For the duration of its roughly six-hour runtime (and especially the entirety of its insane opening act), Vanquish is almost nothing but “oh shit!” moments. Oh shit! You’re charging up a sci-fi replica of Omaha Beach as massive space warships crash all around you! Oh SHIT! Now you’re taking on a giant robot with guns for hands that turns into a walking tank! OH SHIT! NOW YOU’RE ON A LITERAL ROLLERCOASTER SHOOTING AT UPSIDE-DOWN ROBOTS AT IMPOSSIBLE SPEEDS! GRRRAAAAHHHHH!!!
Above: Also, THOSE MISSILES ARE ALL AIMED AT YOU
The game does such an excellent job of constantly throwing new, life-threatening stuff your way that it’s impossible to get complacent. Especially not when you’re mowing through a horde of red metal communists while rocket-sliding in slow motion on your knees. Best of all, the way to succeed against all the nonsense being hurled at your face isn’t to cower or to try and strategize your way around it – it’s to charge headlong into danger like a crazy idiot, guns blazing and metal gauntlets flying. Go balls-out, and Vanquish rewards you by doing the same, packing more action into its “short” runtime than most games do over three sequels.
The spectacular fight on the falling clock tower at the start gave us a sneaky suspicion that we were about to be gobsmacked for the next 10 hours, but we never imagined it would be like this. Very few games let you throw a church at a boss. Bayonetta does.
WINNER: Civilization V
What were you expecting, StarCraft II? WoW: Cataclysm? Put those playthings aside, kids – Civilization is the original time murderer. Well, not really – that distinction might go to Solitaire, which became popular in early 19th Century France... but whatever! The Civilization series has been blockading the productivity of otherwise-healthy members of society since 1991, and it just won’t stop. Civilization V is the most engrossing, “oh-shit-the-sun-is-coming-up” single-player experience released this year.
It doesn’t rely on MMO-style gimmicks or repetitive multiplayer matches to keep you away from your loved ones. No, it has its own devious methods, the most notable of which being that it’s so deep it ought to have a lifeguard. Yeah, technically the actions are repetitive, but it never feels repetitive - each new campaign offers new challenges. And once you start a game...
Civ V won’t let you go. You can quit. You can shut down your computer. You can try to sleep. But it’s still there. Units need orders. Science needs researching. You should send a settler to that a beautiful plot of land to the east. You should finish those roads, too. You should turn your computer back on. You should double-click that icon. You should come back… come back… it’s inevitable.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
An average RPG lasts 40 hours, but ask any avid World of Warcraft player how much time they've logged with the MMO and the answer could be months – even years! Consider that Cataclysm is officially the fastest-selling PC game of all time, with 3.3 million copies sold in the first 24 hours, and we feel pretty confident predicting that WoW's expansion will consume more gaming hours per capita than anything else in 2010.
Like a single raindrop that somehow triggers a tsunami, sometimes the smallest games have the largest impacts. Just like Portal in ‘07, Braidin ’08, and Flowerlast year, Limbo is a quirky, atmospheric, bite-sized game that can be completed in a day … but which you’ll likely never forget. Because like those earlier titles, it completely erases the line between “game” and “experience”, between “art” and “entertainment”, between “playing” and “feeling”.
At first glance, this melancholy puzzle platformer doesn’t look like much. It doesn’t even look finished by today’s standards – 2D, black and white, no cut scenes and not one single line of dialogue, and a two-button control scheme that would even have worked with a NES controller. Yet, these stark, modest pieces form the year’s most memorable game world. Limbo may use simple words, but it speaks in one of the most unique and gorgeous languages gamers have ever heard – even if we don’t always agree about what it’s saying.
Almost all of the games that came out in 2010 cost more than Limbo. Almost all are bigger, flashier, and take longer to complete. Not one will move you more deeply.
WINNER: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
The cutscenes in Enslaved aren't just watchable. They're, by far, the best reason to seek out and play this overlooked game. We enjoyed swinging, climbing, punching and shooting through waves of robot armies with hero Monkey, but not nearly as much as we loved witnessing his too-tough-to-give-a-shit demeanor slowly and inevitably melt away in the trusting, wide-eyed presence of heroine Trip. And yeah, it was funny when fat little third wheel Pigsy dangled helplessly from that submarine in the underwater mission, but not nearly as hilarious as the following cutscene that showed him crammed inside said submarine with a priceless expression of discomfort frozen upon his sweaty face.
Enslaved doesn't rely entirely on voice acting and direction, either, though both are stellar. The motion-capturing technology used by developer Ninja Theory on actors such as Andy Serkis (aka Gollum) is so precise and so convincing that you can often read every important element of a scene from a single nonverbal cue, like the lift of an eyebrow or the curl of a lip. The uncanny valley has nothing on Enslaved.
Red Dead Redemption
Faces are impressive in Red Dead Redemption, too – especially the believable wear, tear and age that Rockstar used to uglify its early 20th-century cast. What amazes us most about the game's cutscenes, however, is the unexpected tenderness in the writing. GTA's snark and immaturity has been replaced with a sad, soulful tone that cares for each character, no matter how perverse, and longs for a past now gone forever.
WINNER: ModNation Racers
The racing in ModNation Racers is average at best. The real reason we spent countless hours with it is the fantastic track editor. Taking the "Play Create Share" ethos of LittleBigPlanet and applying it to the kart racer was a masterstroke. Auto-populate is fine, but place everything by hand and you soon realize this is one of the best creation tools in any game ever.
Gran Turismo 5
Yeah, so GT5 only scored 7/10 in our review, but the online community features are rather special, particularly if you're a car collection fetishist. Sending your mates shiny new cars to satiate their Pokémon-style cravings feels great. Even if they don't send you one back in return. Sniff.