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Best Of 2009: GI Staff And Reader Picks

by Jeff Cork on Jan 15, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Late last year highlighted the best games of 2009, giving special accolades to the best across a variety of genres and across platforms. For the first time, we gave our readers a chance to weigh in as well. For 10 days, visitors took part in a poll and made their voices heard. Some of the winners lined up neatly with our picks, but there were some notable differences. Here are the complete results. We’d like to thank everyone who participated.


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Nathan Drake’s quest to find Marco Polo’s lost fleet sets players on a high-octane, action-packed journey that keeps our hearts pounding from one daring leap to the next. Uncharted 2 seamlessly blurs the line between cinematics and gameplay with incredible set pieces complemented by some of the most remarkable writing and voice acting seen in games. With a memorable cast, epic orchestral score, awe-inspiring exotic locales, and solid multiplayer component, Naughty Dog has not only shown what the PS3 is capable of, but also set the bar for action games to come.


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Drake’s second outing hit crescendo after crescendo with its jaw-dropping setpieces. Toppling buildings, runaway trains, savage yeti-beast battles, and nonstop gunplay combine to form one action-packed game that would make any summer cinema blockbuster green with envy.


Street fighter IV

More than mere nostalgia or fan service, Street Fighter IV takes everything that made SF II an all-time classic and reinvents itself to be exactly what you’d hope from the series. It may embrace the 2D plane like its predecessors, but a total graphical overhaul results in one of the most visually stunning fighting games ever made. Flashy and powerful Ultra attacks, colorful new characters, and fast and furious combat make SF IV the best fighting game of the year.


Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

In this popular puzzle sequel, Layton’s mentor mysteriously dies after opening the ever-so-dangerous Elysian Box. It is up to Luke and Layton to investigate his death through intricate puzzle solving. The game introduces new and engaging brainteasers that require a lot of thought and make you feel like you deserve a pat on the back for solving them. Other puzzle titles should start taking notes.


In Scribblenauts, developer 5th Cell empowers players with the most powerful weapon in the universe: their imaginations. This DS title allows you to type any word into the DS, and have that object appear onscreen. It breaks the barriers of the puzzle genre, letting players pass levels by using a cornucopia of items, from mythical creatures to machine guns. While some complained about the admittedly loose controls, there’s no question Scribblenauts is the year’s most inventive game.


Dirt 2

The follow up to Codemasters’ first racing game of this generation shows why the company has an unmatched flair for racing games. High speeds mixed with exciting terrain make every race a white-knuckle ride. The developer also brings in some of the best features from its other series Grid, like name recognition and the flashback feature, to make this one of the best off-road games we’ve ever played.

Forza Motorsport 3

The world of sim racing seemed stale, but Forza 3 pulled up to the starting gate and stepped on the gas. The career mode features a revamped structure, while the emphasis on social networking and community also impresses with the marketplace, custom cars, and screenshot capture system.


DJ Hero

The most intriguing music game of the year is also the newest concept. DJ Hero embraces the traditions of hip-hop and dance music to deliver a soundtrack of entirely new song mixes from some of the turntable’s brightest luminaries. Combining the familiar descending note structure of Guitar Hero with a fun new peripheral and game mechanics, DJ Hero is a fantastic direction for the music genre to explore.

The Beatles: Rock Band

This Beatles tribute takes something well worn and makes it shiny and new again, which is no small feat. The Beatles catalogue comes alive in the vivid interpretations of the songs, and the Fab Four lend a personality to the game that previous band-centric games lacked. The Beatles: Rock Band also introduces harmonies to the mix – an important component of the Beatles’ music and a step forward for the genre. It once again makes you wonder where music would be without the Beatles.


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Whether you’re online shooting friends in the face, on a couch with a friend playing co-op Spec Ops, or plowing through the game’s intense single-player campaign, Modern Warfare 2 offers everything you could ever want in a shooter. We like to think that aiming down the scope in this game is the closest you can get to the real thing.


NHL 10

In a year where EA Sports put out a bunch of good games (just take a look at this list), NHL 10 is still the standout. EA Canada’s inclusion of board play takes an already great game in NHL 09 and makes it better by adding a physical component that goes beyond just checking or getting into fights. Off the ice, the game’s revamped GM mode adds a robust trade system that should be adopted in some form by other sports titles.

Madden NFL 10

This was the next-gen football game that fans wanted all along. All it took was the addition of the long sought after online franchise mode and a renewed dedication to realism to get football fans back on board the Madden bus. On the gridiron, EA Tiburon introduced a new gang-tackling system, rewrote the receiver-cornerback interactions, and tweaked the player rating system to more accurately reflect real-world tendencies. The presentation also received a boost with better camera work, post-game highlights, and a weekly wrap up show. Maybe now we can leave ESPN NFL 2K5 in the past?


