4, 5, 6
#6 - Call of Duty: Black Ops
This year’s entry from Activision’s perennial cash cow franchise exhibited at least one surprise element -- a change in scenery. Rather than re-re-re-hashing World War II or a generic modern Middle Eastern conflict, Treyarch takes us to a time more seldom visited by the FPS genre, the Cold War. Since that era is ironically devoid of any one defining military struggle, the game has you assuming the role of a secret operative whose identity, actions, and very existence can be plausibly denied by the United States government. The nature of these “black ops” lent quite a bit of creative freedom to the developer in creating the game’s locations and missions, which they capitalized on extensively in the widely varied but consistently enjoyable single-player campaign.
Not to mention, if we’re talking Call of Duty, we’re also talking the newest version of one of the most popular online multiplayer games. There are quite a few new features, mostly dealing with customization and how your online career can progress, but there wasn’t a whole lot at the core level that has changed since Modern Warfare 2. Perhaps that explains why so many have decided to stick with MW2 for their fragging needs… However, the choice to go with Black Ops is a no-brainer for me, thanks to dedicated servers, mod support, and even smaller things like a built-in option to change your field of view. It’s no accident that COD made it higher on my Top 10 list this year than last.
#5 - Battlefield: Bad Company 2
BF:BC2 came out much earlier in the year, at a time when MW2 reigned supreme. DICE was determined to beat Infinity Ward at the online shooter game, and appealed to the PC audience with dedicated servers, better graphics, a higher player count, and much of the vehicular combat we had been accustomed to for years. The first Bad Company was a console exclusive, so this time around they pulled out all the stops. I definitely like it better than COD, and I can’t be the only one that feels that way.
Even though it’s not a true Battlefield experience (where are the planes and commander!), Bad Company 2 is what we have to tide us over until BF3 arrives. The single-player campaign is decent enough for when you’re taking a break from the online action. If you haven’t already, make sure you check out the Vietnam expansion, which offers a heck of a lot more extra content for $15 than one of those silly CoD map packs. On the topic of PC Battlefield players versus those on consoles, we won the “race” to unlock that bonus map by a landslide
#4 - Mass Effect 2
If I were to describe Mass Effect 2 briefly, I’d say the combat was greatly improved at the cost of a dumbed down RPG component. It would appear BioWare is done trying to pass it off as a hybrid, but lucky for them, the game is still very good as an action/adventure. Upgrading your ship and recruiting companions to better your chances of surviving the final mission is a neat aspect, but you might not do as well as you would hope if you don’t quite grasp that concept. I found it also detracts from enjoying the mid-game somewhat because it turns into a grind to prepare for what you know will be your last hurrah. The first time you experience that epic finale is pretty incredible, though, and definitely the high-point of the whole game, as it was meant to be, I’m sure.
Conversation interrupts are loads of fun, at least when you play the badass. Some of the best parts of the game resulted from a very aggressive “interrogation technique” and giving an obnoxious reporter what she deserved. Something that’s come into fashion with BioWare games as of late is the ability to import a save file from the previous game, which allows you to continue building the same character from and observe the consequences of many of the choices you made in Mass Effect 1. The same feature is planned for the next game, as long as you don’t get yourself killed in this one. That means that, unlike what some people believed initially, Shepard dying will not result in a new character taking over in ME3.