- Lego Rock Band
- Beatles Rock Band
- Halo 3: ODST
- Uncharted 2
This award is usually my most difficult to assign. Recent years have been filled with game after game of increasing quality & depth. 2009 was no exception.
Lego Rock Band tweaked the now-familiar Rock Band formula into something with a slightly more kid-friendly twist. But, here’s my secret: I actually like it better than the adult-focused Rock Band 2. Lego Rock Band has a sense of humor that RB2 was mostly lacking, and also provides more variation in career mode challenges. Throw in a track list including some of my favorite cheesy rock songs of all time (Ghostbusters and The Final Countdown!) and I had no choice but to buy a copy.
Beatles Rock Band went a different route than previous RB games – it zeroed in one band in incredible detail. From the songs themselves to small details like menu styles and sound effects, everything about this title screams Beatles. It’s also the first RB game to feature 3 part vocal harmonies. I can’t sing well enough to truly appreciate this feature, but witnessing 3 of my friends belt out the harmonies in perfect sync is a great enhancement to the RB experience – I hope Harmonix builds this into all future RB games. I’ve never been a dedicated Beatles fan before, but thanks to this game I’ve discovered a number of their songs that I highly enjoy.
Halo 3: ODST doesn’t really stand on its own. The story is very much a side tale, fitting into a context you can only really grok by playing the other franchise titles. But viewed as a piece of that franchise, the game takes on a new light. By being freed from Master Chief’s main narrative, the story of ODST is free to take some risks – I particularly enjoyed how the ‘bonus’ audio files have a payoff in the central storyline if you gather every one. And the main campaign creates a great sense of loneliness, of being outmanned and outgunned, in a way few other games do. Multiplayers new Firefight mode is a welcome addition to the Halo pantheon, since playing against bots is an option I’ve wanted ever since the original Halo 1.
As excellent as all three of these games are (any one is worth your money), honestly they were never really contenders for the award. Uncharted 2 came along in October and I knew almost instantly it would be my game of the year. The best way I can describe Uncharted 2 is to say it’s like playing an amazing summer adventure blockbuster movie. Sure, the narrative is on rails, but with rails this amazing I don’t really mind so much! Developers Naughty Dog have achieved new heights with voice acting and character animations that I’ve never seen any other game come close to. I believed that Nathan Drake and his compatriots were real people with real motivations and hopes. I’ve never before seen a video game character’s face animated so well that a facial expression alone made me laugh or grow concerned, but UC2 did both repeatedly. Sequences that in any other game would be mere cinematics are fully interactive are instead completely playable here, lending a deeper sense of player involvement in what’s happening on screen.
Plus, they got rid of the annoying zombie enemies that dragged down so much of UC1 for me. UC1 was great, but UC2 is near perfect. I can’t wait to see what they iterate onto with the inevitable UC3.