Monday, January 14, 2008

Snobfest 2007: Video Games

Best "Forget the Story Let's Just Play" Game of the Year: There have been plenty of sandbox games: Grand Theft Auto, Saint's Row, Mercenaries, etc. The designers give you one big city or area to play around in and do what you want. The problem is it the games got a little boring if you ventured too far off the set story line. Sure there are side missions and other challenges you could try to accomplish, but it was all kind of eh. "Kind of Eh" I think is the new title of this blog. Anyway, earlier this year a game called Crackdown came along. A crap load of people bought it for one big reason: Halo 3 demo included! The thing is the game is a lot of fun, and it's not the story that is fun. It is just playing around in the world that really makes this game. Making it even better is playing online with a friend. There are gang members and their bosses you can have fun killing, but there are so many more satisfying things you can do as two super human cops. Play dodge ball with cars, rocket launcher tag, sucker kick your friend off a tall building (never ever gets old), play HORSE with jumps, and so on and so on. Finally a game that makes just playing in the sandbox fun. Now if it only allowed four players online.

Best "It's Like a Movie" Game of the Year: Call of Duty developers, Infinity Ward, did the smart thing on its fourth installment by taking it out of WWII and placing it in modern day because I don't think I could have played another WWII game. It would've been a shame if I hadn't have picked this game up because it is simply brilliant. It is still a finely tuned and expertly paced Call of Duty game. It still looks fantastic. The developers just seemed to have brought it all together in Call of Duty 4. From the chaotic assaults to manning massive gun from a gunship to working your way across an abandoned city to snipe a warlord it is all expertly told and laid out. It really is like a six hour movie that concludes in a fantastic set piece. Most of all I'm simply happy that bad guys can no longer hide behind doors and thin walls. The bullets pass through objects they should pass through. Is some militant hiding ducking behind a barrel? Unload into the barrel to take him out. My only real complaint is that there is no co-op, and no cover system like Rainbow Six: Vegas or Gears of War.

Best "End of an Era" Game of the Year: This year has basically seen Sony walk away from the Playstation 2. This year the system has mainly seen Guitar Hero bonus crap, sports games, and a slew of Japanese RPG's. There was though one huge last gasp made by the PS2, and that was God of War II. The developers squeezed every bit they could out of the decade old system to deliver a thrilling game worthy of its predecessor. The story may not be as compelling as the original, but that could be simply chalked up to the cliff hangerish ending. It still moves the story of Kratos forward with polished combat, the always appreciated frustration free puzzles, and great boss battles. If Metal Gear doesn't cause me to buy a PS3, I'm certain God of War 3 will.

Best Over Anticipated Game of the Year: What else but the final chapter in the game franchise that saved Xbox? If it wasn't for Halo would there even be an Xbox 360? Halo 3 was easily the biggest game of the year. It sold millions of copies. People all around the world either couldn't wait to see how it ended or couldn't wait to be cussed out by 10 year olds. Halo 2 made me swear off online gaming with strangers. Anyway, Halo 3 is actually a good game. I still get thrill when I take down a Scarab. It's like Luke taking out an AT-AT. The story came to a satisfying conclusion. I really like the meta-game in four player co-op. But my own personal glee comes from the Grunt Birthday Party skull. Seeing grunts heads explode in confetti when shot followed by children screaming "Yay!" never gets old...never.

Best Massive Game of the Year: I played only one RPG this year: Mass Effect. I'm not a huge RPG fan, but I will play any game that Bioware puts out. How can you go wrong with the team behind Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic? Well apparently a lot of people think they did go wrong. This game topped a lot of people's biggest disappointment list. To be honest I have a difficult time disagreeing with their issues with the game. The inventory system is overwhelming and at times confusing. It did take me awhile to get some kind of handle on the combat system. Even then I found myself sticking with what little I figured out. I too got sick of all the elevators you had to take. No I don't know why you can sprint only while in combat. And driving that tank around drove me up the wall. But you know what? I still couldn't stop playing. I debated every decision I had to make. I loved being the bad ass with a soft side. Sure I had my character be cold and unforgiving toward those who broke the law or crossed me, but I did my best to help the innocent. (Slight Spoiler) Near the end of the game you are forced to choose which of your teammates you have to send on a suicide mission. For about five minutes I debated the pros and cons of sending either teammate. The thing is once I made my peace with the decision, near the end of that mission you are asked again, "Are you sure you want this person to die." Ugh, that ate up another five minutes debating the fate of two video game characters. See, the story pulls you in, and it's a wonderfully told epic of a story. I did get sick of those elevators.

