Throughout the 2000s, the gaming industry saw tremendous growth and innovation. With the continuing rise of online games, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 reaching broader audiences, and Valve's dominating online marketplace Steam expanding PC gaming even further, 2009 served as a solid capper for a decade that saw great change. However, what made 2009 an especially interesting year was the amount of games that made some bold changes to established genres.
For this special feature, GameSpot is taking a look back at the standout games of 2009. Whether it was the PlayStation 3 hitting a stellar stride with exclusives such as Uncharted 2 and Killzone 2, From Software's Demon's Souls offering an uncompromisingly tough approach to online action-RPG gameplay, or Batman: Arkham Asylum aggressively bucking the stigma of bad superhero games--the year that was 2009 had a variety of titles that made it an especially exciting time.
In order of their respective western release dates, here are our picks for the games that made 2009 a very special year for gaming. If you want to see our previous roundups focusing on other fantastic years in gaming, be sure to check out our features below.
- Remembering 1998
- Remembering 1999
- Remembering 2007
- Remembering 2008
Skate 2 | January 21
There are a handful of demos that I had a hard time deleting off the already pitifully-sized Xbox 360 20GB hard drive. Blitz: The League, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Dead or Alive 4, Stranglehold, Ninety Nine Nights, Lost Planet, or Just Cause 2 were demos that I could pick up, goof around in for a half hour and put back down without a steep time investment. However, one demo stood above them all.
Skate was a game that not only was easy to pick up and play, but if you were willing to invest the time, it proved to have one of the most satisfying skill ceilings in all of gaming to break through. I must've spent over 100 hours replaying the Skate demo over the years, trying out new lines, experimenting with new tricks, and seeing how long I could keep that awesome 3x multiplier going which automatically turned up the music and over-saturated the colors to replicate what it was like to be in the zone. Finding that one perfect stair set and hitting it over and over gave me more satisfaction than the entirety of any Army of Two or Splinter Cell: Double Agent demo ever did. In fact, I never even ended up buying the original Skate, because the demo gave me all I needed, but in 2009, I couldn't help myself when Skate 2 was released.
San Vanelona had huge hills to bomb, mega-ramps to conquer, skate-parks to unlock, and this time, you could walk up that 11-stair if you wanted to. Yet, like the original, nothing was more satisfying than skating around until I found that perfect staircase, setting a respawn point, and just hitting it over and over until it looked right--until it looked clean.
There's still a fervent fan base out there waiting for Skate 4, but don't forget that just like that elusive stair set, Skate 2--the pinnacle of skateboarding video games--is still out there. You just have to be dedicated enough to look for it. | Nick Sherman
Street Fighter IV (Console Release) | February 17
The wait between Street Fighter III and Street Fighter IV was an excruciating 11 years. In that time, an incredibly passionate community developed around Street Fighter III: Third Strike, and thanks to its incredibly deep, skill-based mechanics, that game remained exciting to play throughout--and still is. However, with each passing year, fans also felt the absence of a new entry in Capcom's fighting game franchise in a more pronounced way. So when the fourth mainline entry in the was announced, it felt like the community sprang back to life, energized and hungry to prove themselves as the best in a new generation of Street Fighter.
Street Fighter IV launched for Xbox 360 and PS3 in 2009 and was received as both fresh and modern, as well as true to its roots. It took the tried and true 2D fighting of the classic franchise but presented it with an eye-catching 3D visual style. Characters were bold and chunky, with designs and animations bringing out the unique characteristics of the eclectic cast. Environments were vibrant and dynamic, evoking the same sense of place that Street Fighter II did all those years back.
Most importantly, though, it was incredibly fun to play. The mechanics rewarded those fans that had spent years maintaining their skills with Street Fighter III: Third Strike, with demanding combos to master, tricky strategies to develop and employ, and various unique fighting styles to dig into and learn the ins and outs of. Crucially, however, it was also immediately fun for casual players looking to indulge in Street Fighter nostalgia. Mechanics such as the Focus Attack introduced a new kind of tension to the way matches unfolded, while also further increasing the depth of playing by having the ability to dash cancel or bait. Street Fighter IV re-ignited interest in fighting games and, in many ways, kicked off a renaissance for the genre. Fighting games wouldn't be what they are today without it. | Tamoor Hussain
Killzone 2 | February 27
Like many, I was swept up by the hype surrounding Killzone 2. Thanks to that 2005 reveal trailer, showing off bombastic, large-scale battles, I was really enamored with the potential of next-gen gaming--even if it seemed a bit too good to be true. It was a hell of a way to sell people on the game and the upcoming PS3, and at the time, there was a lot of debate if the final version could even come close to it. It eventually came out four years later in 2009, and surprisingly, it managed to live up to the hype. I really adored Killzone 2 for PS3, and it's one of my personal favorite games for the system.
