This year didn't see much in the way of original gaming content. Instead, developers chose to try to fix some of the problems they caused in previous years. Some of them even succeeded!
Best Secret Order of—Urk!:
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Initially panned for abandoning the "assassins through time" theme in favor of kicking it in Renaissance Italy for the second time in three games, Brotherhood's expected loss of momentum never materialized. On the contrary, AssBro's (yes, that's what the kids are calling it) brings a double threat to the table: a single-player story starring Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci in a Borgia-era Godfather spin-off, and a subtle yet refreshing twist on the standard multiplayer formula.
Goodest, Baddest, and Ugliest:
Red Dead Redemption
Somebody get Roger "Games Will Never Be Art" Ebert on the phone and tell him that Sergio Leone came back from the dead to design a game specifically to prove him wrong. If Ebert can get through John Marston's ultimately futile quest to sever the ties of violence from his bloodline without giving a shit, despite his own prejudice to the medium, then I'll be right about two things this year: Red Dead Redemption is a great game, and Roger Ebert has no soul.
Best Return to Form:
Fallout: New Vegas
Fallout 3 was many things, but dedicated fans of the first two Fallout games made a few good points (in between bouts of screaming and throwing their feces) about it feeling a little too much like an Elder Scrolls game with guns. Once the Fallout veterans at Obsidian got their hands back on the property, we finally got the Fallout those fans wanted: a bug-ridden post-apocalyptic Weird West tale that made it feel good to randomly shoot up a town full of survivors again.
Best Validation of Childhood Obsessions:
Transformers: War for Cybertron
It's damned hard to get a decent licensed property out of this industry, and it's harder still to make a game that satisfies a fanbase as demanding as your average Transformers enthusiast. War for Cybertron did this with a game strong enough to stand as an example of why people like cars that turn into robots in the first place.
Best Life Jacket in Freezing, Shark-Infested Waters:
Rock Band 3
Harmonix's attempt to finally start teaching people how to actually play music might be too little, too late for the rhythm game, and even for the company itself. Still, given the quality of the product and the even worse fortunes of its competitors, Rock Band 3 might be the final salvo, by the weary victor, in the music games' war of attrition.
Best Attack on America's Future:
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Credit where it's due: Cataclysm is possibly the ballsiest thing to happen to an MMO that didn't involve scrapping a server farm and starting a sequel. Blizzard torched much of its game world, revamped its mechanics, and told 12 million account-holders to deal with it. They did, and happily, dooming our generation to the loss of even more of our precious productivity.
Best Samuel L. Jackson Simulator:
Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect was an effective lesson in how to kick alien ass, but many extraneous elements bogged down the experience. Mass Effect 2 solved that problem by streamlining the entire thing, removing or paring down anything that might keep Commander Shepard from making the galaxy his bitch.
Lifetime Achievement Award:
Remember how the last Lord of the Rings movie won every Oscar ever, and how that was considered to be a victory for the series as a whole? This is like that, only for hand-held games. Despite the impending arrival of the next-gen 3DS, the DS managed to see the launch of its fourth multimillion-selling hardware revision, as well as some of the best hand-held games to date.
Best Quest (Dragon):
Dragon Quest IX
Some series think they're onto something if they manage to squeeze out a trilogy before their formula gets stale, but Dragon Quest likes to aim a little higher. Dragon Quest IX wanted every spare minute of your 2010, and in several cases, it got just that. Even the president of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime, had reportedly logged 150 hours of play time as of October. See, people of all walks of life still waste way too much time on traditional games!
Best Vision of an Eerie Future:
The Epic Games subsidiary Chair Entertainment stunned just about everyone by finding a way to use Epic's Unreal Engine to get PS3-quality graphics out of an iOS game. It's a very stab-rinse-repeat affair, but Infinity Blade has effectively raised the bar on what a $6 phone game can look like. The rest of the industry had better be taking notes.