If Nathan Edwards had known that our Art Director would re-color his fancy Glowstone trophy, he wouldn’t have spent so much time mining ore in Nether.
Another year passes, and PC games continue to deliver a healthy dose of shock and awe, sometimes in surprising forms. The advent of DirectX 11 is making games look better than ever. But this year’s Game of the Year delighted us not with spectacular graphics, but the nostalgic look and feel of a 32-bit console. We played through hundreds of titles collectively, and after heated debates, secret meetings, and clever-award-title brainstorming, we’re proud to share our favorite titles from 2010.
Minecraft isn’t our Game of the Year because it’s an indie success story—although, it is. It’s not our Game of the Year because of its cute low-res textures and block-based worlds. No, it’s our Game of the Year because it perfectly encapsulates what PC gaming is capable of. Minecraft is a sandbox game in the truest sense of the word—your character spawns in a massive, randomly generated world, explores it, punches its cows, fights its zombies, spiders, and creepers, harvests its raw materials, and uses those materials to build anything—like the very award trophy that honors its greatness. Minecraft’s million-plus users have constructed everything from huge castles to scale models of the Enterprise to working computational engines—all in the game. Even if your ambitions are more modest, you can spend dozens of hours just exploring your world (usually accidentally), from cloud level to the depths of the earth. Minecraft is successful because it’s good, and its success bodes well for PC gaming.
www.minecraft.net ESRB: E
Like The Hoff himself, The Settlers games get a lot more love in Germany (and other parts of Europe) than they do here in the U.S. of A. Unlike with David Hasslehoff, we can see exactly why the Germans love The Settlers 7—it’s a complex, nuanced, and utterly charming game of real-time economic strategy.
This is the latest in the series and arguably the best, with great graphics and a huge single-player campaign. Getting past the game’s steep learning curve can be tough, but for anyone who likes thoughtful strategy games, it’s absolutely worth it.
thesettlers.us.ubi.com/the-settlers-7/ ESRB: E10+
Let’s face it: WoW players are a captive audience. If it wanted to, Blizzard could place in each World of Warcraft: Cataclysm box a single, unpolished turd and still rake in piles and piles of crisp, green cabbage. But alas, it doesn’t. Each of WoW’s expansions has built onto the core game in meaningful ways, and Cataclysm is the best one yet.
In addition to new races, new zones, new dungeons, a new profession, and all the other usual trappings of a WoW expansion pack, Cataclysm’s release sees an extensive renovation of the original World of Warcraft zones, updating each for a much smoother and more engaging early-game experience. Six years after its release, there’s never been a better time to play.
www.worldofwarcraft.com/cataclysm ESRB: T
When you’re screaming down a desert road at 180 miles per hour in a black Lamborghini, deploying lethal spike strips and smashing other jacked-out, exotic cop cars into trees and off cliffs, it doesn’t take long for you to realize that you’re having a damn-good time. Hot Pursuit combined an awesome career mode, pulse-pounding visuals, and one crazy-ass, competitive online network that had us going back to race again, just to see who topped the Speed Wall.
With the exception of our Lotus-owning Editorial Director, it also made us feel like we drive highly inadequate and underpowered vehicles in real life.
www.needforspeed.com ESRB: E10+
Ah, VATS. How we love you so. Stopping time. Letting us line up that wonderful head shot so we can marvel at the gore volcanoes you make out of the neck stumps of our fearsome foes. Fallout: New Vegas took a tried-and-true formula full of action, upgrading, and all the pertinent RPG elements needed to engineer a life-sucking addiction, and placed it in freakin’ Las Vegas. Annoying and unintentionally hilarious bugs aside (many of which have been fixed in various patches), New Vegas, particularly Hardcore Mode, which essentially turned the game into a simulation, had us hooked instantly, and left us waiting and eager to return to the personality-packed wasteland of the post-apocalyptic, nuclear world.
fallout.bethsoft.com ESRB: M
Surprised delight, human. Mass Effect 2 removed our socks, shoes, and every usable resource from our solar system. Building on the story (and your character’s decisions) from the sci-fi RPG Mass Effect, the sequel upped the ante in every direction: Better graphics, tighter combat, a much-improved inventory, and an expanded cast were all welcome, but we stayed for the story. Poignant, exhilarating, and funny in equal measure, Mass Effect 2 enthralled us. We do miss the MAKO, though.
www.masseffect.com ESRB: E10+
We hope we can be excused for having low expectations for Transformers: War for Cybertron—a game developed by a completely unknown studio, and based on a franchise that has had a rocky (to put it kindly) couple of years.
One of the year’s most pleasant surprises was the fact that War for Cybertron did not suck, and was, in fact, a pretty bitchin’ third-person shooter. It’s not the best action game of the year, but everyone loves an underdog story, and we’re glad that Transformers came out on top.
www.transformersgame.com ESRB: E10+
Metro 2033’s action might not have been anything to write home about, but exploring the game’s hauntingly beautiful vision of a post-apocalyptic future felt like an otherworldly vacation. Whether we were tip-toeing down a pitch-black train tunnel—in fear of waking one of its monstrous denizens—or catching our breath in a musty, dusty, surprisingly bustling underground town, the overall effect was absolutely stunning. Tiny details like this brought every environment to life.
