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WHRW’s Best Video Games of 2010, Part II

24 February 2011 No Comment

By Oleg Brodskiy

In the second part of our look back at the best games of last year, we turned our focus to the best platform-exclusive games for PC, XBox, PS3, and Wii.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty vs. Civilization V

The PC was the battleground between Blizzard’s long-awaited sequel to Starcraft, Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, and Firaxis’ inevitable sequel to their massively popular Civilization IV, aptly named Civilization V. I spent a fair bit of time with both.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

All nukes in Starcraft are labeled for your convenience.

Developer/Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

I have a confession; I never played Starcraft. I grew up playing Age of Empires II, Rise of Nations and Homeworld, so I was pretty familiar with the RTS genre. But somehow, Starcraft never came up. I hadn’t played an RTS in many years, and if memory serves, my last was either Age of Empires III or Warcraft III, so coming back to the genre was rather nostalgic for me. But I was soon reminded why I left the genre in the first place.

Playing an RTS requires an almost singular devotion of consciousness for periods lasting five to thirty minutes. It was a devotion I was never really able to muster, partially because I was a very defensive player, and I apparently really suck at multiplayer. After getting smacked around a bit by people online, I can tell you that playing by yourself isn’t great unless you are great (I am not). Enjoying yourself with a friend is far more fun, and gives you more of an incentive not to drift off.

Don’t get me wrong; Starcraft II isn’t a bad game. It has a lot of fun moments, but it’s rather dry and somewhat spreadsheeted. There are a series of actions that you have to take, and your speed with the keyboard and the mouse is tested. Endurance and your ability to last through a wrist cramp will be tested, but if you did your job right, there is very little need for tactics in this game.

Civilization V
Warfare is easier when your soldiers are twenty stories tall.
Developer: Firaxis Games

Publisher: 2K Games

I have another confession; the first Civilization title I played was the one most hardcore Civ fans consider the worst (as bad as a Civ game can really be, I suppose)–Civ III. I played that heavily, then IV when it came out, and I’m now the proud owner of a copy of Civilization V. Each game starts with the same basic concept: go forth and build your civilization. Each game builds off that concept. Civ V, however, proves very thoroughly that the “one more turn” philosophy will still keep you up until three in the morning all on its lonesome.

Civ V succeeds where IV struggled by slimming things down. It gets rid of confusing and mostly useless systems (think religion) and returns Civilization to a game that any gamer can pick up and understand inherently. This is not to say that the game has no complexity; while the advisors will get you far, you’ll have to understand what’s going on under the hood, so to speak, to be able to really kick ass.

All told, even while you’re just starting on the game, it’s very easy to become addicted to the simple, yet deep, core mechanics of this classic Four-Ex Turn Based Strategy game. And that is why I pick Civilization V over Starcraft II as the best PC exclusive of 2010.

Xbox 360:
Halo: Reach vs. Fable III

An odd matchup, I know, but I felt that these two games were the best exclusives of the year for the Xbox family.

Halo: Reach

Developer: Bungie

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

I already waxed platonic about Halo in the Top 5 Games of 2010, so I’ll skip the gory details here. However, I really really enjoyed the variety that Bungie managed to insert into the FPS genre, without sacrificing any of the skill and tightness of its gunplay.

Fable III

Developer: Lionhead Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Fable has always set itself apart from other RPGs with different use of their systems. “Fable III” follows that grand tradition by getting rid of things like menus, experience points, and levels, all in the name of a better gaming experience. “Fable III” succeeds in some places, and doesn’t in others.

First, I didn’t really like the loot drops. I sort of enjoyed the combat (even though it’s pretty broken and easy), and looked forward to it. The removal of XP, too, wasn’t really something I missed. The loss of all of these pieces isn’t a bad thing, because the game still delivers the things that it promises, up to a point. Unfortunately, the game tends to drag on a bit, especially when the developers try to artificially extend the length of time you have to play by forcing you to go do side missions a couple of times through the course of the game. There’s just a permeating feeling of a lack of content. You can run around the world and fight random battles, and there’re lots of sidequests, but the main story drags without being long.

The expulsion of menus is somewhat hit-and-miss. I didn’t really miss them until I needed to save and had to run around in the physical menu system. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with actual menus, and an option to just turn the damned things on would’ve been appreciated. The idea was interesting for a good five minutes, and then when I just wanted to move on, it kept holding me back.

The best part of the game, in my opinion, is when you finally ascend to the throne and become the Decider. This part of the game has the most potential by far, but it is agonizingly short, and once again leaves you wanting for content. All of this is buildup for a final battle with a dark creature that you meet earlier in the game, which is unfortunately laughably easy. I’m not sure if there was a bug, but I just kept spamming my magic and he kept standing there and taking it to the face. Then, suddenly, the game is over, and you win.

In case you didn’t quite catch, I liked Halo: Reach better. Fable III was a classic Molyneux game. It talked big, and it looked good, and it didn’t deliver one whit. I saw a lot of potential in Fable, and very little delivery. Hopefully, the inevitable Fable IV marries the talk and the walk.

Playstation 3:
God of War III vs. None

Developer: Sony Santa Monica

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

I’m not even going to pretend this is a contest. God of War has been one of the few bright spots on a console that’s struggled with finding quality exclusives since it was released. The game is fun, exciting, and fulfilling. If you’re still hurting for some God of War after this, your best bet is to wait for the sequel (because honestly, screw the story), or pick up a PSP and some of developer Ready at Dawn’s fantastic God of War fare (Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta).

Donkey Kong Country Returns vs. Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Nintendo hardly ever misses on its first party titles (probably because they develop them), so it comes as no surprise that two of them are battling for the number one spot. For those of you disappointed at the lack of Super Mario Galaxy 2, sorry, but I didn’t feel it really added anything that the first game (or one of Mario’s many, many other games) didn’t already have.
Donkey Kong Country Returns

Developer: Retro Studios, Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Okay, so I cheated. Donkey Kong Country Returns isn’t so much a brand new game (Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2, and Donkey Country 3 disagree with the whole ‘new’ concept), but as the first of the series not developed by Rare (and on the Wii), it shows a sort of different take on the old gorilla. Sort of. The game is surprisingly gorgeous even though it’s on a last-generation graphics set, and a lot of the stages play with the color scheme beautifully. Romping through the jungle with a silhouette Donkey Kong against a fantastic sunset background is a unique experience among platformers. Retro does its job well, and Donkey Kong Country Returns is a platformer with few peers. This a great game to play by yourself, but it’s far better to play co-op with a buddy; they don’t even have to be as good as you!
Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Develper: Good-Feel, HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo
Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a cutesy, smart platformer that brings a sense of satisfaction to hard core platforming that most games never give you. The graphics are cute and bright, with yarn everywhere on the screen, and will melt the heart of anyone who glances upon them. The platforming is tight and fun, and the sections were Kirby turns to a vehicle, like a car or saucer, are some of the most fun in the game, and perhaps even the genre. The game is just plain fun, and while the motion controls make dying in Donkey Kong Country Returns unfortunately common, death will only slow down true completionists here. Just like with DKCR though, I would suggest bringing a friend, or even a child, along.
Nintendo gamers had a very good year, with Super Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and the anticipation of Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (we shall not speak of Metroid: Other M). But my hat goes off to Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which reinvents Kirby while still bringing
great platforming, and even some customization, to the pink puff. The game looks surprisingly good for its last-gen graphics, and plays surprisingly well for its motion controls. I’m not a huge Nintendo fan, but this game is fun, and really delivers on Nintendo’s promise that the Wii isn’t totally catering to casual gamers.

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