Crispy Gamer

GOTY 2009: Behind the Ballot

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As I type this, I’m waiting to board a plane that’ll be taking me from sunny St. Lucia back to frigid, snow-shocked New York City. (Another storm’s supposed to hit on Christmas, apparently.)

I knew I’d be away and had sent in my ballot for Crispy Game of the Year vote ahead of time. Now that it’s all over, I thought it might be interesting to see what I picked and why.

The following are in ascending order, meaning that the list goes from least-loved to best-loved.

 5. Left 4 Dead 2
Between this and Assassin’s Creed 2, you might get to thinking that highly anticipated  sequels are actually worth all that bated breath. After all, Valve made their second trip to the zombie apocalypse smarter, harder and funnier, along with doling out new zombie types and modes. Yes, the core experience hasn’t changed that much but it was great to begin with. Players just have more ways to enjoy it than they did before. Gameplay aside, the way L4D2 blends the vibe of real-world New Orleans–and all its funkiness and tragedy–into a fictional construct stands as an excellent storytelling achievement in its own right. “Stop bombing us!” ? No. Valve, keep bombing us. Please.

4. Assassin’s Creed 2
Ubisoft Montreal went back to the woodshed with the sequel to their blockbuster 2006 game and it shows. AC2’s biggest win is in giving the players more tools and more finesse than any other open-world game in recent memory. It also takes place in a place that feels vibrantly alive and enticing. AC2 reminds us that sequels don’t necessarily have to be boring retreads or stingily incremental updates. It’s what a follow-up should be: everything awesome about the first installment and a whole new layer of ideas on top of that.

3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
It’s fitting that the environment plays such a big part in this, the best Batman game ever, because Rocksteady’s effort boasts its own impressively crafted architecture. The finely tuned stealth, combat and puzzle-solving all make for engrossing gameplay but it’s the sense that they all serve to illuminate the psychology of Batman and his world. Soon, the rap on licensed tie-in games won’t be that they’re shallow, poorly-made representations of their source material. It’ll be that they don’t help you understand that source material better.

2. Eliss
I love Eliss because it simultaneously looks backwards and forwards at the same time. The quirky aesthetic and sound design harkens back to the glory days when homebrewed games could sweep the community off its feet. The forward-looking part is the way it uses the iPhone’s native interfaces to create a seamless experience. Both those things come together to deliver an utterly unique gameplay experience unlike anything you will have played this year.

1. Flower
Make fun of me all you want (and I know Jones will, at least at least), but know this: nothing else released this year delivered the emotional impact of Flower. COD:MW2 tried to shock us with No Russian, but its failings left it wanting. While playing Flower, I felt joy, wonder, trepidation, surprise and triumph in surprisingly pure form. I sometimes feel those things in other games, but 90% of the game in question needs to get out of the way for it to happen. Flower points the way for video games to become a medium capable of tapping into a myriad of emotions. But I’m not talkin’ about the ol’ game as art conundrum. I’m talking about games as entertainment. Entertainment comes in different colors–sad, angry, darkly humorous–and this year Flower helped broaden the palette of what’s possible.

In the final analysis, I knew Flower was a longshot but wanted to throw some love in its general direction. I was also disappointed that no iPhone games made our list. We probably haven’t yet seen what games on the device are truly capable of, but I felt that 2009 was the year that the iPhone and iPod Touch came into their own as gaming platforms. Go to our poll and tell us what you think shone brightest in 2009.