In a year so full of solid releases, there’s a certain challenge to trying to condense your choices to only 5. With a list of only 5 items, you’re forced to think long and hard, making sure that what you’re selecting as the cream of the crop is just that, as there is no longer the additional five-strong buffer of a Top 10 to make sure that all of the greats get their fair representation. With that, gentle readers, go forth knowing that these five are truly the finest that 2010 had to offer.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
A year ago, if you had told us that there would be a great 3D Castlevania title, we would have slapped you. Hard. However, the wonderfully executed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has all but washed away the foul taste left in our mouths from epic failures like Castlevania 64. Taking its cues from combo-driven brawlers like God of War, the new title walked a delicate tightrope between staying faithful to its gothic roots and breaking new ground for the series that had only seen recent success under the 2D eye of Koji Igarashi. A beautiful presentation and phenomenal voice cast that included Sir Patrick Stewart, Jason Isaacs, and Natascha McElhone rounded out this Hideo Kojima-produced beauty that finally broke the curse that had plagued 3D Castlevania from the beginning. Read our review here.
Dead Rising 2
Proof positive that sequels can be just as solid as the games that came before them, Dead Rising 2 took players away from Willamette, photography, and journalist Frank West for a whole new adventure that was simultaneously familiar and fresh. Dropped in the motocross leathers of Chuck Greene, gamers were dropped in the massive, Vegas-inspired Fortune City to determine the root of the zombie outbreak and clear their name, all within the series standard 72 hours. Instead of the shutterbug abilities of Frank, Chuck was more MacGyver, cobbling together an arsenal of weapons from components found around Fortune City in his quest to keep his daughter alive. The most brilliant part of Dead Rising 2, however, had to be Case Zero, a prequel episode downloadable from Xbox Live. Giving players a bite-sized taste of the action to come, it offered a smaller, more self contained world to introduce us to Chuck, who we could carry over, enhanced levels and all, to the main game, all to the tune of 5 bucks a download. Bravo, Capcom, for playing us all like fiddles! Read our review here.
Amnesia: Dark Descent
Pure, pants-crapping terror: that’s what Amnesia: The Dark Descent is. The spiritual successor to Frictional Games’ Penumbra, Amnesia took the same gameplay style of its predecessor and transplanted it to a crumbling gothic castle, where players had to deal more with their own internal fear than with actual monsters. Invisible beasts and Lovecraftian abstracts kept players filling in the gory details in their own fertile minds rather than seeing it up on the screen, and a well-executed soundscape kept the tension cranked up to a fever pitch. As if that weren’t enough, the main character’s hand was being forced along with virtually no knowledge of what he was supposed to do or what he was facing. His only clues were presented in notes and flashbacks, filling in the gaps in cruel bits and pieces. It’s rare that a game is truly scary, and even rarer for it to be terrifying. Amnesia does all of this, and on a budget. Read our review here.
Splatterhouse takes gamers back to their youth, but not the happy-go-lucky Christmas morning childhood that so many other nostalgia trips take us back to. No, Splatterhouse takes us back to the seedy underbelly of childhood that we remember when our rose-colored glasses are taken off. With a mindset and aesthetic farmed from mom and pop video stores, back issues of Fangoria, and our own childish male power fantasies, Splatterhouse is a bundle of pure, prepubescent id. The gameplay itself is solid, if generic, and the agonizingly long loading times often derail the experience, but the overall 1980’s vibe is pitch perfect. Sometimes its nice to escape from rent, bills, and career responsibilities, and Splatterhouse helps us do just that, taking us out of adulthood and back to the pizza parlor of our youth. Read our review here.
The long-awaited follow up to their hit Max Payne, Remedy’s Alan Wake ditches the noirish swagger of Payne’s New York for the fictional town of Bright Falls, a haunted hamlet that falls somewhere between Twin Peaks and Castle Rock. Alan Wake tells the story of the eponymous author facing supernatural circumstances following the disappearance of his wife…events that he’s already written about in an amnesiac fugue. A thrilling blend of action, suspense, and literary tricks, Alan Wake proves that sometimes it’s what you don’t see that counts, delivering plenty of scares and mood in spite of (or perhaps because of) its T rating. Read our review here.
That’s not all, folks! In a year so rife with great titles, there’s still a few honorable mentions worth discussing…
Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
In a year where zombies invaded everything from Scott Pilgrim to Call of Duty, it was a grindhouse-flavored DLC pack that really took the theme to a new level. Undead Nightmare brought the zombie plague to the wild west of Red Dead Redemption, and it did so in a way that felt right. Who would have thought zombies and cowboys would go so well together?
Perhaps the most disrespectful treatment of a literary work ever committed, Dante’s Inferno took The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri and used it as a melodramatic backdrop for a God of War clone. While I don’t remember Dante dispatching unbaptized children with a bone scythe in the original text, the game leveraged its absurdity to great effect, giving players who liked their action over-the-top plenty to enjoy. Read our review here.
Fallout: New Vegas
Despite being just as great as its predecessor, Fallout 3, New Vegas loses a few points for the unpolished state it was delivered in. While the story was fantastic, and the Mojave Desert was wonderfully fleshed out, it doesn’t change the fact that the sheer number of game-killing bugs that made it out the door. It’s like being on a date with a beautiful, intelligent woman who also happens to have gas: it’s a great time except for the occasional, derailing moment. Read our review here.
That wraps up our picks for the best games this year. Be sure to check out our Top 5 Movies here and our Top 5 Unreleased Movies here and check back the rest of this week and next for our choices for the best in comics, books, music and more!