The year 2009 has been an annus horribilus for most. This time last year, we dared to think that the games industry may be "recession proof," then the feces hit the fan and publishers started laying people off left, right and centre. It suddenly dawned on us that the games industry is actually based in the real world. There are no health packs or powerups.
Despite the recession being in full swing, we've had a pretty good run in terms of games this year. That said, it should have been a whole lot better, but for the small matter called Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and a slew of titles being held back until early 2010, instead of autumn 09. Both Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2 are waiting in the wings, come the New Year, which means my Christmas can be spent mopping up the remains of games yet to finish.
But enough of the what-should-have-beens and onto the actually released titles of 2009. It was a slow start to the year, but it kicked off for me with F.E.A.R. 2, which offered up a decent horror FPS. Sure, it's no contender for game of the year, but it has to go in my hall of fame as one of the few games I finished this year.
Batman Arkham Asylum is going to feature on many best games of 09 lists and I'm no different. Could it be the most successful comic/game crossover ever? This was a title that boasted great visuals, varied and engaging gameplay, a compelling story and even the voice-acting was good. Now, the real trick came when developer Rocksteady took the Batman world and bathed themselves in its every detail — and then poured it all into this game.
In a Batman identity parade Arkham Asylum would get picked every time. This was one of those rare gems that uses a successful character to enhance every aspect of the game, rather than slapping it in a designed by numbers title that uses an icon to wallpaper over the cracks.
This summer we saw the long-awaited price cuts on consoles. Sony hit Microsoft where it hurts and finally brought the PS3 into the real world (yes, back to that again) at the new price of Â£249, a far cry from its launch cost of over Â£400 – yeesh! Sales of the PS3 spiked as a result and Microsoft is now peddling the 360 Elite at Â£199, putting the pressure back on Sony. Of course, the Wii is still sitting pretty in terms of sales and remains at around the Â£165 mark.
In the wild stampede to enthrall the mainstream gamer, both Sony and Microsoft exhibited new motion technology at this year's E3. Microsoft revealed project Natal, which was largely shrugged off as nothing more than smoke and mirrors by Internet bloggers. However, the prospect of being able to affect a game's environment with the wave of your hand (and without holding a controller) is enticing to say the least.
Meanwhile, Sony has introduced its motion controller, dubbed the PS3 wand. The fact that it currently looks like a sex toy is more than a little disconcerting and one hopes that Sony will get the product design team on that one, sooner rather than later. Of course all the headlines are of the "ours is better than yours" style. It looks like 2010 could be the year we all stand waving madly at our plasma TVs in one form or another.
This year everything tried to go 3D, but didn't quite work. We had monitors and movies promising truly eye-popping entertainment like we'd never seen it before. As far as I'm concerned it's still got a way to go. Yeah, it is eye-popping, but not in a good way, more in a "this is giving me a headache" kind of a way.
This year's damp squibs were Halo 3: ODST – it came, it went and nobody really cared. Maybe someone did, but I don't know them. Then there was Champions Online. I've been banging on about this one for years now and it didn't really deliver. It just seemed like a City of Wannabe. I spent my time sitting there thinking, "this was better in CoH, I miss Super Jump and why did they change that from CoH?"
But for me, biggest con of the year award goes to Brutal Legend. It wasn't more than the sum of its parts; it was just a Jack Black vehicle. Now, I'm all for Jack Black vehicles when they're pant-wettingly funny. Brutal Legend was funny, but failed in one crucial area and that was gameplay. It was a hybrid mess and should have been so much better.
Of course 2009 belongs to Modern Warfare 2. It broke more records than I even knew existed and is the UK Christmas number one on the games charts. (Thanks to people power Killing in the Name Of, by Rage Against the Machine is the UK Christmas number one on the music charts, but that's another story). Yup, Activision's FPS extraordinaire has spent six consecutive weeks in the top spot, ending EA's reign supreme with its eleven Christmas No1s. With MW2 the FPS continues to be t he genre of choice, but maybe 2010 will bring something other than bigger guns and more beefcake badass action.
The highlight of my gaming year has been Assassin's Creed II. I'm loving it. It's everything I didn't dare hope it would be. Ubisoft has added depth, an engaging protagonist, great voice-acting, varied, immersive gameplay and of course lush graphics. It's almost a Renaissance GTA, which is about as good as it gets. Just shows, you don't need big guns when you can perform ballet-yet-fatal knife wounds and collect Botticellis in your downtime.
Now I'm off to deck the halls and heat up some Winter Pimms and perhaps spend a moment or two in 15th century Florence – just maybe.
Most played: Assassin's Creed II
Most wanted: Mass Effect 2