In any normal year, this would have been a straightforward top ten list, but then 2010 couldn’t have been any further away from being a normal year. These past twelve months have been so tightly stuffed with superlative software that not even a top twenty list was enough to house all of the titles that deserved a nod and a few words of praise here. Even when the list was rounded up to twenty five, a brief number of honourable mentions were still required.
If this startling level of exorbitant quality continues into the foreseeable future, and if videogames ever gain the kind of cultural acceptance that places them in the same space as movies, novels and music, then we might just be sitting at the foot of a decade that’ll be as endlessly revered as the 1970′s are for cineastes. If you’re a gamer, your worst enemy this year has almost certainly been a profound lack of available leisure time.
Here is our countdown of the best 25 videogames released in 2010….
25. Modnation Racers
Just narrowly edging the similarly excellent Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing out of this list, Modnation Racers not only displayed that Sony could craft a kart racer just as sharply as anyone else, but also showed that they could actually (subtly) innovate a thoroughly stale genre along with it. The risk/reward nature of the boost meter was a masterstroke; and Sony also created the simplest and most intuitive set of course creation tools ever seen in a racing game.
24. Infinite Space
Like Platinum Games’ other two 2010 releases (both of which appear on this list) Infinite Space went about its business without the slightest concern for what you may have wanted or expected from it. It was a mature and complex RPG which demanded that you keep up with its furiously helter-skelter sense of progression. It may have gotten hellishly tough later on, but it was never anything less than totally rewarding with it.
23. Metroid: Other M
Other M may not have been perfect – and it was always at a disadvantage for having to stand beside the masterful Metroid Prime trio anyway – but it was a surprisingly gutsy offshoot, with Nintendo sitting back and allowing Team Ninja take the franchise in a few very unusual directions. The result was a solidly terrific and visually inventive hair-trigger action game, and a refreshing change of pace for the franchise. Hopefully a sequel isn’t out of the question.
22. Call Of Duty: Black Ops
The campaign may have been a tad too retro-centric for some of the millions who were introduced to the franchise by the deafening Bruckheimer bombast of Modern Warfare 2, but the multiplayer component continued to shine. Similarly, Treyarch’s much-loved Zombies mode has lost none of its knife-edge lustre, and the new online Wager matches were inventive and often riotously funny. Black Ops wasn’t the second coming, but it is easily Treyarch’s finest ever game.
21. EA MMA
Easily the most underrated (and under-played) game on this list, and perhaps a reminder that a ceaseless influx of high quality software can occasionally result in the odd unjust casualty. Hampered by what many people regarded as a faulty and borderline unplayable demo, anyone who got their hands on the final build of EA MMA is almost certainly still playing it today. Part Fight Night, part UFC Undisputed, but arguably better than either. Sequel please.
20. Medal Of Honor
You don’t pick a fight with the biggest videogame franchise in history without ensuring that you have the quality to back it up, and Medal Of Honor more than had what it took. The multiplayer was abandoned by too many people who didn’t adapt to its hardcore pace (which involved the perpetual ducking of lethal sniper fire) and many of them were only waiting for Black Ops anyway; but for those that persevered, it was a rip-roaring success. The campaign was also respectfully austere and largely terrific.
Because it was so absurdly ambitious, some early technical imperfections meant that not everyone who picked up MAG at launch ever hung around long enough to see it operating at full pelt. Once those teething issues had subsided however, MAG revealed itself to be an experience that was truly unlike anything else. A relatively small but dedicated community are keeping this alive and kicking online. Now might be the perfect time to sign up.
18. Batman: The Brave And The Bold
A retro-themed, side-scrolling beat ‘em up based on a cult Cartoon Network children’s TV show. Who on earth would have suspected that the resulting videogame would’ve turned out to be this good? And The Brave And The Bold really is an absolute belter; easy enough for young fans of the show to enjoy, but with combat mechanics that demand invention and flair; a system that’ll probably keep aged, hardcore genre fans awake at night.
17. Bioshock 2
Gifting you with the ability to wield weaponry and plasmids simultaneously may have been its neatest trick, but what Bioshock 2 did best was maintain its predecessor’s sharp focus on measured, drip-feed storytelling, and it continued to infuse its incomparable world with an almost kitchen-sink degree of detail. The multiplayer wasn’t half bad either, but it was the way that the campaign always went for the mind over the gut that most impressed.
16. God Of War 3
Still an utterly luscious game that’s capable of provoking double-takes from anyone who sees it in action, God Of War 3 may not have been the series pinnacle that many were expecting (that’s still the demented masterpiece that was the second installment) but it nevertheless made almost every other third-person action game released this year look at least two years out of date, in terms of pacing and gameplay as well as visually.
No developer has ever whole-heartedly tried to meld the sensibilities of a kart racer with those of a serious racing sim, and this is primarily because such a melding should never, ever have worked. Blur succeeded rather brilliantly because its offensive and defensive manoeuvres were always as important as each other, and they turned each race into an edgy battle of wits that took the best parts from each genre and somehow made them work together in harmony, and flawlessly.
14. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Was anyone really expecting Brotherhood to be the best game in the series? Certainly, classy production values and refined gameplay mechanics were expected, but with a tight development schedule and the burden of following up the excellent second instalment, hopes weren’t high amongst some. But it has never been more pleasant to be proven this wrong, and Brotherhood did everything that Assassin’s Creed II did; but it did it better, faster and far more eloquently.
For anyone who may still be completely in the dark, Bayonetta is an incredibly difficult game to describe. The only thing that’s more bemusing than the plot is the soundtrack, and the only thing that’ll leave you more confused than the chaos of its cherry-picked movie and videogame references is watching someone else play it for the first time. But once you’ve leapt over the hurdles inherent in ingesting something this idiosyncratic, action gaming in 2010 didn’t get much more exciting.