When I think back on Killzone 2 today, I still remember all the intense firefights with the Helghast legion, with the orange glow of their helmet goggles and near unintelligible speech making battles feel eerie and hectic simultaneously. However, what really sticks with me now is how much of a jump the sequel was from the original game. Truth be told, I was really let down by the original game when it first came out. Known as the "Halo killer" in the lead up to its 2004 release, the Killzone on PS2 had also had a considerable amount of hype behind it. Unfortunately, that extra attention didn't do it too many favors once it launched. The game turned out to be a janky, technical mess with the campaign's spotlight set on an unlikeable cast of characters. To put it simply, I didn't care for it.
So it was surprising to see a game in such stark contrast to the original. In a lot of ways, Killzone 2 was where the series really grew into itself, as opposed to the sketch of concepts and ideas seen in the original game. Not only was I actively engaged in the lore of the world and the plot following the new lead protagonist, but the expanded multiplayer also offered a lot of fun with its take on class-gameplay. Unf Killzone, nor any of its sequels, ever became the "Halo Killer" that it was hyped up to be, and that's OK. I still hang onto the hope the franchise isn't dead, and that we'll see another return to the series on the next PlayStation console. If that happens, I wouldn't be surprised if they re-introduce it in a similar fashion to Killzone 2--with a trailer that seems almost too good to be true. | Alessandro Fillari
MadWorld | March 10
It was the breakout release of Bayonetta in 2009 that gave Platinum Games the reputation it has today as the studio that can deliver on stylish gameplay mixed with an over-the-top story and characters. But Bayonetta wasn't Platinum's first game. That honor goes to the oft-forgotten title for Wii, MadWorld.
A brutal romp of blood and violence, MadWorld puts you in the role of Jack, a contestant in DeathWatch, a game show where you score points for murdering people in the most violent way possible. It's as ridiculous as it sounds, with the over-the-top violence that takes a light-hearted comedic tone. Adding to the comedy is the voice talents of Greg Proops and John Dimaggio, who act as Deathwatch's commentators and deliver some memorably raunchy lines.
You'll throw people into fans, impale them on the side of a train covered in spikes, and hit them with a nail-covered bat into a giant dart board, to name just a few ways that you'll commit horrible acts of murder. Its simple controls and premise is brought a long way thanks to the creativity of your bloodbath and made more fun by acting moves out with the Wii's motion controls.
The gore and bright red blood stands out in a comic book-inspired black and white art style, which gives the game a visual look that still holds up despite having released on the aged Wii hardware. Tying the whole thing together is the game's excellent soundtrack. Platinum brought together local artists to record original songs for each level, and the mix of hip hop and industrial metal really sells the violent yet playful attitude of the game.
MadWorld never got an official sequel. Some characters and concepts from the game made their way into Anarchy Reigns, another Platinum joint that is underappreciated (but to be fair, kind of a mess). While Platinum has moved on at this point, with MadWorld's 10 anniversary having just passed, I still hold out hope we can get an HD remaster of this game someday. It deserves at least that much. | Jean-Luc Seipke
Resident Evil 5 | March 13
Arguably, the most successful sequels in video games have been titles that don't deviate too much from what made its predecessors great, but expand upon its originality or gameplay in meaningful ways. Obviously, Resident Evil 5 wasn't the first sequel in the franchise, but it was a continuation of 4's radical departure from the series norm that took it even further away from its survival-horror roots.
Resident Evil 5 had huge bosses, bloodier quicktime events, larger enemy variety, but what really sticks out in my mind more than any expansion in gameplay was, of course, the expansion in biceps. In fact, Chris Redfield's biceps could be an apt metaphor for the late 2000s of gaming in general. Resident Evil 5 featured bigger guns, bigger explosions, and bigger set-pieces--all of which were endemic to the then-burgeoning divide between indie games and AAA titles. I can respect that there were those who missed the thrill of bundling themselves up under the covers with the lights out ready to spook themselves silly, but wasn't there something equally as silly as teaming up with a friend to pull off the secret melee moves like Chris's haymaker on 10 enemies at once? What about pulling them off on Wesker's smug face? Don’t forget that long before we were pressing “F” to pay our respects, we were pressing “X” to punch a boulder out of the way.
