The games are played, the votes are tallied, and our crack team of vote tabulators has tabulated the results. We’ve played literally hundreds of games this year—big games, small games, good games, and games that just plain sucked—solely for the purpose of presenting you, our adoring audience, with the undisputed list of the finest moments, experiences, and surprises in gaming for the year 2009. Without further ado, we now commence Maximum PC’s Gaming Awards!
For us, Arkham Asylum isn’t just an action game, it’s the ultimate Batman simulator. All the feats we’ve associated with the Caped Crusader—creeping in the shadows to evade danger, silently taking out thugs while instilling fear, and even utilizing high-tech bat-gadgetry—were realized in-game. And like Batman, we had to use a combination of these abilities to effectively fight burly minions and bosses.
The game didn’t fall short in the story department, either. The villains in Batman’s rogues gallery brought unique gameplay twists and combat challenges, often requiring that we use our bat-brain in addition to bat-brawn to best each foe. Scarecrow’s level-warping mind games were a definite highlight—we’ll never forget the scene where Batman is forced to face his parents’ murder. Arkham Asylum is the best game of 2009 not because it’s a great Batman game, but because it’s the definitive Batman experience. And Mark Hamill’s reprise as the Joker may be the best performance we’ve ever seen in a game.
www.batmanarkhamasylum.com, ESRB: T
What do you get if you take four people, a couple of hopped-up dune buggies, and an infinite number of pistols, rifles, rocket launchers, and sub-machine guns? Simply the best multiplayer experience of 2009, that’s what. By combining the frenetic action of hardcore twitch first-person shooters with the progression treadmill and loot-whoring of Diablo-esque action RPGs, the kids at Gearbox made something unique—a co-op multiplayer that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
While Borderlands isn’t perfectly polished—there are still problems playing with people above or below your level range—the experience is not to be missed. After tweaking routers and disabling firewalls, we settled in for many nights of bliss, mowing down hundreds of mutants and monsters using an arsenal that ranged from silly to just plain awesome. Where else can you kill mutant midgets with a shotgun that fires flaming rockets?
www.borderlandsthegame.com, ESRB: M
Like chocolate and peanut butter, tower defense games and zombies were made for each other. But it took the twisted genius of casual-gaming impresario Popcap to build the towers out of wacky plants. Instead of harvesting energon cubes and shooting bullets at aliens, you’ll collect sunlight and fire peas at zany zombies. The battle rages in front, behind, and even above your home as you repel the undead hordes.
www.plantsvszombies.com, ESRB: E10+
We were doomed from the moment we opened the Dragon Age box. A dark-fantasy BioWare RPG and the spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate saga, Dragon Age sucked us in with its super-in-depth story, shades-of-gray moral choices, memorable characters, and great combat. Yes, Virginia, there is a BioWare RPG with great tactical combat.
Though it hews to a familiar fantasy setting, full of elves, dwarves, and wizards, Dragon Age goes out of its way to subvert some of the genre’s most cherished tropes. Elves are oppressed and live in ghettoes, dwarves don’t speak with Scottish accents, and the moral landscape is ambiguous. The first five hours or so are taken up by one of six different origin stories, which converge in an epic battle. Only then does the game truly begin. And it’s wonderful: violent, moody, unpredictable, and full of delightful surprises. For a good time, crack open a glass phylactery!
We easily sunk 80 hours into our first play-through—without buying any DLC or the forthcoming expansion pack. And then we rolled another character and started again.
http://dragonage.bioware.com, ESRB: M
Mirror’s Edge does something we thought impossible—it’s a first-person parkour game that’s both fun and skill-based enough to warrant hours spent perfecting speed runs through the awesome rooftop levels. But the whole thing falls apart when dudes with guns show up. With no weapons of your own, save the ones you lift off unconscious baddies, the combat ranges from frustrating to infuriating, tainting an otherwise transcendent gaming experience.
www.mirrorsedge.com, ESRB: T
Although Braid was originally released in 2008 on the Xbox 360, it was this year that PC gamers first got to experience Jonathan Blow’s mind-bending, time-twisting masterpiece.
Braid is a puzzle game disguised as a platformer, where time-altering powers and lateral thinking are the only way to advance to the next level. If you like cerebral or indie games and somehow missed Braid, do yourself a favor and pick it up ASAP.
www.braid-game.com, ESRB: E10+
Two years ago, we gave the first Call of Duty: Modern Warfare a very similar award, and Modern Warfare 2 follows perfectly in the original’s footsteps. While it’s not a perfect game, the single-player experience is the same unrelenting, pulse-pounding action trip that we loved in the first game—hokey story and all.
www.callofduty.com, ESRB: M
Zeno Clash probably shouldn’t have worked. A first-person puncher with surreal visuals, fish guns, squirrel bombs, and androgynous Father-Mother figures, made by a tiny independent studio from Chile shouldn’t have been a hit. But the game’s melee combat feels right, the loony art style is memorable, and the game is great fun. Some of the best moments come from the game’s cutscenes, like those describing the creepy-crazy Corwids of the Free.
www.zenoclash.com, ESRB: RP (Rating Pending)
ARMA 2 is a punishingly difficult war simulator that stresses your patience and tolerance for bugs. But once you figure out its myriad keyboard commands and accept the buggy AI, it’s one of the most rewarding PC games of the past decade. Co-op missions let you embark on epic operations—a typical mission may involve airdropping a squad behind enemy lines, stealing jeeps to drive into a forest, and mounting a guerilla attack on a coastal fortification to destroy anti-aircraft batteries before calling a helicopter in for evacuation.
