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Best of the Rest: Alexander's Picks of 2009


Valkyria Chronicles
"BUT THAT GAME WAS 2008!!11one!1!" Well, yes, in the strictest sense. Sega's strategy role-playing game, an epic tale chronicling the hardships and victories of Gallian militia Squad 7, was sent out to die by the publisher when it released in November 2008. However, word-of-mouth, critical praise and some discounted pricing helped the saga find a place in many people's lives (and hearts) by mid-2009.

One of the most endearing mechanics implemented in the game was giving all the playable members of Squad 7 bonuses (or flaws) based on their neuroses, relationships and desires. Also, every character had a different personality that shined during their turn through little quips and order recognition comments. It gave the entire cast more depth of character, even as the player only saw a handful of the troops during cutscenes. Despite the requisite Japanese RPG flair and melodrama, there was a simple beauty and charm in the storytelling, while the gameplay introduced a great basis for iteration. Valkyria Chronicles is a series that, with love and attention, could become so much more. I look forward to returning to Gallia and hope future installments recognize that the delightful characters are as important to the series as the strategic gameplay.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

*giggles* Blowing up and destroying buildings is too much fun! *giggles* How enemies spawn in Guerrilla may have been an abomination and cut deeply into the flow, but there was plenty to make up for that in this thrilling reboot of the Red Faction franchise. The epiphany of blowing up (or smashing through, or melting) a wall (or ceiling) to get an enemy or objective is such a simple idea, but it opens up worlds of possibility and changes how one thinks about and approaches missions. It was the little things that got in Guerrilla's way to greatness, but for a game that could have been a really cheap Grand Theft Auto: Red Planet, the team at Volition created something that stood out and surpassed expectations. Sign me up for the next trip to Mars.

Resident Evil 5

I just liked it because it was a different type of couch co-op experience compared to anything else I'd played before. A riveting and well-paced adventure to experience with another competent gamer. Playing RE5 solo meant missing everything fresh the title had to offer. Definitely the co-op experience of my year. Now, about being able to move and shoot at the same time ...

Fallout 3 DLC

Bethesda's fantastic RPG escapade through The Capital Wasteland may have released in 2008, but the five pieces of DLC added during 2009 elevated the core experience and enhanced the game like Brotherhood armor. In the case of the third piece of DLC, Broken Steel, it fixed the slapdash original ending (and glaring plot hole with the mutant). Gone was the "that's it?" finale, replaced with a new adventure, a higher level cap and the ability to continue the wanderer's journey. Fallout 3 was a good enough game when it released, but after five pieces of DLC and a year of breathing room, the potential 100-plus hour experience makes it absolutely worth grabbing a copy of the Game of the Year Edition, which includes all the additional content. Also, for me, the best feeling in Fallout was just picking a direction until I found adventure -- and, even in the post-nuclear landscape, there was always a new experience to discover.

Dawn of Discovery (aka Anno 1404)

I picked up Dawn of Discovery on Steam during a lazy summer's day and tolerated my clunky PC's handling of this gorgeous and complex game for as long as I could -- which, in fairness, ended up being up until the final campaign mission. When (if) I ever get a new PC rig, Dawn of Discovery will certainly find a place on the hard drive and it'll be like playing the under appreciated title for the first time. This was my first venture into Anno, but I found the mix of strategy, city-building and economics fantastic and intuitive. The bright and beautiful game world was inviting and the title certainly deserved more attention. If you're a fan of simulation strategy, seriously consider taking a look at Dawn of Discovery: Anno 1404. I was pleasantly surprised.

Battlefield 1943

Accessible, accessible, accessible. That's the feeling I got from Battlefield 1943 and I appreciated every second I played it. For $15 on PSN or XBLA, the price was certainly right for the downloadable title and it was always easy to find friends to play. The hardcore multiplayer folks criticized the game for not being big enough. Thankfully, they could quickly go back to pooping death grenades in Call of Duty or incessant Halo bunny-jumping. I appreciated the distilled and satisfying FPS multiplayer experience of BF1943 -- however, the lack of additional maps certainly was a downer. The game got me well versed in the Battlefield experience and I'm ready to try my hand at Bad Company 2 when it releases. Then, if another downloadable-only Battlefield game releases, I can get on a high horse and say, "zomg, ths is Battlefield lite n00bs, lolololllolol."

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time
The ultimate in quality gaming comfort food. Don't know what I'm talking about?

10 oz. macaroni
4 tbs butter
3/4 cups breadcrumbs
onion minced
1 tbs flour
1/4 tsp dry mustard (optional)
1/8 tsp pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar, but a mix is fine)

1) Cook mac, drain.
2) Grease 2 qt baking dish, drop in mac.
3) In a saucepan, melt 2 tbs butter and cook onion until glassy. Add flour, mustard and salt. Stir in milk until thickened and then stir in cheese. Pour over mac or mix if too thick.
4) Drop another 2 tbs of butter in a saucepan, melt and mix with breadcrumbs. Layer on top of mac and cheese.
5) Place into oven at 350F (175C) for 20 minutes.

Eat! That's what playing Ratchet and Clank is like.

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