Call of Duty 2 has been a staple of my gaming time since the Xbox 360 came out, more than two years ago. Whatever happened to be the 360’s multiplayer game du jour, COD2 was what I kept going back to with the true believers on my friends list. Once they’d patched the early issues, I’ve always maintained that it was the best no-frills multiplayer FPS on the 360.
You wouldn’t have bet against Halo 3 being the one to finally take over that mantle. After all, COD3 stunk and the fact that I probably preferred multiplayer Return to Castle Wolfenstein on the original Xbox didn’t stop Halo 2 from being an immense time sink.
Maybe it’s karma, but this time the non-Halo game totally stole Halo’s thunder for me. Call of Duty 4 had good single player; it was short and perhaps not as fair on the harder difficulties as previous games (try later COD2 levels on veteran followed by ‘No Fighting in the War Room’ from COD4 – nightmare), but still satisfying, with some real standout moments. Alongside the pitched battles that are unmistakeably Call of Duty, stages like the sniper sequence first shown at E3 and the level set on the gunship show range to Infinity Ward’s talents that make me excited to see what they can do next, probably while someone else sodomises the franchise’s good name in 2008’s COD5.
Multiplayer is what won this for COD4 against all of the other top games this year, though. While it has balance problems that have been discussed at length elsewhere and is possibly the most unfriendly game for new players to enter the melee, I adore it. It has the tight gameplay that made COD2 so good and the ingenious levelling system which gives the impetus to keep playing. Whereas most online games have little more than a rank next to your name, if even that much, after literally days of play you’re unlocking new weapons and challenges here. I’m almost at the highest rank and I’ve only unlocked all of the accessories for two weapons, and haven’t unlocked (let alone completed) all of the challenges.
And I haven’t even mentioned that the whole thing runs at 60 frames per second. That achievement, plus the quality and quantity of content here, puts most games to shame. I have no hesitation in calling it my favourite game of 2007.
Super Mario Galaxy is a brilliant game, and the best Nintendo game since the almighty Ocarina of Time. It’s a Wii game that feels like that’s what it’s always been. And all without a minigame in sight.
It’s probably best to explain here why it’s not number one. I’ve said in the past that I think Super Mario 64 is almost flawless, and a game that is maybe possibly kind of a bit better (or is it, etc?) should surely then go straight in at the top of the list and all subsequent ones. Well…no. And it’s not you, it’s me.
I just don’t feel it like I used to, and I don’t know how to explain it without sounding really shallow. Mario Galaxy’s story is a bit more prominent than Mario 64’s and the talking stars get on my nerves. The platforming is still as good as ever, basically playing like those suspended play areas that made up the Bowser levels extended to fill an entire game, but the camera hasn’t moved on with the imaginations of the developers and therefore technical issues which were occasional niggles in 1996/97 are now more problematic.
Don’t let my justification of the placement make it sound like I’m entirely down on the game. It just seems that most are putting this at number one almost out of duty because it’s Mario and because Nintendo are the kings of their castle again, and as a result I have to justify my blasphemy. And it’s not because the Wii having almost nothing all year and then stealing in to take its second top spot running would annoy me.
That Mario Galaxy is one of the best games of the year is beyond doubt and, really, the ultimate number is irrelevant. Just knowing that it’s Nintendo’s best in years speak more than any single digit.
Bought by many simply for that sticker on the box, Crackdown was my surprise favourite game of the year. I still remember chuckling at my friend’s taste when he said that he was excited for the game back around the 360 launch and I didn’t even get it when I saw videos. Even that beta didn’t sell me on it since I’d already won a place. It was the demo that did it for me. Sit down to play the game and you just get it.
As of today I probably played 100 hours of Crackdown. The game was, ostensibly, very short; you could burn through all the bosses in a handful of hours. But it was the first sandbox game that got me into the whole sandbox idea. There were multiple difficulties and the chance to do it in a sitting with a friend. Orb hunting (oh, god, the orb hunting) and the best achievements in any game yet. And then they followed it with the genius cheat mode in the downloadable content pack, letting you push the already loose rules to the point of almost breaking the engine. I never found myself short of something to do, even when I’d finished the basic game several times.
