Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
I did not like the original Assassin's Creed. I mean, you could see the potential there, but there was just something missing. Maybe it was the repetitive and largely meaningless missions, or maybe it was the scattered story. Whatever was missing, Ubisoft added it for the sequel. Assassin's Creed II was one of the best games I've played in the last few years, and the follow up, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is just as good. It merges the game mechanics of Grand Theft Auto, mixes in a bit of Spider-Man and puts it all in a historical thriller that's heavy on political intrigue and, yes, art history. It sounds like such a mélange, it couldn't possibly work, but work it does.
Getting to play as Ezio the second time around, and see what's next for Desmond and the rest of the sci-fi crew, was a real blast, but the real appeal of this game, at least for me, was the city of Rome itself. Whether you're scaling the heights of the Coliseum and sneaking through the hallways of the Castel Sant'Angelo, Brotherhood brings the glories and corruptions of the Eternal City to life. On top of all that, the game lets Ezio recruit his own gang of assassins, which adds a satisfying strategic element to the game. Toss in a little multiplayer that actually takes some of the industry's most familiar concepts and actually makes them feel fresh, and there's no reason not to love this game.
Mass Effect 2
Okay, this is a gimmee. It's easily one of the biggest and best releases of the year, so any gamer worthy of the name had to have taken notice of this one. And while it wasn't a perfect experience, there was a lot to love about Mass Effect 2. It obviously stood on the shoulders of its giant predecessor, which instantly gave most of us a tremendous back story that had us hooked on the action from the very beginning of the game. And what a beginning it was! Mass Effect 2 starts with a huge bang, literally, and just keeps piling on the action. Yes, there are a few tedious political discussions here and there and, sure, Shepard does end up playing detective in some fairly bland scenarios, but this is probably the best and most exciting story in any videogame this year.
As you continue to dig deeper into the mystery of the Reapers and the Collectors, and try to figure out what's going on with the Illusive Man the new Council, you'll uncover the second chapter of what has become gaming's most epic, engaging story. I was a little miffed that some of the hardcore RPG elements were eliminated, but in the end, the game is about the player making choices that matter. Yeah, I hated seeing some of the RPG stuff fall by the wayside, but in the end, the game still won me over. I can't wait to see how BioWare finishes this story.
Rock Band 3
If you'd told me last year that my favorite game of this year was going to be Rock Band 3, I'd have laughed and then said something horrible about your mother. But it turns out that you'd have been right and I'd have just had to apologize to dear old Mom. Rock Band 3 has finally made the ridiculous oversaturation of the guitar game market worthwhile by combining compelling gameplay with a truly satisfying context.
Eschewing the heavily abstracted nature of most music games, Rock Band 3 introduces Pro Mode. This is basically the equivalent of Grand Prix Legends in the racing world, a sim that is far closer to the actual experience of playing music than you've seen in any game so far. Combined with the Pro peripherals for guitar, drums and keyboards, this is as close as you'll get to the real thing without having to develop calluses on your fingers and buying an electronic tuner. Players will use these new controllers to play through a huge list of great songs, and progress along a thoroughly satisfying career path complete with enough unlocks and achievements to give you a constant sense of progress.
The only real downside to this game is that it really costs quite a bit of money if you want to really get the most out of it. Even so, considering what you spend, you really get your money's worth, particularly if you have lots of friends and are willing to dig in to the Pro modes.