Gaming is in a good place right now.
I don't know if it's a new golden age—the games of the late 90's are still unsurpassed in so many ways—but it's damn good right now. Much like TV, there's a whole lot of shit out there, but once you sift through the refuse the quantity and quality of good games are up, too. 2010's looking like another good year for me, for the following reasons (in roughly chronological order).
Mass Effect 2
Bioware frustrates me. They're good at what they do, they make reliably good games, but they could be so much more. I feel like a parent with a brilliant kid who won't apply himself. No one does the bog-standard RPG better than Bioware, but they've been mired in that bog-standard part for a decade now. Every Bioware RPG is fun, solid, and utterly devoid of risk (note: I never played Jade Empire). Their refusal to innovate in any way is almost a signature of their style at this point.
Mass Effect was no exception. I loved it, but it did not attempt to go beyond. Occasionally the game would run up to the line, put a toe over, and just when you thought Bioware was going to outdo themselves, it would step back. The biggest example of this was at the end, when you confront Saren on the Citadel. One way to deal with it is to convince him of his error, and he kills himself.
This stunned me. Not because it was new—Black Isle did it in 1997 with Fallout—but because Bioware had never done anything like this before. Being able to skip a final battle through dialogue is fantastic design for an RPG and went well beyond what I was expecting. I was impressed.
Then Saren got resurrected and you had a boss battle. Thank you for jacking off in my eye, Bioware.
But, in the end, I still had fun. And what I've seen of Mass Effect 2 makes me think that maybe, just maybe, they've decided to stretch themselves and try something new. We'll see; I've been burned before.
When I first heard there was going to be a Bioshock sequel, I was devastated. Bioshock was near perfect, the story resolved fully (such a rarity in games), why the hell were they raping it with a sequel? Stay away from my Art Deco, goddamnit. Then when it came out that Ken Levine wasn't in charge, I decided to just forget it.
Then it turned out the new designer was the man responsible for the Shalebridge Cradle in Thief 3, the most terrifying experience in the history of gaming. Okay, you have my attention—especially since Bioshock was supposed to be scary, and it fell short of that mark. As information has come out, they've won me over. I'm not convinced it's going to be good, or that Bioshock needed a sequel, but I'm willing to look.
And I get to drill people in the face, so it can't be all bad.
Now this is what I'm looking forward to, more than anything else.
First, it's Obsidian Entertainment. I love these people. Obsidian is the surviving part of a family of gaming companies; first Black Isle, which then budded off into the wonderful and sadly departed Troika, then when Black Isle got shitcanned and Interplay went under, most of them ended up forming Obsidian. On my list of top ten RPGs, six come from these three companies. So, you give me a new Obsidian RPG and I'm in.
Then stack on the heavy Deus Ex feel. The unique setting—there aren't many spy games at all, and no RPGs that I'm aware of. It's strange to call the real world a unique setting, but for this genre it is. Chris Avellone and Brian Mitsoda were the main writers. The variable paths, from psychopath to never killing anybody. The fact that it's impossible to see more than half the game on a single playthrough. Relationships that go beyond "save box of kittens/set box of kittens on fire".
If Alpha Protocol isn't my personal game of the year, I'll be surprised. Is it unwise to anticipate that much? Probably, but Obsidian's never let me down before.
I'm going to break this post in two here, because the remaining games may or may not be out this year: Fallout: New Vegas, Starcraft 2, and Deus Ex 3. And oh do I have thoughts about Deus Ex 3.