2010: A Year in Gaming As Witnessed by Joe Haygood
Putting together an article about my experiences with 2010 gaming could have been summed up rather quickly with the following statement – Mass Effect 2 came out and then all my stuff broke. Yeah, that is a sweet and short summary of 2010 in gaming for me, but it was a lot more than that. Sure, a lot of my consoles met shorter than normal life cycles, and somehow, my Wii and PC continued to troop on. Even my TV gave up the ghost for a few weeks with a burned out bulb, but it was only a speed bump in my gaming lows. With each of us putting together these articles, I thought I would spin it out with pointing out some highs, some lows and of course some of the uglier moments that I witness over the past fifty two weeks that we called 2010. So without further fanfare or adieu, I present to you, the Joe Haygood take on 2010: A Year in Gaming.
(Photo Courtesy of istockphoto.com)
Let’s Just Get It Out of the Way
Anyone that knows me knows that the game that occupied most of my time this year was Mass Effect 2. Here was a game that came out in January of 2010, and yet it is still fresh in my mind as being the best game I played all year. Mass Effect 2 started off with a huge bang, and that moment when you walk out into the vacuum of space, and you see the open hull and all of space above you, it is a sight to behold. It put everyone on alert that this game was going to kick ass and take names and it did.
Mass Effect 2 continued a quality story, and for the first time that I am aware of on a console, your decisions in a prior game had consequences moving forward. No longer did gamers have to deal with what the developers thought was cannon, instead making their decisions the cannon of the lore. Did Wrex meet an untimely end in Mass Effect 1? Well, he sure as hell won’t show up in Mass Effect 2 when you import your character. But it was not just the main decisions, but even minor, insignificant decisions, like how you handled good old Conrad that came back to help or haunt you in Mass Effect 2.
But the bigger item with Mass Effect 2 was that again, the developers at Bioware created a cast of characters and villains that I actually cared about. The first time I played through Mass Effect 2’s ending, I lost a crew member and it killed me. I had to go back and play through the ending again, because I needed that crew member back, because I had grown attached to my crew over the 30 hours I played my first run through the game. Even better were the decisions that came up with your crew where you had to appease one, the other or both if possible. Unless you were really high with your communication skills, you might not be able to appease both characters and it would mean that you lose the loyalty of a crewmember at the worst possible time.
Mass Effect 2 started my year off right, but some surprising candidates that tried to topple it came from the most unlikely of places.
The Year of the Indie
More and more throughout 2010, I found myself sinking more and more time into games that might not have found an audience with gamers a few years ago. The indie gaming scene really hit full steam this year, with a ton of great games dropping on all the different platforms, normally for the cost of a piece of DLC content in a full-fledged game. My first stop with indie games this year was Beat Hazard, and for anyone that knows me, they know that I love that game. Beat Hazard could have been my game of the year this year if it had not been for Mass Effect 2. I mean, who cannot get behind taking the premise of Geometry Wars, but mix in your own music and that same music creating the waves of enemies that you faced. It seems like a simple concept, but it ate away at dozens of hours of my time, and showed me that a game can be great, even when it comes from a single person development team. Some of the smaller games I found this year that were absolutely amazing were Recettear: An Item Shop Tale, Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes, VVVVVV, Super Meat Boy, Limbo and Rhythm Zone. There were others that I found, but they were released prior to 2010, but I do need to mention Gratuitous Space Battles. Yes it was a November 2009 game, but it was a great title that I found on sale via Steam for $6.00 this year.
The Price Was How Much Now
It seems that this became the year where the $60 price point actually started to meet a challenge from the gaming public. Consumers, including myself, started to hold out on buying games right off the bat at retail, instead looking to find a deal on a game. With an economy that was continuing to sour most home budgets, gamers would buy fewer games. I found myself not purchasing as many games at day of release, instead waiting for a publisher to get impatient and mark the game down via Steam or finding it as a red tag item at Target.
These sale tactics really became apparent with some of the pre-order deals that were found out in the wild this year. Routinely, I would hear Fourhman talk about getting a $15-25 credit from Toys R Us for games that he had pre-ordered. GameStop also raised the amount of trade credit you would get towards pre-orders, as well as the titles that could be used with those trades. Even Best Buy and Amazon started to add credits or gift cards for pre-ordering items.
Steam continued the progress it made with sale items this year, now adding a mid-week deal as well as a weekend deal. They also added a new mid-year sale where they marked down most of the inventory by 10-80%. Where else can you spend $50 and end up with 21 different games. That is what happened to me when I bought the THQ pack on Steam this summer, or when Steam would price indie titles at $1.50-3.00, making them an attractive purchase for a gamer questioning the title. Sure, I will buy Super Meat Boy when it only costs $3.75.
But the biggest part of this discounting became apparent during Black Friday. Games that had only been on the market for a couple of weeks were getting marked down by $20-30. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit was less than two weeks old and yet it was marked down $25 for Black Friday. Fallout New Vegas, Fable III, Assassins Creed Brotherhood and other new titles from October and November also saw $25 price drops for the day after Thanksgiving.
I have to admit that I came across a large swath of games that I was anticipating either from review, or from my own purchases that I wanted to be good, but they ended up being huge disappointments. Bullet-pointed at the top of the list are two big releases, in both Alpha Protocol and Tron Evolution: The Videogame. Both titles were hotly anticipated by me, and both ended up being either a buggy mess or flat out bad.
