What We Played: Splash Damage’s Games of the Year

January 9, 2010

What better way to ring in a whole new year than by picking out our favorite games of 2009? Last year brought us some fantastic gaming experiences, with both sequels and original titles delivering The Fun in serious quantities. With so many games, we put it to our team to select up to three of their favorite games of 2009 and share them with all of you.

We also have two new faces joining our gamer line-up this week, with effects guru Farhan ‘middlecat’ Qureshi and Production Tester Chris ‘captainjonesy’ Jones proving that they have keyboards and are not afraid to use them.

And the winner(s) is/are…

Chris ‘captainjonesy’ Jones (Production Tester):
There were too many awesome games released in 2009 and I personally can’t decide on a single GOTY, so here is my list of faves:

Plants vs Zombies: This is such a tightly designed tower defence game with broad and varied enemy types and turrets making each level have unique sense of challenge and flow, getting me hooked me to the very end – I couldn’t stop playing it. PopCap have done it again, another form of addiction.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: Need I say more? Amazing single player with compelling characters and story which I really ended up caring for and scripting and set piecing taken to the next level for technical wow along with gameplay. Of course, the MP is so much fun, just grabbing someone whilst hanging off a ledge is just golden.

Demon’s Souls: This game is one of the most hardcore, devoid, difficult and horrifying games I’ve played in a long time, making you feel constantly on edge, but it has a great sense of achievement and reward overcoming such extreme odds surviving battles with such evil demonic monsters. It’s hard work to get into but certainly worth the effect for the experience.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
One of PlayStation’s stand-out titles this year: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Farhan ‘middlecat’ Qureshi (FX Artist):
I didn’t play as many games last year as I should have, but my favourite I would say would be the PS3 title Infamous. As well being a bit more original than a lot of games, it actually had a story and characters that were very engaging and did surprise me with some of the twists.

Steve ‘badman’ Hessel (Community Relations Manager):
My game of the year is Assassin’s Creed II. I really enjoyed the first one, so I didn’t need any convincing to try out the sequel. When I did, though, I was blown away by the sheer amount of game there is in the thing. Seemingly endless environments filled with so many different things to do, tied together by great characters, a captivating story, and an inspired setting.

A very close second for me is Batman: Arkham Asylum, which was my other favourite gaming experience of the year. AA succeeds in making you feel like you are Batman in a game world that seems like it could actually exist. It’s also one of the least frustrating action games I’ve ever played, and the Joker’s always-hilarious running commentary is the delicious icing on the Batcake. Well done, Rocksteady!

Arne Olav ‘ao’ Hallingstad (Programmer):
I’d choose Dragon Age: Origins. I’ve been waiting for a deep gaming experience for years and the amount of story in this game is like no other game. I spent about 85 hours completing it and there’s so much I missed the first time. All six starting locations have a different story, multiple classes to choose from and decisions about what skills and attributes to improve. With the huge amount of dialog choices that are mutually exclusive the second play through will be as enjoyable I bet. This time I’m ditching Wynne (ok she’s ditching me) and going with the reaver specialization!

Assassin's Creed II
One of the last major releases of the year, but also one of the best: Assassin’s Creed II.

Paul ‘MoP’ Greveson (Senior Technical Artist):
Left 4 Dead (and the sequel) definitely have to be my favourite games of 2009. I’ve played so much L4D at home and during lunchtime at work, it’s not even funny. While the basics of the game are pretty easy to grasp, it’s just the scope of the co-operative play that makes it such a huge attraction to me. Every game you play online is different, it’s all down to how the teams are formed, and while it can sometimes be frustrating to lose against an unbalanced team, it still remains fun throughout. I have a feeling I will remain addicted to L4D2 through the majority of 2010…

Matt ‘Anti’ Lowe (Production Coordinator):
My game of the year nominations are two games that haven’t actually been released this year but frankly, I don’t care! 😛

Heroes of Newerth (Beta) – I’ve always hated the idea of commercial developers cashing in on the magnificent game that the modders behind Warcraft 3’s Defence of the Ancients have made, but S2 Games have done a great job with HoN! Beautiful graphics, fantastic new supporting features and some great new hero characters. It also retains a refreshing level of complexity that all ground-breaking PC based games should have. It could have been released months ago but it’s still being polished in beta, definitely worth a purchase (or better yet, hunt down a beta key)!

