By: Marcus Hedenberg and James Shepard both ’11
It seems the video game industry has been more cluster-packed with big-name titles in these past four years than a Christmas party with crazy relatives. With Christmas break finally being here, now is an excellent time for any of you gamers out there to catch up on some of the greatest experiences of the year.
1. Starcraft II
It took nearly an eternity for Blizzard Entertainment to follow up on one of the most addicting and popular Real-Time-Strategy games of all time. Few believed the title would ever see the light of day, but after more than a decade of patience, fans finally got to return to the intergalactic space warfare between the exiled Human race and the formidable alien Protoss and Zerg forces. The incredible polish and breathtaking detail are both testaments to just how much time and care went into producing this game. Though “Starcraft II” retains much of what fans loved about the first game, the changes and tweaks show that the developers have had time to understand what the strengths and the weaknesses of the series are. Along with a thrilling campaign and an engaging story, “Starcraft II” is easily one of the year’s best gaming experiences.
2. Mass Effect 2
Following Bioware’s massive success with “Mass Effect”, the sequel to the epic Role-Playing Game had some pretty big shoes to fill. With a tense and suspenseful story that picks up soon after the end of the first game, Mass Effect 2 places players back in the shoes of Commander Shepard and provides a truly amazing journey. Given that there are so many choices thrown at the player throughout the game, there is no doubt that each player’s experience will be his own and for a couple of friends to be able to tell of their vastly different journeys is a marvel in itself.
3. Call of Duty: Black Ops
Just when people thought the “Call of Duty” well would finally run dry, Treyarch broke all records in entertainment history known to mankind with “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” Taking the series to a new setting, Treyarch dispelled pessimism from fans with a completely new and refreshing change of pace. An outstanding single player campaign and the long awaited return of Nazi Zombies is enough to put “Black Ops” at the top of many holiday wish lists. Yes, killstreaks are still killstreaks, but it is the little refinements made to the gameplay that add up to a larger sum, guaranteed to offer players long-lasting replay value as they come back for more in the insanely addicting online mode.
4.Battlefield: Bad Company 2
If you like explosions, gunfire, destructibility, and then some more explosions, you definitely like “Bad Company 2″. Battlefield has always capitalized on bigger scale combat and intense as well as strategic battles, and “Bad Company 2″ improves upon this trademark of the franchise with a variety of enormous maps containing destructible environments, a wide assortment of vehicles, and incredible sound effects. The beautiful vistas and designs are a wonderful form of eye candy and help immerse players into the gameplay. While the single player is arguably fairly weak, it is clear that the multiplayer portion of the game is the star and deserves to be recognized as one of the year’s best online gaming experiences.
5. Red Dead Redemption
The Western scene isn’t one that gamers are particularly familiar with and it makes sense that Rockstar Studios would try to take what it learned from the development of its famous “Grand Theft Auto” series and mend it with an entirely new setting to create a unique and fresh experience. One of the most notable similarities “Red Dead Redemption” shares with “Grand Theft Auto” is the open-world aspect that allows players to roam about the levels freely, undertaking whatever missions they seem fit. The entire world is incredibly beautiful and immense and at times may even feel uncomfortably realistic. At every turn, there is always an unpredictable event ready to unfold and the memorable and well thought out characters lend a strong sense of believability to the world, thanks also in large part to the superb voice acting. In short, Redemption succeeded in bringing out a new Western craving in gamers and it will be interesting to see where else this genre could expand to.
6. Super Mario Galaxy 2
It almost feels like Mario’s 29-year history has been slowly building up to this one marvelous adventure. “Super Mario Galaxy 2″ can only be described as an amazing treat to all platforming fanatics. The gameplay mechanics and graphics are top-notch and the game extracts the fundamental elements of the Mario franchise and does something new with it. Although the original “Super Mario Galaxy” already appeared to be perfect, the developers improved on the few things fans complained about, adding a more responsive camera, which helps center the action and frame the gorgeous worlds better then ever before. This is definitely a must-have for all Wii owners.
7. Halo Reach
“Halo” is a franchise that is well known for its staying power and “Reach” certainly proved that it will be a favorite among fans for many more months to come. Being the last Halo game produced by Bungie Studios, the developers brought out the best elements of what has made the franchise so appealing in the first place. Although the single player campaign didn’t take too many risks, it was also the most beautiful one to date in the franchise, featuring superb artificial intelligence and frenetic combat. The multiplayer portion of the game brought back classics from previous installments but surprisingly managed to garner even more interest in its new modes, which serves to prove just how wicked fun the online mode was.
8. God of War III
This was one of the most hotly anticipated Sony releases of the year. Featuring some of the most stunning visuals in any video game of the year, it can feel like you are playing a movie at times Maintaining the combat system from the first two games with some welcome tweaks, the combat is just as fun to participate in as it is to watch. Gore and brutality is a staple of the franchise and this installment does not disappoint as Kratos mercilessly strikes down his foes. Make no mistake, this game isn’t for the weak of heart. It may only look like another PS3-exclusive to many, but this game is reason enough to buy the whole system.
9. Heavy Rain
It’s no secret that most video games on the market today center around a very simple concept: killing and defeating all opponents to advance to the next level. It’s a traditional formula that’s been followed for quite some time now and developers have never really tried to deviate from it. “Heavy Rain”, on the other hand, transcended all forms of gaming conventions by creating a gritty, highly emotional and mutli-layered thriller set within an interactive film. And yes, while the game does have some fairly ludicrous plot holes, no game has ever featured such a compelling narrative where players feel invested in the characters within the story. The stunning visuals and the overwhelming number of possible endings along with moral dilemmas ensure that you will want to start replaying the game (or the movie) before the credits even start rolling.
10. Rock Band 3
In the midst of a heavy amount of music games being made, “Rock Band 3″ added much to the already thriving series. “Rock Band 3″ featured a massive new track list and friendlier cooperative play. Adding the feature for players to drop out or enter mid song saved a lot of time by allowing players to forgo returning to the band start-up menu every time, saving everyone a headache. Even better were the additions of two completely new instruments and one update for an already existing instrument. Even more convenient, all the tracks from your previous games could be imported easily into the game. “Rock Band 3″ is a great addition to any music lover’s collection and the added difficulties keep the game fun and fresh. It may not be revolutionary in the already crowded music genre, but the improvements make this version worthy of being played