The hottest game mechanics of 2010

Our pick of this year’s virtual nuts and bolts.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, December 23, 2010

It pains us to be predictable, but the world is nearing the close of another twelve months, and round these parts that can mean only one thing. No, not gluttony or alcohol abuse – we’re quite happy to poison our livers and broaden our love handles all year long, thank you kindly. I’m talking about lists, ladies and gents, lists. Lists, lists, lists. The proverbial slice of pickle in the leaky bullshit sandwich that is videogame journalism (or “journalism” as some of you people delight in putting it). Eye-watering. Cheap. Obvious. Yet oddly appetising.

Last Christmas VGD’s pack of controversy-hounds well and truly went the extra mile, laying the verdict on an entire decade. This Christmas our format is humbler but, perhaps, a tad subtler. Rather than telling you which of the annum’s releases are bettermost, we’re whittling the focus down to individual game mechanics. Five of them, to be precise. We’d list more but then we’d miss carol-singing.

“Mechanic” is a pretty wishy-washy term, of course: in the hands of a canny/lazy reviewer, it can cover anything from an uppercut through level select screens to a self-propagating fire system. Still, every reader ought to have some sense of what qualifies, and should dissent erupt, we’ll be delighted to address it in the comments thread. Using fists, if necessary.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Buckin’ Bron-Kong

We’ve all known the face-clawing irritation of sharing a sofa with somebody who couldn’t nail a double jump to save his life, and frequently doesn’t. It’s one of the more enduring local co-op bummers, with no handy intervening layer of serverside vetting systems to ensure that your partner is in full control of his thumbs.

One way of papering over any distressing gulfs in skill is to minimise the weaker half’s involvement – as in Super Mario Galaxy 2, where drop-ins must content themselves with the menial joys of sweeping up Starbits. Another is to give each player their own personal difficulty setting, as in Gears of War 2.

We like the Donkey Kong Country Returns solution best though. Losing your rag over Diddy Kong’s incompetence? Simply order him to take up station on Papa’s hulking shoulders, all but removing the little chap from play, and you’ll be able to tackle those tricksy highwire sections in peace.

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit

Mixing It Up With Nitrous

Hands up if you think nitrous is the oldest, least interesting device the racing genre has to offer. Holy shit, dude, you just let go of the wheel! Are you craz – BANG, slow-motion barrel roll aaaaaaand – rest. BUSTED.

Besides reminding us that the essence of Need for Speed isn’t gangsta dialogue but in fact speed, Criterion’s Hot Pursuit brought a welcome new dimension to the timeless turbo boost. Or rather, to the refuelling thereof. If you’re a doughnut-munching, coffee-swilling upholder of law and order, you’ll stock up by keeping pedal to metal. This gives you the luxury of playing it safe when it comes to civilian traffic, sticking to stretches of unpopulated tarmac.

If you’re one of the Hotly Pursued, however, the only way you’ll replenish the juice is by driving dangerously, skimming the flanks of oncoming minivans or drafting rivals. Surgically clean roadsmanship is actually to your disadvantage: stay in your lane and the cops will gulp you down like an extra-large cheeseburger, don’t hold the onions. It’s a great way of underlining the game’s opposing styles.

Fallout: New Vegas

The Real Hardcore

Navigating a post-nuclear wasteland, even somebody’s idea of a post-nuclear wasteland, ought to be tough. You should be obliged, at the very least, to eat and drink daily, and most of the things you’re obliged to eat and drink should be seasoned with isotopes. When you are shot, hacked, bludgeoned, bitten or blown up, which will be roughly as often as you see another living creature, it should take more than 30 seconds behind a rock with a syringe of Kiss-It-Better to restore you to full combat readiness.

Obsidian understands all this. Fortunately, it also understands that most Fallout players and indeed most gamers are shrill, pampered, yellow-bellied half-wits.

Accordingly, the developer split Fallout: New Vegas in two. One half is like Fallout 3 but better. The other half, straightforwardly labeled “Hardcore Mode”, is like crawling over baking grit and glass shards for an hour in order to lick the inside of a toilet bowl, before expiring in a pool of radioactive vomit. Excellent.

Red Steel 2

This… Is My Gunblade

When I confess my sins on my deathbed, the first but one (I once bought a Jethro Tull album) will be the horrible crime of handing Red Steel 2 a merely glowing 8/10 rather than a dazzling, deafening 9. Ubisoft’s Kill Bill/spaghetti western cross-breed might not score many points for level variety, but when you’re the cutting edge of cutting-edge-based combat, and no mean shot to boot, you can be excused a smidgeon of repetition.

Easily the most impressive of the game’s tricks is the fluid and, against the odds, intuitive way it blends motion-sensitive sword fighting with lightgun shooting. Point the remote at the screen and squeeze the trigger – presto, a streak of hot lead. Swipe it from side to side or up and down, and good golly gosh – that cannon is now a katana.

The idea, naturally, is to blur approaches at high velocity. You might flay the armour from a hammer-wielding goon, then leap onto his back and shove a pistol in his ear. Wii MotionPlus needs no further reason to exist.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Taking A Gamble

Treyarch’s new Call of Duty was bad in all the ways I was expecting and great in almost all the ways I was expecting.

The only reason the campaign mode can’t be compared to watching paint dry is that watching paint dry is quite restful – as opposed to, say, swallowing the contents of a clip because you can’t be arsed waiting for some rubbish spawn point to exhaust itself. Watching paint dry while repeatedly head-butting the wall in question is more like it.

Multiplayer’s much more fun, would you believe, like throwing grenades and Tomahawks at a painted wall. Surprise, surprise. What’s this though, a separate layer of unlocks governed by an all-new in-game currency? Which facilitates a betting subgame with its own dedicated mode selection? That’s fresh.

Breaking up Call of Duty’s tried-and-tested experience system – heavily imitated since the first Modern Warfare, and thus teetering on the edge of tepidity – was a sensible move, and Treyarch has unearthed some brilliant ramifications.

It’s not just that the modes overtly founded on the exchange of CoD points are novel and gripping. Being able to determine, as a player, exactly what you stand to gain or lose during even regular deathmatch gives proceedings much additional pizazz. Got skillz? Blow points on Contracts and complete extra objectives for a big payout. Pathetically green? Hoard those winnings, lad. Hoard them.

You’re doubtless aching to tell us why all the above is cobblers and what you’d list instead. Now’s your chance. Incidentally, for added rage, why not remind yourselves of which games we thought would “define 2010″ back in January. Hint: oops.

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