While I adore Resident Evil 7, and am thrilled that the Resident Evil 2 Remake was received as well as it’s been, I’ll always be grateful for the short, but sweet detour we took with Resident Evil 5. Not everything about it worked in its favor, but most of it did, and it still holds up as one of gaming's best co-op experiences. | Nicolas Sherman
X-Men Origins: Wolverine | May 1
They don't make games like X-Men Origins: Wolverine anymore. Mid-tier movie tie-in games used to be much more commonplace in the '90s and early 2000s, but their popularity waned given that most of them simply weren't very good. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an anomaly--a tie-in that not only was pretty good, but was actually far superior entertainment than the movie it was based on (a movie that was so bad that it was retconned within the wider X-Men movie timeline in one of the post-credit sequences in Deadpool 2).
X-Men Origins: Wolverine worked in large part because it embraced the brutal, destructive nature of Wolverine just right. Previous games starring the grumpy Logan sanitized the effects that razor-sharp, indestructible claws would have on his enemies. X-Men Origins: Wolverine embraced the gore, putting up Mortal Kombat levels of blood, dismemberment, and decapitations. It was sick and it was gross, and it was one of the few times the character got to be that destructive in video game form. So while the gameplay itself could get rote, it more than delivered on the power fantasy of being Wolverine--a near indestructible superhero who's only ever one tortured snarl away from slicing someone's stomach open. | Randolph Ramsay
Minecraft | May 10
Among my friends growing up, I was always the pioneer when it came to introducing them to games they may have overlooked. Animal Crossing, Guitar Hero, Final Fantasy VII--these were all titles that at first glance, seemed too shallow, or too deep for them to pass up our nightly bouts over Xbox Live. I'd always considered myself the local trendsetter in that sense, but it wasn't until I finally got around to playing Minecraft after being too intimidated to try it that I realized just how square I was.
Originally released in 2009, I didn't play Minecraft until it was released on Xbox 360 three years later. I had just moved, and for two weeks, we didn't have cable or internet at our house. Without much else to do, I explored this new unfamiliar environment. I should clarify though--I went exploring in Minecraft, not my new neighborhood. To this day, I still feel a wry smile come to my face when I think about the first night I spent in that world, buried in a hole in the ground, petrified of the hissing spiders or moaning zombies festering above me. It wasn't long before I had built a three-story mansion, a greenhouse, a minecart track that took me from one side of the world to the other, a full set of diamond armor, a watchtower that overlooked my perpetual burning Netherrack blocks that spelled out "Nick is cool," and of course, my tamed wolf that accompanied my spelunking.
More than just a "Lego 2.0," the gaming industry would not be where it is today without Minecraft. I could point to the growth of YouTube, and how Minecraft single-handedly popularized Let's Plays. Public schools have used Minecraft to teach children computer programming. Famous paintings and cities have been recreated 1:1 using the game's Creative Mode. Minecraft took us to the moon, and down to the deepest depths of the netherrealm where the strongest enemies awaited our bravest explorers.
One would be remiss not to recognize that a game based around building blocks was so fundamental in laying the foundation for the next generation of gamers. A generation that, even years later, fervently contributes to the cultural acceptance and appreciation of games as a whole. | Nicolas Sherman
Punch-Out!! | May 18
After a major success on the NES, and a well-received sequel on the Super Nintendo, Lil Mac, and the Punch-Out series skipped a generation before finally landing a sequel on the Nintendo Wii. As someone who grew up absolutely loving the Punch-Out!! games and boxing, I was beyond excited to hear a sequel had been announced for the Wii and picked it up immediately to put back on my virtual boxing gloves.
You could imagine that one of the difficult things to do with the Punch-Out series was to make a sequel with modern sensibilities. The original game is a product of its time--an era when a small simple design concept could formulate an entire game. And while the simplicity of its design is precisely why I love the series so much, that does make it a challenge to bring something new to the table in terms of a sequel while capturing the original spirit.
So, with Punch-Out!! for the Wii, a gimmick was introduced. Similar to Wii-Sports, Punch-Out!! would allow players to use the motion controls of the Wii to box against its opponents. And, upon trying this out, I immediately realized something: This absolutely doesn't work for a game like Punch-Out!!, which requires immediate and precise reactions. Thankfully, the game allows you to play without motion controls, and as a result, I finally got to play a Punch-Out game the way it was meant to be played. I have no idea when or if Nintendo will ever release another sequel, so I'm glad I at least got to live out the dream one last time with Doc Louise at my corner. | Dave Klein
Infamous | May 26
Playing through Infamous for the first time was something of an odd experience for me. I generally enjoy superhero games, especially when set in an open world, but this game, coming from Sly Cooper creators Sucker Punch, felt like it was trying way too hard to distance itself from the developer's past work. In a large contrast to Sly Cooper, which was a very upbeat and family-friendly series, Infamous was a much darker game, and it often felt off-putting in how much it went out of its way to present a gritty superhero origin story. Though its tone matched that of some darker comic book stories, like DMZ or The Dark Knight Returns, its approach initially rubbed me the wrong way.
