Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Greatest Games of the Decade: The Year 2007

Hope everyone had a great Christmas! Anyway, onto the year of 2007, a year that had the first batch of really good next-gen games. By now there were great games coming out for all three next-gen systems, though in my opinion the Xbox 360's head start in the market led to it still having the upper hand at this point. As we will see, the year had many great games, but for me one game especcially stands out:


Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: FPS
Developer: 2K Boston/2K Australia
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date (NA): August 24, 2007 (PC, Xbox 360)
Rating: M

There are so many great things about Bioshock, it's hard to pinpoint one that makes the game so great. But for me, it was the world of Rapture (the technologically-advanced secret underwater city in which the game takes place) and the general ambiance/mood of the game. The plot and backstory of the game are great too, and the world itself is really awesome. Bioshock is a scary game, but not a "stuff jumps out at you and screams" scary (although that does happen sometimes), but more of creepy and unsettling scary that has to do with some of the enemies you face, and just the world around you and what you learn about it over the course of the game.

That being said, besides just an awesome plot and world, the game mechanics work well too. The action is great, and the plasmids (basically super-powers) you get in the game are always a lot of fun. There are a good variety of weapons that can be upgraded too, and you can also equip your character with different perks throughout the game that can really help you out if you pick the right ones for your playing style. And who can forget fighting Big Daddys? You know when the battle is going to start every time (you have to attack first to get them to fight you), but even with that in mind these battles were always terrifying just because of the sheer power of the Big Daddys. The hacking mini-game was also a nice change of pace. I've mentioned several times that Bioshock has a great story, and the main plot twist is also one of the best ever. And on top of all that, the whole intro/opening sequence (from the plane crash to the descending into Rapture and watching Andrew Ryan's movie) is the best I've ever seen in a game. This is a truely great game that any fan of shooters or just dark games in general should give a try if they haven't already.

Honorable Mentions:

The Orange Box/Portal/Team Fortress 2 (PC, 360, PS3)- The Orange Box is really a compilation of five games: Half-Life 2 and its two expansion packs (this counts for three of the five), Team Fortress 2, and Portal. I wont go into too much depth with these games, but Portal and TF2 could easily be put on this list by themselves, let alone bundled together and with Half-Life 2. So whether you play these games by themselves or if you have the whole Orange Box it doesn't matter, these games all make the list. If you haven't checked these out, you should: The Orange Box is probably one of the best deals in gaming history. And if you can, I would actually recommend getting it for PC rather than a console.

Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)- Another great entry into the 3D platforming Mario series. After Super Mario Sunshine was a letdown for some people, Galaxy came back with a bang and is still one of the best games on the Wii, especially for more serious gamers.

Mass Effect (360, PC)- It was a tough call for me between this and Bioshock for game of the year, and this game could have just as easily been at the top. Another Bioware RPG with a great story, characters, and customization. My one gripe about this game was the combat (which I wasn't a big fan of), but it looks like Bioware has really made improvements in that area for Mass Effect 2.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (PC, 360, PS3)- A great shooter that really raised the bar for war-based FPSs. The story was really good, the game mechanics amazing, and the online play legendary. Only in the last month have people finally started to move away from playing this online, and that's obviously because of Modern Warfare 2's release (which is the sequel to this game). Even with MW2, this game still ranks in the top five played online on Xbox Live, and considering how many people bought MW2, that really says something about CoD4 and the community it built.

Rock Band (all systems)- While Guitar Hero innovated the music game genre and really brought it to the public's attention, Rock Band took it to a whole new level by introducing the full band experience (guitar, bass, drums, and vocals). The game worked great, was perfect for playing with friends, and had a bunch of great songs (not to mention all the ones that have come out as DLC since). My friends in college and I played this game countless hours my senior year, and even now when we get together for parties and whatnot, we always inevitably break out Rock Band and have a great time playing it.

Peggle (pretty much all systems but Wii)- A very addictive game that is easy to learn but difficult to master. If you haven't ever tried this game I recommend you do, it's a fun, simple game that you can just pick up and play, whether it's for a few minutes or a few hours. Chances are this game is available on your cell phone, and it's great when you're bored somewhere and/or just need to kill time.

Biggest Disappointment:

Since this is the first time I'm doing a "Biggest Disappointment" of the year, I think I should say a few words about what that actually means first. "Biggest Disappointment" DOES NOT mean the same thing as "Worst Game of the Year" would. The most disappointing game is not necessarily the worst game, or even a bad game. It can even be a decent game. The important thing to note is that, as per the title, the game was the most disappointing to me personally, and for something to be disappointing I have to have at least fairly high expectations that it would be good. There are many terrible, terrible video games that come out each year, but most people interested in video games can usually tell if a game is going to be bad, and thus when it is they are not disappointed because they weren't expecting anything different. So this category is for games that I had high expectations for, but for whatever reason came nowhere close to meeting those expectations. So without further ado, the most disappointing game of 2007 was...

