Everyone loves lists, so here’s my personal Top Ten for 2009:
1. Assassin’s Creed 2 (multi)–Taking the grand original and expanding on it in every direction, Assassin’s Creed 2 is the epitome of a sequel done right. It trumps the original in every way without taking away from the groundwork laid by Altair’s fascinating adventures. Moving the location to renaissance Italy enables an amazing juxtaposition of fact and fiction, allowing for a truly enthralling plot and remarkably engaging characters. The game is so filled with things to do and see that getting bored is simply not an issue, and while the free-running and climbing mechanics are still a little sticky at times, the overall gameplay is brilliant. There’s very little that Assassin’s Creed 2 doesn’t get right and it’s proof-positive that even a monster company like Ubisoft is capable of listening to criticism and actually doing something about it.
2. Batman: Arkham Asylum (multi)–There’s little more to be said about the only truly great Batman game. Beautiful, expansive, polished, and simply a joy to play, this game has set the bar for super hero games and it’s hard to imagine too many other developers coming close to what was accomplished in Arkham Asylum.
3. inFamous (PS3)–The other great super hero game of the year, this new IP for the PS3 is dramatic, intense, and addictive take on the now overdone open world game genre. Visually stunning, with a mix of free-running, melee, and shooter gameplay, inFamous gave gamers a huge urban sprawl to conquer full of places to explore and secrets to find. It’s easily one of the best games on the system.
4. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii)–Nintendo made the right move bringing Mario back to 2D, and in grand form. For fans of true Mario gameplay and hardcore gamers in general, this is one of the few good reasons to own Nintendo’s otherwise casual, shovelware-addled system. The multiplayer is almost completely extraneous, but the solid, familiar gameplay is full of endless joy and charm.
5. Killzone 2 (PS3)–Killzone 2 started the year out with a bang for the PS3 and now that the year is over, there still wasn’t a first-person shooter released that could match it for it’s intense, sci-fi war torn experience. While the end boss was insanely aggravating, this was an otherwise thoroughly well-rounded shooter, and should have been a system seller for Sony.
6. DragonAge: Origins (multi)–Bioware seldom disappoints and while DragonAge isn’t a graphic wonder, it’s the most enthralling and deep fantasy RPG on the market. Providing far better characterizations and personality than Bethesda’s games, this epic adventure is a virtual world all its own. Taking familiar fantasy cliches and using them to great effect, any lover of true role-playing should own this one.
7. BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (multi)–While SNK’s move to HD with their last King of Fighters was lackluster at best, Aksys Games gave old-school fighting fans a genuine love note with BlazBlue. The spiritual successor to their brilliantly bizarre Guilty Gear series, this is without a doubt the most impressive 2D fighter in years. The high-def hand-drawn characters are gorgeous, the backdrops creative and alive, and the controls are amazingly refined. BlazBlue reigns supreme for a fantastic presentation and wonderfully quirky gameplay.
8. Fight Night Round 4 (multi)–Already in the budget bins, EA Sports knockout punch outshined the already great Fight Night Round 3 in every way. Stunning visuals, strategic controls, and a shocking amount of depth make this the absolute, undisputed king of boxing.
9. Forza Motorsports 3 (360)–Neck and neck with Dirt 2, Forza wins out as the overall finest racing sim ever put on a console. While the Gran Turismo series has seen fit to rest on its aging laurels, Microsoft has made sure every iteration of Forza saw massive improvements, and the third time is a resounding success. Fast, gorgeous, playable, and just plain awesome, no racing fan should let Forza 3 pass them by.
10. Cryostasis: the Sleep of Reason (PC)–The one PC game on the list is also the most obscure. This moody first-person exploration of isolation and horror aboard an ice breaker ship trapped in the arctic might not be perfect, but its high points more than make up for any imperfections. Few games manage to convey such a sense of tension and outright loneliness as you struggle to figure out what kind of nightmare you’ve been trapped in. Clever use of flashbacks to solve puzzle and bizarre story elements add greatly to the chilling atmosphere, and for fans of slower-paced ambient thrillers, this is an easy recommendation.