This really hit me when it came time to explore the setting of Empire City. Following a major disaster, much of the city is left in disarray, which made for an especially depressing time exploring and testing out protagonist Cole McGrath's lighting-infused abilities. After spending some time getting used to the movement and flow of traversal, I slowly started to come around to Infamous. One of the most surprising things I liked about the game was how enjoyable it was to move around, and it was clear that Sucker Punch put their experience working on Sly Cooper's platforming mechanics to good use. Featuring a morality system, I generally stuck with playing the good guy in Cole's story, which made for an especially satisfying arc to see through.
After playing through the game for the first time, and seeing how different the game can be with your different choices, Infamous made for a really fun open-world adventure game that offered some great payoff. Though I feel that the sequels ended up totally surpassing it, thanks in part to its efforts to lighten up the story, the original game still holds up well on its own. | Alessandro Fillari
Red Faction: Guerrilla | June 2
The original Red Faction never seemed to get the level of attention I thought it deserved. Thanks to its GeoMod tech, which allowed you to freely destroy the game's walls, floors, and ceilings--even in multiplayer--the game was an incredible technical achievement. Its sequel dialed that back, and it wasn't until eight years later, in Red Faction: Guerrilla, that the series came back with a game that tries to do something interesting with destruction.
Guerrilla's approach to destruction was quite different; whereas the original Red Faction had been about destroying the world, Guerrilla gave you the ability to destroy what was in it. Whether with explosives or your trusty sledgehammer, you were free to destroy buildings, bridges, and other structures. The surrounding open-world third-person shooter gameplay was fine, but it was the freedom to wreck whatever was in front of you--and have it actually collapse into pieces--that made Guerrilla so much fun.
The level of destruction found in Guerrilla remains a rarity in games, which made the 2018 re-release, the offensively titled Re-Mars-tered Edition, an exciting proposition. It's not a full-on remaster, and its open-world gameplay has aged poorly, but blowing things up is still wildly satisfying. | Chris Pereira
The Sims 3 | June 2
I struggle to think of a game that has swallowed more of my life than The Sims 3. While The Sims 4 moved in a new direction with some interesting mechanical changes, my biggest disappointment with it was the lack of an open world free of load screens, which was first introduced in The Sims 3 and resulted in a wonderfully seamless experience. Removing discrete lots divided by load screens not only enabled each town to feel more like a real city replete with social spaces, workplaces, and homes, but it also opened the door for my favourite expansion in the Sims series, The Sims 3: World Adventures. World Adventures lets you travel to Sim versions of Egypt, China, and France where you can explore and puzzle your way through tombs, undertake a wide variety of quests, and uncover artifacts which you can store in your home or sell for sweet Simoleons.
The joy in playing Sims games is so alive and well in The Sims 3 especially given there are so many ways to play. You can approach it as a home builder, fashion designer, chaos bringer, virtual dollhouse, or the way I do, as an RPG, where I work my little Sims to the bone in order to achieve all of their short- and long-term aspirations in as little time as possible. I still constantly return to The Sims 3 and it astounds me that the game is already ten years old. The simulation genre has seen so many iterations and entries but none compare to the feeling of freedom and joyful variety that can be found in The Sims 3. | Jess McDonell
Prototype | June 9
I was a big admirer of Radical Entertainment's game The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. As an open world where you play as the giant green bruiser, you get to break, pulverize and smash stuff at your leisure. It was a simple concept, but its setting and surprisingly in-depth mechanics made for a really fun game that was way better than it had any right to be. The developers eventually went on to make another game called Prototype, taking the basic concept of their previous game and fitting it around an original story. When looking at Prototype in the broader sense, it's got a lot of parallels with Infamous, the other open-world superhero game released in 2009. But in stark contrast to its rival game, this one gradually shifts from the initial superhero formula into something of a full-blown monster movie by game's end.
Unlike Infamous, there's no morality system in Prototype. You play as the brooding anti-hero Alex Mercer, who possesses bio-organic powers that allow him to shapeshift, form sharp objects with his hands, and generally just wreck stuff around New York City. It plays very similarly to Hulk: Ultimate Destruction; matching its traversal and combat mechanics to a tee. Surprisingly, Infamous is a far more low-key game compared to the wanton destruction and carnage seen in Prototype. I knew going in that I was playing as an anti-hero, who was more than likely making things worse for everyone by simply existing. Though there were a few heroic actions to be found, they were peppered in-between moments where I'd pick up taxis--likely full of innocent civilians--and chuck it at a group of soldiers wielding rocket-launchers in Time Square.