There are dedicated platforming games where I haven’t felt as in tune with the abilities of my avatar as I do when I play Crackdown. For all the emphasis on shooting and driving it’s the climbing that’s really masterfully done. When the bosses were vanquished and I was left to search for orbs it was my favourite part of the game. There was just something beautiful about the way that it faded out the background noise and brought up some subtle music when you got to a certain height, and I wasn’t the only one to say that it was the first game to really give a sense of vertigo. Heights don’t worry me, but I found my head spinning a bit when I got to the top of the Agency Tower and dared to look down.
A fantastic game, and as one that’s heavily discounted in the New Year’s sales, one that’s inexcusable not to pick up.
The fact that I’m putting the almight Halo 3 in fourth is not an indictment of the game, but an indication of how good this year has been for games.
Halo 3 will almost certainly be the biggest-selling game of the year by some margin; it does things with its online community that Little Big Planet has been promising for over a year; there is enough multiplayer content to play for months without touching on every permutation. I loved how it brought the story to a close, providing closure and an emotional bookend to the story. And, with the exception of a certain level which was fucking godawful, the campaign managed the great feat of even making the Flood a bearable enemy to fight.
Multiplayer was fantastic and, until another game (wait a couple of days) came and stole its thunder, was certainly the best of the year. Halo still has that je ne sais quoi in its multiplayer suite – a wonderful balance between its weapons and maps that isn’t upset by the addition of the potentially game-breaking deployable equipment – and has ironed out the flaws of Halo 2. I think it’s certainly got the best multiplayer of the three, and I’ve barely touched on the file share, saved films, screenshots, co-op, etc. As almost every FPS since Halo has had a two-weapon limit and Halo 2 brought recharging health to the masses, expect to see those features a lot over the next year.
While I undoubtedly expect Halo 4 before too long, with any luck the separation of Bungie and Microsoft will let them try something new. I can’t wait to see what they can do now, with the budgets they command and the polish that they’ve applied to Halo 3. Just don’t make it another Oni.
It’s taken far too long for the PS3 to get it’s first really top exclusive game, but now that it has one (no more “PS3 has no games lol” jokes, please) it’s a very good one. The Sony camp get vindication and the rest of us got to enjoy over a year of merciless mickey-taking. It all works out in the end.
Uncharted is unlike almost most next-gen games, in that it looks beautiful and also looks colourful. It has the much-vaunted “destroyed beauty” – it’s set in the ruins of an ancient city – yet the fallen masonry is bordered by golden sunlight, lush forests, and azure tropical oceans. Even when it gets dark, superb lighting and subtle use of mist and other effects means it can do it with the same aplomb as the games that do nothing but.
I hope that more games follow this lead. We need more to our games than brown and bloom lighting. And Drake is a likeable, positive character bolstered by a great script that never descends into action movie cliche. It’s an example of in-game storytelling from which others would do well to crib: characters aren’t lifted from any Steven Seagal movie, platforming and exploration is helped by sterling animation work to not rely on pixel-perfect positioning.
While it lets itself down somewhat in the final acts (not quite enough to undermine the hard work that went before, it should be said) and the game isn’t brimming with content for your £50, it’s an example of how quality can outshine quantity. An eight hour romp that is never less than thrilling is worth far more to me than a twenty hour opus with fifteen hours of filler. Essential.
I almost get the sense that BioShock is destined to be overlooked, coming before the big guns of the year and really before the Christmas season began. I hope that I’m proven wrong because it deserves all the more recognition.
Since I seem to be taking this list as an opportunity to nitpick the best games of the year as much as to celebrate them, I’ll say that the mechanics of BioShock left me slightly disappointed. It didn’t feel like the open-ended jazz solo with guns that it was made out to be, and the showpiece battles with the Big Daddies happened too frequently to be the events that they could or should have been.
Nonetheless, Irrational/2K Boston is clearly one of the best in the world when it comes to creating an environment. It’s here almost solely on the strength of Rapture, such a glorious creation that the beautiful and tragic underwater metropolis becomes the impetus to keep playing. The design is so inventive, so different to what we expect from games these days. It might seem like a strange comparison to make, but it reminds me of how the sense of place in Shenmue enabled me to overlook the flaws and want to spend time exploring.
Rapture makes this one of the most unsettling (not scary) and haunting games of the year. If you haven’t played it yet, don’t let the torrent of quality that we’ve had over the last few weeks overshadow it. It’s one of the best.