GOTY: The Mass Effect of Black Halo Ops on Starcraft’s Redeeming Limbo

As an avid gamer it has come to that time of the year to look back and take stock of what this year in the industry meant for the gamer and even what we might have to look forward to next year. This year we saw hits from a fair cross-section of gaming platforms, styles, and of course the revenge of the sequel; for better or worse. We saw RPG’s, strategy games, and open world combat that rejuvenated each of their respective categories. This year brought franchises to new heights and surprising lows in addition to the end of an era that will continue to live on in infamy. No matter your feelings and your choice for game of the year you must admit that 2010 was the proverbial rumble in the jungle that is the multibillion dollar industry that is gaming.

Where to begin, where to begin…Halo:Reach. The people at Bungie pulled out all of the stops on a gaming franchise that put the XBOX on the map and solidified Bungie as a top and prolific gaming production house. In the final installment in the Halo series (yeah, they’re done after this), Reach drops you in with Noble Team, as Noble 6, and takes you on a wild first-person shooting ride with compelling characters and fast-paced action. The frosting on the cake that is Reach, and hell, maybe the whole cake, is the multiplayer action that it basically invented back in November of 2001. Halo: Reach is a spin-off from the core storyline of Master Chief in 2552. Set in 2531, it is more of a paralleling side story to set up the original series and put a big ol’ bow on the whole thing. Reach has the most diverse multiplayer including the firefight modes, extensively customizable party matches and character armor, and of course Halo: waypoint; to track your entire Halo career if you are so inclined. In my humble opinion the best of the Halo franchise, but GOTY? We’ll see.

Another game to be judged on the merit of sequalage is the highly anticipated COD: Black Ops. This is the seventh installment of the record setting first person shooter that saw it’s humble beginnings on the PC in 2003, and she just might be showing her age. The Blops (black ops compound word coined by Kevin Pereira of AOTS) has it’s roots set in the Cold War. This is a darker tale in which Mason, you, are being interrogated for information and the combat is basically relived by you telling the story. The storyline is not the greatest they’ve done, but the combat felt pretty visceral and I felt a little frantic at times in narrow corridors not knowing where the enemy might be coming from. Just as with Reach though, the proof is in the multiplayer pudding, and that pudding is good. Nothing revolutionary here, it wasn’t broke so they didn’t fix it, but with a few little tweaks and a veritable ton of maps out of the gate, not to mention an explosive RC car, this is one arena people will be battling in for a while; don’t forget about the obligatory Zombie mode that all games seem to be required to put out, though killing zombies as Richard M. Nixon contains some definite satisfaction. 9 19 18 4 6 21 17 14 9 19 8 24 17 24 5 13 11 20 15 21 24 11 9 12 8 20 21 10 16 23 4 22 21 4 0 14…but does this code open the doors to GOTY?

Next one up there with massive gaming ripples is yet another sequel, yet it didn’t really feel like a sequel, Red Dead Redemption. The game that takes it’s cues from GTA and slaps the whole framework right smack dab in the highly romanticized Old West era near it’s end, in 1911. A non-swimming, horse-taming, gun weilding John Marston goes about his bloody business in compelling fashion with incredible storyline, side missions, and voice acting. The world seems endless, the combat is varied and exciting, and the progress in the game never really gets too grueling. From hookers to town marshals, bounties, shoot outs, and horse riding you travel from town to town willing and charming your way through the story. It is a fluid and enthralling Old West adventure, but with so much borrowed from the mechanics of GTA, can it really be creative enough to take the top spot?

ME2, you know what I mean. Mass Effect 2 is the completely rebuilt sequel (yet another) to the wildly popular action-RPG Mass Effect. It seems the developers simply took the characters, concept, and universe they created, but scrapped every way you interacted with it for the second installment. No more driving around remote moons for minerals in a rover for no apparent reason. No more clunky combat system. No more seemingly unrelated side missions that paid nothing more than an eventual achievement. Welcome, diverse cast of compelling characters with whom you feel a deep bond and connection with. Welcome, relevant side quests that have massive dividends paid to the main story. Welcome, liquidly smooth combat system and character development. Welcome, carry over repercussions from your choices in the first Mass Effect. The creative team did a top-notch job further developing this franchise and somehow creating a more re-playable game that hit every nail on the head in what we expected from this sequel.

Quick, and I mean quick, on the heels of Assassin’s Creed 2 is Assassin’s Creed:Brotherhood. We are back with Ezio on his adventures of free running, blending, and killing, but this time things have been tweaked ever-so-slightly. We’ve got the massive and intimidatingly large world to traverse and get dirty in. We have an ever more fluid free-running experience (let’s all admit, we’ve yelled at Ezio, “what the fuck are you doing? go, go, go, c’mon!”) and a combat system that allows for more intuitive combos, kills, and connected movements that an assassin like Ezio should have been able to accomplish all along. The big boon to this that will be fun to play, for a few months at least, is the inclusion of multiplayer. This is no ordinary shotgun/jump multiplayer like you’ll find in Blops or Reach. This is about stealth and quiet kills. Blend in in teams of two and eliminate the enemy without alerting them or getting yourself killed. Though it can be frustrating at first with a partner who wants to just jump on a roof, it can be wholly satisfying to get a stealth kill on some 14-year old Asian kid at 3am.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty.Well it seems we finally gotthe Starcraft franchise out of the hyper-sleep and brought them back to finally make a new game…after 12 years away; Prohibition was 14-years, so they just made it under the wire.

