2010 Honorable Mentions: Aaron's List

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Nick and Doug have had their chance to proselytize for their second-favorite games of last year. Now it's my turn.

Let's get busy!

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Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Windows, Xbox 360, PS3 -- March 2nd

Perhaps it’s not fair to judge a game based on how close it is to my own personal ideals, but whatever: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is as close to a proper Battlefield 2 sequel that I’m likely to get until EA and DICE suck it up and release Battlefield 3. And truly, that’s why I enjoyed BC2 last year.

The Battlefield games have exemplified the most pure aspects of truly chaotic and unpredictable online multiplayer warfare. Each round on each map is a randomized experience, more so than any other FPS I’ve played. It just feels right to me, and Bad Company 2 was an impressive game in 2010. A few things held it back from being a top contender, however: limited game modes, too few maps and odd issues with bullet lag, damage detection and weapon accuracy made Bad Company 2 a good game, but not a great game.

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Donkey Kong Country Returns

Wii -- November 21st

As was the case with Torchlight in my honorable mentions from 2009, I haven’t finished Donkey Kong Country Returns and yet I still claim it to be one of my favorite games from 2010. If you were ever a child with a Super Nintendo, you probably played the original Donkey Kong Country series. And even if you weren’t fortunate enough to have an SNES (or your family was really dumb and bought you a Genesis), I’d still bet that you played Rare’s platforming masterpieces at some point in your adolescent life.

The fact is that Returns is a modern Donkey Kong Country experience that preserves the essence of the classic games better than any other remake in recent memory. Some gamers claim that Returns is far too similar to the core DKC titles, or that it’s too difficult. It’s not. It’s brilliant, and one of the best Wii games available today.

Sometimes we, and by we I mean the collective whole of gamers both core and casual, find ourselves becoming jaded by mainstream releases -- all too often we play derivations of the same few concepts over and over again. I’d like to point out that Returns did more in 2010 to make me feel happy playing videogames than any other release last year. I didn’t have to pick apart Returns’ finer points and determine what the social commentary or narrative introspection was truly saying about, I don’t know, the South American banana trade; instead of looking at a Donkey Kong game and worrying about it being art, I played it for amusement’s sake.

And while I continue to find all sorts of games fun, Donkey Kong Country Returns kept that purely youthful feeling of exuberance and whimsical wonder around long after I set down the remote. That counts for something.

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Splinter Cell Conviction

Windows, Xbox 360 -- April 13th

Unlike a few of my Silicon Sasquatch colleagues, I can look at our Top 10 list of 2010 and believe that it’s an undeniably fair sorting of what we all agreed were the best games released over 365 days. I’m not one to lament that X title or Y app was left off of the tally sheets, or even boast that -- in sheer blasphemy -- my list is the “true” list. (That’s right Nick, I saw your Giant Bomb post!)

All mockery aside, the one game I regret that didn't make the cut for our 2010 list was Splinter Cell Conviction. Ubisoft crafted the redemption of Sam Fisher in a singleplayer story that held my interest, propelled the action and revamped the entire core experience of a Splinter Cell game. The catch is that in doing things so drastically different, the team didn’t fail but instead made the best Splinter Cell of all time -- I honestly believe that.

Conviction proved to me that Sam Fisher as a videogame action hero has a lot of life left in him. But what put last year’s Splinter Cell over the top (and what could have made it a comfortable fit in our Top 10) was the two-player cooperative campaign, Deniable Ops, which is a co-op experience that every other developer should take notes from. Players rely on each other like in the Spies vs. Mercanaries mode of old, but instead of feeling helpless Conviction’s Mark and Execute tactics empower the Third Echelon and Voron black ops characters to kick all kinds of terrorist ass. The success of a well-timed series of behind-the-back pistol shots and “death from above” neck snaps is morbidly satisfying. In many ways Conviction’s co-op missions bring back the feeling of originality and super spy machismo that the first three Splinter Cell titles became famous for.

Anyone not impressed by the mode, and believe me there are many, likely missed out these two elements that are key to the experience: one, a trusted online or offline partner that understands the finer points of stealth and target prioritizing; and two, having the difficulty cranked to its maximum. I for one usually despise higher difficulties, but Deniable Ops was an enitrely different experience when the enemies started to think for their own survival.

Maybe it’s the developer’s fault that to truly enjoy its product you have to play it in very specific ways and with a list of stringent options that not everyone has access to or interest in, à la Deniable Ops and its need for a quality human counterpart and an extreme level of difficulty. Whether or not a game’s experience should be measured on either its highest potential or its most introductory elements is a debate worthy of an entire other article. However, I’m glad Splinter Cell Conviction didn’t ask me to buy another $400 worth of plastic instruments to get the most out of it last year.