer parts were a lot of fun. PopCap, care to make me buy this game on yet another platform? Finished: YES

Poker Night at the InventoryTelltale Games (PC)
The gameplay in this one is nothing special, but the presentation is worth the entire $5 asking price in itself. Telltale succeeded in making me feel like I was sitting at a table with Tycho, Max, Strongbad, and the Heavy. Their banter and shit-talk is truly hilarious, and the sheer amount of recorded dialog is staggering. I played for about four hours before any repetition became noticeable. That said, it’s only worth picking up if you like poker and you like one of those characters. Finished: N/A

Prince of Perisa: The Forgotten SandsUbisoft Montreal (Xbox 360)
This game came out right about the same time as Disney’s Prince of Persia movie, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that hurt sales. The game is much better than the movie and can be picked up for less than the cost of the movie’s DVD. The single player campaign lasts about eight hours and introduces a few cool mechanics to the Prince of Persia universe, such as freezing water and restoring ruins to their former glory for short periods of time. It couldn’t be more different from the series’ 2008 artsy outing, but I had a lot of fun with it. Finished: YES

Puzzle Agent Telltale Games (iPhone)
Puzzle Agent is what you get when you take Professor Layton and make it the puzzles less fun. Graham Annable’s art is awesome, the story is cute, and the environments are interesting, but the actual puzzles are uninspired and more confusing than clever. It’s probably the only game by Telltale I wouldn’t recommend to a friend. There’s a ton of potential in a sequel, though, because the puzzles were self-contained from everything else. Make good puzzles and I’ll gladly take a second serving. Finished: YES

Red Faction GuerrillaVolition (PC)
Red Faction has always been about blowing shit up, and Guerrilla doesn’t disappoint. The ability to destroy entire buildings is a lot of fun and no game does it as well as this one. Unfortunately, the rest of the gameplay must have not been very special because I don’t remember it. I played through a good chunk of the game before moving on to something else. Finished: NO

Robot Unicorn AttackAdult Swim Games (iPhone)
Open your eyes, and read the decon. Finished: N/A

Rush Two Tribes (PC)
Rush is an addictive puzzler that flew under the radar towards the end of the year from Toki Tori developer Two Tribes. I picked it up in the Steam Holiday Sale on a whim and had fun with it for a while. It’s kind of like a 3D Chu Chu Rocket…if that makes any sense. Finished: NO (still playing)

The SaboteurPandemic Studios (Xbox 360)
I had a weird love affair with The Saboteur. I put over 60 hours into it, completing every single mission the open-world game has to offer, and I wanted more. I recognize it has a ton of flaws, and because I’m writing a decon on it I won’t go into too much detail here. To make a long story short, I think it was a game made just for me. The setting was fantastic, the core compulsion of sabotaging Nazi installations all over Paris was exciting and addictive, and the main character was likable. I’m literally the only person I know who loved this game, much less finished it, and I know some people think less of me for doing so. Hopefully I’ll figure out why by the time I post the decon. Finished: YES

Sam & Max: The Devil’s PlayhouseTelltale Games (PC)
I’ve been a big Sam & Max fan ever since Telltale took over the series, and The Devil’s Playhouse was the best season yet. Getting a notification that a new episode was available each month was like finding Christmas morning in my inbox. The writing was significantly better than Telltale’s previous efforts, and the puzzles themselves were more clever than ever. I for one enjoyed the new control scheme as well, which took the series away from its point and click roots and made it more controller-friendly. I can’t wait for Season 4 to be announced. Finished: YES

Scribblenauts 5th Cell (DS)
“Write Anything, Solve Everything” is a pretty damn big tagline to live up to, but Scribblenauts delivered. It has a massive vocabulary of objects that you can interact with to solve puzzles. Unfortunately, the nature of the puzzles means you can “write any number of a set of 10 words” to “solve everything,” as just about every puzzle can be solved with the use of a jetpack, a ladder, or a gun. It’s a really cool concept and the production value is staggering, but the puzzles don’t live up to the concept itself. Finished: NO

Shadow ComplexChAIR (Xbox Live Arcade)
Lots of people seem to like this game. I thought it was more of a tech demo for how developers can use Unreal 3.0 as an engine for something other than first person shooters. Then again, I’m usually not big on the Metroid-vania genre as it is unless I’m playing Metroid or Castlevania (which flies in the face of my Darksiders praise, but whatever). The characters and the environments are really uninspired. I mean, really, who remembers the name of the main character from Shadow Complex? Anyone? Finished: NO

