January is typically a slow month for new releases but 2010 got off to a roaring start with the releases of Bayonetta, Darksiders, Army of Two: The 40th Day, Dark Void, Mass Effect 2 and MAG.
Although the ongoing concern over the state of the global economy forced cutbacks for a number of studios, the first half of the year produced many of the year's most popular titles. Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Heavy Rain, Splinter Cell: Conviction, God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, and Alan Wake packed out gamers' collections with enough content to last for months.
Just as well, perhaps, as 2010 also saw some significant changes within the industry itself. Gamers and the gaming industry alike were scandalised by reports that the campus of blockbuster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 developer Infinity Ward had been occupied by security guards and that CEO Jason West and co-founder Vince Zampella had been unceremoniously stripped of their posts by publisher Activision. Almost immediately, rumours of greed, subversion and insubordination followed from both parties. It's unlikely that we'll ever hear the full story but in the weeks following, Infinity Ward lost staff in droves as they followed Zampella and West, and Activision's loss became EA's gain with the foundation of Respawn Entertainment.
Despite friction within the industry, the major releases kept coming; StarCraft II, Mafia II, Halo: Reach, Civilization V, Medal of Honor, Fallout: New Vegas, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and - after a five year wait - Gran Turismo 5.
New Zealand also saw its share of gaming controversy. Defence Minister Wayne Mapp followed the ill-advised lead of British Defence Secretary Liam Fox in condemning EA's Medal of Honor for the inclusion of Taliban fighters. A local Splinter Cell promotion went terribly awry as a ridiculous marketing stunt sparked an armed police callout when an actor pointed a fake gun at terrified pubgoers in Auckland's Viaduct Basin.
New hardware also made an appearance in the form of Microsoft's new Xbox 360 Slim, as well as the rival motion sensing platforms Kinect and Move. Nintendo waded into the foray with the revelation that the 3DS - their handheld 3D gaming platform - is currently under development and likely to ship in 2011.
It's been a productive year across the board, and as the holiday season is well and truly upon us, it's time to look back and recognise not only the hard work of developers and publishers, but also your own feelings about 2010 as we hand out the Game of the Year as voted by New Zealand's largest gaming community.
The David Garrett Award for the Most Creative Use Of A Dead Child
Much like this bumbling ex-politician's attempts to cheat the system, Limbo presents a dark premise intertwined with the concept of exploiting recently departed children for your own entertainment.
It offers misery and frustration in equal measure, set atop a hauntingly beautiful grey-scale background with similarly depressing sound effects. It's fantastic.
The Pansy Wong Award for The Most Exploitative Cash-Grab
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is, without a doubt, the worst game we've encountered this year.
Between poor controls, a vapid storyline, annoying repetitiveness and terrible lip-syncing, it's clear the only reason this game ever saw the light of day was to milk as much money from the Potter cash cow as possible. There are plastic toys at The Warehouse marked "Under 5's only" that have a more lasting appeal.
For shame, EA, for shame.
The John Banks "One More Turn Please" Award
Likely to sap your life away faster than an ill-advised foray into opiates, Civilization V redefined the turn-based strategy genre this year with compelling gameplay, excellent artwork and extensive attention to detail.
Playing Civilization has always been about late nights, endless cups of coffee and an inhuman ability to avoid sleep at all costs. Firaxis has remained true to series' central tenets, producing an instant classic in this fifth iteration.
Unlike Banksy, you'll find Civilization V's proposition too compelling to ignore.
The Phil Goff Memorial Award for Inexorable Decline
Although Activision wedged a fat, calloused finger in the leaking dyke that is Guitar Hero, we couldn't help but think that even the solitary release of Warriors of Rock this year was a dribble too far.
The series has lacked direction since Guitar Hero World Tour, alternating between a career-based grind to little more than a track pack with last year's Guitar Hero 5.
Warriors of Rock was an attempt to shift the series back towards its roots, but it's a case of too little, too late.
Don't think for a second that'll stop Activision from making another one, though.
The Chris Carter Award for Worst Backstabbing
OK, Artificial Mind and Movement, we get it. With Naughty Bear, you were going for the edgy, alternative market, looking for the juxtaposition between cuddly toys and senseless cruelty. That dark comedic value inherent in presenting a fluffy exterior and beating it to a pulp with a large hammer.
Unfortunately, past the first five minutes you didn't provide us with any reason to persist in this charade. The level design is mind-numbingly boring, the camera controls are plain broken, and your narrator has less vocal appeal than Fran Drescher.
Did you even test this game before you shipped it?
The Gerry Brownlee Award for Best Post-Apocalyptic Vision
In spite of concerns from some corners that Fallout: New Vegas would do little more than strip mine the beauty of Fallout 3, developer Obsidian produced a dark, rich and expansive take on post-apocalyptic America.
Fallout: New Vegas took everything we liked about its predecessor and drilled deeper to create a more compelling, more involved experience. Final proof, if it was needed, that Obsidian ought to be considered amongst the very best RPG developers in the business.
Gameplanet Readers' Choice Awards 2010
The Gameplanet Readers’ Choice Awards are the most comprehensive and reliable videogame awards in New Zealand. They’re not arbitrarily determined by an editorial committee or a bleary-eyed journalist the day after the staff Christmas party, but by the votes of thousands of dedicated Kiwi gamers.
As voted by New Zealand’s largest gaming community, the top five games of 2010 are:
5th: StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (Blizzard)
“Twelve years is an awfully long time between drinks. The original StarCraft was released in 1998. It’s still wildly popular. We don’t expect StarCraft II will be any different.” (Read more)
4th: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (DICE)
“DICE have reinvigorated a genre that was in mild decline on its native platform. The experience is equal parts nostalgia and evolution. We only wish more were striving in this space.” (Read more)
3rd: Call of Duty: Black Ops (Treyarch)
“Treyarch's ambitious attempt to move the Xbox 360 community towards a new shooter may have paid off. Black Ops is a competent game that comes packed with compelling multiplayer modes and additional content." (Read more)
2nd: Mass Effect 2 (BioWare)
“Mass Effect 2 is a significant improvement over the first game - no small feat considering the first game is arguably one of the greatest of this generation. The series has become the crown jewel of the modern RPG genre and is an experience that every gamer should have.” (Read more)
And the winner is...
Gameplanet Readers’ Choice Game of the Year 2010:
Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar)
By an overwhelming margin, you’ve all decreed that Red Dead Redemption is 2010’s Game of the Year and we couldn’t agree more. This open-world Western is a perfect example of Rockstar’s relentless dedication to perfection.
As we wrote in our review, “To date, no videogame has managed to tap the rich vein of the Western – one that has come in and out of style over the years, but also one that has never lost its allure ever since Tombstone lawman Wyatt Earp hung up his spurs and rode out for Hollywood.
“The unparalleled sophistication of Red Dead Redemption changes that.” (Read more)
Our very warmest congratulations to everyone at Rockstar and Take-Two from the team at Gameplanet.
That's it for 2010 – all eyes are now on the 2011 line-up. Gameplanet would like to thank our readers, our contributors and all of the distributors and publishers who have supported us this year. We have big plans for 2011 and look forward to providing you with more of everything you expect from New Zealand's premier gaming publication. Happy holidays!
Congratulations to Jonathan Gillespie, who is the winner of our Game of the Year voting competition and has scored a mystery box of videogames valued at more than $1,500!