Best "I Can Rock & You Can Too" Game of the Year: I know I've gone all over this again, but bear with me. This year we saw the battle of the rock star simulator games. It was Guitar Hero 3 vs. Rock Band. I've gone over my pros and cons. Guitar Hero 3 is tough. I mean sneaky tough. You're just going along fine till you hit the brick wall that is "Live in Japan." Then the game makes you cry. Guitar Hero also has the better guitar in my opinion. Rock Band on the other hand is more accepting of new comers. This acceptance also means there wasn't a whole lot of challenge if you simply wanted to play guitar, or knew of nobody who wanted to be a in a video game band with you. Then something happened called "Downloadable content." Downloadable content has put Rock Band ahead of Guitar Hero for me. Harmonix, the developer of Rock Band, clearly knows what keeps a game like this going. Since their release, Guitar Hero 2 has had 20 tracks available for download. Three of those are the boss battles that were already in the game. One was We Three Kings for Christmas season, and there was the Halo theme. The last time they made new content available was Dec. 20th. Rock Band has 41 tracks available for download. From the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville" to Radiohead's "My Iron Lung" and on through to Metallica's "Ride the Lightning." Every Tuesday since the game was released they have made at least three new tracks available for download. That alone is why I have played Rock Band every week since I've bought it, and why it gets my pick for rock simulator of the year. I should also admit that it has taken every ounce of self control not to buy the drums and microphone for the game. Once this strike is over, I'm starting a fake band!

Best "Game of the Year" Game of the Year: So we know what this is going to be. It's already been on the top of a number of Game of the Year lists. It is the creepy, noirish, Atlas Shrugged inspired Bioshock. It is almost as perfect as gaming can get. Everything from story to music to gameplay to design is superb. It is one of the few games that got me a little choked up at the end after saving all the "Little Sisters." I had to look away from the TV when I played it a second time and would harvest the "Little Sisters." I got the shivers hearing the clickety scrape of the Splicers crawling across the ceilings. I got that feeling of dread hearing the ominous moan followed by the heavy thumps of a Big Daddy. I even began to feel a little sad after killing a Big Daddy knowing he was only there to protect the "Little Sisters." My point is that the developers have created a world that you can completely get lost in. My only complaint is the pipe dreamish hacking you have to do on vending machines, cameras, turrets, etc. While they are fun for the first couple levels, they soon become an annoying chore no matter how much you up your hacking skills, but that's it. Everything else is perfect.

Best "Bang for Your Buck" Game of the Year: It has an awful name called "The Orange Box." But what comes inside this "box" is pure gold. For the price of one game you get the brilliant Half Life 2 along with the two following episodes. But that's not also get the online multiplayer Team Fortress 2. All of these are A+ games. The real gem in this deal is a short first person puzzler called Portal. In Portal you are a test subject that has to make its way through 19 different levels. All you have is a portal gun that can pick up objects and create portals. For example you shoot the gun at a wall the entrance portal is created. You shoot again at another wall the exit portal is created. You use this along with gravity and a weighted companion cube to solve the nineteen levels where you will apparently be given cake as your reward. It should be mentioned though that graffiti written by previous test subjects warn that the cake is a lie. This alone makes for an ingenious game. What puts it over the top though is GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System). GlaDOS is who observes your progress and educates you through your tasks. She lets you know about the cake reward, and the physics of the portal gun. "Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out." She also encourages you, "Fantastic! You remained resolute and resourceful in an atmosphere of extreme pessimism." GlaDOS turns out to be the funniest video game character since I don't know when. Here are some other GLaDOS quotes:

"The Enrichment Center promises to always provide safe testing environments. In dangerous testing environments, the Enrichment Center promises to always provide useful advice. For instance, the floor here will kill you. Try to avoid it."

"Well done, android. The Enrichment Center once again reminds you that android hell is a real place where you will be sent at the first sign of defiance."


"Stop what you are doing and assume the party escort submission position, or you will miss the party."

"When I said 'deadly neurotoxin,' the deadly was in massive sarcasm quotes."

"You're not a good person. You know that, right? Good people don't end up here."

"That thing you burnt up isn't important to me. Not any more. It's the Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit; it makes shoes for orphans. Nice job breaking it, hero."

To wrap things up go buy The Orange Box just for this game. Just consider all the other games as really really good icing.

I leave you now with the Portal credits. This almost made the list of Snobfest 2007 Songs.

No comments: