I love lists. Actually, I love reading other people's lists; I hate coming up with my own. Game Of The Year lists are the worst. Comparing the merits of such a diverse range of games is hard enough - how does one reasonably assess that multiplayer-focused FPS against that quirky 2D platformer? But to do so when all the games under consideration are genuinely great is... well, frankly, it's my job. So I've put together my personal top ten for the year and will be revealing them two per day all this week.
What's at #10?
10. Grand Theft Auto IV (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
A strange one this. There's much to admire about GTA IV, not least its staggering achievement in world creation and its expertly acted and directed cut-scenes. I appreciate its consistently sharp satire and its bold efforts in enabling you to forge relationships with other characters. Yet I can't love it as a whole. Others have remarked on GTA IV's "ludonarrative dissonance", where the mechanics of gameplay jar with the mechanics of story-telling, and I'm inclined to agree. My initial sympathy for Niko's plight soon diminished as the mission structure forced me into increasingly ludicrous murderous rampages. Nothing against murderous rampages, of course - I love a good murderous rampage as much as the next guy - but the more serious, melancholic tone of its narrative and its seemingly nuanced protagonist clashed in awkward fashion with the traditional GTA gameplay devices. In Vice City I embraced the stupidity. Tommy Vercetti was such a thin caricature that these issues didn't arise; I happily went along for the ride, causing as much carnage as I could on the way. When Niko comes across in the cut-scenes as a far more human figure, I want to be able to choose more human actions or responses to the situations he encounters. Really, it's only due to Niko's brilliant realisation that this is even a problem at all. GTA IV is a game at odds with itself. Rockstar wants you to feel for Niko to a degree previously absent in the series. The developer has imbued him with a depth that encourages you to analyse his motivations and, by extension, question your own. Like Bioshock, it seems to understand that ludo-narrative dissonance is a game design problem, but it remains content to raise the issue rather than find a solution.