Yesterday saw the likes of Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Final Fantasy XIII placing lower than some may have expected. What shocks are on the menu today? Find out with numbers 15-11 of our Games of the Year list...
(Playdead, Xbox Live Arcade)
Amid the cacophony of E3 2010, a monochromatic indie game by a small Danish team somehow managed to grab the attention of the gaming press. LIMBO is an enigma, ostensibly a puzzle-platformer about a boy searching for his sister, it's more an expressionistic, psychological quest, the silhouetted monsters and shifting shadows hinting at primal, barely perceived terrors. If this makes it sound like some sort of arcane, artsy experiment, it is a huge disservice. The game has an excellent physics system around which it bases a series of individual logic puzzles that tease and intrigue as much as any of the technicolour tasks that befall Mario. Like Heavy Rain, LIMBO beautifully illustrates what can happen when leftfield minds are applied to the latest in games hardware.
14. Civilization V
(Firaxis, PC, Mac)
Unlike most philosophers, political leaders or scientists, Sid Meier always knows what is best for Civilization. For the fifth incarnation of this legendary strategy title, the great designer and his team at Firaxis have re-written the rule book, retaining the basic concept (developing a fledgling race over six thousand years, from nomadic tribe to nuclear super power), but chucking out the old square-based grid system in favour of a hexagonal map, where units cannot be stacked on top of each other. It means that every city siege is a tense multi-faceted tactical encounter, where ranged weaponry and infantry muscle must be employed in tandem. It also looks lovely, the detailed randomly generated landscapes awash with life and colour. Some have criticised the loss of several key features; the words 'dumbing down' have been thrown about. For those people, well, Civ IV is still out there. But as a new take on the classic concept, it is fascinating, enjoyable and as ever, educational. There should be a PC running this game in every school in every corner of the world.
13. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
(Ubisoft, PS3, Xbox 360)
The latest title in Ubisoft's history-spanning adventure series had no right to be this good. Essentially representing an add-on to Assassin's Creed II, it follows renaissance hitman Ezio as he attempts to liberate Rome from the mighty Borgia clan, recruiting a new guild of killers on the way. But this is no hastily produced stopgap, it's a gripping epic playing out amid the crowded streets and over the rooftops of an intricately realised city. Along with the enthralling main campaign, there are dozens of side-quests and missions, while the story of Desmond Miles is also continued and expanded. Add in the unusual cat-and-mouse multiplayer and this is a luscious offering, rich with atmosphere, wallowing in the sort of historical detail that Dan Brown can only prod at. What a set up for Assassin's 3…
12. Angry Birds
(Rovio, Android, iOS, mobile, PSP)
How has a simple physics-based mobile timewaster become a cultural phenomenon? How did combining the game design principles of Worms, Crush the Castle and Boom Blox into one portable catapult-'em-up possibly inspire a hilarious satire on the Middle East peace process? It probably shouldn't, but it has. And really, one should never underestimate the entertainment alchemy that comes from merging cute visuals and animal cruelty – this was, after all, the stock-in-trade of the Looney Tunes animation factory for half a century. Ultimately, Angry Birds is a masterclass in casual game design. It looks funny, it has a one-stop user-interface, it reveals its complexity gradually, and it is easy to talk about and share. The rumours of a motion picture tie-in will surely be confirmed in 2011. It will probably be an inept insult to this brilliantly constructed game.
11. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Forget mere galaxies, what the latest Super Mario adventure reminds us all about is the sheer universality of Miyamoto's work. As Steve Boxer wrote in his Guardian review, "the youngest children and grizzliest hardcore gamers alike will be held equally rapt by its charms." SMG2 takes the structure of its predecessor, a series of themed worlds, each with multiple galaxies to explore, tightens things up and adds new abilities, new characters and, most importantly, a ludicrous wealth of fresh ideas and game design treats. Somehow, Nintendo is able to craft an experience that is both utterly logical and astonishingly surreal – like a Dali painting with an instruction leaflet. But much more fun. So, so much fun.