I know these end-of-year wrap-up lists can be a bit repetitive sometimes. There's a lot of overlap and a lot of re-hashing of things already said earlier. And I know that since this column goes live on New Year's Eve, I'm likely to be the last person to do their end-of-year list. It's very unlikely that I will mention any games you haven't read about a dozen times already.
But it's good that we go back and remind ourselves what happened in the earlier parts of the year. MovieBob recently talked about the strange distortion we see in the movie industry simply because the academy is staffed by ancient mummies afflicted with anterograde amnesia. We certainly don't want to encourage this same way of thinking in the videogame market, and we don't want to exacerbate the end-of-year release overload.
One final note is that these end-of-year lists are really entertaining in retrospect. When you're done with this column, go look up some 2008 or 2009 end-of-year lists and see what games everyone was talking about.
But here is my list of what I thought was good about 2010.
This game was a breakthrough in many ways. It was a triumph of procedural content. It was a triumph of emergent gameplay possibilities. It was a triumph of a single indie developer showing that you don't need millions of dollars, voice actors, and a motion capture studio to make something fun. It was proof that you can make a lot more money with creativity than you can with insane budgets, high prices, and lavish marketing.
I loved the game. I played it with my kids. I played it with friends. I played it with strangers. I played it alone. It was entertaining on many levels.
2. Amnesia, the Dark Descent
Another indie triumph. In a time when all the developers seem to mistake "badass space marine versus icky monsters" for "scary", we have an indie team that understands how to draw people in and make them experience fear.
3. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Blizzard once again proves that polish is everything. World of Warcraft doesn't have the best graphics or the smartest quests. But everything it does have is tested, polished, and perfected. They've gotten better at what they do as the game has matured, and now they've taken their six years of knowledge and applied it to their six-year-old content. The result is a game that still feels familiar, still runs on just about any computer, still has a massive supply of content, but the experience feels smoother than ever.
4. Duke Nukem Forever
Last year I celebrated the fact that Duke Nukem Forever had finally been canceled and we could stop talking about it. Then they un-canceled it. But it's still not out. I'm not really happy that we're still waiting, but I have to give points to the developers for extending a joke that had already gone too far five years ago.
I'm putting it on my list this year. I hope to have it on my list next year after having played and enjoyed it. And then I hope we can stop talking about it.
5. Civilization V
It's rare that a title this mature can really see a leap forward. The Sim City games have basically been a series of visual enhancements and gameplay tweaks on top of Sim City 2000. (Which, confusingly, came out in 1993.) But Civilization V managed to change the game without losing its identity.
6. Fallout: New Vegas
It was a mess of bugs, but if you can forgive those then it's a rare jewel of sandbox gaming. It's superior to Fallout 3 in just about every way possible. Interesting world. Good characters. Fun quests. They managed to get some color into the game, despite the desert setting.
All in all, 2010 was a strange year. The two games that impressed me the most were both indie titles. There were many decent games, but there weren't a lot of games that I was really excited about. The Kinect and Playstation Move were interesting developments, but it will be a while before we can decide if they are going to pay off in the gameplay department. The DRM / piracy debates seem to have cooled, even though it's as bad as ever. There's just not much left for anyone to say.
It feels like this was an in-between year, and that the really big titles are still on the way: Duke Nukem Forever, Portal 2, Half Life 2 Episode 3, DC Universe Online, The Old Republic... We got some good games this year, but my eyes are still fixed on the horizon.