Best of 2007 #7: The Orange Box

The Orange Box

Also known as Portal & Friends.

The Half-Life 2 series and Team Fortress 2 are superb games, if slightly overrated in the case of the former. And while many game of the year nominations for The Orange Box can almost be justified on the criteria of sheer value alone, I’m quite comfortable nominating it on the basis of a single three-hour game that gets third billing on the box.

I’m convinced that one day looking at the (atrocious) cover art of The Orange Box will be like watching a film from the mid-80s, where the stars have faded or had a couple of stints in rehab and the only one still around is the precocious kid who got a tiny credit and now gets paid $15 million a time. Portal probably won’t be a multimillion franchise but I can see it being sustained through mods and official DLC alone. It’s already birthed several memes – usually an early sign of gaming stardom.

Of course there’s a ton more in The Orange Box than just Portal. Half-Life 2, though overrated in my opinion, could probably just about justify the price alone and for those without gaming PCs this is the first decent console version; Episode One is average but short (just over three hours for me); Episode Two is probably the best of the HL2 series. I’ve heard that Team Fortress 2 is great, but my experience with it has been marred by the laggy Xbox Live performance and a couple of other multiplayer first-person shooters.

Even if I have complaints, there are no bad apples in The Orange Box. Everything in the box has its merits and when you consider the sheer amount of stuff in here (and I’ve already seen it on sale!) it’s clearly one of the best of the year.

Best of 2007 #8: God of War II

God of War II

As far as I’m concerned it’s testament to how strong the 3D action genre is at the moment when my least favourite of the current big three – Devil May Cry, God of War, Ninja Gaiden – can make number eight in my best of the year. With 2008 due to bring us a new installment in all three series…well, the phrase “pig in shit” comes to mind.

It’s fitting that a console that brought such a vast library of great games got a send-off as spectacular as God of War II. Nine times out of ten such a major game wouldn’t have come to the ‘obsolete’ console when its successor was out there and, at the time certainly, wanting for AAA titles. But the fact that it could run on the PS2 is all the more impressive when you see it. I don’t know what development voodoo the developers have done, but at times this game pushes around things that most games of the HD generation wish they could do.

It’s only real flaw is that it’s God of War. That is, it’s more of a button masher than its genre counterparts and is ultimately as shallow as Kratos himself. But it’s not trying for the technical mastery of Ninja Gaiden or the deep combo system of Devil May Cry. It’s a rollercoaster ride, about the fireworks more than the grey matter despite being ostensibly the same genre. It’s Independence Day to their Bourne Identity. And while one is clearly better than the other, I have plenty of time for both.

Having played the PSP demo, I can’t wait to see what the team can do with the PS3 hardware in 2009. Killzone what?

Best of 2007 #9: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Somehow, Corruption is both the best and worst of the Metroid Prime series. It’s the best looking, it has the smoothest difficulty curve, and yes: it has the best controls.

It proves once again that when controls are tweaked with the Wii in mind rather than crowbarred onto the remote that it’s a very capable control system. I couldn’t imagine playing Halo on the Wii remote but at the same time I couldn’t imagine playing Metroid Prime on a 360 controller. It has its place, and that’s fine.

My main complaint is that it’s continued the shift away from what makes a Metroid that was started in Metroid Prime 2 and Hunters, and this one really suffers the most from it. This series is about isolation on a hostile planet, whereas Corruption has an opening that infamously echoes that of the first Halo to an almost plagiaristic extent, and most of the planets will have you running into fellow bounty hunters and receiving communications from the Federation. I’m not the only one to have also noted that these aspects aren’t particularly well done either, making them especially alienating for fans.

Still, these issues are with the story, which is thankfully a largely secondary distraction. The good stuff is just as good, and the token gimmick (the titular corruption of the phazon variety) is better than the annoying Dark Aether guff in Metroid Prime 2. It’s a great sci-fi adventure and, if Retro can get over the temptation to lean too much on the story, leaves me keen to see what they can do with their obvious talent and the best first-person shooting controls on a console.