Halo 3 (360)- As stated above, Halo 3 isn't a bad game. Like the games in the series that came before it, the multiplayer can actually be a lot of fun, whether you're playing with friends or just matchmaking. What really killed this game for me was the story and the single player campaign. I'm not the smartest man in the world, but I'm usually pretty good at understanding and following a story, even if I dont particularly like it. After beating Halo 3, I had to go read the Wikipedia site to try and understand what the hell I had just witnessed, and even then it still doesn't quite make sense to me. I guess it could just be me, but something tells me it's more the fact that the story was too confusing and downright terrible. What a sad, sad end to everyone's favorite spartan's story (and not sad like tear-jerking, but sad as in they did his character a real disservice with that steaming pile of crap of a story). Many of the levels were also a boring grind of fighting more and more flood and me saying to myself "when the hell is this going to be over???" Overall, I was very disappointed by the campaign mode, and I know many of my friends (who are bigger Halo fans than I'll ever be) were as well. For all Bungie has done right, this was one thing they definitely did terribly wrong.

And that, my friends, is all she wrote for 2007. Overall, a very good year for video games. Check back sometime soon for 2008!

What I'm Playing (12/27/09)

Hope everyone had a great Christmas! I've been playing Dragon Age: Origins (yes, still), Left 4 Dead 2, Modern Warfare 2, and Mario Kart Wii. I got some good games for Christmas (Killzone 2 and LittleBigPlanet) that hopefully I'll have time to play sometime soon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Greatest Games of the Decade: The Year 2006

2006 was the first fully "next-gen" year, with the Wii and the PS3 both finally launching. The Xbox 360 hadn't been out for long either though. It seems to me that besides a few standouts (most of which I think made this list) game developers hadn't yet caught up with all the new hardware, which is why in 2006 there is still a lack of great next-gen games. The next-gen games finally start to pick up in 2007, but that will be covered in the next entry. As for 2006, while there were a few really good or great games, for me, one stands out above the rest:

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: RPG, First Person Action
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: 2K Games, Bethesda
Release Date (NA): March 20, 2006 (Xbox 360, PC)
Rating: M

Oblivion is the fourth game in The Elder Scrolls series, though the plot is not directly related to any of the other games in the series (besides just the world in which the game is based). To the untrained eye this game might appear very similar to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, and while the game engine does look somewhat the same, Bethesda improved on Morrowind's gameplay (one of its weaker points) in almost every way. The level-up system is better, the combat is better (though still not great), the graphics are better, and even smaller things like spells and the stealth/lock-picking system work a lot better. The story, while perhaps not the most interesting you'll play in a video game, is more intriguing and easier to follow, while still allowing the player almost complete freedom in a huge open world sandbox to do what she wants when she wants to.

Overall, I remember Oblivion as a great fantasy game with a unique level-up system and great character customization. The more you do something in the game, the better you get at it. This can be exploited by experience hungry players, but in theory it's actually a really interesting idea. The game runs really smoothly and really lets you get immersed in a huge, beautiful world. And the game's graphics (especially for the time) were absolutely amazing, even on a standard definition TV. As much as my usually philosophy for RPG's is "graphics dont matter that much," the graphics in this game (especially the environments) were so good that I would often just stop and look around for a bit and take it in. And to show what I mean when I say the game takes place in an "open world sandbox": there are no area transitions (besides going in and out of cities); the whole world is one big area you can travel for hours without seeing a load screen.

For me, Oblivion is definitely one of the best games ever (let alone from 2006), but it's not perfect. I liked the story, but most of the characters are largely forgettable. The only two exceptions that come to mind are Picard (the Emperor), who they kill off in prologue, and the Grey Fox, who was actually pretty cool and had a good personal story. Martin was alright too, I guess. Besides them, it's hard to really think of any other characters, and many times the computer characters in an RPG are what make the game so great to me. Also, as stated before, the combat wasn't that great. It was good enough to get the job done and add some action to the game, but it wasn't anything to write home about. Still though, I'll always remember that this was the first "next-gen" game that made me say "Wow!" just from watching someone else play for a few minutes.

