2010 Game of the Year Awards: Numbers 5 and 4

We've reached the top half of the list! Today: The fifth and fourth entries on our top-ten list. Any guesses on what the top three will be?

5. Sid Meier's Civilization V

September 21, 2010 -- Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K Games -- Windows, Mac OS X

While sequels often land in the unimpressive category of sequel-itis (though that applies to none of the entries on this list, mind), Firaxis’ Civilization V is not one of them. The Civilization series, a PC gaming staple, has been going strong since 1991. Each successive release gains a new roman numeral and generally has the same theme, but despite this, know that Civ V represents more than the finest entry to the series thus far — it’s one of the best strategy games, of any variety, ever.

The most readily apparent change is the graphic makeover: Civ V is very pretty, with all the next-gen visual cues we’ve come to love. That said, the entire game can be played on a 2D grid (this is not a metaphor -- there is literally a 2D grid you can enable in-game), so eye candy shouldn’t (and doesn’t) factor into Civilization’s appearance in our “Ten-of-Twenty-Ten.”  The visual treats take a clear backseat to the overhauled gameplay, where the latest brainchild-of-Meier really shines.

Many gamers never experience 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) titles on account of the learning curve -- empire management is not a simple task, and most games don’t take too much care to explain it. While every other series has shrugged and moved right along, Civilization V manages to streamline the core 4x experience in a way that eases the curve for newcomers without sacrificing considerable depth for the “hardcore” strategy gamers. Some of the very-hardest-core (“hardxcoar,” perhaps) might be offended by the changes, but most people will appreciate the gameplay adjustments, enjoying them while into their thousandth turn of the evening.

As with each Civ sequel, Civ V has a mixed bag of new mechanics, diverse playable nations, and (as established by its latest predecessor), superb out-of-the-box mod support. Firaxis will, eventually, release a new Civ title - maybe even that Alpha Centauri sequel I keep dreaming about - but in the interim, enjoy Civilization V without hesitation. It will last you a good, long time.

Just try to go to bed after that 452nd turn, okay?  -- Spencer Tordoff

4. Super Meat Boy

October 20, 2010 -- Developer: Team Meat -- Xbox Live Arcade, Windows

Contrary to popular belief, I am not a masochist. I value my time and my sanity pretty highly, and while there may have been a time where I’d slog through even the most frustrating, excruciating games out of some misplaced sense of duty, those days are gone. There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you agree with me as well.

What happened to us? Adulthood, I guess. I just don’t have the grace or the will to put up with anything that underestimates the value I place on my free time. But there’s an important distinction that needs to be made between something that is frustrating and something that is challenging. Frustration is always bad, and it’s a term that all but the most resolute would apply to a game like I Wanna Be the Guy, an experience that left me feeling broken, battered and ashamed. But a good challenge -- something that pushes you just enough to overcome obstacles and rewards you with a sense that you’re making progress -- is invaluable.

Super Meat Boy is the most challenging game to make our list this year. However, because its core design is so impeccably refined, you’ll find that even dying hundreds of times attempting to finish a level can be serious fun. And with hundreds of levels to play through along a deliberately-paced difficulty curve, there’s an awful lot of fun to be had.

The purity of design and perfection in execution would have been enough to put Super Meat Boy on this list, but it’s also filled to the brim with personality, charm, and originality. You see it in the gross (yet helpful) meaty streaks that Meat Boy leaves on every surface he touches, in the clever cinematic homages to classic games, and in the game’s catchy, endlessly enjoyable soundtrack by Danny Baranowsky. And with a fully featured level editor coming to the PC version and new levels arriving on all platforms for free, it’s clear that 2D Boy wants to make Super Meat Boy the indisputable gold standard for 2D platformers.

In my opinion, Super Meat Boy is the biggest and best thing to happen to 2D platforming since Super Mario Bros. It’s got all the elements necessary to be an instant classic, and it puts them to great use. Don’t let a good, solid challenge deter you from experiencing one of the greatest games of the year.  -- Nick Cummings