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.
Splinter Cell: Conviction (Xbox 360, PC, Mac)
I was one of the folks eagerly awaiting this installment in the Splinter Cell franchise, and the wait was definitely worth it. If you have a short memory, it's tempting to think the game borrows heavily from inspirations like the Bourne films, 24 and the Daniel Craig James Bond reboot, but when you look at the big picture, you realize that those stories themselves borrowed heavily from the early Splinter Cells.
Sam Fisher, the NSA super-spy at the heart of Splinter Cell, is iconic, not only in his repertoire of action moves and spy-like sneaky and shooty skills, but in his narrative as well. Apart from creating engrossing and incredibly fun stealth game play, the series has accomplished the unique task of creating a through and believable story arc for its hero.
In Conviction, Sam has retired form the NSA after killing his best friend in the line of duty and discovering that his daughter has died in a car accident. He's exacted revenge - he thinks - for these atrocities, and now he's ready to put it all behind him. Most stories end this way, but Ubisoft takes this bitter ending and twists it into a new beginning, when Sam's phone rings and he's given a tip that his daughter's death may have been a sham. And also that armed gunmen are coming to kill him.
Even if you don't care a whit about story in games, Splinter Cell: Conviction is one of the most innovative and daring game experiences of the year, and well worth playing for a glimpse at the future of game design.
And if you want to hear more from the writer chiefly responsible for Sam Fisher's tale, check out Central Clancy Writer, Richard Dansky's article for this week's issue of The Escapist magazine about creating the perfect videogame villain.
Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PS3)
It's probably time for the inevitable backlash to the sentiment that Red Dead Redemption is the best "Wild West" game ever made, but I couldn't care less. I've played every Wild West game ever made, and as far as I'm concerned, Red Dead is the best. A lot of games have taken well-worn genres and slapped a Western theme on top and called it good. Some of them were good, too. (Outlaws, I'm looking at you.) But Red Dead Redemption, by focusing on setting, character and mood (the building blocks of genre entertainment), then working outward from there, has captured the essence of the idealized west and built that into a fun experience. Actually, more like twenty or thirty fun experiences. It's a dense, enjoyable experience that's well worth playing.
I'm a bit farther into it than my colleague, Greg Tito, but even after I complete that last 3.5% (damn you, treasure hunter bounties) I'll still find plenty to do. It certainly helps that Rockstar has committed to generous DLC support.
Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360)
I'm still working on our review for this game, so stay tuned for a full impression. After playing it for about 20 hours or so, though, I can tell you that it's just simply an insane amount of fun.
I enjoyed Crackdown, but the game had some flaws. Most notably, it got boring fast. It was hard to tell what you were "supposed" to be doing, so once the fun of bouncing from rooftop to rooftop wore off, it was hard to wring any more fun out of it.
Thankfully, Ruffian Studios (comprised of former members of Crackdown developer Real Time Worlds) seems to have known exactly what to tweak.
At first glance, Crackdown 2 feels like just "more Crackdown," but the subtle enhancements go deep, and make the experience about 90% more fun. If you're looking for one game to spend some serious time with this summer, and Westerns aren't your thing, then Crackdown 2 is a safe bet.
I have to confess now that I'm late to the Introversion party. I've worked with a number of devotees of this impressive and unique indie developer over the years, and listened to their long-winded praise of the "sterility" and "moodiness" of Introversion's games, barely suppressing a yawn before rushing home to my "made by more than two dudes" AAA blockbuster console titles.
I've played plenty of sterile, moody games in my time. Impossible Mission comes to mind here, with its curiously empty hallways. I understand the appeal of a well-crafted game that grabs you instantly. It's not that I didn't "get" the appeal of Introversion games, I just didn't care.
Having left behind the budget-crushing world of PC gaming at around the time the previous console generation was just getting its legs, I've now spent the past six or seven years thumbing my nose at any and all attempt to draw me back in. I've built, upgraded, trouble-shooted and destroyed dozens f PCs in my gaming career. I've paid my dues. I've earned the right to plug in a few cables, spread out in a comfy leather chair with a beer and play my games on a big-screen TV, then have someone in a factory fix the damn device if there are any problems.
For the past few years, therefore, my attitude toward PC gaming has been one of detached amusement. I know full well the power of the platform to create engrossing, beyond-the-capabilities-of-the-console experiences, and yet for the sake of my finances and sanity, I've refused to care. Until now.
These days I find myself in possession of a home PC that just happens to have the power to play any PC game currently sold, and so, as it tends to do, curiosity got the better of me and I've been slowly trying out the backlog of games I'd previously overlooked.
The tragedy here, of course, is that I could have been playing games like Uplink all along. It's a bare-bones network hacking simulator. You'll dial in to far-away computer systems, steal files, wreak havoc on other people's computers and accept your fee which you will then use to upgrade your hardware and software to be able to do more and more dangerous things. All the while you're being slowly hunted by hacker-finders. Any mistake could mean the end of your career.
It's an innovative and enthralling experience, and what's remarkable is that for all its simplicity, it's hard to believe that what you're doing on-screen isn't happening in real life.
See all of our summer gaming lists here.