Honorable Mentions:

Wii Sports (Wii)- This game came packaged with all Wii systems, so most people have played it or at least seen it be played. While not a game with a huge amount of content, Wii Sports showed what a Wii game could do when in the right developer's hands. The motion controls work very well (besides maybe boxing), and the game is a lot of fun, especially when played with other people. A very innovative title that showed the first signs that Nintendo may have been on to something with the whole "motion control" and "casual gaming" thing.

Dead Rising (Xbox 360)- I am personally not a big fan of this game, but a lot of people love it, so I'll put it on the list. Killing zombies is always fun, and Dead Rising really takes the idea of "the more the merrier" to a new extreme. This game definitely has its problems, but it was innovative in many ways as well.

Okami (PS2, Wii)- Haven't played this game at all, but I've only ever heard good things. It's on my "someday" list.

Gears of War (Xbox 360)- A great shooter with great graphics, good online play, and a really innovative cover system. Also great for co-op play (how I played it). Started a good story too.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)- The first really good game for Wii. Used motion controls well without trying to over-use them. Haven't played all of this game yet, but once again have only ever heard really good things.

And there you have it: 2006. I'll give you a minute to say your goodbyes... okay. 2006 was a little short on games, in my opinion because there were all these new consoles and game developers needed some time to learn how to make good games that take advantage of all the new hardware power. But stay tuned, because as we'll see from all the great games that came out in 2007 - it didn't take them long to learn.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What I'm Playing (12/20/09)

Unfortunately, with work and Christmas next week, that wont leave a lot of time for gaming. But here's what I've been playing this weekend and what I probably will play if I have free time next week:
Dragon Age: Origins (still going, but I think I'm finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel), Demon's Souls, Infamous, PixelJunk: Shooter, Flower, and Rock Band 2. And on Christmas Day, I'm sure I'll be playing Wii Sports, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Mario Kart Wii with my family. Gotta love the Wii for family gatherings and group parties.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Greatest Games of the Decade: The Year 2005

Near the end of 2005 we saw the launch of the first next-gen console, the Xbox 360, but for most of the year the last-gen consoles (Xbox, Playstation 2, and Gamecube) were still the major players. In 2006 the Wii and PS3 both launched, completing the next-gen trifecta. This leaves 2005 as an interesting sort of transition year, but nonetheless a few great games came out this year. The greatest game of the year is a haunting survival-horror game that combines a tense atmosphere, terrifying enemies, a good story/characters, and great action and gameplay.

Resident Evil 4

Platform: Gamecube (originally); PS2, Wii, and PC (later on)
Genre: Survival-horror, Third Person Shooter
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom, Nintendo
Release Date (NA): January 11, 2005 (GC)
Rating: M

I still haven't played through the entire game, but I've played through enough to understand why so many people love it and why it's so critically acclaimed. Like I said before, the atmosphere is tense and the game keeps you on your toes. The level design, enemies, and gameplay mechanics are all great (except maybe Leon's inability to shoot and move at the same time, but that usually gets a pass in this game). The story and characters are solid, and along with fighting/running for your life, there are lots of really good puzzles. Almost all of your guns and equipment are upgradable throughout the game with the money you collect. Ammo and health is scarce (at least the levels I've played), but that's the point of the survival-horror genre - you have to be smart with what you have to stay alive. The different weapon types are fun to play around with too (when you have ammo), and there are lots of different guns to suit different playing styles. All in all a great gaming experience. The motion controls on the Wii version work well too, and it's very inexpensive nowadays.

Honorable Mentions:

Jade Empire (Xbox, PC)- Another great Bioware title, unlike Resident Evil 4 I have played through this game a couple of times. This is actually probably my favorite game out of 2005, but because I've already picked so many Bioware RPGs I decided to do something different this year. This game was not only a great RPG, but it was a great action game as well. Unlike Bioware's past games (BG2, NWN, Kotor), in this game you didnt just pick who you wanted your character to attack and sit back and watch them do it. While you could level your guy and collect experience and items just like an RPG, the combat was very much like an action game, somewhat along the lines of a game like Fable. This was a departure from what Bioware had done in the past, but the controls and live fighting actually worked really well. This game had a great story, another amazing plot twist, and great characters, all to go along with the great gameplay. If you've never played/heard of this game, I would highly recommend it. The Xbox disc is compatiable with Xbox 360, so you can buy it used and play it in your 360, or you can download the full game in "Games on Demand" right off Xbox Live.

