2009 Silicon Sasquatch Game of the Year Awards: #10-8
We're proud to present you with our first-ever Game of the Year awards! Our list of the top ten games of 2009 was derived after hours of debate between all the blog's contributors. It wasn't an easy process, but we are confident that the list we arrived at is the most comprehensive and fair one we could produce.
Today we'll cover numbers 10, 9 and 8. Tuesday will feature numbers 7 through 5, Wednesday will include 4 through 2, and on Thursday we'll finally unveil our unanimous choice for the best game of 2009.
#10. Left 4 Dead 2
November -- Windows, Xbox 360
Left 4 Dead 2 was a paradox in 2009, a simultaneously welcomed and loathed sequel. Who would have thought that a new iteration of one 2008's best titles would spawn online petitions and gallons of spittle from the foaming mouths of psychotic forum-goers? (But let's be honest: those types always complain.) Valve's secret-keeping mentality after the E3 2009 announcement only helped fuel the indignation of petition leaders, who claimed Left 4 Dead 2 was exploiting the original's community. I was a bit skeptical myself. Left 4 Dead was still quite new at the time of its sequel's unveiling -- and with the release of the software development kit (SDK) in May, the community had just started warming up. I asked myself, "Do I really want a second helping already? I'm still working on my first course of delicious, zombified meat." Well, I did want more. I just didn't know it yet -- not until the demo converted me.
Sorry detractors: Valve knows exactly what it's doing.
Left 4 Dead 2 is a more sophisticated game than Left 4 Dead. It might not be revolutionary by any stretch of the word, but it's evolutionary within the confines of Left 4 Dead's genetic makeup. There's a deeper story, more clever humor and arguably better survivors (in particular: Ellis, the hilarious and lovable grease monkey) piled on top of superior weaponry, longer campaign chapters and bigger finales. In the past, a sequel merely evolving from its predecessor was bad. Gamers expected revolutionary changes between games in a series. But Valve proves with Left 4 Dead 2 that the wheel doesn't need to be reinvented; it just has to be rolled in different ways.
Did you think the first game's look was too dark, drab or uninteresting? Now you can bask in the Cajun sun while bathed in blood. The daylight maps, set in the southern United States, are gorgeous. Trees now look like trees, and the new infected skin textures are eerily cool. According to the developer commentary track, the art team used image maps of potato skins to make zombies look even less human -- how awesome is that? From nature: zombification.
The greatest asset of Left 4 Dead 2 is its strategic depth. New special infected, including the Spitter, the Jockey and the Charger, counter the majority of team strategies developed in Left 4 Dead -- no more corner camping, pals. And the inclusion of uncommon common infected, like the riot gear-armored CEDA agent, add much-needed tactical variety. Armored zombies and their friends (CEDA Hazmat suit infected and swamp-dwelling mudmen infected) demand alterations to your team's tactics mid-firefight; spinning the CEDA agent around with a melee hit to blast his spinal cord is a tiny and hectic diversion. And speaking of melee combat: it will now forever be a staple of the Left 4 Dead franchise. The variety of weapons -- axes, katanas, electric guitars, clubs, bats and chainsaws among others -- dramatically enhance the campaign experience for you and your friends. How can you not laugh when your teammate charges into a horde of enemies with a chainsaw, ripping each one limb from limb thanks to the advanced dismemberment physics?
Hands-down, this is one of the best videogame sequels of any year, past or present. While I've previously complained about getting "more of the same" from games, Valve's talent knows how to keep a solid core concept alive (or is that undead?) while creating an overall worthier title...in the space of a single year. Valve's now making me look paradoxical. — Aaron Thayer
February -- PlayStation Network
In some ways, I'd be tempted to proclaim Flower the game of the decade because it is such a pure experience.
While first-person shooters, violent role-playing games and action-adventure series continue to dominate the sales charts, Flower is stalwart in its defiance of consumer expectations. Here is a game devoid of words and delineated objectives, lacking in familiar archetypes and control schemes -- and yet it speaks louder and more clearly to its audience than just about any other game on the market. Vibrant colors, picturesque landscapes and lush, dynamic music work collaboratively to express a story through emotions and impressions. But high-quality artwork and music are no strangers to the indie gaming scene, as last year's Braid demonstrated, and Flower would not have been nearly as significant as it is had it not captured the breathtaking sensation of flight so perfectly.
By simply tilting the controller and pressing a single button, the player can guide a stream of flower petals to soar through the air effortlessly. It's a surprisingly intuitive process, and the sensation of flight is almost tactile. Many people are no stranger to flying an F-16 or an X-Wing in a videogame, but those experiences detach the player from the sensation of movement. Flower sucks you in with a masterful grace, and before long you'll be soaring above fields and canyons just to savor the feeling of flying.
Flower could be considered many things: a passionate defense of environmentalism; a testament to the power and scope of downloadable games; or even just a proof-of-concept for Sony's maligned Sixaxis motion controller. But it is without question a beautiful, stirring work of art, and it handily demonstrates just how powerful the videogame medium can be. — Nick Cummings
(Read our review of Flower here.)
#8. Forza Motorsport 3
October -- Xbox 360
Forza Motorsport 3 is a game that succeeds in numerous ways. It’s a graphical tour-de-force, especially in the cinematic replay mode, and it continues to impress when driving from the cockpit view of any of the game’s massive variety of cars. Forza 3 also has a wonderful suite of driver assists that make the game palatable to racing simulator newcomers, while retaining the series' complex vehicle physics for the purists. Simply put, there have never been this many ways to personalize your car collection in a console racer.
As was mentioned in our review of the game, other console driving simulators can't reach Forza 3's level of accessibility. From the single-player career structure to running a private and customized online race, Forza 3 benefits from the lessons Turn 10 learned over the course of its first two games. Add to that a healthy storefront offering a wide variety of designs, custom logos, photos and replays created by the Forza community, and there’s plenty available for gamers besides turning in laps.
But it'd all be worthless if the gameplay was sub-par. However, with a rock-solid framerate and physics engine that, yes, puts Gran Turismo to shame, there’s plenty to love about the art of driving in Forza 3. — Doug Bonham