Abhijit’s Top 5 Games of 2009

The following is part of IVG’s year-end feature, where each of our writers will highlight their top 5 games of 2009.

icon_feature12009 was not 2008 – duh. Recession affected everyone, including the game industry which many thought immune. The hype machine didn’t have much work to do since quite a few titles were pushed back to 2010 rather than face the juggernaut of Modern Warfare 2. The year started with the multiplayer title PS3 players have always wanted in Killzone 2, achieved mass hysteria on Xbox LIVE with Halo 3: ODST, reached perfection with Uncharted 2, drove home the point that graphics take a backseat to good writing in Dragon Age: Origins and Assassin’s Creed II, and tied it all up nicely with Modern Warfare 2. Microsoft wowed us with Natal, Scribblenauts showed what game innovation can be, and gamers softened by Lazyboys and stale pizza cried when they switched on Demons’ Souls. Oh, and I bought a PS3 so I can watch Blade Runner the way it was meant to be seen.

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Here’s my top 5 games of 2009. Caveats – I don’t like multiplayer, and can barely stand shooters. I like story-driven innovative games. I like RPGs. And I am old so I tend to ramble.

5. Borderlands

Diablo with Guns. Now go get it. Yes – I am serious. Go get it. This is the ultimate pastime game this year where you can sink in hours splattering/burning/corroding/shocking respawned hordes of Pandora who are all out to … oh right, I didn’t pay too much attention to the story because I was having too much fun phasewalking, shooting gazillion guns, and punching psychotic midgets. This game has the unique quality of the great game – the ability to make you want to see what’s beyond the next checkpoint. The cel shaded visuals are top notch, the controls are smooth, and it’s got a finger flipping dancing robot. This game is the equivalent of good beer on a Friday evening.

4. Halo 3: ODST

My first caveat still stands, but Halo rises above it. Bungie spends months and days perfecting the balance of a Halo game and it shows in the final product. The Halo series has wowed us with spot on controls, great gameplay balance and outstanding multiplayer experiences. Whether you are a noob or an leet to the world of shooters, ODST will suck you in. ODST stands out from the rest of the crowd with its new setting in the deserted streets of New Mombasa, interspersed with adrenaline pumping missions, and takes you through a single player campaign which will leave you wanting more. Special nod goes out to the music, which builds on the atmosphere, and the gorgeous opening cinematic. Finally, Firefight is a pure blast to play. Just make sure your teammate knows how to drive a warthog.

3. Batman: Arkham Asylum

The comic Batman’s draw is his psychological battles and detective abilities. Video games tend to miss out on both, and harp on the action. So when a Batman game is announced and that too in the most iconic prison in the DC Universe, there are misgivings. Arkham Asylum blasted every notion of a comic book game out of the city and delivered a classic Batman tale. The game really makes you feel like you’re Batman – great gadgets, amazing stealth and combat set pieces, and a rogues’ gallery voiced and scripted very well. The high points in the game are the encounters with Scarecrow, and suffice to say that it’s been a long time since the fourth wall has been broken so well, or say scarily.

2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted 2 is a game that’s hard to find fault with. I played the first one and I really liked it, but it lacked a certain oomph factor. It handled well, had amazing locations, witty dialogues, the super cute Elena, and wise cracking Nathan Drake. It still remains one of my favourite games on the PS3, but Uncharted 2 is a whole new ballgame. First, it’s the best looking game on a console. And I mean not just technicall; the art direction is impeccable. From the Hindi signboards advertising Internet to a Tibetan village, everything is detailed. The highpoint for me is the one point in the game where Nathan gets to be himself, and not the hero for a change. It’s the interlude before things go wild, and has to be experienced, because words certainly cannot do it justice. The rest of the game is a roller coaster of adrenaline-pumping action, one set piece after another which grabs you an hour into the story and doesn’t let go for a long, long time. This is the biggest reason to buy a PS3.

1. Dragon Age: Origins

I am biased towards RPGs, but the bias works both ways. I think RPGs which purport to be open world but end up being kill fests are a sellout to the console generation. I lament for games like Planescape, Baldur’s Gate and Fallout where worlds would come alive through words and a player could truly role play. I really didn’t have much hope for Dragon Age because the last outing for Bioware was Mass Effect, which although a great RPG did not hold a candle to some of their earlier titles. Boy, was I wrong. Dragon Age: Origins is the reason why I like RPGs more than any other genre. It truly offers you the chance to play the way you want: fireballs, poison, healing buffs, necromancy, persuade, intimidate, steal, manipulate, neutral, good, evil, lawful, chaotic – the whole gamut of choices is thrown at you. Over a great gameplay mechanism lies a living breathing world with many factions, races, clans, and politics. The story and the script is by far the best I have seen in a video game in ages. If Borderlands is good beer, Dragon Age is 18 year-old single malt.

I wish I had a chance to play Demons’ Souls this year and could complete Assassins Creed II before the year end, but there are only so many hours in a day. Honourable nods go out to Scribblenauts, Professor Layton’s second outing, Shadow Complex, Plants vs Zombies and Flower, and to Eddie Riggs for reminding us that Rock and Roll still rules.

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