Right about now the rest of the internet is tripping over itself to crank out the “definitive” end-of-year list. Well, they can stop. We already did it. Over the next few pages our unquestioned expertise will identify the coolest, most important games of 2009 with zero room for error. Yeah, it’s that big of a deal. That’s why they’re basking in the dazzling radiance of a Platinum Chalice.
Oh, we have a game of the year. But the rest of the awards are GR-style accolades so you don’t have to sift through “best puzzle game” or the always important “best PSP graphics technology.”
Videogames… prepare to be acknowledged.
If you’ve played much of Prototype, then you already know that its true appeal doesn’t come from prefab points of interest like story or missions. That stuff’s all fine and good, but the real lure here is the absolute freedom offered by Alex Mercer’s powers, which enable you to tear ass (and asses) across Manhattan with impunity, leap off skyscrapers and land unharmed, throw cars around, eat civilians and just generally be the biggest asshole imaginable.
Above: Alex Mercer doing what Alex Mercer does best
Part of what makes that particular brand of bastardry so much fun is that it’s absolutely soaking in gore. Entire buildings are made of gore, and every new superpower brings with it exciting new ways to dismember hapless city-dwellers in a gruesome display. Infected monstrosities, soldiers and civilians can all be sliced to ribbons or devoured messily by Alex’s slimy tendrils, and watching them come apart in new ways adds immeasurably to the thrill of victory (or just rampant sociopathy). There are few pleasures quite as guilty as whipping Alex’s razor-sharp tendril-arm through a crowd in Times Square, for example, and watching the upper halves of dozens of citizens fly skyward at once.
Kind of sick? Sure. A blast anyway? Absolutely.
Splattering zombie goo is all the rage these days, and no game does it better than L4D2. Your vast arsenal is capable of rending flesh, shattering rib cages and separating limbs in such shockingly grotesque detail we made a whole video about it.
Modern Warfare 2 may not be the most carefully paced game (PCP and Meth come to mind as descriptors), but it does unload a bandoleer’s worth of balls-out crazy moments into your face. Oh shit, your driver just took one in the skull, grab the wheel! Oh shit, you just watched a guy’s eyes roll into his head after rappelling onto his back and slitting his throat. Oh shit, you’re an astronaut and…FFFFFFFUUUUU…
It’s relentlessly surprising, and keeps you playing in the same way that supermarket fiction keeps you turning pages - by never letting you get comfortable. Much like Will Smith’s life, everything in MW2 gets flip-turned upside down constantly, and unless you’re a cold, unfeeling robot or a nun, it’ll coax more than a few expletives from your filthy mouth.
What was your first oh shit moment in Uncharted 2? Was it climbing the dangling train? Running from the speeding truck in the narrow Nepalese alley? Sprinting across a crumbling bridge? We know there were regular old shootouts, but they all got trampled under the stampede of holy-crap-did-that-just-happens.
No hand-holding. No easy wins. No compromises. From beginning to end, Demon’s Souls was the hardest game of the year. Think you’re good at videogames? This action/RPG will put you in your place. Every time you think you’re making progress, Demon’s Souls will crush any sense of self worth you once had with frequent deaths and brutal boss fights. It’s enough to send the most Zen-like gamer into controller-smashing fits of rage.
Above: Just when you’re starting to get the hang of things, a three-story demon smashes you with his giant battle axe
But Demon’s Souls unforgiving difficulty is a double-edged sword that gives just as much as it takes, making every victory feel like a truly glorious triumph. Soon, you’ll be dodging, parrying and blocking attacks with uncanny precision. Your timing will become impeccable as attack patterns and monster locations are ingrained in your memory. Before you know it, overcoming seemingly impossible boss fights and scenarios becomes a reality, making Demon’s Souls not only the most difficult, but also one of the most rewarding games of all time.
Gorgeous sprites and detailed backgrounds make Prinny: Can I Really be the Hero? a treat to watch. But it’s the masochistic difficulty level, which demands pixel-perfect precision that makes this ultra hardcore platformer a pleasure to play.
Much as the idea of waging war against an oppressive regime as a freedom fighter/terrorist/demolitions expert on Mars is instantly appealing to us, Red Faction: Guerrilla would have been just another bland, shooty, open-world Grand Theft Auto clone without one key feature: the ability to reduce any building or structure on the map to a cascading heap of rubble. If it’s man-made, odds are you can rip it to shreds in an awe-inspiring cacophony of shattering glass.
Above: You may not want to stand on top of them while you do this, though
Bringing down buildings in games was nothing new when Guerrilla came out, but Guerrilla is the first game to really make it feel organic. As you ram trucks through walls, blast bridge-support pillars or just tear apart buildings hundreds of times your size with a sledgehammer, the component building materials come flying apart in a way that’s convincingly real, if not exactly “realistic.”
Also, the creativity with which you can tackle demolitions – and the futuristic implements of destruction you’ll get to play with – make Guerrilla incredibly fun, and there’s no feeling quite like driving a massive truck into a camp full of heavily armed enemy soldiers and bringing the whole thing crashing down by doing high-speed donuts through the walls. It elevates what would otherwise be a fairly bland experience into something explosively inventive.
Paris is a beautiful setting, and World War II is always a compelling time period, but they’re not enough to justify The Saboteur’s half-baked gameplay. The visually spectacular style in which that city and era are brought to life, however – with stark, drizzly greyscale representing Nazi oppression and splashes of dazzling color representing freedom – made us forgive every flaw instantly.