By the end, Prototype went from a dark superhero origin story to a creature-feature showing similar shades to The Thing--with tendrils and bio-organic viscera caking much of the cityscape. And honestly, I really respected the game for taking such a turn. Prototype would eventually get a sequel, but it would, unfortunately, be Radical Entertainment's final game; which is a real shame. Throughout 2009, there was a lot of talk about the comparisons between Infamous and Prototype, but in truth, they're totally different games. Whereas the former tries to contextualize its setting and player-agency through its morality system, Prototype chucks all that out in favor of some dumb, guilt-free, anti-hero thrills. | Alessandro Fillari
Shadow Complex | August 19
I've been a longtime fan of games under the metroidvania tag. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night remains one of my favorite games to this day--and I'm always down to replay Super Metroid at any point in time. So, when Shadow Complex was announced for Xbox Live Arcade's Summer of Arcade promotion, I was definitely intrigued. Let's not forget: At this point, Xbox Live Arcade had been absolutely crushing it with titles, and the first Summer of Arcade brought what I felt were some of the best games of its console generation with Castle Crashers, Braid, Bionic Commando: Rearmed, and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 in 2008.
And, to my great joy, Shadow Complex completely held up with the best of them. The game was a fine-tuned metroidvania game with well-placed secrets, interesting power-ups, and balanced gameplay. It also managed to stand out from both Metroid and Castlevania, creating its own style within the sub-genre. Outside of utilizing a more modern day-inspired, militaristic setting, the game also featured a 2.5D perspective, with enemies not just appearing on a flat plane, but also along the player's z-axis.
While these games can get repetitive at times with their inherent backtracking, somehow Shadow Complex managed to hold my attention the entire time, and I absolutely loved exploring the map for all of its hidden goodies. It was truly a treat to have a brand-new and well-crafted IP within the metroidvania genre, and it's just a shame we have yet to see a sequel. | Dave Klein
Batman: Arkham Asylum | August 25
No one expected Batman: Arkham Asylum to be anything but yet another mediocre attempt at cashing in on a popular property. Games based on superheroes were notorious for being sub-par--why would Arkham Asylum be any different? Its developer, Rocksteady Studios, had only shipped one title--the unremarkable first-person shooter Urban Reign. Why would anyone expect much out of the studio? How wrong we all were.
Batman: Arkham Asylum surprised players like a gunshot in a dark alley. Not only did it exceed expectations, it set the standard for how games based on licensed properties should be. But even that is underselling its achievements, as Arkham Asylum was exceptional in so many ways. It went above and beyond in everything from its storytelling to the way it characterized by iconic DC heroes and villains. It was immediately clear that Rocksteady's developers were fans of the source material and had gone the extra mile to make sure that reverence was represented. They brought back Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to voice Batman and Joker; worked with Paul Dini, writer of the beloved Batman: The Animated Series to guide the story, and ensured that the core tenets of what makes Batman, Batman was represented. Arkham Asylum is a game in which players get to live out their fantasy of being the Dark Knight, using their wits and physical prowess to stalk bad guys and dispatch them with a cold, calculated precision.
It depicted the universe of Batman in a way no one had before and, to this day, remains one of the most compelling Batman entertainment experience out there. Rocksteady would, of course, push their vision even further with Arkham City and Knight, but the fundamentals of those follow-ups were established--and in many cases perfected--in Asylum. | Tamoor Hussain
Scribblenauts | September 15
I remember when I first heard of the incredibly unique concept behind Scribblenauts. It was a game where you had to solve puzzles, but in order to do so, you had to use a notepad. And anything you wrote, would become conjure up into existence. It was so simple, yet so brilliant. And at the same time, there was hardly a game that could match its originality.
Once I popped in the game, I immediately started scribbling the first things that came to mind. "Ninja!", "Samurai!", "Sword!" (You can see a theme here). What's that, there's a pit in front of me? "Wings!" And, lo and behold, a pair of angelic wings would appear, allowing my character to fly. Or maybe, if I was feeling a little more steampunk that day, I'd give myself a jetpack. It was a beautiful sandbox adventure, and the later games would improve upon it in exciting ways. | Dave Klein
Halo 3: ODST | September 23
Halo 3: ODST felt like the first truly experimental Halo game. Bungie had firmly established a formula by the time of its release in 2009, and while ODST might not have abandoned the core first-person shooter gameplay of past entries, it did represent a fairly bold foray for a game series that was still Microsoft's crown jewel and Xbox's biggest core franchise.
