Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
You can’t argue with Uncharted 2. It has everything. It’s a kitchen sink full of kitchen sinks. It has freeform train sequences which begin amidst verdant jungle and helicopters and conclude in flaming pieces on Himalayan ice. It has BOOM, and it has BANG. It has ferocious battles atop colossal moving slabs of ancient stone. It has a level of technical finish only Crysis can equal. It has the very best in dynamic cover systems. It has hot Aussie women you can watch heaving and wiggling their way up strips of subtly color-coded handholds. It has an online multiplayer component of quite stupendous breadth and depth. It has its own machinima tools. It has Perks (effectively), and riot shields, and Twitter (well, it used to). It’s Sony’s Halo 3, only without the shit plot and second-tier visuals [OHHH!!! - Adam]. It has jokes that actually make you laugh. It’s the game of the year.
Further Reading: Review
Vandal Hearts 2
Only the PAL release is post-2000 – a bit cheeky, but hey. The original was one of the PS1′s cult hits, a contemporary and close imitator of Final Fantasy Tactics with (at the time) gorgeous scaling 2D sprites and fully 3D fields. The sequel makes my Best of the Noughties list because it dealt with a flaw every single SRPG I’ve played has suffered from: token opposition. Vandal Hearts 2 achieved this not by making the AI smarter, but by screwing with match structure. Rather than taking turns to move units and fight, player and computer plot movement paths and actions then watch as those choices unfold simultaneously in split screen. Thus, victory lay not simply in out-levelling the foe, seizing the higher ground or putting your warriors in front of your healers, but second-guessing who the computer would move where and preparing a riposte. Sort of like playing Street Fighter II with successive freeze frames. There’s a Vandal Hearts prequel in the works for XBLA/PSN, but first impressions suggest you should ignore it. Nose this out of Ebay instead. The storyline’s epic, too.
Rome: Total War
Every iteration in Creative Assembly’s Total War series is a classic, but Rome is the crowning glory, with Medieval II and Empire content to fatten out that winning formula. Rome brought personality to the strategy genre in a way few games, before or since, have managed. No longer were your generals and their legions faceless, fearless drones, but creatures of flesh and blood with understandable aversions to arrow fusillades, rampaging elephants and all the other paraphenalia of an imperial warzone. As players spread out, turn by turn, across classical Europe, putting down barbarians and maintaining uneasy alliances with the nations scattered across north Africa and the Middle East, individual leaders will rise, learn the ropes, win glory or dishonour in battle, play politics in the Senate and finally hand over their laurels to the next generation. Regiments too will undergo baptisms of fire, win trophies, suffer setbacks, developing unique biographies as your empire expands. History in the making, indeed.
One of the PS1′s many swansongs, Vagrant Story is a mournful, labyrinthine admixture of mystical conspiracies and nose-to-grindstone dungeon questing, set deep in the folds of a haunted city. Its reimagining of the Active Time Battle system (echoed, oddly enough, in Bethesda’s Fallout 3) is a mixed success, with players battering away at enemy body parts in freeze time till the accumulated “Risk” drives hit probabilities through the floor; so too are its sprawling armor and weapon customisation tools, which require some foreknowledge and much donkey work to master properly. But the visuals remain stunning, filling out a parchment palette with deft, calligraphic touches, and the brooding, unsentimental characterisations are second to none. The PAL and NTSC releases owe a huge debt to translator Alexander O. Smith, who resculpted Square’s plain Japanese script in beautifully archaic English.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
My GOTY moment for 2009: stringing together 25 bruising backhands, throws and counter-punches in one of Arkham’s echoing, thug-dotted combat arenas. Rocksteady’s Batman is a fitting alternative to that of Christopher Nolan: where the Dark Knight film scooped accolades by way of epic stunts and a reinvented, gag-free, sociopathic Joker, Arkham Asylum drilled deep into the source material, pumped up all the best bits and fed them into combat and exploration mechanics which escalate from one-on-one punch-ups to delicious, gadget-enabled bouts of cat and mouse. The greatest comic book adaptation ever, without the shadow of a doubt.
Further Reading: Review
World of Warcraft
Blizzard’s MMO of MMOs has to be here, even though none of us play it. No other game, not even the Call of Duties of this world, has made such an impact on our industry in the past ten years. My feelings on World of Warcraft are ambivalent. It’s like the sky: I don’t love it or hate it, it’s just… there. Which is to say, everywhere. I know people who play the game religiously. Occasionally we meet up, and I say “how’s it going then?” Then they say something like “Fantastic, thanks. Last night my enhancement druid cycloned with 740+ haste and the glove bonus, got the cast down to 1.1 seconds.” Then I say something like “Oh.”
Further Reading: Blizzard Interview