It's one thing to just have great presentation - too often considered the most important measure of a game's quality - but forget all that. What games in 2010 were the most fun to play? 2010 boasts a phenomenal year of exceptionally well-realized systems and mechanics. So many, in fact, that a few really remarkable games will have to sit on the sidelines as I honor the others.
Alan Wake, your shooting is responsive and fun and pales in comparison to Vanquish. God of War III, your puzzles and gorgeous, visceral combat can only sit in the shadow of this year's winner.
And the nominees are...
The humble PSP follow-up to 2008's spectacular sleeper hit, Valkyria Chronicles II isn't as pretty, as smart or surprising as the PS3 original - but its gameplay is the ocean beyond the original's river.
Every facet of the game's systems have been honed, every tool considered, and (often) nearly every strategy is viable, while smaller, jumpable maps speed up the entire affair as your squad ping-pongs between base camps. So deep is the customization that my Class G squad is likely nothing like yours, and we're both beating the crap out of rebel scum with A-ranks. Valkyria Chronicles II is a lovely, deep, huge chess game - begging for hours of play time.
At first blush, it's a cover-based shooter with rocket legs. Once you really crack through the gleaming surface, however, Vanquish turns from a great-looking but run-of-the-mill experience into a virtuoso spectacle of considered design and perfectly honed mechanics.
The first time you come up against a miniboss and discover The Trick, your understanding of the game begins to snowball. There is a trick or tricks to every part of the game. Every enemy, every weapon, every ability has a depth beyond its initial impression - and you soon discover you're playing a shooter unlike any other. A title that begs to not merely be played, but mastered.
With design that neatly outstrips the original, BioShock 2's gameplay is one of the lesser-heard triumphs of 2010. More enemies, more plasmids, more options and ultimately more strategies at the disposal of the player gel with silky-smooth controls to make the simple act of playing it one of the more pleasing, involving experiences of the year.
Resonance of Fate initially deluges the player with basic strategy and mechanics that go way over your head. During your first visit to the Arena, you'll play through a few dozen simple tutorials that show the player, precisely, everything that can be done in the game - and it all comes down to three basic actions, during combat: shoot/use item, run and jump.
It doesn't take long to get a hang of the basics, but the game constantly pushes the player just beyond their newly-discovered comfort zone until you're forced to discover every possible permutation and combination of those three basic actions - where timing is everything - and a hundred hours later, you find you're still not tired of the combat.
Resonance of Fate easily has the best RPG battle system I've played all year.
Impressive from any angle, Red Dead Redemption's cowboy simulation is an absolute delight in its capacity to translate intention to action. Unlike most other contenders, its strength isn't the depth of its systems - instead, RDR is a game that's exceedingly easy to jump in and just play, without spending much time learning its particulars. Its designs and mechanics are all in service to its greater ambition - realizing the spaghetti western experience - and it allows the player to effortlessly put a round through a bird on the wing, or yank a desperado from his horse with a lasso.
You're never struggling against the game. You slip into it.
Rockstar finally managed accomplished shooting in an open world with the advent of Grand Theft Auto IV, but it is in Red Dead Redemption that its design truly sings, and allows the player to get on with the business of being thoroughly absorbed.
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Controversial, flawed, colorful as a bomb in a flower shop and marred by uneven presentation, Bayonetta bests all comers of 2010 to claim her place as the crown monarch of action gaming. In terms of play, this is not merely the best brawler of the year, but arguably of all time - and a no-contest lock for best gameplay of 2010.
"This game's razor-sharp, supple combat is the standard by which upcoming entries in the genre will be judged. ... Like the best of its type, it is lightning-fast and elegantly liquid. Combat is brutal, beautiful, satisfying and - for lack of a better word - glorious.. . .
Bayonetta is funny, original, creative, and one of the best brawlers ever made. It offers a staggering degree of replayability, and the true teeth-gritting, carpal tunnel syndrome-inducing challenge that only the best can. Its core gameplay is flawless."
- from the review -