Friday, December 24, 2010

favorite PC games of 2010

Blogging really took a hit this year, and it's quite likely that Aili and I will just let this thing die next year.  We have a baby coming and neither of us is particularly motivated to write on here nowadays.  I suspect the internet won't notice our absence.

Regardless, I did want to do an end-of-the-year round-up of the PC games I played and enjoyed in 2010.  I should note off the bat that most of these were not actually released in 2010.  Like most gamers, I tend to wait a while before purchasing and playing - save money, wait for patches, read player feedback, and play games that better match my system's aging specs.

So, here are the 5 PC games I enjoyed the most in 2010.  I spent more hours playing these than I'd care to admit.

#5:  King's Bounty: Armored Princess

The follow-up tactical RPG to the awesomely wacky 2008 hit.  In some ways, AP was a bit of a let-down.  It didn't feature the bizarro quests and side-stories that the original had in spades, and didn't advance the gaming system in any significant way.  Basically, it was more of the same.  Much, much more.  Good thing I really like King's Bounty.  The tactical battles never got old for me - every one was an enjoyable puzzle, and the variety of tactical options (via unit special abilities, spells, and pet dragon abilities) was spectacular.  I still fondly remember the power-combo of Stone Skin & Target on my Ancient Ents.  Deciding on which units to use in my army was possibly just as satisfying as spec'ing out my party in Baldur's Gate II. It's that kind of fun.  Paladins, Trolls, Black Dragons, Inquisitors, and Demonologists.  Fucking batshit insane. The RPG aspects are integrated well, requiring you to level up skills and abilities intelligently or else you'll get overwhelmed in later stages of the game.  I played on the "Hard" (but not "Impossible") difficulty level as a Mage and was able to get through nearly everything.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the last couple boss battles, no matter how I shifted things around.  But I definitely sunk over 60 hours into this beast earlier this year.

#4:  Batman: Arkham Asylum

A fantastic, tight action-adventure game.  This is one of those ports that almost starts you thinking that console game development is actually up-to-par with the PC.  Visceral.  Learning the punch/kick/throw/take-down combos, and then using them to go through a mob of 50 thugs was incredibly satisfying.  As the critics have said, this game succeeds at making you feel like Batman.  "I am a total bad-ass."  I loved the grappling hook mechanic, which allowed you to escape out of sticky situations and observe your enemy from above.  The plot was good enough, the variety of villains was fabulous (loved the freaky Scarecrow sequences), and I never felt too frustrated to quit.  I didn't get obsessed with collecting all the Riddler's bullshit, but got a dopamine burst every time I found a question mark.  Steam tells me this took 23 hours of my life.  Probably 90% of that was from the actual campaign, but I also played through a significant number of the challenges.  Whenever I needed to relax for a few minutes, I'd see how long I could keep a combo going versus a horde of hoodlums.  There are few single-player games that I consider replaying when I finish (Bioshock is one), but Batman: AA is certainly worthy of a rerun.

 #3:  Team Fortress 2

What more can I say that hasn't already been said?  Best current online shooter?  Check.  Best online shooter ever?  Quite possibly.  I got the Orange Box in 2008 and have been playing TF2 on-and-off ever since.  I quit, I thought permanently, late last year when I saw the "hat" phenomenon starting to obfuscate what I loved about the game.  I missed a number of the class updates - kept track of the changes via blogs and internet-drip - but didn't feel the pull back in until this Halloween.  For whatever reason, I decided to re-install on Steam and see if I had been missing anything, and that's all it took.  TF2's greatest strength is that you get near-immediate pleasure from the game.  It's incredibly easy to find a game, jump in, and start contributing to your team.  It's almost certainly the most noob-friendly online shooter, and that reduces the asshole factor significantly.  Especially this late in its lifespan, most players are mellow, there to have a good time, and willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.  I also love TF2 since I'm now typically one of the better players on the servers I visit.  Picking medic and turning a control-point game around for your team is absolutely thrilling.  I also love TF2's balance system.  If teams are uneven, some players will get switched around - but more importantly, it doesn't matter much since the teams can be randomized for the next map (which on fast rotations, isn't that far away).  Just a great great game that's only gotten better with time.  Over 200 hours played and I still don't fucking know how to play a Spy well.

