2009 - The Standard of Excellence

This year is already being bandied around as one of the best in recent memory. We have thus far had a handful of critical darlings – Portal 2, Dark Souls, Batman Arkham City – and no shortage of quality, supporting titles, such as LA Noire (apparently), Gears of War 3, Infamous 2, Deus Ex Human Revolution and two of my personal favourites, Yakuza 4 and Tactics Ogre – Let us Cling Together. Things promise to get even better, with a remaining line-up that includes Uncharted 3, Skyrim, Zelda Skyward Sword, Battlefield 3, Modern Warfare 3, Assassin’s Creed Revelations and many more. Despite being heavily weighted to these final three months, it has been a rather impressive year, but how does it stack-up to some of the greatest of all time?

There are a couple of years that stand out to my mind as being momentous periods for gamers and the industry as a whole. 1998 boasts Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 2, Half Life, Final Fantasy, Ocarina of Time and the gems that were spawned in the final death throes of the Saturn, such as Shining Force 3 and Panzer Dragoon Saga. 2005 is certainly no slouch, offering the unveiling of the PS3, 360 and Wii, Metal Gear Solid 3 (in Europe), Resident Evil 4, Timesplitters Future Perfect, God of War, Shadow of the Colossus and plenty more. 2011 has a chance to surpass both of these predecessors, but there is one year that is unlikely to be bettered. Ladies and gentleman, I present 2009.

I get excited just thinking about the veritable riches of '09. It was the year that the PS3 became a must buy for any discerning gamer, as Sony finally put together a collection of irresistible exclusives. Uncharted 2 remains the best game of this generation, seamlessly incorporating a multiplayer that was on-par with its world beating single player campaign. I can still recall sprinting two miles from work to my local import shop just to ensure I secured a copy at the earliest possible opportunity. Infamous was a joy and Killzone 2 was solid, though far from a console-seller. PSN was jam-packed with quality exclusives; it is a line-up that has yet to be beaten, including Shatter, Flower, Trash Panic, Fat Princess, Noby Noby Boy and a re-issue of Final Fantasy VII that adequately filled six months of train commutes.

Nintendo were not content to sit it out, as they played their strongest available hand with Wii Sports Resort and New Super Mario Bros, both of which sold like iPhones wrapped in copies of Batman Arkham City. Nintendo also held-up its end of our secret pact, whereby I won't completely abandon my Wii as long as I have a steady supply of on-rail shooters, which were provided in the form of Dead Space Extraction and Darkside Chronicles.

With the exception of catching up on some missed hits, my 360 didn't see much action in 2009, though it wasn't for a lack of quality titles. Halo ODST, Shadow Complex, Forza 3 and Left 4 Dead meant it was okay to turn off your PS3 every once in a while and enjoy being a gaming polygamist.

Uncharted 2 is the perfect example of how to approach a sequel

Not wanting to miss out, the DS and PSP gave us plenty of reasons to keep playing far from the comfort of your sofa. GTA Chinatown Wars was never going to find much success on the DS, though its PSP port later in the year gave it more of a fighting chance. Scribblenaughts and Professor Layton & The Diabolical Box thrived on Nintendo's handheld and had people scrambling for their R4 carts like the filthy criminals they are. Final Fantasy Dissidia was the stand-out for a solid, if not spectacular, bunch of PSP games.

Going multi-platform, things just get better and better. Battlefield 1943 is the most immersive downloadable-only game I've ever played and Modern Warfare 2, despite its ludicrous plot, was hugely entertaining. Although it has since received a fair bit of flak, Resident Evil 5 was a thoroughly enjoyable co-op experience and alongside the long awaited Street Fighter IV, it made for a pretty successful year for Capcom.

Demon's Souls re-introduced the world to grimy and unforgiving dungeon crawling and Batman Arkham Asylum offered the most fluid kind of combat. Alongside Infamous, it proved that superhero games could be great, as we had long suspected. Although I didn't get to experience them until the early months of 2010, Assassin's Creed 2, Dragon Age Origins and DJ Hero were three of the finest games of 2009, and though I didn't think much of it, Bayonetta was a pretty big deal too.

Portal 2 is good, but is it 2009 good?

There were also plenty of surprises in 2009. I was expecting very little of Red Faction Guerrilla or Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, yet each held their own in a market swamped by better known competitors. Borderlands, which I didn't play until this year, had been written off by industry "experts" long before release, with one claiming that it was being sent out to die. As it turns out, it was a glorious death as it established a niche in a saturated market and did well enough to warrant a forthcoming sequel. Even the punchlines of 2009 were passable, as I dare anyone to play 50 Cent Blood on the Sand for 15 minutes without cracking a smile.

On a more personal note, I also got around to playing some pre-2009 games for the first time, most notably Burnout Paradise which I adored, despite my disdain for cars. No More Heroes, Chrono Trigger, Uncharted, Dead Rising and Valkyria Chronicles all contributed to a year far better than any before, or since.

On top of the all these wonderful titles, I also began blogging about video games in '09, as well as developing a real interest in the ins-and-outs of the industry. I manged to secure a press pass for Tokyo Game Show, which was a real eye-opener, and I had my first published article: a TGS round-up for Tokyo-Weekender Magazine.

2009 was the first time that I had owned every current platform all at once, removing the limits of what I could and couldn't play. Along with a group of like minded friends, we tried every game we could get our hands on and made the most of Tokyo's video game culture. We talked games over countless beers, bounced from one video game bar to the next and sang the Street Fighter IV theme tune at karaoke until our partners/friends/the general public could stand "Indestructible" no more.

My love for gaming in 2009 is unwavering. As good as 2011 may be, I expect it to fall short of '09, though there's certainly no shame in that. For me it was the year that gaming came of age, and when I look back almost every memory of 2009 is linked in some way, no matter how loosely, to one of the games that defined the stand-out year to be a multi-platform gamer.

So what's your favourite year in video games, and how does 2011 stack up?


  1. Trying to think of my "best" year of gaming, just made my head hurt. There are too many factors for me to try to keep track of...

    Great article. The Uncharted games have been in my pile of shame for quite a while, but I'm playing through them now. The first one is a blast so far.

  2. @ Ceva - It is really difficult, especially when looking outside of this gen, as back in the PS1/PS2 days I'd often discover games a year+ after their release, so I don't necessarily associate them with the correct year.

    I saw you playing Uncharted. Great game. I'm slightly envious that you are getting to discover them for the first time - such a great experience. They blew me away the first time I played them.

  3. If I had to pick whole years? There was a period in the late 70s, early 80s, where there were seven huge arcades and over a dozen smaller game rooms scattered around my little college town of 120k people. Three of the biggest ones were on the same block, practically touching, locked in constant token wars. Every mini-mart, bar, gas station, restaurant (from the lowliest pizza joint to the finest steak houses), laundromat, and movie theater, all across the country, had arcade machines. I've played Pong in a pet store and Rip Off in a smoothie shop. If you were having a good game you'd accumulate crowds of spectators. Our people ruled the freaking world for that little period of 4 or 5 years. And this was back when pretty much everything was playable. Games were still too simple to be terrible (mostly). And things actually came out all year. I'd have to say those were the best years, as whole years go.

  4. Sounds like great times. We didn't have that arcade culture here in the UK, at least not in my childhood/teenage years. Arcades were limited to a few SEGA cabinets at the bowling alley, where you might spend ten minutes between sets.

    If a group of people started to crowd around me while playing an arcade game, I'd just presume I'm about to get mugged.


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