Madden NFL 06 (Xbox, PS2, GC; NOT Xbox 360)- In my opinion, this is the pinnacle of all Madden games. This was the last Madden game (excluding the 360 version, which sucked) before they made the switch to next-gen Madden, and although the new Madden games finally seem to be getting better each passing year, they can never match the perfection of 06. The graphics on the new ones are obviously better, but I have played countless hours of countless fantasy-draft franchises in Madden 06, across Xbox, PS2, and Gamecube. The only flaw of this game was that they tried to introduce "QB Vision," but that mistake is easily corrected by turning it off in the options menu.

Star Wars: Battlefront II (PC, PS2, Xbox)- A great Star Wars game, this one focused very little on story. This game was great for multiplayer. This was a class based domination-type third person shooter, and what made it really great was the ability to have large scale battles where people could be fighting on foot at the same time as people flying around in vehicles or in space. Add in being able to occasionally play as a jedi or some other Star Wars hero, and you've got a really fun multiplayer game.

God of War (PS2)- Haven't played this game or the series very much, but it's undeniable that it set a new standard for the action genre.

Guitar Hero (PS2)- This game actually had some trouble finding a publisher at first, because the large game companies weren't sure if the whole plastic instrument "music game" thing would catch on with the public. Boy were they wrong. While this game itself isn't really amazing anymore (most of the songs were covers), it was incredibly innovative, and eventually led to all the Guitar Hero sequels and to Rock Band, which took it from just a guitar to a full four (and now even six in Beatles Rock Band) person band.

That's it for 2005. 2006 will be coming sooner or later; hopefully sooner rather than later. And now, because it is so cold in my apartment that I can barely feel my fingers anymore as I type, I bid you adieu.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What I'm Playing (12/15/09)

Dragon Age: Origins (a lot), Left 4 Dead 2, Beatles Rock Band, 1 vs 100 (on Xbox Live).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

What I'm Playing (12/6/09)

Uncharted 2 (finally beat it), Dragon Age: Origins, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Demon's Souls, Dead Space: Extraction, Peggle.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Greatest Games of the Decade: The Year 2004

After only two games making the list in 2003, 2004 definitely starts to pick up with some great games. This is the last year of only last-gen consoles (the Xbox 360 would launch in 2005), and some great games came out of this year, especially for the Xbox and PC. But for my favorite game of the year, I've decided to choose a game that I had always heard of, but hadn't actually played through/beaten until earlier this year. I had only ever heard great things about this game, and I was not disappointed. On the contary, despite everything great I had heard, it still blew me away (despite the fact that it was almost 5 years old) and I fell in love with it and its story and characters.

Half-Life 2

Quick Facts:

Platform: PC, Xbox; Xbox 360/PS3 (via The Orange Box)
Genre: FPS
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Sierra/Valve
Release Date (NA): November 16, 2004 (PC)
Rating: M

Easily my favorite FPS (first-person shooter) I've ever played, this game (and it's two expansion packs) combines so many elements and brings so much to the table that it's leagues above any other shooter I've ever played (with the exception of maybe Bioshock). This is more than just a standard shooter/action game. The variety of enemies are amazing (you've got soldiers, robots, aliens, zombies, helicopters, machines, and more). The weapons are all fantastic, especially the legendary Gravity Gun, which is really so much more than just a weapon. Half-Life 2 is also one of the best puzzle games I've ever played, and that really says something considering it's an FPS, a genre which does not usually have games with creative and challenging puzzles that dont just include things like "kill all the guys in this room." There are also some driving levels (either car or raft) which add variety and challenge to the gameplay, as being in a vehicle presents whole new challenges in these levels. Both the action and the puzzles in these games (expansion packs included) transition and play off each other great, offering smooth and believable (or at least as believable as something sci-fi can be) gameplay. And just when you've gotten used to certain enemy types or solved an environmental puzzle, Valve throws something else at you in the story to keep you interested.

One of the most unusual things about Half-Life 2 is that you are always in the body of Gordon Freeman seeing things only through his eyes. This happens throughout the whole game, with no exception. There are no cutscenes (besides the one at the very beginning, which you are still seeing through Gordon's eyes), no out-of-game narration to explain what's going on. You would think this would make it incredibly hard to tell a story or develop characters, but somehow Valve took this approach and told one of the best stories and developed some of the best characters in any FPS. And the fact they did this through only actual in-game play and no out-of-body experiences (aka cutscenes or narration) is astounding. That being said, the story is great. It takes place years after the events of the original Half-Life (sometime in the near future), in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Valve doesn't just spoon-feed you the whole backstory either, you are left to explore around in-game and find out many of the details for yourself (if you're still confused there are websites which basically lay the whole thing out for you).