ODST has the expected action-packed levels, but they are stitched into an open-world environment, letting you approach enemy positions from multiple angles. Missions can be tackled in any order as part of an investigation into what happened to your squad. You play as a member of the ODSTs, rather than the Master Chief, and are effectively weaker as a result. At the time, it wisely didn't seek to undercut the multiplayer audience of Halo 3 by offering a new, standalone mode, instead delivering a Horde mode in the form of Firefight. Combined with the ability to play the campaign with a friend, ODST was a great co-op package, although I appreciated the solitary feeling of traversing New Mombasa in the rain alone.
These were gambles, but they paid off. The deliberate pacing of the campaign helps it to stand out amongst its fellow entries in the series. Its noir-style storytelling and moody soundtrack help distinguish it further. ODST was the first solid indication that a Halo game could work without the Master Chief (even if Halo Reach is the only other game to truly capitalize on that).
As the name suggests, ODST is essentially a spin-off, and its campaign is not as lengthy as that of the core entries. But it's nonetheless a game that's more than worthy of the Halo name, and one that's thankfully made easy to check out today; an enhanced version of its campaign is playable through The Master Chief Collection. | Chris Pereira
Demon's Souls | October 7
At this point, it's hard to say anything new about Demon's Souls. GameSpot's 2009 Game of the Year might not have had the same impact as its follow-up Dark Souls, but it's a watershed release for developer From Software and the games industry overall.
Demon's Souls was a difficult game. It was incredibly easy to die to basic enemies, monstrous bosses, and hidden traps--and when I went down, I lost all my hard-earned progress. But the loop of finding my corpse, regaining what I lost, and overcoming that same beast that beat me? It led to a sense of triumph that few other games can offer.
Demon's Souls passed these traits on to its descendants Dark Souls and Bloodborne, and its DNA is easy to see in pre-release material for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, which I am also very excited to play. The "live, die, repeat" mentality of the game inspired others like Nioh, Salt & Sanctuary, Lords of the Fallen, and The Surge. And let's not forgot how often the term "Dark Souls of X" crops up in games coverage--that wouldn't have happened without Demon's Souls first.
Revisiting the game now, however, isn't quite the same experience. I could still try to conquer the Arches alone, but the online servers are shut down. All hope isn't lost though: director Hidetaka Miyazaki said he's OK with another studio remastering the game, a la Dark Souls. | Tony Wilson
Brutal Legend | October 13
Brutal Legend is one of my favourite games of all time. It's not just a wacky and over-the-top adventure game from Double Fine, it's basically a love letter to metal music featuring the voice of Jack Black in what I have no doubt about saying is one of his finest performances to date. All you need to know is that Black's character, Eddie Rigs, gets sucked into another dimension where metal music is everywhere. It's great. The game features a terrific soundtrack featuring classic hard rock songs by Ozzy Osbourne, Motorhead, and Iron Maiden, as well as more contemporary headbangers from the likes of Mastodon and 3 Inches of Blood, among others. The game also features rock legends like Lemmy, Rob Halford, and Lita Ford in cameo roles.
I recently went back to Brutal Legend for GameSpot's Extra Life livestream, and while some of the mechanics and presentation are dated, the witty writing and charm--and all the metal music--remain solidly and impressively intact. Go play Brutal Legend. | Eddie Makuch
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves | October 13
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the greatest action-adventure games of all time. While Drake's Fortune was enjoyable, Among Thieves took the Uncharted formula and iterated in subtle but smart ways. Developer Naughty Dog kept the charismatic Nathan Drake and his quips, the globe-trotting adventure, and--somewhat controversially, the supernatural element that only revealed itself toward the end of the first game. However, the developer also tightened up the combat to make it far more satisfying--you were no longer forced to use Sixaxis controls to throw grenades!--and infused some real heart to proceedings.
Nate's already complex relationship with Elena is further complicated by the introduction of Chloe--who has of course gone on to star in a new Uncharted game of her own. Sully also returns and cements himself in the player's mind as Nate's most trusted ally.
Despite having not played the game for approximately seven years, I can still remember a number of standout moments from Among Thieves. The Istanbul night-time break-in. The tundric climb up a perilously hanging train.
