Shooter Of The Year
Call Of Duty: Black Ops
The unrivaled control of our mice and keyboards demands high-skill, athletic multiplayer experiences. Some of the PC's finest multiplayer shooters (Tribes, Quake III, Team Fortress Classic) earned our respect by offering brutally uncompromising arenas that demand pixel-point accuracy and to-the-nanosecond finesse. Anything less is a waste of the agility and precision that we're able to manifest with these devices.
Despite being designed as a cross-platform game, Call of Duty: created the kind of hyper-competitive itch that our trigger fingers love to scratch better than any other shooter this year. Its breakneck-paced, kill-or-be-owned multiplayer modes have an arcade feel to them, but Treyarch's rejiggering of CoD's multiplayer formula hooks us right in the competitive center of our brains. Being a successful player means summoning every ounce of marksmanship skill and tactical battlefield awareness that you can muster while allowing physics and playful weapons, such as an RC car bomb or a crossbow with exploding bolts, balance that tension with entertaining doses of dumb luck.
Technologically, Black Ops' integrated video replay and sharing system sets a precedent in post-game enjoyment. Revisiting game-saving headshots or how-did-that-possibly-kill-him Tomahawk tosses in slow-mo with a free camera grant the same StarCraft II provides players to revisit, analyze and share your best moments. We don't forgive Black Ops' botched launch or brain-dead single-player campaign, but it celebrates a style of multiplayer that belongs on the PC--a speedy death-go-round we can't get enough of.
Puzzle Game Of The Year
There's more than one way to tell an adventure story--we just didn't realize it until Agent Nelson Tethers showed up with Puzzle Agent. Telltale replaced the usual pixel-hunting, inventory management and object-combination puzzles found in adventure games (which can all too often rely more on guesswork as to which items can be worn as hats than puzzle-solving techniques) with real brain scratchers. Whether we were bouncing Nelson's snowmobile to safety, calculating the cargo capacity of swallows or solving word problems, Puzzle Agent's puzzles added great gameplay to Tethers' surprisingly edgy saga and elevated a young genre--the puzzle-adventure.
Free-To-Play Game Of The Year
League of Legends
2010 saw games lining up around the block for the opportunity to entertain PC gamers for free, but none could match League of Legends' steady stream of high-quality updates. The content machine at Riot churns out new champions every two weeks, along with new maps, items and meta-game systems. This year's Season One update both opened up competitive play for top-tier players and strengthened the tutorial elements for newcomers. League of Legends continues to prove that a dedicated independent developer can make the free-to-play model shine.