Alpha Protocol was a game that had been delayed three or four times over its development. Obsidian Entertainment were looking to give us an experience that would make us feel like a spy, and atmospherically, they did that rather well. From globetrotting to the conversations, I felt as if I was a spy. I was working deals, breaking assets and looking for ways to win a no-win scenario. But then I actually had to play the game, and everything fell apart. It was maddening for me, because this was the game that I figured would be a competitor to the Mass Effect franchise in the sense of building a character. It was a game that was ripe for becoming a franchise. I mean, it has worked out well for Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne and James Bond. All of these spies have had flourishing careers, and Michael Thornton could have been that type of character. It was frustrating.
Tron Evolution: The Videogame was a far different kind of bad. This was a game that was creatively bankrupt when it came to gameplay. Looking at what Disney Interactive Studios put together is a game that is essentially a mod for a Prince of Persia game. You could put a Prince of Persia skin on this game and you would never know the difference. I love Tron, and the entire franchise. I am one of the few that has probably played Tron 2.0 at least a dozen times, and have enjoyed it each time. It was a fantastic journey and it felt like something associated with the Tron universe. This game ended up being an injustice to the Tron franchise and actually takes away from what is there from the prior games and movies.
These were the standouts for me when it came to disappointment, but it seems like this wave hit the industry in general. Split Second, Blur, Final Fantasy XIII, Fable III, Crackdown II, Metroid: Other M and more were heralded as solid titles, but they never grabbed with fans. I enjoyed Final Fantasy XIII, but at the cost of what everyone hated about the game. I liked the directed focus of this one, where Final Fantasy fans hated that confined corridor guided approach. Fable III took what was great about Fable II and then killed it with an arbitrary calendar that did not mean anything in the long run of the game. Crackdown 2 was hurt by a lack of anything original as well as the original team going to make the horror that was APB. It just seemed like there were so many games I should have liked, but I ended up just shrugging at most of them.
Forget What You Know About Motion Control, Because It’s Here for Real Now
Nintendo would probably disagree, but Microsoft and Sony both tried to explain to gamers that Motion controlled gaming had finally arrived in 2010. Whether it was Kinect or Move, you could not turn your head at the end of the year without seeing something on motion control and these two devices. Microsoft was probably more egregious with their advertising, hitting all the major talk shows, and basically buying Times Square for a morning, but Sony hoisted Kevin Butler out there with his 90 days at someone’s house playing Move.
Both devices ended up being good, but not all that great. Each one lacks that killer application that anyone really cares about. Sure, Microsoft came close with Dance Central, but no Kinect game matched what could be considered the attach rate that Microsoft wanted to see with the device. As Nintendo will tell you, number of consoles sold does not necessarily equate into games sold with the device. Most turned Kinect into the Dance Central device, while Move seemed to be forever linked to its Sports Champions game. I mean, who doesn’t like motion control bowling.
I do own all three of the motion control devices that are out for each console, and I will say that Microsoft Kinect probably has the most potential. Sony Move is a solid device, and navigates the interface leaps and bounds better than Microsoft or Nintendo, but the games just seem to be lacking, or plain bad at some points. And for Motion Control on the Wii, it seems like most gamers want their Wii games lacking waggle nowadays.
One has to wonder if the two companies missed the boat on the motion control bandwagon. I for one want to see some more games come out that appeal to my hardcore side, while not being forced into the mold of Kinect. A Forza mode for Kinect would be fine, but I do not want the entire Forza game wrapped around the Kinect Device. I am sure that people would have been upset if Gran Turismo 5 would have been centered on a Move controller vs. a Steering Wheel.
The Hits of 2010
Before I get out of here, I would like to point out 10 games that really hit with me in 2010 and that I hope everyone here will try out if they get the chance. Some are good, some are famous, and some might be bad to some, but they are the 10 titles that I had loads of fun with in 2010. And one will probably be controversial due to its original release date.
- Mass Effect 2 (360/PC)
- Beat Hazard (PC/XBL Indie)
- Civilization V (PC/Mac)
- Yakuza 3 (PS3)
- Bayonetta (360)
- Costume Quest (360)
- Final Fantasy XIII (360)
- Darksiders (PC/360)
- Persona 3 Portable (PSP)
- Borderlands DLC (PC/360)
Now I know the last one might be a cop out, but I still find myself going back to the Borderlands DLC even as of this past holiday season. It is really that good. However, if people are upset about that choice, you would probably swap it out with Just Cause 2 on PC and I would be just as happy.
So this is my year in gaming for 2010. Sure, it might not match what the big boys put together at the end of the year, but that is probably why you are reading the end of this opus rather than being over at those other sites. Let me know in the comments what I missed or what you agree or disagree on. I figure this will probably inspire some forum discussion, which would be great. Now let’s gear up for what I hope to be a great 2011.Tags: alpha protocol, average year, bayonetta, beat hazard, best of 2010, blur, borderlands dlc, civilization v, costume quest, darksiders, disappointments, indie games, kinect, mass effect 2, metroid: other m, motion control, move, persona 3 portable, split second, Tron Evolution, vvvvvv, worst of 2010, yakuza 3, year in review