Overall game of the year? That’s an easy answer – Gears of War 3. Was it the most innovative game? No. Was it the best written game? Probably not. So why do I award it GOTY? This is the game that got my wife more into gaming and the first shooter that she actually played and enjoyed.
GoW3 was an epic conclusion to what has been a fun romp through Sera. I remember playing Gears of War on my PC before I owned a 360 and loving every minute of it. Then I got a 360 and spent one awesome night grinding through the campaign with a buddy in local coop. I’ll just point out that the 360 was the first current-gen console I’d ever owned. I grew up on PC gaming and while I did buy a PS1 in college (2007) I’d been an exclusive PC gamer up to the 360. Doing split screen coop in Gears of War awakened a beast inside of me that has an insatiable desire to enjoy cooperative content with people I know. Gears of War 2 may not have been as well lauded as the original but it was an explosive trip with a new friend. I’d recently moved to a new state and playing Gears of War 2 with him helped develop a friendship that led to many hours playing coop games – both split screen and over Live. Now, my wife had enjoyed watching me play the Gears games but had always been turned off by shooters – the controls disoriented her and she generally doesn’t like the idea of shooting people, even in games. She enjoyed watching me play so much that she bought me Gears of War 3 as an early Christmas present with the stipulation that I only play when she could watch so she could enjoy the story. That right there says something about the quality of the writing, storytelling, voice acting and cinematics that make up Gears of War 3 – it’s an experience that other people can enjoy without having to play the game. My wife and I had just finished playing Dungeon Siege 3 together and had enjoyed it. We had yet again moved to a new state and I (still) hadn’t found a coop partner. So I told my wife that we were going to play Gears of War 3 and we’d take it slow so she could get acclimated to the game, but we were going to play it. The first few nights were short bouts as her hand adjusted to holding the controller differently, but she warmed up (and toned her hands up) quickly and before I knew it we had killed the Queen and saved the day. For the fact that Gears of War 3 introduced a gamer to a new genre and made them love it, it deserves praise.
The campaign was a blast and like I said it had a great story and a fulfilling conclusion to a moving journey. But that’s not where the fun stops. Horde mode provided us with an opportunity to stretch our skills (wave 20) in a tower defense esque game mode. Beast mode was a fun revers e tower defense mode that is only gimped by how short it is. There’s a strong online versus component, but I’m not a huge fan. Campaign-type DLC (RAAM’s Shadow) helps bring me back for seconds along with Arcade mode playthroughs with scoring that makes it a competitive co-op mode. I also love the achievement (both official XBL achievements and in game medals and ribbons) tracking in the game – the dashboard that shows all the awesome stuff I’ve done while playing helps to distill the experience into bragging points and ego massages.
The last thing that solidifies the GOTY spot in my book is the built in option to censor the language and gore. I don’t want to impose restrictions on what content games have, but I really appreciate developers who give me the option to filter what I hear and see. Specifically, the language filter is nice because I’m not the only one listening to the game, my wife and occasionally my son are in the common area while I’m playing and I don’t really want them to have to hear F-bombs and other coarse language because I’m playing an awesome game.
A couple of Honorable Mentions:
Portal 2: The story here is second to none – I was laughing, almost crying – really connecting with the silent protagonist, the soulless computer and the long dead founder. I still haven’t played this coop with anyone (I’m keeping my eyes open for a PS3 Portal 2 copy so my wife and I can coop it together) but the single player campaign was a grand experience.
Warhammer 40K Space Marine: It may not have been the most polished game, but I think Space Marine took a few risks and made what is possibly the most epic game I’ve ever played. I love the WH40K universe (explored it through books) and I felt that the game captured the god-like nature of the Space Marines and the relentless horde of the orcs as well as the ruthless, twisted nature of Chaos. The story may have been a bit flat, gameplay a bit uninspired (combat being an exception – the brutality of melee combat was awesome), but I enjoyed the mood setting atmosphere and enjoyed every moment of my time on the Forge World.