www.arma2.com, ESRB: M
If you’re a fan of fighting games, it’s probably a pretty safe bet that you own a console; since Street Fighter 2 made the jump from arcade to living room in 1992, fighters on the PC have been few and far between. Thankfully, Capcom bucked that trend with Street Fighter 4. Sure, it was a little late, but with a handful of bonus features, and the same kick-ass, ass-kicking gameplay, Street Fighter IV is a must-buy for any fighter fans who didn’t pick it up for a console.
www.streetfighter.com, ESRB: T
One of the biggest omissions of last year’s Left 4 Dead was the lack of melee weapons, which any survivalist knows to be crucial to fighting the zombie horde. Fortunately, Left 4 Dead 2 let us swing away at zombie skulls with 10 melee weapons, including the sturdy maple barrel of a baseball bat. Swinging wide with the bat saved us countless times from being swarmed by the infected—we knew those years in pee-wee baseball would pay off!
http://l4d.com, ESRB: M
We hate Scouts. In Team Fortress 2, these bunny-hopping pixies bounce around maps like overactive children off their medication… and they’re equipped with shotguns. It’s beyond us, then, why Valve made the Scout even more annoying with The Sandman baseball bat. This unlockable weapon let the Scout stun us in our tracks, making us vulnerable to gunfire, and worse yet, taunts. We hate Scouts.
http://teamfortress.com, ESRB: M
Fallout 3 was one of our favorite RPGs of 2008. And its five downloadable expansion packs added to the already massive story—the best of them, Broken Steel, raised the level cap from 20 to 30 and added hours of gameplay. But Fallout 3’s DLC is tied to Games for Windows Live, and between several completely borked DLC releases and the hoops we had to jump through to re-enable the DLC if we ever reinstalled, we nearly missed them all.
http://fallout.bethsoft.com, ESRB: M
After a decade of wandering the seven seas, pirate-wannabe Guybrush Threepwood returned to the realm of PC gaming in 2009. His new swashbuckling adventure captured the wry humor and clever puzzles of the original Monkey Island games, and included plenty of in-jokes for longtime fans. The return of the original voice cast and game designers also solidified the game as a legitimate sequel to the series.
www.telltalegames.com, ESRB: E 10+
Over the years, we’ve played dozens of bad Diablo clones, but not until Torchlight have we found a game that so mercilessly captures the magical appeal of Diablo while still retaining its own unique voice. Torchlight does that perfectly, albeit without a multiplayer component. Still, exploring the dungeons beneath the town of Torchlight gave us nights of adventure and wonder that will help tide us over ’til Diablo III is out.
www.torchlightgame.com, ESRB: T
At 380 days, the lag from the console release of Burnout Paradise to the PC release of the game has to break some sort of record. Fortunately, the game is so unrelentingly awesome that we didn’t care about the delay. Bringing the classic Burnout formula of fast cars, over-the-top damage models, and incredibly reckless driving to an open world with thousands of miles of in-game roads and hundreds of challenges to complete was well worth the wait.
www.criteriongames.com/burnout/paradise, ESRB: E10+
Dear Game Workshop,
We appreciate that you’ve delivered us an awesome, action-packed strategy/RPG hybrid with Dawn of War 2, but could you be a little better about citing your sources? Everyone knows it was Blizzard that invented the Space Marines vs. Space Bugs vs. Space Elves setting, and it absolutely didn’t rip off anyone else. At all.
Oh, and about Warhammer Online? Blizzard just called; it wants its Orcs back.
www.dawnofwar2.com, ESRB: M
Our favorite games of the last 10 years (in no particular order)
Just like its predecessor, once you’ve played Half-Life 2, it’s the bar you hold up to every single-player game you play thereafter. Sure, continuing the story of Gordon Freeman in a world ravaged by years of Combine occupation was great, but the high points of Half-Life 2 were the stunning physics-based gameplay and the outstanding character models and animation. These elements advanced gameplay enough that Half-Life 2 earned the only 11/Kick Ass rating we’ve ever given.
www.half-life2.com, ESRB: M
Battlefield 1942 changed the world of gaming in 2002 and promoted us all from mere ground-pounding grunts to pilots, gunners, bombardiers, sailors, and tankers. No longer content to pull the trigger on an M-1 Garand, gamers were able to exploit a rich list of air, sea, and land vehicles in massive 64-player maps. That way, when your grandson asks you how you used to play games, you can say, “I didn’t just shovel a mouse around a keyboard all day, I played Battlefield 1942.”
Oblivion is the culmination of the venerable Elder Scrolls series of open-ended RPGs from Bethesda Softworks. And although previous games in the series have been excellent, it’s Oblivion’s combination of tight pacing, engaging combat, and exhilarating exploration that made it one of the best of the decade. Other efforts, like Fallout 3 and Dragon Age have come close, but for pure PC-RPG flavor, Oblivion is king.
www.elderscrolls.com, ESRB: M
Nestled snugly inside the Orange Box, a Valve Software superpack including Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Portal, was a long-awaited gem: Team Fortress 2. By taking the class-based madness of Team Fortress Classic and paring down each and every class to its bare essentials, Valve made what’s quite possibly the perfect multiplayer game—for newbie and hardcore players alike. But it didn’t stop there. By constantly adding new content to the game, Valve’s kept the game fresh for the last two and a half years.
www.teamfortress.com, ESRB: M
Deus Ex, released in summer ’00, is only barely eligible for this list, but man, what a way to kick off the decade. Blending shooter, role-playing, and stealth elements, Deus Ex gave players choice in a way that has seldom been matched since. The first sequel to Deus Ex was a mess, but we’ve got high hopes that Deus Ex 3 will bring back the magic. Don’t let us down again, Eidos. Please?
www.deusex.com, ESRB: M