2010 was a damn good year to be a gamer. Not only did we see the launch of two new HD motion control systems, we were also treated to some of the best and most eagerly anticipated titles in recent memory. Xbox 360 owners got to experience the galaxy-spanning adventures of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 2, and Noble Six in Halo: Reach; while the PS3 crowd saw the third and final chapter in one of gaming’s greatest franchises, God of War. Wii players reveled in the nostalgia of Donkey Kong Country Returns and the sheer joy of Kirby’s Epic Yarn, while players of all consoles experienced some of the best downloadable titles ever produced, like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, and Costume Quest. Multiplatform games like Red Dead Redemption and Call of Duty: Black Ops lit up consoles on both sides of the console wars, and PC gamers finally saw their wishes fulfilled with the release of Starcraft II, and new reasons to not eat, bathe, or speak to other actual humans with World of Warcraft: Cataclysm and Civilization V. Even the handheld set was well served, with games like Valkyria Chronicles 2, and Dragon Quest VIII.
But then, there was the suck.
Just like every year, each moment of awesomeness was countered by moments of controller-breaking frustration, eye-rollingly bad game design, and just plain crap. While everyone else is listing their greatest moments of the year (booooooring), I’ll be listing my five worst moments in gaming of 2010. It was a great year, but these moments made it feel, however briefly, like a hot gravel enema.
Moment: The whole damn thing
The first time I saw Hydrophobia in action, I was simply blown away. PAX East 2010 was a great showcase for downloadable titles like Monday Night Combat and Hydro Thunder Hurricane, but for me, the highlight of the show was the incredibly realistic display of water physics that Hydrophobia put on. Needless to say, I was hyped about its eventual release. I should not have been.
When the game came out, I was dismayed to find extremely sloppy controls, a hateful bitch of a camera, wooden characters, brain-dead enemy AI, shoddy level design, and god-awful combat. Even the HydroEngine, with its vaunted water physics, was a failure, making the game an utter waste of time and Microsoft Points. Rarely in my gaming life have I been as disappointed in a game as I was with Hydrophobia, and for 2010, it was easily my most hated title.
Game: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam
Moment: Cheating cheaters and the cheats they use to cheat
Don’t get me wrong; Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam is a fantastic game, and easily my most played multiplayer title this year. The game was, however, responsible for one of my most frustrating moments in front of a console in 2010. Well, the game and dirty rotten cheating scumbags.
EA DICE did a spectacular job with the level designs for the Vietnam expansion to Battlefield: Bad Company 2, but they should have subjected the game to some additional playtesting. It seems that some intrepid cheaters have found a way to make PBR boats, usually a moderately useful combat vehicle, into the most deadly piece of military equipment in the history of war. How? By glitching the damn things under the map. By blowing up a boat with a teammate in it, players can turn the unassuming ships into subterranean death machines that can see and shoot everyone on the board without ever taking any risk of being seen. The first time it happened to me, it nearly made me trade in the game and never play it again. Luckily, these cheaters are few and far between, and the occurrences of evil bullets flying out of the ground are infrequent, but damn, is it annoying when it happens. DICE really needs to address this glitch, and soon.
Game: Alpha Protocol
Moment: Pick one
Another example of a game utterly failing to live up to its hype, Alpha Protocol took everything cool about spy fiction and decision-based gameplay, and pissed all over it. I was expecting an experience similar to Mass Effect with all the trappings of a James Bond movie. Instead, I got a slapped-together mess that included deeply flawed level design, and numerous graphical and technical issues. These issues, however, paled in comparison to a ridiculous combat system that made running around punching people instead of shooting them the best, and sometimes only, option for clearing a board.
Some of the RPG and dialogue elements worked very well, and would be worth experiencing in a different game, but when they’re surrounded by a thick layer of awful, it’s just not worth it.
Game: Fallout: New Vegas
As a certified Fallout 3 junkie, I was understandably excited about the prospect of a brand new adventure in my favorite post-apocalyptic dystopia. I was prepared to play the game as differently as possible as I did Fallout 3; melee instead of heavy weapons, explosives instead of science, evil instead of good. Every decision I made in the Capital Wastelands, I’d make differently in New Vegas.
Then people started falling through the ground.
Many gamers have reported no problems with their copies of Fallout New Vegas, but mine was riddled with glitches. NPCs got stuck in the ground and became unable to speak, weapons and other loot would simply disappear, and yes, enemies would simply drop though the ground into oblivion. After playing literally hundreds of hours of Fallout 3, I returned New Vegas to the store after only 45 minutes of play. I fully expect to pick the game up when it costs $20 and the game-breaking glitches are addressed, but for now, New Vegas is unplayable to me.
With its impressive physics engine and unique take on the sport, Backbreaker offered a deeply flawed, but intriguing football experience. Sure, season mode sucked, the logo creator didn’t work online, and the multiplayer was problematic, but man, did those tackles look awesome. NaturalMotion’s use of the Euphoria engine was truly impressive, making for some brutal, violent, and even hilarious hits that just begged to be watched over and over again. Let's go to the replay!
So let’s see; no saving or sharing replays, no zoom, no pause, no camera control. Just play, fast forward and reverse. If you’re going to build a football game that’s all about how cool the animations are, giving players a robust replay system to actually watch those animations should be a given. NaturalMotion saw things differently, though, and gave us practically nothing when it came to watching our best highlights. With so much about this game being a disappointment, I was willing to forgive a lot based on the awesome animations. When the developer seemingly goes out of their way to keep players from experiencing the best parts of a game, however, that’s just inexcusable.
Game Console: Kinect
Moment: Now what?
If you ask me, the Kinect is one impressive piece of machinery. Its ability to distinguish faces, track body movement, and comprehend verbal commands are state of the art, and hold nearly infinite potential for future applications. That’s why I bought it. I was under the impression, however, that there might be something worth playing on the damn thing right now. I was mistaken.
The title that comes with the Kinect, Kinect Adventures, is even more basic and boring than the original Wii Play, and the rest of the library doesn’t fare much better. I understand that this is a brand new “console”, and that the launch titles are mainly aimed at kids and non-traditional gamers, but seriously, white water rafting? Ball bouncing? Michael Jackson? This was all stuff we could have done with the PlayStation 2’s EyeToy. The Kinect has sold well so far, and with a ton of Wii-trained players looking for an HD alternative, it should be a big success for Microsoft. If they don’t come out with some real, worthwhile, “core” titles soon, however, the impressive piece of technology will be one that’s utterly ignored by the 50 million existing Xbox 360 owners who might want to, oh, I don’t know, maybe shoot something.