Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My year in gaming

You think this post is long? Try playing all of them.

So the problem with “Best of the Year” Videogame lists is that way too many great games come out in the last two months of the year, and normal people don’t have time to play them all. And even videogame obsessed people like myself don’t have time to play them all. So when I look at the list of games I enjoyed this year, I see a lot of “Best of 2007” in my list, and titles that I will presumably love like Fable II, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, Persona 4, Metal Gear Solid 4 remain unplayed, yet in some cases purchased and ready to go upon removing the shrink wrap.

A true best of the year list would be better served to mimic the Oscar schedule. So anyway, here are my thoughts on what I played in the year of 2008. Potential spoilers in each blurb.

Top 5 (alphabetically)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Grand Theft Auto IV
Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix
World of Warcraft

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Fantastic. Highly polished on every level. Not only does it provide some of the best multiplayer gaming created, it also contains a powerful single player game that remarkably advances gaming narration techniques. For example, the opening credits places the player in the first person view mode of a prisoner in the back of a car driving to his own execution. Another chilling turn takes place as the player experiences the last minute of a Marine’s life in the aftereffects of a nuclear explosion, with sluggish controls and a weak pulsing heart beat as you crawl in the post-blast decimation. For a game that some may see as the equivalent of an action movie blockbuster, it deserves credit for smart, in-game storytelling rather than resorting to cut scenes.

Super Mario Galaxy
A joyous return to old school Mario sentiments. It had fun power-ups like Bee Suit and Ice Mario, and oozed happy charm. Shockingly, Nintendo actually upped the sound values by including orchestrated music, allowing the score to stand out, rather than be marred by MIDIish sound effects that have plagued Nintendo games for the last decade.

Mass Effect

Loved the main game exploring space and enjoying the story, but the (optional) side quests became boring. This game continues in the western RPG model of letting you actually “role play” your character rather than “playing the story” of Japanese RPGs. I loved the tough decisions the game forced you to make, including which member of your inner circle you would have to sacrifice in order to get the mission done. It’s not easy being a bad-ass commander, but someone’s got to do it.

World of Warcraft
It finally got me. Four years after release, I finally succumbed and starting playing, joining the 11.5 million monthly subscribers. I rationalized that it was necessary to know about the phenomenon that is changing the business of the industry I want to return to upon graduating, but I also just wanted an excuse to play it. And I love it. I loved the Warcraft series before as I enjoyed their in-depth world and plotlines, and being able to actually tread on the ground from series lore like the “Dead Scar” brought me a fanboy thrill. Horde FTW!

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Continuing, quiet excellence from one of my favorite gaming series.

Super Smash Bros. Melee
This was bittersweet for me. The original SSB produced some of my favorite gaming moments thanks to its frantic, fun gameplay. This was obviously boosted by the fact that I had regular heated matches with 3 of my best friends from high school all having a good time in the room. Now, the game is more polished and jacked with “plus more” of everything…but I had no one to play it with (don’t talk to me about Nintendo’s online plans). Darn.

Mario Kart Wii
Disappointing. On one hand, I was happy that my girlfriend LOVED it. And yes, she can legitimately beat me in it. But I was frustrated by Nintendo making the game WORSE than its GameCube iteration by removing features and gameplay. I understand that it was watered-down to reach the casual audience that is the lifeblood of the Wii, but the series feels very stale to me. Not enough great new courses, puzzling classic course selection, and constant lacking of feature control in multiplayer. Such potential squandered.

Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core
I was pleasantly surprised by this title that revisited the FF7 universe. Though there still were some spotty Japanese storytelling shenanigans, I found myself surprised with actual character development in doomed (as players of FF7 know) protagonist Zack Fair. His death scene was beautifully and powerfully done in a mix of gameplay and Square’s traditional amazing CG work. Also had some beautiful songs on the score (not counting the “battle grunge rock”).

Grand Theft Auto IV
Ah yes, this one. A masterpiece that certainly absorbed me while playing, but I find myself a bit cool towards it as the months passed. To be sure, I loved the story and the creation of Liberty City was an outstanding achievement technically and artistically. Yet I found myself nostalgic for the feeling of awe I got when I played GTA3 and Vice City back in the day. Perhaps a bit like Mario Galaxy, it felt like a very polished and excellent version of something I used to love more.

Assassins Creed
Great graphics, applaud the ideas of trying a new setting and IP, but very repetitive.

The Orange Box (Half Life 2, Portal, Team Fortress)
So this was simply awesome. The Half Life 2 series continues to be excellent 4 years after release. Team Fortress was a breath of Pixar-esque fresh air in artistic direction for shooter games (please watch the bottom 4 trailers). And Portal was outstanding. Clever puzzles and concept, and the best writing I’ve experienced in a game. Certainly the funniest. Best of all: it was short. Like 2-4 hours. That is a good thing. Too many games drag on because they feel they need to hit a certain number of hours. Give me quality over quantity any day. You can download this on your computer. DO IT. BUY IT.

