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Top 20 Games of 2009 (10 - 1)

Ten of the better

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."

5. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

Given the uber purist expectations of comic book fans, videogame adventures centred on iconic comic book characters don't tend to do very well. Happily, 2009 saw that particular trend well and truly bucked, beaten and hung by its flailing feet as Batman: Arkham Asylum proved unequivocally that the two popular mediums can shine when channelled by the right creative forces.

With Rocksteady and Eidos clearly understanding and respecting the lore surrounding Gotham City's legendary protector, Batman: Arkham Asylum is the perfect vehicle to showcase the Dark Knight's penchant for preying on fear, striking silently from the shadows, and using all manner of crime-fighting gadgets to bring criminals to heel.

With the lunatic quite literally taking over the asylum, The Joker releases the nefarious inmates of Arkham to wreak havoc throughout the island-based facility, placing responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the caped crusader as he uses unparalleled martial arts skills, detective prowess, and elusive shadow-hugging tactics to bring down The Joker's dangerous minions and return his arch nemesis to captivity.

Perfectly blending bone-shattering brawls with carefully applied environmental strategy, a host of collectibles scattered around the game world, and some intriguing boss battle with the likes of Harley Quinn, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy, Rocksteady's take on Batman certainly qualifies as lightning in a bottle.

Factor in prolonged gameplay longevity via free DLC and possibly the best free-flowing fight mechanics ever created for a videogame, and Batman: Arkham Asylum is certainly worthy of its top-five finish and our review summation that describes it as "the Batman game we've all been waiting for."

4. Fight Night Round 4 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

2009 has been a beast of a year when it comes to heavyweight releases (this top 20 certainly proves that), and, as such, some of the most critically acclaimed titles have been oddly lost amid all the furore surrounding certain other 500lb gorillas intent on tearing through the retail undergrowth.

One such game is undoubtedly EA's Fight Night Round 4, which barely gets a mention in the same breath as some of year's other great videogames, despite being a near-faultless offering.

Adding yet more sweat-laced, spittle-spattered and blood-encrusted authenticity to the award-winning Fight Night series, Round 4 boasts even more savage pugilism, a satisfyingly deep career mode, versatile and challenging A.I. opposition - all the time pushing the overall sporting experience through a fantastically intuitive Total Punch Control system that's mapped completely to the game pad's right analogue stick.

Built from the ground up for current generation hardware, Round 4 looks, sounds and feels as close to the real thing as gamers are going to get without pulling on a pair of outrageously long silk shorts, slipping a rusty horse shoe into their haymaker glove, and attempting to go toe-to-toe with a real boxing pro. Simply put, Fight Night Round 4 is the best example of "the sweet science" to ever grace home consoles.

3. Killzone 2 (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)

Given the furore surrounding the E3 'rendered' gameplay debacle and the core failings of the original Killzone on the PlayStation 2, if there was one 2009 release likely to be savaged by critics and consumers for being anything short of superb, it was Killzone 2.

Thankfully for expectant PlayStation 3 owners, returning developer Guerrilla Games has crafted a first-person shooter, which, from the off, cranks up the twin amps of immersion and adrenaline to 11 and drags the player through a relentless onslaught of action that rivals any genre entrant that came before it.

Transferring humanity's battle with the evil Helghast to the Helghan home world, Killzone 2 is an FPS purist's dream, a barrage of atmospheric tension that slams the senses from all sides as central protagonist Tomas 'Sev' Sevchenko and his ragtag squad of troops dispatch a never-ending stream of hot lead and explosive ordnance to help fracture and destroy Helghan's governing infrastructure.

"Killzone 2 does not exude a brave ambition that seeks to lead the first-person shooter genre in a revolutionary new direction; it's obvious from the outset that Guerrilla Games never intended for its sequel to reinvent the FPS wheel," I wrote in my review.

"It's clear Killzone 2 has taken the ever-so popular wheel, slapped a gorgeous chrome rim on it, drastically reduced its tyre profile, and applied a sense of balance never before felt on a wheel. Why then would anyone want to reinvent the wheel when the damn wheel never looked so good or rolled so well."

2. Modern Warfare 2 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

Now, let's turn our attention to that aforementioned 500lb gorilla that's been skulking about the place during this countdown of 2009's leading releases. This year's undoubted domineering silverback is, of course, Infinity Ward's hot-selling Modern Warfare 2, which has already set new industry sales records despite only launching on November 17.

Laying claim to so much more than just a hugely faithful fanbase spread across multiple platforms, Modern Warfare 2 never stops striving to continue where its predecessor left off. Specifically, it provides a dramatic rollercoaster of real-world military action that throttles players into submission with breakneck pacing before clubbing them within an inch of their gaming lives with relentless ferocity.

With an emotive narrative thread spun out by multiple playable characters and spread across a varied selection of environments, the fact is that, between its staggering single-player and its peerless multiplayer, Modern Warfare 2 absolutely reeks of finely polished quality. It really is that simple.

"The cinematic appeal of the single-player action makes it infectious and hugely memorable in a way few if any other games can manage," trumpeted our own editorial chief Luke Guttridge. "That this is bundled with the best multiplayer experience of any game really leaves us in little doubt that this is the complete package."

And, with some 4.7 million unit sales in its first five days on retail shelves, the complete FPS package is clearly what ravenous fans were waiting for. However, unfortunately for Modern Warfare 2, this particular chart has not been amassed on the mere power of market figures, but rather pure quality.

1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)

Speaking of which, pure uncompromising quality is exactly the reason why developer Naughty Dog and publisher Sony Computer Entertainment can stand proudly beside the return of videogaming's most memorable hero Nathan Drake, because action adventure Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is deservedly the very best game of 2009.

Fleshed out with supporting characters that serve to enrich an already engrossing storyline, Nathan Drake and his arsenal of witty one-liners are this time joined by new love interest Chloe Frazer as they set about following the treasure trail of legendary explorer Marco Polo and a mysterious Buddhist sapphire called the Cintamani Stone.

Yet, plot aside, it's the ceaselessly thrilling third-person gameplay, monumental set pieces, truly staggering graphics, and killer script accompanying Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that convincingly propel Naughty Dog's universally acclaimed PlayStation 3 exclusive above and beyond the competition.

Granted, when viewed alongside its predecessor, Uncharted 2 is, in essence, just more of the same. But, as with Killzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2, it hones and polishes an already standout product for all its worth while tightening every existing gameplay facet to the point of creative perfection.

"If, as some have said, the PS3 is still in need of a killer exclusive to take into the festive silly season then Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is, without a doubt, it," offered reviewer Paul Newcombe. "Anyone with a PS3 should be beating down the door of their favourite games emporium... and the rest of you still waiting for a reason to belatedly join Sony's party have just found it."

While Uncharted 2 may not offer anything especially new or groundbreaking to the overall franchise, the foundations supporting the series are so strong that no other title across the last 12 months has been able to compete. And, before detractors leap, this is anything but a win by default, it's a win because Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is quite simply teeming with qualities unmatched by any other game of 2009, and, what's more, seldom gathered into a cohesive whole by a single release.

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