Blizzard’s group has come out with the base model for what will be a three-part installment that might have been more anticipated than a new G ‘n’ R album/live show that wasn’t cancelled. This PC strategy game turned the industry on it’s head so long ago and has stood as the measuring stick that all other strat-games were judged by; always left wanting. When I heard about the eventual release of this game, I had my doubts. Is this market still relevant in the new and fast-paced world of 3D graphics and dynamic and diverse game play? Could the player today really be interested in a game of this nature with the demand for non-stop excitement and reinvention we find today? Well, the answer from the SC-core was a resounding: Fuck, yes! meager in comparison to the numbers you will find with above titles, it did sell 3-million copies in it’s first month. But could this game with crazy cool multiplayer in the strategy arena really bounce the other big dogs? The fans of this series are certainly hardcore enough to burn down the house of anyone that works at Bungie, I’ll bet on that.

What others might have interested us? An early favorite in the year was Bayonetta. Billed and advertised as pseduo-anime sexy time, it turned out to be a seizure inducing, graphically flooring fighter with enough satisfactory kills and boss battles to get you a little hard. Another quiet game, and by far the best downloadable bit of the year was Limbo. This eerie little tale was all monochrome with haunting drips and sounds with almost no real soundtrack, but was the most fitting auditory sampling to accompany gameplay and graphics that Edgar Allen Poe would have found very satisfying. NBA2K11 was a franchise revitalizing installment, but I am not much for sports games; all signs point to this being a very complete game with very realistic graphics, something never easily done when a game is based on an actual ‘thing.’ Then of course there was Fallout: New Vegas, just ‘the same’ enough to not quite shock and awe this reviewer, though it was enthralling on a physically dangerous level; I skipped meals for bottle caps.

With this being only a small sampling of what there is out there on your shelves right now, what is the best overall game of the year? Well, since we have to make these decisions, being rank crazy Americans hell bent on deciding the supremacy of something in comparison to all things; I think the clear winner this year and current coke-fueled ape atop the rock pile is:

Give it to the amazing combat system, maybe chock it up to the ever-expanding world of DLC’s we will get our hands on, or just the most satisfying of RPG experiences, this game had it all and has to be one of the greatest steps up from the first installment ever. Game 1 to game 2 is always a gamble, and often not enough is done to increase a titles viability. Far too often reviewers will be heard saying something like they wish this was different, or it’s missing this or that, or whatever, but I cannot for the life of me think of anything this game is missing. The graphics, the music, the action, the moral choices and ramifications…it has everything a game in this category should have; not to mention an almost non-glitch player experience, thank God. (it is so nice when developers don’t let a bug escape the vetting net)

With this year behind us what is the overall feel? It was good. This was a ‘good’ year, but not great by any means. 2010 feels like a lead-in to 2011, or 2009 part deux. So with 2009 having been so awesome, and 2010 kind of passing without great failure, what can we look forward to seeing in 2011 that will give up hope and clips to salivate over on YouTube? Well start gritting your teeth until they shatter and give your mouse, or more likely your controller, a good cleaning. You have epic possibilities coming in the form of Dragon Age 2, Uncharted 3, DC Universe for you fighter fans, Crysis 2, Duke Nukem Forever, Portal 2 with what looks to be brain melting maps (and cake). There is always another COD to pick up, it won’t suck, and the Star Wars MMO Old Republic is bound to stir up your midi-chlorians. Oh, what else is there we might already have a chubby for? I forgot…GEARS OF F-ING WAR 3! (double-barrel shotgun motherWHAAAAAT!?) That, and a little game called Rage from Bethesda and Id Software running on the Id Tech 5 graphics engine which looks to be a graphic experience unlike anything…we’ve…seen…before.

Yeah, we had to choose one, it is the way of things in this list-crazy society we live in. Is it fair to compare ME2 with the likes of Red Dead of the ever so different StarCraft? No, but dammit you gotta choose one because it’s what we do. Console or PC, FPS or RPG, action or puzzler, we gotta do it. Every single title here is worth owning as a gamer, though if you are one, you own at least most of these. This Christmas season think of these games, most already dropping in retail price from release date tags, and drop some knowledge on a Noob or two. Not one of these will disappoint and in all likelihood you’ll be pale and malnourished by New Years, which is exactly how games of this caliber should leave you.

Let me know how wrong, crazy, and how I am no real gamer if I didn’t include racing games in the mix or mention the likes of Bioshock II, et al. Write in with your choice of the year to give me what-for.

P.S. If you ever find yourself in the XBOX Universe, come and find me; MrLensinfocus. Pick up them sticks!

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