Empire: Total War

There are ambitious strategy games, and then there is Total War. This latest entry emphasizes the importance of map control by placing resource-producing, indefensible towns in the countryside. Warfare is no longer a nearly exclusively siege-oriented exercise in Empire, which is a great improvement. The usual graphical upgrades don’t hurt, either; the game’s presentation of massive battles is second to none. Technical problems marred Empire for many at launch, but developer Creative Assembly has since realized the game’s full potential via patches.

Halo Wars

Halo’s return to its long-forgotten real-time strategy roots found success thanks to developer Ensemble’s clever use of the Xbox 360 gamepad. Like the original Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo Wars takes a PC stalwart genre and makes it work on console through adaptation rather than imitation. You won’t find anything else on console nearly this close to the core of what makes the StarCraft experience great. Tons of Blur-rendered FMV footage showcasing the awesomeness of the Halo universe in detail is a great bonus tacked on top of an excellent game.


Dragon Age: Origins

Even after delivering some of the best RPG experiences in history, BioWare still manages to make Dragon Age original and engaging. After several dramatically different openings, the dark fantasy tale unfolds with constant nods back to your origin and decisions, while the challenging tactical battle system keeps players on their toes.


Battlefield: 1943

DICE’s Battlefield series is like a fine wine; it gets better with age. With this bold remake of the multiplayer innovator Battlefield 1942, the Swedes blend the original title’s fantastic World War II level designs with destructive environments, squad structure, and class kit features from Bad Company. The downloadable title is the best-selling console digital release of all time, and for good reason.

Shadow Complex

Openly emulating ideas from a classic game isn’t always a bad idea. The developers at Chair Entertainment embraced the ties to fantastic side-scrolling exploration games like Super Metroid while crafting Shadow Complex. The throwback gameplay that emerges is hard to put down, a sensation that is bolstered with gorgeous graphical presentation that blends 2D and 3D elements to great effect. Developers take note; we want more games that explore this old, but still fun, gameplay model.



Randy Pitchford and Gearbox Software wanted to create a hybrid of the first-person shooter and RPG genres, and the end result proves that they were definitely on to something. Borderlands successfully injects Diablo-esque looting and a robust experience system into first-person gun combat, and you can bring three friends along for the ride in the best co-op experience of the year. Whether you are playing alone or with buddies, the wastelands of Pandora provide the perfect shooting range for the millions of weapons it contains.


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Modern Warfare 2 took everything that made the first game’s multiplayer so addictive and somehow made the formula even better. Infinity Ward’s sequel incorporated new perks, a wider variety of maps, and more killstreak bonuses than you can shake a nuke at. With online play this good, it’s hard to even consider picking up another multiplayer game.


Assassin's Creed 2

Ubisoft Montreal’s huge open-world sequel is nothing if not ambitious. As players peel back the layers of conspiracy and murder across the sprawling Italian Renaissance, the massive scope of the franchise becomes increasingly clear. Assassin’s Creed II gives to players a wide array of new activities and missions to explore while delivering on promises that its predecessor may not have met. The high quality design seamlessly integrates fiction into gameplay, and the result is a stunning entertainment experience.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

While it was also available on the PlayStation 3 and PC, Xbox 360 owners felt a special affinity toward Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Was it because of the achievements? Xbox Live? Something else? Whatever the reason, readers recognized it as the best game for the platform.


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

It scored Game of the Year honors, so it only makes sense that this PlayStation 3 exclusive nabbed the top spot on that console's list as well.


New Super Mario Bros. Wii

It’s hard to believe it took this long for Nintendo to bring four-player co-op to the classic side-scrolling Mario formula. Better late than never. New Super Mario Bros. Wii brings back fond memories of its classic predecessors, but doesn’t shy away from new enemies, mechanics, and incredibly varied stages. Bring a few friends along and the game becomes a riotous multiplayer experience that’s a blast whether you’re a tightly knit team or teammate-stomping buffoons. Best of all, it introduces a new generation of gamers to the classic gameplay many of us grew up on.


Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins was another title that was playable on consoles, though PC users might scoff at the word “playable.” Sure, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners got to experience the story, but without the deeper strategy and better controls offered to the PC, they were getting but a glimpse of its true glory.


Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

It feels weird calling a Grand Theft Auto game an under-the-radar hit, but since hardly anyone bothered to check out Chinatown Wars, here we are. Rivaling the most ambitious DS craftsmanship to date, Rockstar Leeds crammed an entire recreation of Liberty City into the diminutive handheld. Though it has a top-down view that harkens back to the series’ roots, Chinatown Wars carves its own niche with creative minigames for hotwiring cars, making Molotov cocktails, and tattooing your Triad underlings. Antihero Huang Lee performs your standard array of GTA missions to restore his family’s reputation as first-class criminals, but the star of the game is the addictive drug selling minigame that keeps Lee’s pockets lined with spending money.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Nintendo’s latest Link-based adventure introduced train tracks and a playable ghostly Princess Zelda to the long-running franchise’s formula. Fans must have loved these additions, because our readers chose Spirit Tracks as the best handheld game of the year.