Really a dead-cert to feature somewhere in this list, Gears of War 2 may not have totally wowed us this year, but it’s clear that the majority feels differently for Epic’s no-holds-barred third person shooter.
Picking up shortly after the close of the first game, Gears of War 2 brings players back to Marcus and Dom as they struggle to understand and repel the deadly Locusts who are now on the very doorstep of humanity, threatening their last cities.
The Locust race should have been crippled by the lightmass bomb in the first game, but somehow your opponent has rallied and you have only one option; into the heart of darkness. Marcus, Dom, Baird – the whole gang, really – quickly find themselves being shuttled down into the land below, taking the fight to Locust for the first time ever. You aren’t expected to return alive and, as cities start to level themselves around you, you lose any hope you might have held yourself.
So, Gears of War 2 continues the story of the first game in a suitably harrowing and epic scale, but that’s only part of it. Rounding out this exciting tale of suffering and triumph against all odds is a fiercely revamped selection of multiplayer modes. New maps, new models, new weapons – it’s all brutal, bloody and here to stay!
The centrepiece of the game of course is the brand new Horde mode, which sees players teaming up to take on a steadily building Locust assault. It starts out slow, with just a few dozen enemies coming at you at once, but the action quickly builds and friends are gradually lost to the swathe of ever-powerful enemies.
Horde may not be a massively innovative new mode to computer games, having appeared in several of Epic’s previous games, but the instant action and easy to pick-up gameplay works a treat with the rest of Gears of War 2’s mechanics.
While some of the bit-tech staff (read: Jamie) can’t stand Electronic Arts’ attempt to create a FPS / racing hybrid, there’s certainly enough of us who feel different. Like me, I love it, and so do an awful lot of you by the look of things.
Telling the story of a sterile futurist dystopia, the main characters of Mirror’s Edge are all runners; illegal couriers who dart across the rooftops of the city and who make a living by avoiding the police and slipping through the cracks of the tightly controlled society. It’s a simple and only slightly risky business.
All of that changes though when the main character, Faith, sees her sister get framed for murder. With the only family she has now in a lot of trouble, Faith dedicates herself to clearing her sister’s name and starts rushing around the city looking for answers.
Using a slick aesthetic that funnels players towards the fastest route, Mirror’s Edge is as visually exciting as anything else we’ve seen this year, though in an admittedly different way. This isn’t about high polygon counts, sweet shaders or inventive new voxel techniques – this is about creating an accelerated state of gaming and making you fly through the in-game city like some reckless, wild thing.
On that basis, Mirror’s Edge isn’t just one of the best games of the year, but also one of the most inventive. At a time when other games are all about dismembering your foes in as gory and brutal style as possible, Mirror’s Edge is a refreshing breeze that sweeps through and clears your senses.