Upon release, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars immediately found its way on my top five games of 2009. With its style, humor and variety it's clear Rockstar was trying to shine a new light on the popular franchise. Not only that, Rockstar took chances in hopes to attract a similar audience to a handheld GTA as it has on consoles. From a new class of criminal, fighting for honor and turf in Liberty City to an addictive (albeit, mostly cloned from Drugwars) illegal narcotic mini-game, Chinatown Wars felt like a breath of fresh air. Sadly, the game was a commercial disaster, relative to its console-based siblings. Be that as it may, Chinatown Wars was not only my favorite on-the-go game of the year, it was easily one of the best games to release across any platform in 2009.
If -- when it was announced -- you told me that Left 4 Dead 2's internal reception upon release would be as divisive as Mirror's Edge was in 2008, or Assassin's Creed was in 2007, I'd call you a crazy person. Shockingly enough, Valve's second entry into the zombie-murder-sim franchise has a love/hate rep with some of the staff at the 'Stiq. Attempting to ignore the screams of horror from some of my co-workers, I picked the game up to decide for myself. Yes, it's cheap as all hell at times (and the new A.I. Director can fall in a well and die), but it also offers far more interesting campaigns, a much needed expansion of weapons and enemies, and some of the most fun I've had in a multiplayer setting (specifically, versus mode) since class-based combat in Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War (the reason I joined Xbox Live). It will kick your ass and piss you off. But hey, it's the zombie apocalypse! No one said this 'ish would be easy, son.
When the final votes for Joystiq's 2009 Game of the Year awards were submitted, many of us were saddened that Torchlight didn't make the cut. It came close, though. Seriously, the game ended up in the eleventh spot! While it isn't original -- hell, it's made by some of the guys who made the game it's copying! -- Torchlight stands out as some of the most fun I've had all year. Dozens of hours worth, that is. It's a game I keep going back to again and again. And since Diablo III probably won't come until the end of days, Torchlight will continue to cure my itch for dungeon exploration and loot whoring. It's well worth your time.
So, yeah... I'm Canadian. But don't jump to conclusions in thinking that NHL 10 made my Best of the Rest because of my nationality (if that were true Afrika would be Ludwig's Game of the Year). When I first picked it up (at launch, as is required by law in Canada) the majority of my time was spent in the game's incredible Be a GM mode. "Finally," I praised, "the Leafs were going to win something!" After I restored glory to my beloved Blue and White, I stopped in to check out the refinements to the game's Be a Pro mode. Months later when I emerged from my room, I discovered... okay, you caught me... I'm still in here plugging away at it. NHL 10 isn't just the best sports game of 2009, it's one of the year's overall best. Period.
Two old-school adventure games given a fresh coat of paint and they still managed to steal my heart. With new "cutscenes" by Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen fame), Beneath a Steel Sky: Remastered brought hours of conspiracy driven action-adventure to my fingertips on the iPhone. As for the second game in this "Best of the Rest" duo: Guybrush's hilarious high-def debut in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition was exactly the kind of freshness the Xbox Live Arcade needed (and it's available on other platforms as well). Seriously, if I play one more twin-stick shooter, I'm going to punch a dog.
Honorable Mentions (because this is already too long)
Battlefield 1943, Dead Space Extraction, Street Fighter IV, Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?, Red Faction: Guerrilla, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand, Resistance Retribution and Resident Evil 5.
The "Favorite 2010 Game I Got to Play in 2009" Award: My hands-on time with Splinter Cell: Conviction still gives me goosebumps at night. Damn you delays!
- The Wolfenstein Community: I had been anticipating intense class-based multiplayer sessions in Raven's Wolfenstein, hoping to relive my glory days as a fierce competitor in the Xbox Live ring. Game in hand I switched to its multiplayer mode... I've had more people playing LAN at my house. Sadly, Wolfenstein's online mode has been overshadowed by other major releases. While the game is far from perfect, it includes an extremely fun multiplayer component. From what I gather, at least.
- Killzone 2: No doubt about it, Killzone 2 is gorgeous. Like, drop your jaw and kick it down the street s***hot! The gameplay? Well, that just made me want to kick the game itself down the street. Some people loved it. I didn't. (Guerrilla if you're reading, "Killzone Liberation HD or proper PSP sequel, plz! KTHXBAI.")
- The Conduit: It was simply a case of, "I wanted to love it, but it didn't do anything (gameplay wise) that I couldn't find somewhere else... and better." It should be noted that High Voltage has wizards on staff. The game looks solid, but its gameplay failed to keep my attention.
- Halo Wars: Having been an avid fan of everything Ensemble put its name on, Halo Wars, sadly, did not resonate with me. I tend to resonate with things that don't bore me to tears. Had Ensemble Studios been given a fair chance (read: not told its staff would be fired following the game's release), it's possible the game would have featured more content or depth -- my major complaints toward the game. Sadly, we'll never know.
- DICE: One question: "Where is my Battlefield 1943 DLC?"