From the random clothesline hanging in the middle of a ramshackle pub to the rusty playground standing all alone on an irradiated surface, Metro did an amazing job of capturing the feeling of barely-clinging-to-life desperation that so many other games only talk about. Honestly, it was a post-apocalyptic vision that seemed downright plausible—not that we want it to actually happen, mind you. Nor do we fully expect it to occur after something goes horribly wrong in the Lab. Er, we fear we’ve said too much.
www.metro2033game.com/us ESRB: M
Take everything that made the Grand Theft Auto series great: the huge environments, the dozens of drivable vehicles and scads of weapons, plus the engaging plot, great voice acting, and character development. Now, throw away the plot, script, and characterization and replace them with a grappling hook and an infinite supply of parachutes. That’s Just Cause 2. Square Enix blew the entire budget on making the fictional archipelago of Panau into a living, vibrant, hijackable, easily explodable paradise, and it worked. It’s the most mindless fun we had all year.
www.justcause.com ESRB: M
At Maximum PC, we have an unstated rule that any game that makes us neglect our families, our hygiene, and/or causes us to lose track of entire weekends deserves an award. Last year’s release of Civ V took some risks and changed up a couple of tried-and-true Civilization formulas, largely to great effect. The improved combat, enhanced diplomacy, and new RPG-style elements make for some interesting and memorable moments. The end result is one of the most playable interpretations of one the best series in PC gaming history.
www.civilization5.com ESRB: E10+
A punishing, retro-looking platformer with tight controls and a near-instant respawn time, Super Meat Boy pleased on a visceral level. Navigating our meaty protagonist (and a cast of guest stars with their own powers) through hundreds of levels filled with spinning saw blades, piles of salt, missiles, pools of blood, and other hazards, meant dying thousands of times, but every death made us a little bit better. Team Meat’s indie chutzpah and 16-bit charm took some of the sting out of the constant failure.
store.steampowered.com/app/40800 ESRB: T
In the PC gaming world, rooting for Blizzard is kind of like rooting for the Yankees. No, scratch that, it’s kind of like rooting for the Harlem Globetrotters to beat the Washington Generals. Point is, it’s the overdog—the company that’s got everything going for it—and it hasn’t screwed up yet. With StarCraft II, Blizzard delivered a game that’s every bit as polished and fun to play as you’d expect from a sequel that was 10 years in the making.
us.battle.net/sc2/en/ ESRB: T
2010 was a sequel-heavy year, and for good reason. Games like Fable, Dead Rising, and BioShock all created memorable and intricate worlds, many of which spun stories that actually encouraged a sequel. The games in this list weren’t bad games by any means, they just weren’t groundbreaking like their earlier iterations.
It's not that we don't enjoy telepathically lighting someone on fire, then horrifically boring into them with an enormous, oversized drill in BioShock 2. It just got cumbersome after awhile, is all we're saying.
Fable III felt a lot more like the original Fable, which we liked, but man did it take a while to get going. Dead Rising 2 also had us juiced at the get-go, though like its predecessor, it began to feel stale after the thousandth zombie had been slain. We were thrilled initially to play as Little Sister or Big Daddy in BioShock 2, but found ourselves kind of shrugging our shoulders after a few hours—the underwater world of Rapture was humorous, and dark as ever, but we’d been there before, and yearned for a new world (Irrational Games, it seems, agrees—the early footage from BioShock: Infinite is $#@ing mind-blowing, and on a whole new world in the freakin’ sky, no less).
Dead Space 2
The stakes are higher than ever as you step back into the armored boots of engineer Isaac Clarke, using an array of high-tech weaponry to navigate the horrifying set pieces of the Sprawl. Release: January 25, 2011
The newest iteration of Carmack’s 3D engine mastery is beautiful indeed. With RAGE, noted developer id thrusts you into a post-apocalyptic (think Mad Max) world full of mutants and deadly, tattooed bounty hunters. Release: September 13, 2011
Duke Nukem Forever
It’s finally going to happen. 2011 will be the year of the Duke, as Mr. Nukem and his illustrious Boom Stick return for hours of mindless violence and mayhem. Release: May 3, 2011
Is the $@#ing cake real?! Recent gameplay footage from Portal 2 showcases some awesome new power-ups that should only add to the mind-bending quirkiness of one of the most innovative franchises out there. Release: April 21, 2011
In Arkham Asylum, the baddies in Gotham took over the nut house and it was up to Batman to clean it up. How do you up the ante? How about having them take over a city? We can’t wait to don the cape and cowl once more for some nameless-henchmen head-bashing. Release: September 30, 2011
Day 1 Studios is ready to scare the pants off you, and in more ways than one. In fact, early reports showcase a potentially awesome co-op multiplayer mode. In addition, Day 1 Studios claims the game will be a different experience every time you play through. Release: March 22, 2011
New benchmark! Seriously, this is going to be one GPU-intensive game, offering some of the best graphics we’ve seen to date, anywhere. Nano-suit up, and get ready to lay some serious foot to alien ass in March. Release: March 22, 2011