The City 16 Awards of 2009 (or ‘Any Other Business?’)

I’d originally planned to return in a few months time to cover some of the games of last year that I just hadn’t gotten around to playing yet. To be frank, I’ve decided I don’t want to spend my first months of a new decade tethered to 2009. End of year lists should be a fun way of acknowledging some of the best releases of that year but lets not start pretending they’re important.

My solution is sheer elegance in its simplicity: A list of increasingly esoteric awards covering some of the games that deserve some form of recognition but, for whatever reason, didn’t make the Top 10. Let’s go!

Wii Game of the Year: House of The Dead: Overkill

The Wii continues to be a console that receives almost no attention in my household. The only real exception to this rule was House of The Dead: Overkill. That did, at least, receive some attention. Not much, but some. It’s a well made on-rails shooter with a tongue-in-cheek horror aesthetic in the vein of Quentin Tarrantino’s idea of Grindhouse cinema. It’s got two player co-op and caused me to buy a giant plastic hand cannon so it inevitably won.

Honourable Mention: Bit.Trip Beat – Fantastic old-school arcade Wiiware title that’s kind of like a cross between Pong and Rez. Hard as all hell.

DS Game of the Year: Scribblenauts

This winning is probably a testament to how few DS games I’ve played this year. While Scribblenauts is delightful it is also, equally, frustrating. Unfortunately once you’ve thought of a solution to a puzzle it can be a fiddly process to actually implement that solution, with the mechanics of items not always corresponding to the way that item would behave in the real world. Still, it’s a game of stories. That I made a hard to reach button be pressed by placing God next to an atheist, causing the atheist to run in fear towards that button, is testament to the number of possibilities you have at your disposal.

PSP Game of the Year: GTA: Chinatown Wars

A few places have been giving this DS Game of the Year status but, if you compare the two versions, the PSP is the clear home of this game. The visuals are good enough that it feels like the successor to the original top down games. It’s surprising just how much of GTA4’s Liberty City is included in the game and remains easily recognisable. Also, in the drug trading sidequest, you have much more reason to engage in something outside of the main storyline than was ever offered in GTA4.

DLC/Expansion of the Year: WipEout Fury

The expansion to last years Wipeout HD offers nearly enough new content to justify it being a full sequel. The new Zone tracks are inspired peices of design; wide tracks with sharp corners really offering a sense of building tension and panic as the speed increases throughout. New game modes like Eliminator and Detonator give the game an arcade edge that isn’t concerned with the pursuit of perfect lines that make up most of the original. Eliminator, specifically, is a great concept. The mode lets you head to the front of the pack, do a 180 flip with the touch of a button and deploy a Quake down the track towards the trailing vehicles, destroying the majority of them. Anything that lets you be that much of a dick is a winner in my book.

Honourable Mention: Point Lookout (Fallout 3) – The best of the Fallout DLC releases, although one mired by technical problems (I’ve only just got the bloody thing to work properly.) This is the only one, of the DLC releases that take place outside of the main area, that isn’t just a series of linear locations to fight through. It’s also genuinely good looking, in a creepy incestuous way.

Disappointment of the Year: Ghostbusters

Just before its release there were some rumourings that this might actually be good. It wasn’t. I can only think of one 2009 gaming experience that angered me more. Ghostbusters’ problem wasn’t that its difficulty curve ramped up so high in the later levels that it was almost unplayable with the imprecise and unintuitive control system. It was that it was never funny or charming enough to give a reason for persisting with said difficulty curve.

Dishonourable Mention: Prince of Persia: Epilogue – I’ve made my issues with Prince of Persia known before, but had to admit there was a lot I liked about the game. There was nothing I liked about its Epilogue DLC. It took every problem I had with the original (artificial platforming constraints, terrible combat and unintuitive ‘power plates’) and amplified them. It then removed everything I liked about the original. Its worst crime was the Shapeshifter, a boss encountered multiple times that shifted between two bosses from the original. One of these was fucking unkillable. This was the 2009 gaming experience that angered me the most and the only reason it didn’t win (lose?) this category was because I wasn’t expecting much from it in the first place.

Co-op Experience of the Year: Modern Warfare 2 (Spec-Ops mode)

I could write a whole post on what Modern Warfare 2’s single player and multiplayer modes do wrong. I probably wont but, essentially, once you remove the artifices, the games flaws are all too apparent. Spec-Ops is the only mode that is genuinely brilliant and only then if you’re playing with a friend. Some of the missions you’re given are plainly ridiculous but, with a friend along, this just adds to the charm. An example: Me and Adam were doing a sniper mission in Chernobyl on veteran difficulty (bastard hard mode). Most of the mission was spent hidden behind derelict cars, one of us moving into the open, waiting to get shot and moving back hoping that the other had seen the glint that would give us the location of the sniper. An all round great experience.

Most Improved Sequel of the Year: Assassin’s Creed 2

I’ve still not got to the end, so that might still be rubbish but, even if it is, Assassin’s Creed 2 has already addressed my two problems with the original: There wasn’t enough to do and you couldn’t actually assassinate people. Whereas Assassin’s Creed 1 had you repeat the same series of tasks to find your target, 2 gives you a more traditional linear main story with side quests should you wish to do them. Actually having a crafted progression of missions ensures they are more interesting and keeps the story flowing at a better rate. More importantly you can kill a target without ever alerting a guard, and he goes down with a swift knife to the back like everyone else, no more having to engage him in a fight just because he’s important.

Game that was technically a 2008 release but wasn’t out on PC till 2009 of the Year: Braid

At this point praising Braid is like saying The Godfather was quite good. I may be repeating every other gaming site out there but Braid is genuinely brilliant. It’s the only puzzle game in recent memory that I’ve found genuinely challenging. I went through it again recently in the role of ‘puzzle advisor’ giving hints as Adam played it and was struck by just how much your brain starts to mesh with the game’s constructs and manipulations of time. The ending (by which I mean World 1-1, not so much the Epilogue) is also gut-wrenchingly poignant.

Game that would probably be my game of the year if I could find the time to really play it of the Year: Dragon Age: Origins

I’ve only just got to the part where you begin to choose which order you visit locations. It’s still not quite ‘clicked’ with me yet, a clunky expression I use to define the moment in an RPG where the mechanics and story form a perfect storm of obsession in my head and I will actually start to devote serious time for it. Still, there are things I like already, mostly that the games morality is based on what individual characters think of you, forcing you to learn about them and the strength of their beliefs if you want to keep on their good side. I knew threatening violence against a priest would annoy Alistair, what I didn’t realise was just how much he would disapprove.


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