Penny Arcade Adventures
Another funny game, but make sure you like the Penny Arcade comic strip first.

Advance Wars Day of Ruin
One of the best tactical strategy games. This is the 4th game in the series I’ve played, and they’ve gotten me through many an hour while traveling.

No More Heroes
So I see director Goichi Suda as the Tarantino equivalent in gaming. A distinct, heavy, welcome director’s hand, who clearly loves the art form and is a bit crazy. The good in this game is very good which includes the style and some of the best uses of the Wii controller for core gamers. Other parts could badly use some work/editing, but I find myself wanting to forgive it while I applaud the creative risks the game takes.

A beautiful designed game, both in art direction and game play. Story gets pretentious/unclear, giving high school gamers another example for their “games-as-art” arguments.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed
Capcom loves you, old school gamers. That’s why they paid for the creation of a remade classic Nintendo game done extremely right. I never personally considered Bionic Commando as a favored classic, but damn do I RESPECT this game.

Dark Sector
Junk food action blockbuster. Retarded story, but cool gameplay mechanic in boomerang glaive. Good effort from a small publisher.

Mega Man 9
Did I mention that Capcom loves you, old school gamers? Now you and Capcom are K-I-S-S-I-N-G in a tree. They made a BRAND NEW Mega Man game IN THE EXACT STYLE OF THE NES. I never thought I’d see the day. They nailed the music, they nailed the game, they made intentionally awful NES-style box art, they even added old school “I’m a dick” developer tricks like things that will knock you into a pit to your death because they KNEW you were going to jump there. It’s mean, but it made me smile. Please buy this on Wii/Xbox Live or PSN network so more companies will try this. Maybe someday we can get a 2D Super Mario Bros 4…

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
Capcom not only loves you, but they also want you deep inside them so you two can have, like, 10,000 babies. SSF2T HD Remix is exactly what I always wanted. I swear, Capcom was eavesdropping on a conversation I was having with my friend Damian when we were playing Street Fighter 2 in 2005 where we said we wanted a new SF, but, you know, it totally had to be the same as the old SF. So here it is, redrawn 2D HD graphics, terrific fan made remixed music, great online, battles and untouched (or retouched for the better) classic SF gameplay. The game still holds up as amazing fun. It’s like the Godfather Blu-ray that’s been digitally restored. I’ve played this game until my thumb hurt charging Sonic Booms because I don’t have an arcade joystick, and I don’t even care. Bionic Commando, Mega Man 9 and SSF2T HD Remix are Capcom’s love letter trifecta to all of us who grew up in the Nintendo/SNES/Genesis era.

Dead Space
A good game with no soul. No real flaws, some fun survival horror shooting, but nothing special to make it stand out long term. Sadly, I’ve also reached the age where I’ve consumed enough media that when a story presents me with 2 ancillary characters, I can tell which one is going to betray me in the first half hour, especially when she doth protest way too much that the other guy is going to betray me.

Devil May Cry 4
Enh. Epitomizes the problems with Japanese developers these days. Great polish, but dumb anime story where the really “awesome”/completely nonsensical physics stuff happens in cut scenes when you aren’t playing it. This is by Capcom, by the way, showing that every relationship still requires work.

Fallout 3
I sunk more hours into Oblivion, Fallout 3’s medieval spiritual predecessor, than any other single player game I’ve played. The worlds Bethesda, the developer, creates are utterly engrossing. Taking place in a 1950s Jetsons future-retro technology post-apocalyptic Washington DC 200 years after a nuclear war, the game pops you out of your underground vault and lets you determine your own story. I’m perhaps about halfway “through” playing it (there’s so much to do that’s optional if you so decide…), but greatly enjoying it. A highlight so far was fetching the Declaration of Independence from the Super Mutant infested National Archives to give to the historian for 100 bottle caps, bottle caps being the currency in the dismal future. To put it in perspective, room and board and whore cost 120 bottle caps. I also did this quest a day before going to the National Archives in real life, which was fun.

Boom Blox
Is to the Wii as Super Monkey Ball was to GameCube. A good puzzle game, fun for parties with non-gamers when you’re tired of Wii Sports.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I played GTA IV quite a bit and really liked it, but I agree that I didn't feel the sentimental attachment I felt to GTA III/Vice City/San Andreas. And the new Street Fighter is AWESOME and the best thing to happen to pre-gaming since the invention of Edward 40-Hands.