WE STARTED 2009 in the grips of an economic recession and with the small hope that the videogame industry was recession-proof. Unfortunately, our hopes were unfounded as many game companies made significant staffing cutbacks and others quietly disappeared altogether. As developers and producers both tightened their belts, we were offered a string of sequels - intellectual properties that carried less financial risk than new and unproven titles.
But what sequels: Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed II rolled the time line forward to Renaissance Italy, stripping out much of the original's repetition and adding vibrancy to the setting. Valve's Left 4 Dead 2 moved the zombie apocalypse to America's deep south, taking everything that we enjoyed about the original and elaborating upon it. We declared Uncharted 2: Among Thieves one of this console generation's greatest experiences.
But there was one sequel that dwarfed all the rest, raising both the ire and adoration of the gaming public, and in the process pushing many titles into 2010: Infinity Ward's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Even so, some developers dared to test the waters with new titles and found them receptive. Borderlands' unique art direction and compelling gameplay has led developer Gearbox to call a sequel a "no brainer" - we couldn't agree more. BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins became publisher Electronic Arts' most popular title as the BioWare network tipped five million users. In style, Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum finally allayed our fears that there would simply never be a good Batman game.
2009 has been good to gamers and with that in mind, we look back at the year that was and hand out a lot of largely nonsensical awards applauding the hard work of developers and publishers everywhere before getting down to awarding the Game of the Year as voted by New Zealand's largest gaming community.
The Rodney Hide award for most inappropriate flying
We couldn’t decide if the much-hyped flying sequence in Assassin’s Creed II was entertaining, ridiculous or ridiculously entertaining. What’s certain is that Ubisoft's superb stealth killer sequel very briefly introduces a flying mechanic, asks you to master it and then casts it aside, never to be used again.
Fortunately, Da Vinci’s contraption will make a second appearance in the upcoming downloadable content, The Battle of Forli.
The Michael Laws award for most unnecessary controversy
Infinity Ward managed to shock and stun many with what was a largely pointless depiction of civilian mass murder in the "No Russian" chapter of Modern Warfare 2. Sure, you could skip it, but just like parental guides or R18 labels, morbid curiosity generally triumphs.
The airport massacre could be seen as a revolutionary attempt to push the boundaries of video game content, and you could congratulate Infinity Ward on their daring portrayal of difficult subject matter - or you could simply accuse them of creating trashy content in a bid to inflate pre-release chatter: Laws even tackled it on his talkback radio show.
The Hone Harawira award for most inappropriate side quest
In Dragon Age: Origins' Brecilian forest we met Cammen, a pouty would-be hunter who hopes to win the affections of Gheyna. Gheyna has refused Cammen’s advances as he has not yet killed one of the forest’s blight wolves in a kind of “coming of age” ceremony.
Two choices, then: Help young Cammen by providing him with a wolf pelt or by persuading Gheyna to reconsider; or seduce either youngster before running off to tell the other party about it.
The Sue Bradford award for best hand to hand combat
In a showdown between Tekken 6 and Street Fighter 4, we’ve awarded the closely contended “Braddy” to the latter. Street Fighter 4 applies polish to a longstanding franchise, refining many of the mechanics we’ve enjoyed ever since we first popped some spare coins into the Street Fighter 2 machine at the local fish ‘n’ chip shop all those years ago.
The John Key award for most limb damage
Chainsaws, machetes, pipe bombs, thousands of zombies and Valve’s Source engine all make for limb-flying mayhem. Initially, there were concerns that Left 4 Dead 2 would be little more than a hefty expansion pack to the original.
But with more levels, more weapons, a new cast, new gameplay modes and new special infected, Left 4 Dead 2 succeeds in taking an existing format and adding to it without compromising its initial appeal.
The Winston Peters award for excellence in senior gaming
Wii Sports Resort features highly addictive and engaging gameplay across 12 different activities. The MotionPlus accessory for Wiimotes significantly increases controller responsiveness, and its upbeat and friendly presentation makes for fun the whole family can join in, regardless of age.
The Phil Goff award for most self-promotion
Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and the spouses of John Lennon and George Harrison – Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison – all made a combined guest appearance at E3 2009 to promote The Beatles: Rock Band.
While the game is much the same as previous incarnations of the Rock Band series, a great number of people know and love The Beatles dearly, making it a party favourite for a wider audience. The game’s spectacular cinematic trailer left us with kaleidoscope eyes.
The Peter Dunne award for the game we didn’t hear from
The cold sweats and sleepless nights continue: Announced in 2007, we had hoped to see Blizzard’s sci-fi RTS blockbuster StarCraft 2 this year – or at the very least a beta version. No such luck. Roll on 2010!
The Taito Phillip Field award for the best game set in a prison
Rocksteady has done what we were beginning to think might be impossible: deliver a Batman game we aren’t disappointed with. Perhaps where Rocksteady went right was adapting the source material – the comic books – rather than creating an adaptation of the TV and film adaptations. Arkham Asylum is the most critically acclaimed superhero game ever – and rightly so. Ubiquitous Batman voice Kevin Conroy delivers the protagonist’s lines and Mark Hamill delivers a stand-out performance as The Joker.
The Gameplanet Community’s Top 5 games of 2009
This year’s Game of the Year award was so hotly contested we had to run a finalists round to secure a clear winner. As voted by you, Gameplanet’s top five games are:
5th equal: Borderlands / Left 4 Dead 2
“Borderlands represents an ambitious project for developers Gearbox. It's a well presented game that offers plenty of content to keep everyone happy.” (Read more)
Left 4 Dead 2 has more zombies, "more of everything, in fact. Levels are designed better and are longer. The AI seems smarter. It's still just as brutally hard on the high difficulty settings. It's everything we want in a sequel.” (Read more)
4th: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
“Modern Warfare 2 is everything a great sequel should be and fans of the series will love the additions Infinity Ward has included this time around.” (Read more)
3rd: Batman: Arkham Asylum
“We've been eagerly waiting for this Batman release for some time now, and fortunately we weren't disappointed. Developer Rocksteady Studios has created an exemplary game that, whilst not without flaws, will keep fans happy for months to come.” (Read more)
Runner Up: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
“Uncharted 2 improves on the original in almost every way. A solid gaming experience, and one that will rate among the very best PS3 games ever made.” (Read more)
The Gameplanet community Game of the Year:
Dragon Age: Origins
When we first got our hands on this game we were moved, writing that BioWare’s latest RPG is an experience “rich and appealing - maybe even award-winning” and we’re extremely gratified you feel the same way. BioWare place great importance on what they call the “fourth pillar,” story-telling, and Dragon Age is an outstanding case in point of their abilities. We can’t wait to see what they do with this new IP next. Very warmest congratulations to all at BioWare and Electronic Arts on behalf of everyone at Gameplanet.
That's it for 2009 - all eyes are now on the 2010 line-up. Gameplanet would like to thank our readers, our contributors and all of the local distributors and publishers who have supported us this year. We have big plans for 2010 and look forward to more content, more competitions and more of everything you expect from New Zealand's largest gaming community. Happy holidays!