SimCity Deluxe EA Mobile (iPhone)
Unlike The Sims, SimCity works well on the iPhone. It’s essentially SimCity 2000, and there wasn’t a lot from the PC version sacrificed here. I’ve accidentally lost my save data a few times because the game expects you to explicitly save (come on guys, ALWAYS do autosave for mobile!) but the controls are usable without making too many mistakes. Props to the UI designers for coming up with something that works with touch controls – color me impressed. Finished: N/A

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode IDimps / Sonic Team (PS3)
I could bitch and moan like the old Sonic fan I am about how the physics are messed up and the level design isn’t right, but this is a great step towards bringing Sonic back into relevancy. The bosses in particular were well designed. I just hope Episode II doesn’t go backwards. Finished: YES

Splinter Cell Conviction Ubisoft Montreal (Xbox 360)
Conviction is the first Splinter Cell game I’ve actually finished. The bigger emphasis on combat was a welcome shift to me, and even though I like “stealth action” gameplay, I get frustrated when games penalize me for enjoying the “action” part. With the exception of a couple missions, Conviction doesn’t do that. The co-op campaign and standalone missions are fantastic as well, and its split screen support for the dying art of couch co-op is very appreciated. Finished: YES

Split/SecondBlack Rock Studio (Xbox 360)
Split/Second, also known as “Michael Bay’s San Francisco Rush,” is exhausting to play. That’s the biggest compliment I can give a racer that prides itself on capturing the feeling of speed. I was unable to play it for more than an hour at a time, but I slowly worked my way through it and learned how to deal with the massive explosions and obstacles flying towards my vehicle on every lap. It’s not “better” than Burnout, just different. Finished: YES

StarCraft II: Wings of LibertyBlizzard (PC)
StarCraft II is a very safe sequel to StarCraft, which by many accounts was the greatest RTS ever made. I haven’t grown addicted to Wings of Liberty like I did Brood War, but I don’t think that’s any fault of Blizzard’s. The single player campaign has fantastic production value and stacks up well against the story modes for any genre. The online ranking system is reasonably well designed, but some players find ways to manipulate it by dropping out of games and taking advantage of certain win/lose conditions. Given another year of tweaking, this could become my go-to PC game. Finished: NO

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Nintendo (Wii)
This could very well be the best Mario game ever made. That doesn’t mean it’s the one I enjoyed the most, but it’s very difficult to name things I didn’t like about it. I wish it had more “new” content that hadn’t been explored in the first game, but it’s still a joy to play from start to finish. Finished: YES

Super Meat BoyTeam Meat (Xbox 360)
This is the opposite of Super Mario Galaxy 2 in that it’s a complete horror to play from start to finish. Super Meat Boy is unrelenting in its difficulty, and some of its challenges are just plain sadistic. The fact that it has the addictive compulsion to play “just one more level” makes it even more dangerous. When I play Super Meat Boy, I feel like I’m simultaneously being entertained and subjected to torture. It’s brilliant, terrible, and absolutely stupid in every way. Try it. Finished: HELL NO

Super QuickhookRocketcat Games (iPhone)
Super Quickhook is the spiritual successor to Hook Champ, one of my favorite iPhone games of 2009. I found Quickhook to have less charm overall, but the gameplay was more challenging and complex. I kind of want to see where Rocketcat takes the series next…it appears to be moving more towards Angry Birds than Bionic Commando like I had hoped, but then again, Angry Birds sells a bit better… Finished: NO

TrainyardMatt Nix (iPhone)
“Trainyard” is far too simple of a description for the mind-bending puzzle game it titles.  The puzzles start out manageable – draw a line from one train depot to the next – but then get really confusing when multiple trains, different colored depots, and overlapping tracks get thrown into the mix. It’s a fantastic brain teaser – every bit as clever as Cut the Rope – and I’d like to see more stuff like this on the app store. Finished: NO

That’s it for 2010. Keep in mind that these are merely my opinions, and I’m not claiming to be any sort of an expert critic. Looking back is a useful exercise for me to identify trends and mechanics that are working across the entire industry, and hopefully I’ll be able to implement some of them in my own projects. Onward to 2011!