2010's most promising PC games

Contributing authors: Tim Edwards, John Walker, Tom Francis, Graham Smith

What kind of year has 2009 been? If we’re honest, a tough one. Practices central to the PC, such as the use of dedicated servers, are being ignored. We’re getting games months after our console cousins. The PC is being increasingly marginalised by publishers who don’t think we matter.

Those publishers are wrong. Obviously. Fortunately, PC gamers know how to make themselves heard, and Modern Warfare 2’s lack of dedicated servers sparked an outpouring of anger online. The result: other publishers scrambling to assure their fans that, yes, their games would have dedicated servers. AvP? It’s got them. Brink? Yeah, it’s got dedicated servers too.

There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful in the new year. Independent gaming is bigger than it’s ever been, as the staggering 306 entries to the coming Independent Gaming Festival prove. These are from a new generation of creators who have grown up with gaming. The PC continues to lead the way in digital distribution, with encouraging signs that Steam’s dominance is now being met by other services such as Stardock’s Impulse.

And then there are, of course, the games. We can’t predict the future, but we can already see what we’re going to be playing in the next year and we’re very, very happy about it. In the pages that follow, we count down through the eleven games that make us most excited about 2010. It’s a whole new decade of games, and it’s here.

Expected: Jan 26

A game in which you put together a ragtag team of misfits to save the galaxy. It’s like that film Armageddon, without the Aerosmith song. Humanity is in a lot of trouble. The Collectors were thought to be a myth, the stuff of campfire stories, but as entire colonies of humans vanish all over the galaxy it becomes clear that these evil, insectoid creatures are very real.

2008’s sci-fi RPG Mass Effect was only the start. Commander Shepard’s return signifies an altogether more serious tale. Recruited by the morally dubious black ops organisation Cerberus, Shepard is required to gather a small army of the deadliest, craziest and most skilled killers in the galaxy to investigate and fight back against the Collector menace.

The Collectors have technology way beyond the rest of the races in known space. Technology that can only have come from the terrible ancient machine race, the Reapers. They’re using it to conduct horrific experiments on the legions of captured humans, going far beyond the zombie-like Husks we saw in the first game. Among their experimental creations are Scions, the mutant results of two or three human husks morphed together and grafted onto a gun. There are Abominations: suicidal creatures that stumble toward you and explode. Most awful are the Praetorians: 30 mutated humans crushed into a flying suit of armour capable of obliterating everything it encounters.

Fortunately Shepard has new ways to fight back. New heavy weapons include rockets, grenades, and a ‘nuke gun’ that lets loose nuclear fire. An enormously improved combat system promises that battles featuring these weapons will be intuitive and fast-paced. Because you can carry over your saved game files from the first game, key decisions made then will be reflected in Mass Effect 2. Your choices about the future of the Citadel Council, personal relationships you may have had, and of course which squad members lived or died, all carry over.

There are now ten companions to choose from. Among those joining the crew is a lizardy Drell assassin called Thane, and a thuggish Krogan character, Grunt. Professor Mordin Solus is a pointy-headed Salarian scientist, while shaven-headed former gang member Subject Zero is a femme fatale human biotic who should wash her mouth out. With Shepard working with Cerberus - a group who has carried out its own horrific experiments on other races - to fight an ancient and feared enemy in the seediest areas of the galaxy, Mass Effect 2 is set up to be a darker tale than the original. If they can nail the combat, this could set a new bar for RPGs.

Expected: Feb 9

Become a Big Daddy! Or, as it’s increasingly turning out, don’t. How do you feel about a sequel to one of the best games of the decade, when that game seemed so rightfully singular? More of the same, yay! But a needless extension? Boo. Ultimately, we’re excited but confused.

You’re a Big Daddy: a lumbering armoured diving suit with a single huge weapon. Except you look different, you can move fast, use plasmids, switch weapons, and enemies have been upgraded to be a threat to you. It’s like picking up the Quad Damage and then being told everything has triple health. One thing is very Big Fatherly: your drill. Like Left 4 Dead 2’s chainsaw, it’s a melee weapon with limited fuel. But it can also be upgraded to spin faster, do more damage, and ultimately incorporate a shield to protect you from ranged fire while in use.

BioShock’s hacking, which was essentially a PipeMania minigame, was never terribly satisfactory. Now it’s done with a retro sci-fi gun, and success is a matter of hitting the key when an oscillating needle passes the sweet spot. Whether we’ll eventually tire of playing what is, functionally, Links 386, remains to be seen.

If BioShock 2 does win us over, it will probably be on fun. We’ve not been given much to go on as to whether it’ll have anything like the narrative punch of BioShock, but we have seen one of its guns pin someone to a high wall with a harpoon-sized ‘dart’. And we’ve seen flaming brands shot through Splicers who scream and run, catching everything alight. And we’ve seen a drill, boring through mutant flesh, with a horrible whine. It could be good.