It's become a tradition here at The Escapist to do a "Five Favorites" roundup at the end of the year, where each of the staff members posts their own list of the five games they enjoyed the most over the past twelve months. It's a fun little tradition, but we realize that it can tend to get skewed towards games released in the last part of the year - not only is that the blockbuster season, but they're fresher in our minds.
Since summer is traditionally considered a low-key time in gaming with few major releases, we thought it'd be a good idea to use the downtime to give the first half of the year its due. Over the next week, The Escapist's editorial staff will be sharing three of their favorite games from the first six months of 2010 - along with one "extra" from whenever - that you might want to pick up during these summer doldrums. Are these what we think are the three best games of 2010 so far? Nope. Are they our three favorites, full stop? Nah. We just enjoyed them, and we think you might, too.
Because I like to do things a little differently (and because Steve totally swiped Mass Effect 2) I've decided to go with a theme for my Summer Picks: mysteries. Whether you like them dark and brooding or light and frothy, they're perfect fodder for summertime. No matter if you have more time and brainpower to devote to sleuthing because you're on vacation or need to be led by the hand to the truth because you're too hot to think, there's a mystery out there just waiting for you to solve it. Here are four very different ways to give your little gray cells a workout:
Alan Wake (Xbox 360)
Yes, it's an exclusive, yes, it's short, yes, its ending will send your eyebrow arching skyward, yes, you should play it anyway. The story of novelist Alan Wake, the book he doesn't remember writing and his missing wife is an extremely well told one, doled out at a near-perfect pace and with genuine menace. Something very wrong is happening in Bright Falls, and following Alan and his agent Barry as they work it out is like savoring a particularly juicy pulp novel. Alan Wake's familiar, yet twisted setting adds to its tension, creating a creepy atmosphere that will make you think twice about playing with the lights off - especially if you happen to have a bunch of trees in your yard. It's not so much scary as it is unnerving, making you feel vulnerable like a good thriller should. The game's TV show aesthetic, right down to the "Previously on Alan Wake" intros is also worth experiencing, if only to appreciate how deftly it's done.
Trauma Team (Wii)
There are two reasons I encourage you to give this game a look: the diagnostics and forensics storylines. The rest of the game is great, too, and far more forgiving than previous entries in the surgery-themed Trauma series, but the cerebral challenge of the diagnostic and forensic mysteries is a wonderful diversion from the franchise's traditional medical crises. Reminiscent of old-school adventure games, they give you a chance to put your brain to the test as you work out the relevance of medical results and evidence left at crime scenes. For the diagnostic cases, a patient will come to you with a bundle of relatively simple symptoms and it's up to you - with the help of a battery of tests and a clever computer assistant - to determine what's actually ailing them. Your mission in forensics is to follow clues, some important, some red herrings, to turn back clock and figure out what actually happened. It's a little bit of CSI, a little bit of House, and a great way to get non-gaming friends and family to share in the fun ... or just convince them that you really are as smart as you say you are.
Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mystery of Little Riddle (PlayStation 3)
I love mysteries. I love comedy. Put the two together and I will likely follow you around like I am a puppy dog and you have bacon. Blue Toad Murder Files (PSN) sets Professor Layton-esque puzzle solving and absurd sense of humor in the idyllic English town of Little Riddle amongst a truly alarming number of dead bodies and drops you into the role of roaming detective tasked with figuring out whodunnit. The puzzles are good, solid brain teasers, and almost nearly as entertaining as the narrator's snide analysis of your ability to solve them. The mysteries themselves aren't terribly difficult, but matching wits with your buddies while laughing at the game's smart comedy (the local vicar spices up his homilies with references to Cthulhu, for example) is a great way to spend a summer evening.
Gimme: Unsolved Crimes (DS)
There are a bunch of mystery and crime-solving games for the DS - including the famous Phoenix Wright series - but most of them share the same fatal flaw: Just choose all the options one by one and eventually you'll move on. Not so with Unsolved Crimes, which actually forces you to think about the evidence in front of you. Answer too many questions incorrectly, point the finger at the wrong suspect, just blindly guess at the importance of a clue, and you fail. Period, the end, case over. You can go back and retry, of course, but once you realize that simply churning through all of the dialog options won't help you close the case, your appreciation for the well-crafted mysteries increases dramatically and you'll find yourself weighing decisions far more carefully. The graphics aren't the best, and there's one timed section at the end that will likely put your DS in peril of being hurled across the room at high speed, but puzzling your way through case after gruesome case (the crimes are surprisingly brutal) is totally worth it.
Tune in tomorrow for Editor-in-Chief Russ Pitts' summer gaming selections. See all of our summer gaming lists here.
Susan Arendt is fairly certain that it was Colonel Mustard in the Ballroom with the Lead Pipe.