I found both the game's story and the overarching backstory of the world engrossing, and, especcially because of Valve's story telling methods, I really felt like I was Gordon Freeman. This is perhaps why Gordon, a character who never actually says anything in the game, is still one of the most loved characters in all of video games. Because people feel like they really are him, and instead of the game assigning a personality to him, players wind up doing it themselves. This is just a theory of mine, but regardless this game is great and deserves to be played by anyone who enjoys FPS and doesn't mind having to think a little bit. Half-Life 2, along with both expansion packs (not to mention Portal and Team Fortress 2) are all contained in the game The Orange Box, which is available for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, and can be found for a very reasonable price now. Go check it out if you never have.

Honorable Mentions:

World of Warcraft (PC)- Everyone has heard of this game. Even people with no interest in video games. And if you've played any video games, chances are you've tried it at least once. If you're reading this blog, probably more than that. We all know it and have loved it at some point in our lives, no matter for how short a time. WoW- The One Game To Rule Them All. This game has by far made the most money of any game ever once you include not just buying the game and its expansion packs, but also the $15 monthly fee that all 11 million+ users pay every month (just think about that for a minute). This game wasn't the first successful MMO, but since it came out it has been the most successful by far. This game has not only left a huge impact on the gaming world, but in many other aspects of media (like the famous South Park episode) in a way few games ever have.

Halo 2 (Xbox, PC)- A great follow up to the original Halo:CE, this introduced things like dual-wielding, new vehicles, and players being able to use the energy sword. Most importantly, this game introduced people to the wonders of Xbox Live for the first time. This game actually still has a small following of people that play it on Xbox Live. I still have yet to complete the campaign (the only Halo game I haven't), but my junior year of college me and everyone on my hall played this game almost exclusively, whether it was a small group of us playing other people on Xbox Live, or a lot of us all playing system link against each other or other dorms at our college.

Fable (Xbox)- Fable was by no means perfect, nor was it even close to some of things Peter Molyneux (the game's creator) promised leading up to its release (surprise, surprise), but it was a good action/RPG for the Xbox, a system that was light on RPGs. It introduced an interesting world/story, and the leveling-up system was new and allowed for a lot of customization to build the character that you wanted. Truth be told I never finished this game, but I liked what I played.

Doom 3 (PC, Xbox)- Never played this game, but from what I heard it was a good shooter and very, very scary (for the time).

2004 was a good year for video games, and it only gets better as the rest of the decade goes on. Hope you'll join me as I continue to count down The Greatest Games of the Decade. Next up, 2005!

Review: Contra ReBirth (Wii)

"Just like the good ol' days?"

Contra ReBirth is a downloadable game available exclusively through the WiiWare service on the Nintendo Wii. It is not a remake of the original Contra (NES), but a new game based on the gameplay and mechanics of Contra.

Quick Facts:

Platform: Wii (WiiWare)
Genre: Action/2D Side-Scroller
Developer: M2
Publisher: Konami
Release Date (NA): September 7, 2009
Rating: E10+

The game plays and feels much like the original Contra. The graphics and music are also very similar, and purposely so. Like Mega Man 9, Contra ReBirth is a retro sort of a game: a game that's new but emulates a classic older game. The game definitely succeeds in this respect, because it feels very much like Contra. Everything about it screams "Contra!" They've also added a few new things, like the ability to hold two different types of guns and switch between them. These changes were nice and didn't take away from the old school feel of the game.

There are complaints though. The game only costs $10 to download, but even for that seemingly small amount of money it is far too short. A friend and I beat it in about an hour (one sitting) on normal difficulty, and that was with many deaths and continues (meaning we had to replay many portions of different levels). We both love the original Contra, and even though ReBirth has some unlockable characters and harder difficulty settings, after we beat it we really had no desire to play it again. $10 is usually a pretty reasonable price for a full downloadable game, but in this case there's just not enough to justify even the $10 purchase unless you're an absolute Contra nut. Even then, while the one hour of gameplay was fun, you might just be better off playing through the original Contra again on an emulator or something if you really need a Contra fix.

My other complaint about the game was the lack of the 3D "moving into the screen" style of levels from the orignal Contra. Those were my favorite levels in the original, and I was really hoping that they would throw in at least one short level in ReBirth to pay homage to the original game. But none of these levels were to be found. Adding a few of these levels would have rounded out the gameplay and added to the length of the game, but it appears that it was not meant to be.

In Summary:

Pros: gameplay, mechanics, graphics, sound, nostalgia (all assuming you like the original Contra), level design, can be played locally with a friend.

Cons: game length, lack of replayability, lack of any 3D levels.

Hardcore Contra fans may find something here worth the price of admission, but everyone else will probably just want to steer clear.

FINAL SCORE: 3 out of 5.