12. Sin & Punishment: Successor Of The Skies
If you’ve ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a game crafted by bullet-hell maestros Treasure, Sin & Punishment: Successor Of The Skies carries on with that same frantic nerve-jangling tradition, and might even be the company’s greatest ever work. With awe-inspiring creativity and invention at a constant premium, Successor Of The Skies doesn’t ever pause for breath, and the constantly shifting online leaderboards are pure catnip for the genre faithful.
11. Enslaved: Odyssey To The West
A background in film is often a recipe for disaster when a (usually arrogant) artist moves from the former medium to the latter (a notable recent casualty being British horror auteur Clive Barker) but writer Alex Garland clearly knows his onions with regard to videogames too; Enslaved was taut, intelligent and genuinely memorable. As the esteemed Irish comic Graham Linehan recently Tweeted, “Enslaved is a knockout game.” Nuff said.
10. Heavy Rain
Engrossing and innovative for the entirety of its duration, Heavy Rain was a real gamer’s game that also managed to display to innumerable naysayers precisely what this new medium of ours can really achieve. Heavy Rain may have had more than its fair share of sequences that spot-lit thrilling action or chilling suspense, but it was the always the quieter moments that exerted the most palpable grip. A progressive, rousing and firmly innovative videogame.
9. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
The single-player aspect may have been much-improved since the first BC game – and good enough to stand on its own, in fairness – but as always it was the world-class multiplayer that really set Bad Company 2 soaring. It toed the unbelievably fine line between the kamikaze lone wolf excitement of Call Of Duty, and the stray-and-you-die team component of something like MAG, and matched them both in quality. And although it didn’t need a shot in the arm, its life was effortlessly prolonged by some fabulous DLC.
8. Halo Reach
Now that Bungie and Microsoft have parted company, the future of the Halo universe looks a mite uncertain, but Bungie clearly pulled out all of the stops with Reach. Boasting easily the series’ sharpest campaign since that of the seminal original, and nurturing the multiplayer component back into place as the most truly essential online FPS currently available, it’s going to be interesting to see where Halo goes next. If only because this is going to be one hell of a tough act to follow.
7. Super Street Fighter IV
Capcom are unmatched when it comes to refining an already perfect formula, and for many Super Street Fighter IV is unquestionably the best game of 2010. The new characters were a joy to toy around with (provided that you were willing to put the hours in) and it was gratifying to see something that could have been a flippant cash-in being treated as lavishly as this, and then released at a budget price. The flawless new online lobbies – at last – were the irresistible icing.
6. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit
Some would say that Criterion Games only ever deal in near-masterpieces or better, and make no mistake, Hot Pursuit is a full-tilt meisterwerk. Throwing the old-school Need For Speed games into a pot with the finest (and most accessible) aspects of Burnout Paradise, Hot Pursuit is, with the possible exception of Paradise, the choicest game to date in either series. And at a best guess, the brand new – and hopefully influential – Autolog feature has probably tripled its shelf-life, at least.
5. Rock Band 3
Sure, Rock Band 3 was the most polished game in the series to date (which consequently made it the most polished game in the genre’s brief history) and the track listing was, as ever, incomparably shrewd (bolstered by the ever-updated Rock Band store) but it was the introduction of the new Pro instruments that really made this feel like a step way above and beyond everything else in its field. But even if you weren’t interested in the Pro peripherals, Rock Band 3 was still downright exemplary in every single department.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Although the first Super Mario Galaxy was one of the greatest things that Nintendo have ever put their incomparably esteemed name to, hadn’t they exhausted all of that delectable universe’s possibilities in the wonderful first game? Apparently not. Even though it doesn’t have the shock-of-the-new on its side, this sequel is every inch as imaginative and charming as its predecessor. A pure, unwavering joy from start to finish.
3. Mass Effect 2
Surely destined to be the most influential game on this list, Mass Effect 2’s brutal streamlining of the standardised RPG format not only made the genre more approachable for newcomers (and the previously apathetic) but it also allowed emphasis to be placed on the game’s true trump card – the storytelling. Mass Effect 2 wouldn’t have worked if every branch of your sprawling journey wasn’t very thoughtfully and pedantically scribed. And it was.
2. Red Dead Redemption
People demanded a masterpiece, and Rockstar delivered one. An authentic and compelling hunk of sprawling, full-strength pulp, Red Dead’s plot was easily the most well-paced and involving thing that Rockstar’s writers have ever composed. The multiplayer component was forward-thinking and marvellously addictive, and Undead Nightmare was a miniature masterpiece all of its own. People said exactly the same after GTA IV, but we honestly have no clue as to how Rockstar are going to top this.
A delirious, non-stop action rollercoaster that didn’t hit a single bum note, Vanquish was the only choice for 2010’s top spot. The completely deranged plot was mere window dressing as the gameplay was everything in Vanquish, and it appeared to have been fine-tuned to within an inch of its life. No glitches, no difficulty spikes, no bottlenecks… just a thrilling, endlessly re-playable piece of momentous action entertainment, straight out of the top drawer. A thoroughbred classic.
Honourable mentions… NBA 2K11, Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow, Fallout: New Vegas, NHL 11, Sonic & SEGA Allstars Racing, Kinect Sports, UFC Undisputed 2010, FIFA 11, Starcraft 2, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, Sports Champions, Alan Wake, Madden NFL 11, Pro Evolution Soccer 2011, Real Heroes: Firefighter, R.US.E, F1 2010, DJ Hero 2, Gran Turismo 5, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Sid Meier’s Civilization V, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Watch the Vanquish trailer here: