Top 20 Games of 2009 (10 - 1)
Here is the continuation of the 2009 top 20 we began earlier. Enjoy...
10. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (Reviewed on Nintendo DS)
Proving once and for all there is indeed room for adult-themed videogames on Nintendo's otherwise 'casually slanted' DS handheld, Chinatown Wars plays to the system's strengths while cannily papering over its weaknesses.
Presented through a vertical cell-shaded perspective of Liberty City that's aesthetically reminiscent of the original Grand Theft Auto (1997), Chinatown Wars packs a considerable punch thanks to core gameplay that sees the player constructing a bloodstained empire largely built on the back of drugs and violence.
"It's phenomenal," trumpeted Play.tm reviewer Martin Gaston, "a game that I keep dipping into whenever the possibility arrives, and a desperately needed addition to the DS's library."
An edgy script, buckets of character wit, inventive control integration via the DS stylus, and the return of classic taxi, vigilante and paramedic side missions, more than make up for any minor quibbles associated with occasionally fiddly aiming mechanics and a somewhat unpredictable game camera.
9. Street Fighter IV (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
If you've seen one 2D fighting title, you've seen them all, right? Wrong. Moreover, after spending some quality hands-on time with Street Fighter IV, resident punch drunk aficionado Richard Walker hailed Capcom's latest addition as "a new zenith for the series [that] puts every other beat 'em up in the shade."
While remaining resolutely faithful to the fixed 2D genre in terms of gameplay and control mechanics, Street Fighter IV shrugs off any whispers of 'aging beast' through a mixture of electrifying and energetic action and a beautifully rendered roster of 20 classic characters and five brand new faces (to pound upon).
Offering significant depth for series stalwarts, and easily accessible immediacy for those testing their thumb dexterity for the very first time, Street Fighter IV is a giant among fighting games and has all the combo-heavy impact the series is famous for without once betraying its apparent 'limitations' on the ye olde two-dimensional plain.
8. Left 4 Dead 2 (Reviewed on PC)
Gathering together with a few co-op multiplayer friends to fend off relentless waves of onrushing zombies may seem like a cursory distraction with limited appeal, but the emergence of Left 4 Dead 2 clearly shows a prevailing love for Valve's ceaselessly violent thrill ride.
And, adding to the quality marker dropped by last year's epic original, Left 4 Dead 2 throws in daytime environments alongside its cloying night time locations, along with a whole new cast of characters, upgraded gore effects, mission campaigns with added variety, and an expanded arsenal of primary and secondary weaponry.
Valve's reliable Source engine may shows signs of getting grey about the temples every now and then, but the game as a whole is a definite improvement over its predecessor and there's little denying Left 4 Dead 2's atmosphere, its sheer seat-of-the-pants excitement, and its wicked sense of humour amid such unadulterated crimson-spattered mayhem.
7. Assassin's Creed 2 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
With a succession of gorgeous trailers re-igniting interest in Ubisoft's sprawling sci-fi adventure, Assassin's Creed 2's new setting in 15th century Italy provides plenty of stunning vistas for sequel protagonist Ezio to elegantly free run while delivering his own brand of razor-sharp vengeance.
Although Assassin's Creed 2 doesn't veer too far from the solid blueprint set down by the original game, and its free running seems strangely muted now it's lost its initial impact, the game still surpasses the first Assassin's Creed in almost every way.
While well rounded narrative, improved visuals, a wealth of fresh character animations, more lively cities, NPC allies, and a new monetary evolution system all play their parts, the true star of Assassin's Creed 2 is its mission variety - a central failing of the first game.
Duly faced with enjoying all manner of primary assassinations, contract killings, casual revenge beatings, rescue missions, smash-and-grab thefts, courier runs and rooftop reputation races, it's a truly finicky gamer that finds much to complain about in the breathtaking world of Assassin's Creed 2.
6. FIFA 10 (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
Pro Evolution Soccer 2010's clear improvements still weren't sufficient to prevent EA's latest hulking entrant to the FIFA franchise from stretching the yawning gap currently separating the two behemoths of footballing greatness.
So often the cleat-wearing bridesmaid to Konami's trophy-toting bride, recent years have seen EA's series successfully marrying long established aesthetic prowess with genuinely deep, strategic and unpredictable gameplay.
FIFA 10 continues that trend in spades thanks to an improved and involving career mode, new 360-degree analogue movement, expansive multiplayer options, tweaked ball physics, on-the-ball player tussles, and (even) slicker commentary from series cornerstones Andy Gray and Martin Tyler.
"FIFA 10 nails football wonderfully," enthused a suitably impressed Paul Newcombe, "its near technically perfect depiction of the beautiful game presents you with the very best bits of football letting you live the dream better than any previous virtual incarnation of the sport."