Uncharted 2 is also home to that exquisite section in Tibet where Tenzin comes to Nate's aid and--despite sharing not a single word of common language with the all-American hero--escorts him back to civilization. The sequence that follows, exploring Tenzin's peaceful village, is a rare and beautiful moment of tranquility amidst what is otherwise a breathless, relentless roller-coaster.
Thanks to 2015's Nathan Drake Collection, Uncharted 2 is now playable on PS4 in all its glory, and its gameplay and visuals have been further improved since 2009. If you haven't already, you owe it to yourself to play this masterpiece of an adventure that remains the most accomplished in the Uncharted series. | Oscar Dayus
Borderlands | October 20
Borderlands represents 2009 to me in many ways. It's a game with attitude, both in its dialogue and its art style. It's a game about working with friends online, taking on different combat roles and tackling big, bad bosses--together.
Borderlands launched at the tail end of my high school days, the exact time when I needed these things. I could end the day at home by shooting away at minions, seeing who discovered a crazy new weapon and enjoying the game's irreverence after a buttoned-up school day. Knowing we would all soon part ways for college and the "real world" made us savor the time online even more.
The Borderlands experience didn't end when we finally found the Vault. The shooter-looter--a term that has a very different connotation 10 years later--was one of the first games for which I happily purchased all the DLC. My school friends and I ganged up to conquer The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned and Mad Moxi's Underdome Riot, but they weren't online with the same frequency when the other two expansions launched.
But those magical moments don't have to be lost forever. A decade later, developer Gearbox continues to tease what is likely Borderlands 3. Now I have a new squad who regularly plays Apex Legends and other online multiplayer games. When the inevitable next Borderlands game drops, I know we'll relive those 2009 adventures all over again. | Tony Wilson
DJ Hero | October 27
There was a time when plastic instruments were the hottest things in the video game market, and anyone's house you'd visit, displayed in front of the TV, would be multiple fake guitars and possibly a fake drum kit. During the chaos, a steady stream of uninspired follow-ups and seemingly easy cash-ins were released to capitalize on the craze. While Harmonix had originated the series, Activision purchased the rights to the ‘Hero' games in 2006, and did what Activision does best: Pump out constant sequels.
But, one oft missed game during this was DJ Hero. Being a fan of both hip hop and electronic music, DJ Hero was immediately interesting to me as something different enough from Guitar Hero, but still keeping the engaging rhythmic fundamentals that made the series a hit. And what I found upon plugging in my newest piece of plastic was a fantastic game that was far more fresh than Activision's other ‘Hero' games.
Part of the appeal of these games is feeling like you're actually playing the instrument. But, maybe it's because I play drums and guitar, the fakeness of it was always pretty apparent to me. DJ Hero, on the other hand, for someone who's never used a turntable, instilled the feeling of really mixing the various tracks together to make something great. Similar to the Guitar Hero games, there was a great selection of mixes to choose from, and I honestly think if I had to pick one up on a whim to play today, I'd probably choose DJ Hero. | Dave Klein
Dragon Age: Origins | November 3
I was a latecomer to Elder Scrolls' particular brand of western RPGs, so I was glad to enjoy Dragon Age from the very beginning. Dragon Age: Origins was and remains a rich and rewarding world. The lore is a mixture of dark fantasy tropes and classical swords-and-sorcery storytelling, and the story makes you both an active part in the world's mythology and an observer and influencer of other major events.
As a Grey Warden, you're thrust into the world with a heavy burden from the beginning: to stop an Archdemon from bringing about a curse called the Blight. On top of the traditional warrior, mage, and rogue class types, you're able to select from six factional options. This is a rich avenue for world-building, allowing six different prologues that each explore the roles that race and class play in this world. Though I only played to completion with two characters, I made sure to play all six prologues for the sheer joy of seeing how each of their backgrounds differ.
Even after the prologue, the choice of race and class is vital and influences how other societies and even individuals perceive you. Elves are looked down upon by humans, while Mages are viewed with a combination of awe, fear, and disdain. The result is a sprawling tale that explores fantasy tropes while upending them, all set within the warm-blanket familiarity of a traditional class-based RPG.
By the time Dragon Age: Origins ended--and it does, in spectacular fashion--I was utterly sold on the land of Ferelden and its inhabitants, and I couldn't wait to explore it all over again. | Steve Watts
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | November 10
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has been tremendously influential, and with good reason; it was great fun, and I had extremely high expectations going into Modern Warfare 2. And it delivered the goods on many fronts, offering a brand-new co-op experience in the form of Special Ops mode's bite-sized missions, which gave you a way to experience CoD's excellent shooting experience with a friend.