Mass Effect – Ok, so I’m late to the party. I was so hyped about this game before it came out but when I first played it I quit just a few hours in, I hated it! However, with hype growing around the awesome looking sequel I decided to go back and give the original a second try just before Christmas, it’s brilliant! The dialogue system is great, like watching a proper movie, the characters are very likeable and the combat is fun. My expectations for the sequel are now going through the roof.

Chris ‘Hauser’ Bull (Animator):
I only properly played a few games last year but I doubt anything could have surpassed the fun I had playing through Modern Warfare 2. True edge-of-your-seat excitement pretty much start to finish and think it really raised the bar for clever use of playable first person cinematic moments that completely draw you into the moment.

One of our favourite multiplayer titles of the year: Borderlands.

Ed ‘MrEd’ Reid (Online Services Programmer):
3rd Place – The Beatles: Rock Band
The last barrier for gaming was broken when the launch of the Wii managed to enliven the traditional family get-togethers at Christmas. That has been truly outdone by the fabulous The Beatles: Rock Band. Never would my Mum and Dad decide that what would really make things swing along would be a good old fashioned Metallica sing-a-long but The Beatles? Well that’s another matter.

2nd Place – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
So there wasn’t anything in the rules saying it had to be released this year! After all other games this year had been exhausted, the quiet of the Christmas holidays still found me trotting back to Cyrodil and unleashing mighty fury on all and sundry. Oblivion is surely a true masterpiece of a game.

1st Place – Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
Released way back in February 2009 no other game chewed up as many hours of play or conversation in the pub as Dawn of War II, not just for me but for many tapirs here at SD with pitched battles fought over many lunchtimes. The obsession with strategies, counters and dps got to an extent where the only logical option was to start an in-house league to settle once and for all who was the greatest commander. The intensity of combat reached such a fever pitch that opponents would stalk around the outside of the competition, only taking each other on once all possible replays were reviewed in minute detail, build orders calculated for maximum efficiency and dps combos worked out for every eventuality. 2010 brings Chaos Rising and I can’t wait!

Batman: Arkham Asylum
One of this year’s best original titles: Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Aubrey ‘Bezzy’ Hesselgren (Technical Game Designer):
No prizes for guessing my selection: Street Fighter IV. It’s not just because this game has taken up most of my gaming time (in bite-sized 90 second chunks) that this is my game of the year. It’s also getting my nod because of how much I’ve learned about player psychology in competitive games. At the high level there’s “yomi layers”, guessing games, spooking, sharking, baiting and behavioural conditioning, set upon a foundation of finely tuned kinaesthetics which make pulling off a full connect f.SRK xx FADC xx Ultra feel equivalent in skill to a flaring up a Hendrix solo.

It’s simpler than its more recent predecessors, but still as faceted as a snowflake. It’s made me re-discover the writings of David Sirlin whose convictions on all forms of competitive gaming were so hardcore that they used to scare me. After studying this game, all his advice makes total sense and feels applicable to what we do at Splash Damage. On top of all that, it has an art style which looks set to stand the test of time. Street Fighter IV has crystallized why I love games, and made me want to be a better developer.

Neil ‘Exedore’ Alphonso (Lead Level Designer):
Borderlands: An almost perfect mix of loot-whoring MMO addictiveness and FPS fun. I expect the sequel to be great.

Batman: Arkham Asylum: Near flawless execution, from another small independent London studio… who are closer to Arsenal, though!

Guitar Hero Metallica: I’ve been a fan for over two decades now, so it’s really more than an Of the Year event for me. That and it’s the first game to have a proper double-bass pedal mode, a true benchmark in music games.

Olivier ‘Nosebone’ Leonardi (Art Director):
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves really blew me away. Discovering a new environment was most of the time an OMG moment. Add to that the action packed sequences, the tongue in cheek humour… such a fantastic game…

Also, GTA4: The Ballad of Gay Tony: fresh missions, great characters, and a funny new story – an amazing amount of content for a DLC pack.

So there you have it, Splash Damage’s Games of the Year 2009. What were yours? Let us know in the comments!