25
Dec
10

City 16's Top 10 Games of 2010: #1

It’s the 25th December! This means two things:

  1. It’s Christmas (Merry Christmas!)
  2. More importantly, it’s time to reveal my pick for the best game released this year!

And this year it was easy. Only one game displayed such nuance to its characters, deftness to its narrative, sheer scope to its world and just plain enjoyable game mechanics. I’m sure you’ve guessed already, but let’s go through the motions anyway. The City 16 Game of 2010 was:

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Ha, not really. I’m just kidding – dear God I’m just kidding. No, the real City 16 Game of 2010 was… (deploy drum-roll)

[audio:drum.mp3]

…was:

Red Dead Redemption

Which is actually something of a problem considering I’ve already written a significant amount about the game. Oh well, we’ll plow on anyway.

Actually, while we’ve got the audio player out for it’s annual drum roll secondment, let’s have a track from the game’s soundtrack to set the mood.

[audio:rdr.mp3]

At the beginning of Red Dead Redemption your character, John Marston, meets Bonnie McFarlane. They spend some time together, flirt for a while and the sudden inevitability of the plot starts to creep in. She’s such a deliberate romantic foil that inevitably – obviously – Marston will find his wife murdered and promptly shack up with the farm girl who saved his life. That’s not what happens. In a later scene Marston’s wife meets her and afterwards she mocks Marston on his inability to notice Bonnie’s interest in him.

Games don’t really do stories with that sort of subtlety.

Another example: The final act of a game is usually about empowerment. Think Half-Life 2 and the Super Gravity Gun or Mass Effect 2 and trying to beat the odds against an apparent suicide mission for the good of the galaxy. Or they try and ramp up the action – In Rockstar’s own GTA series for instance, instead of the previous 20 hours of going to a place and shooting a man or going to a place and blowing up a thing or going to a place and having a chase, in the final missions you usually have to go to a place and have a chase then blow a thing up before finally killing a man… all in the same mission! Imagine!

This isn’t how the end of Red Dead Redemption works. The final act’s a far more personal tale after the violence of the previous missions. You build up your ranch, teach your son and generally live the life Marston’s been promising himself since the beginning of the game. It’s all leading to something, a dark undercurrent of foreboding running through it all – accentuated by an encounter with the ‘Strange Man’ you’ve been meeting throughout the game – but before the game’s conclusion it wants you to know what the stakes are – happiness.

In terms of traditional cutscene based storytelling, it’s probably the most mature example yet seen in a game. But it’s not what makes the game truly memorable, because RDR is all about the world. So much of the game’s story is told through the world in which Marston inhabits. For instance, when you finally reach the city of Blackwater, it’s almost unrecognisable from the the rest of the game. Cobbled streets, brick buildings and even citizens in finery. Plenty of characters speak about the death of the west before hand but Blackwater is an explorable symbol of its demise – civilisation has arrived.

This rich, detailed world combined with Marston, easily Rockstar’s most likable player character to date, means you actually find yourself playing to that character. Throughout the entirety of my time with the game – a staggering 4 days before I’d even completed the story thanks to my penchant for abandoning progress in favour of just exploring – I’d killed about 2 civilians, both of which were cases of mistaken identity. Everything about the style of the game seems to dissuade from random outbursts of violence, a far cry from so many open-world games (unintentional pun).

In all then what Redemption really reminds me of isn’t the GTA series that is always the touchstone comparison for any open world game, Rockstar or not, but Bully – another game with a strong sense of place, an interesting story and brilliant characterisation. But where Bully limited player agency with its structure and the tools available, RDR gives massive scope. It’s entirely possible to go off script on a murderous rampage from America to Mexico and I’m sure many have – for me though that would betray the achievement that RDR represents. It’s by far the best Western to appear in gaming, no other game that shares the setting comes close to portraying the mix between wild opportunism and fledgling civility mixed with a world as dangerous and unforgiving as it’s inhabitants.

In summary then – Lasso: best gaming tool since the grappling hook.

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1 Response to “City 16's Top 10 Games of 2010: #1”


  1. 1 Chris
    02/01/2011 at 02:21

    All the characters actually develop to some extent or another as well, making it enjoyable to watch, which for a game which will take weeks in real terms to even finish the story is a massive thing

    I do now hate the ‘skinning dead shit’ animation tho!


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