Multiplayer also grew in a variety of ways. The vaunted Create-a-Class of CoD4 had new categories to customize, more killstreaks, and just generally more, though it was a relatively minor change that I appreciated most. Infinity Ward tried to overcome its progression system giving experienced players an unfair advantage by offering everyone pre-made loadouts with high-end gear. I love unlocking new weapons and attachments in multiplayer shooters, but it's always off-putting to think that the competition has better equipment just because they've played more than me. While not a perfect solution, the pre-made loadouts helped to mitigate those problems in Modern Warfare 2.
As much fun as I had with Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer, it's not what stands out in my memory, nor is the infamous No Russian level, which drew a great deal of negative mainstream attention. The part of Modern Warfare 2 that still sticks with me is essentially the follow-up to CoD4's scene in which a nuclear bomb detonates. Modern Warfare 2 attempts something similar but shifts the perspective to great effect. You help to detonate a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere to create an EMP meant to cripple an invasion of the US. Rather than seeing the entire sequence unfold from the ground, as it first seems, you suddenly assume control of an astronaut outside the International Space Station. In a truly haunting sequence, you helplessly track the missile's approach and subsequent explosion. Your concerns for the impact on the ground quickly become secondary as your communications are cut off; aside from some tense music, you only hear your rapid heartbeat increase as the space station is destroyed in front of you and you're sent hurtling into space to your death.
Call of Duty's multiplayer may have evolved beyond what Modern Warfare 2 has to offer, but its campaign remains worth playing today for that moment alone. | Chris Pereira
Assassin's Creed 2 | November 17
Assassin's Creed 2 was one of those cases where the sequel outshined its predecessor. While the original laid the groundwork for what became Ubisoft's incessant push toward open-world games, Assassin's Creed 2 represents the early, idealized version of it. It was a journey through the Italian Renaissance, rich with historical figures and events as a backdrop to the ongoing drama of Assassins versus Templars that transcends time itself.
Ezio Auditore is one of most memorable protagonists in the series, with his irreverent and reckless personality in the face of a high-stakes. After his father and brothers are framed for treason and subsequently executed by the state, Ezio falls deeper into the bigger conspiracy and evils of the Templars and takes up the Assassin robes to bring justice across Italy. As Ezio, you travel to a number of Italy's iconic locations, namely Florence, Venice, and Rome. You team up with Leonardo da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli, and discover the Pope Alexander VI himself, Rodrigo Borgia, is a Templar grandmaster. It's a wild adventure rooted in a fascinating historical period.
While Assassin's Creed 2 was a refinement of the stealth and combat mechanics from the first game, it was the mission structure and variety of side quests that pushed the gameplay forward. Incredible set-pieces laid the foundation for the variety of objectives many of the story missions asked from you and set the stage for you to pull off slick stealth kills and cleverly avoid detection. Tombs were a nice addition that highlighted the series' iconic parkour-style platforming. And the glyphs, oh man the glyphs--these fourth wall-breaking peeks into a chilling, deeper conspiracy throughout history and in contemporary politics that tied the core narrative into something more. I can still remember moving the cursor of fire over a Joan of Arc painting only to hear her scream as image burned down in flames, or examining a Supreme Court photo and seeing a Templar ring on Chief Justice Roberts' hand. Assassin's Creed 2 built a huge world with so much to do and nailed nearly aspect of what it tried. | Michael Higham
Left 4 Dead 2 | November 17
I can say with certainty that I would not be working for GameSpot if not for L4D2. My friends and I formed a Left 4 Dead team that got together every Tuesday night to play through a campaign together. Sometimes we set the difficulty too high to finish, but we would always get together after our session at a local bar to talk about how we did. It was a tradition that lasted a few years, and two of those friends eventually hired me to work for GameSpot. Left 4 Dead is always going to be a very personal game to me for that reason, but it was also a pretty great game with no real comparison at the time of its release.
L4D2 improved on the first game's map design and story. Some missions covered so much territory that it was easy to forget that you were not playing an open-world game. The new characters to the series, an unlikely quartet of misfits, were even more charming than their counterparts from the first game. Some of its mechanics were also revolutionary for the time.
Long before battle royale swept the gaming scene, Left 4 Dead 2 brought the unpredictability of loot drops and survival to gamers with a penchant for zombie horror. The AI director would always trip you up just enough to put you on your back foot when the inevitable special infected or horde would arrive. You would run into an alley hoping for the health pack that saved your life last time but instead found nothing. Even worse: as the horde of zombies was descending upon you, the alley's back exit that you remembered was gone.
L4D2 was so great that it is a terrible shame that Valve has not returned to the series with a legitimate Left 4 Dead 3. | Ryan Schubert