#2:  Demigod

It's almost embarrassing to admit it, but I suppose I'm over that.  I just loved this game to death.  Flaws?  You bet.  Probably the biggest being the small player base that made getting into a decent game an exercise in frustration.  I'd literally spend 45 min waiting for every 30 minutes of playtime.  And that's eventually what broke me.  The release of Starcraft II took just enough players away to effectively kill Demigod, and around that same time it also became clear that GPG & Stardock were no longer interested in supporting the game.  They did give us 2 more demigods to play with:  the underpowered Demon Assassin and the overpowered Oculus (see above), but the community's continual call for a significant item overhaul went unanswered.  After more than 500 games, it's no surprise that I got pretty good - and when I found myself in a 3v3 with five other solid players, the intensity was unmatched in my gaming life.  Until someone would randomly disconnect.  Ahh, Demigod.  How I love and loath thee.  I *hope* someone resurrects you one day, as Demigod 2: the Rebirthening, with dedicated servers and better item balance.  You could have been so much more.

#1:  Left 4 Dead 2

L4D2 has to win my personal game-of-the-year, since it so captured my heart.  In a time when zombies are overplayed, it's a testament to Valve's design team that L4D2 so perfectly represents what I want out of a zombie-killing game.  Co-op play, where a single panicked idiot can take the whole team down.  An AI Director who changes up the experience each time you play and periodically throws the perfect storm at you to make your life a living hell.  Losing never felt so good.  A versus mode that's highly competitive (and attracts some douchebags) but intensely satisfying.  I never quite got "good" at versus, but I stopped feeling like a total noob.  Tip:  you can aim your Booms up to get greater range and coverage.  The free released content (especially the No Mercy campaign) was fantastic, and allowed us to play as the characters from L4D.  Getting through the entire Dark Carnival campaign on Advanced difficulty (never even got close on Expert) with three other solid players who communicate and help each other throughout is one of the best experiences there is in gaming.

Honorable Mentions

Civilization 5:  a poor AI kept this off my top-5, but the newest patch may have tightened things up a bit.  See my last post for why I think this might end up being the best Civ yet.
Dawn of Discovery:  the game I wish I had more time to play.  A deep, satisfying city-building game with a complex economy.  I hope to get back into this one soon.
Dirt 2:  a hard-as-nails racer. Varied race-types, beautiful courses, tons of unlockables, and challenging events.  Ultimately, however, I just couldn't handle the repetition-to-perfection cycle that's necessary to succeed in games of this ilk.  Someone recently compared racing games to Super Meat Boy and I'd have to nod in agreement.  This is both a good and bad thing.
Solium Infernum:  a mind-boggling interesting game, I wrote about this one in early 2010.  What kept this off my top 5?  Well, I only ever really played 2 full games (against humans).  It was just a bit too hard to organize a game and run it to completion.  The play-by-email format was pleasant, in that you could take your time with plotting, but ultimately the slow pace did get a bit frustrating.  Probably the most "intelligent" and interesting game I played this year.


Magic the Gathering: Duel of the Planeswalkers:  no deck-building in an MtG game?  I don't understand.  Otherwise, a lovely interface and classic gameplay at a decent price.
Battlefield Bad Company 2:  I tried hard to get into this (mostly so I could break my TF2 habit), but it just never clicked.  It didn't help that I really really sucked.  I would join a squad, spawn, and die within 15 seconds.  I also hated how poorly balanced the teams often seemed to be.  Finally, I don't think my PC is good enough to play this at a decent frame-rate.
Tropico 3:  it pains me to put this on the list, since I do adored the 1st Tropico.  But this version was really nothing different.  Plus, the economy was too simple which took all the fun and challenge out of the game.  I need to play through more of the campaign to see if it gets better, but I consider this one of my biggest gaming disappointments of 2010.