Best of 2007 #10: Hotel Dusk: Room 215

Hotel Dusk: Room 215

If I wasn’t giving it its little bit of recognition here, this would be a shoo-in for one of those fun but meaningless awards like ‘best game nobody played’ or ‘most overlooked game of the year’ (surely an oxymoron if you’re recognising it with an award?). It’s been and gone so completely that it’s hard to believe that it actually came out this year.

It felt to me like 2007 was a poorer year than previous for the DS in all respects but sales, which are still in the stratosphere. The new entry into the Ouendan series lacked the immediate appeal that the first game had, and even Zelda seemed to arrive with little fanfare, missing out on the event game status that New Super Mario Bros enjoyed. Hotel Dusk, though, is a uniquely DS game that won me over with its noirish style and storyline. It really wouldn’t have worked as well on any other platform.

While far from perfect, it was able to tap my enthusiasm in for a number of different things. The old adventure games, for one. And noir. And the brilliant design decision to hold the DS vertically like a book, emphasising the pulp novel influence and really making it perfect to play on the bog, and allowing for the genius idea of writing your own notes in your notebook. If only they’d fixed some of the minor annoyances – slow text scrolling is a pet peeve of mine, and the plot progression wasn’t always smooth – Hotel Dusk could have been even higher on this list. More adventure games please, Nintendo. Or make LucasArts do the right thing.

But in the meantime, play this one. I’m sure it’s cheap now.

Best of 2007

Can you believe that it’s that time again? With ten days to go until 2008, my rundown of my favourite games of 2007 begins tomorrow. As always, the rules are that the games must have been released in one of the three major territories (Europe, US, Japan) at some point in the calendar year 2007, and obviously must have been played by me during that time.

With three consoles on full steam and out of the post-launch doldrums (some more than anothers), this year has really been about the games. 2005 brought three new systems and 2006 two more, while unless you live in the gaming third world known as Europe, 2007 was about the manufacturers flexing their muscles with software as the crowds pored over sales figures and enjoyed the spoils.

Recent months have led to this year being mentioned in the same breath as 2004 (Halo 2, MGS3, GTA San Andreas) and the immortal 2001 (Halo, GTA3, MGS2 – notice a pattern? – Final Fantasy X, Gran Turismo 3, Silent Hill 2, Devil May Cry, etc), and while the 2001 comparison seems almost fatuous when look at the classics we had that year, 2008 has been set up to be an epic. I’m both anticipating and dreading having to fit games of the calibre of Metal Gear Solid 4 and GTA4 into only ten positions.

Just for reference, these were my choices over the last two years:

  1. Zelda: Twilight Princess
  2. Okami
  3. Gears of War
  4. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
  6. Dragon Quest VIII
  7. Hitman Blood Money
  8. Elite Beat Agents
  9. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
  10. New Super Mario Bros
  1. World of Warcraft
  2. Resident Evil 4
  3. Shadow of the Colossus
  4. Lumines
  5. Splinter Cell Chaos Theory
  6. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan
  7. Mario Kart DS
  8. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow
  9. Call of Duty 2
  10. Battlefield 2

And let me get it out of the way immediately to say that Mass Effect will not make the list because I’m not getting it until Christmas and so won’t have the opportunity to include it. Assuming I like it, however, it will be included in the late additions, as I did with a couple of notable games last year.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that the PS3 hasn’t been brimming with top exclusives in its first year on the market. Ratchet & Clank was the closest thing to a real system seller; Heavenly Sword wasn’t without problems; Motorstorm was good but hardly overburdened with content; and we all know what happened with Lair.

Uncharted is the first PS3 game from Naughty Dog and, like their Crash Bandicoot gave the PS1 an identity at a time when consoles were defined by their mascots, for me this is the PS3 game so far. It’s good enough to make that outlay and the lean months seem worthwhile, and in places it was the first time that a PS3 game had me questioning whether or not it could be done on another console.

Continue reading Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune