Category Archives: PC games

Best of 2006 #4: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

I love my immersive, coherent worlds, me. Make a good one of those and you’re halfway onto my top ten of the year list. One of the best ones won last year, in fact. This is also one of the best.

The scale of Oblivion is the amazing thing. As I type this I’m playing Final Fantasy V Advance, originally released in 1992, and it strikes me that what was a large game then can now be done in full 3D, fully voiced with proper actors, and just looking absolutely phenomenal. It had technical issues that were maybe symptomatic of overreaching on current hardware – or possibly unfamiliarity with it – but the magnitude of Bethesda’s vision was just phenomenal.

But give an ambitious and talented team the time and budget (and possibly the Lord of the Rings licence), and this shows what you can get. The moment when you first walk out of the sewers and up the hill – possibly getting held up or attacked by an ogre on the way – to look back at the city you’ve just come from is burnt indelibly into the memories of everyone who saw it, whatever they thought of the game.

Memorable towns and innumerable settlements and landmarks that can be endlessly explored make a great game, marred only by some technical quibbles. It’s unmissable.

Best of 2006 #7: Hitman Blood Money

Hitman: Blood Money

Perhaps one of my more controversial choices, this was the first Hitman game that I ever played at any length and turned into a surprising favourite. In fact, I think it’s the only game this year that I’ve been moved to play through more than once.

It’s not spectacular looking or anything like that (‘clean’ is really the only superlative that applies to the 360 version, impressive Mardi Gras level aside); it just ticks the boxes that made me enjoy the Splinter Cell games so much. As you’re funnelled along through the story, it gives just enough room for improvisation to make multiple playthroughs feel different. I’m replaying the second level in my head now, and I can think of at least three different ways to approach the first target alone, and the elusive Silent Assassin ranking provides an effective carrot to the same perfectionist in me that Sam Fisher kept tempting.

I’ve heard from fans of the series that Blood Money is one of the best, so I hope that Eidos and IO can give 47 a proper next-gen runout. I’d love to see what they can do with these inventive scenarios when they properly tap into that extra power.

(Merry Christmas)

Best of 2006 #9: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter

Ah, the token Tom Clancy appearance. You just can’t stop the guy.

Deserving credit both for turning me onto the Ghost Recon series (or sub-series?) and helping to end the terminal drought of software for the 360 earlier this year, it still stands out as one of the games that looks and plays like something really next-gen. Don’t agree? Just look at how dreadful the Xbox and PS2 versions turned out.

As well as looking stunning and delivering a believable near-future setting, GRAW also brought with it one of the better multiplayer suites of the year. As well as the basic deathmatches, this included the immensely satisfying co-op mode with support for up to 16 players: the mode singularly responsible for the odd number that is my gamerscore. Annoying, but still top fun.

Like Rainbow Six Vegas, GRAW did a superb job of making what had previously been somewhat esoteric games and making them accessible to us normal people. And once the campaign was out of the way it became one of the few games that could tempt us away from COD2 multiplayer. That takes some doing.

Whatever Happened to Plug and Play?

Remember when a new console had to be connected to power, connected to the TV, and that was it? Those were the days…

With all of the big three espousing network connectivity and, to wildly differing extents, higher resolutions, will those days ever come back? Getting the full experience from a games console is no longer a case of picking up a SCART cable along with the new hardware. As well as needing an expensive TV, just setting it up relies on an intimate knowledge of your TV’s supported inputs and resolutions as well as the favoured sound formats of your audio setup. I’m a technical masochist and so actually like fiddling with settings, but I doubt the average person does. We all must have cringed at friends with nice widescreen TVs but with their DVD player set to 4:3.

Networking is just as bad, requiring either a wired network within range of the console or a headfirst dive into the world of wireless networking – encryption protocols, DHCP servers, MAC filters, SSIDs, keys, and other such fun – to get what can be the main thrust of the hardware in the case of the 360.

And then there was firmware. The risk of completely killing your hardware aside, it’s more than slightly annoying to find yourself unable to play a PSP game because it has a mandatory firmware upgrade on the disc and your machine doesn’t have enough battery power to let you flash it. So much for ease of use there. Since its release the PS3 has had two firmware updates weighing in at nearly 100MB each, which is no quick and painless download on a 2Mb connection with a bandwidth limit. I’m sure you’re familiar with the stories of firmware updates killing 360s and Wiis, as well. Don’t even get me started on game patching and modern developers’ inability to notice players randomly disconnecting from online games.

Necessary evils though these may be if we want these new experiences, surely someone out there can come up with some kind of standards. Why not make TVs that can tell your devices what resolution they want? Why not test your bloody games before you ask us to pay for them?

This is Getting Silly

I make no bones about how annoying I find the tendency of the games industry to pile all their big releases into the Christmas period and leave an incredibly lean summer. I understand why they do it but for those of us to whom picking up the latest releases is an obsession – part of the growing Xbox Live mentality where you have to play what all your friends are, I suppose – it’s tantamount to torture.

I went through various release lists and worked out all the games and hardware that I intend to buy before the end of the year. Take a look:

October

  • Contact (US DS)
  • Final Fantasy XII (US PS2)
  • Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (US PSP)
  • Power Stone Collection (US PSP)
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (UK 360)
  • Splinter Cell: Double Agent (UK 360)
  • Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (UK 360)

November

  • Call of Duty 3 (UK 360)
  • Elite Beat Agents (US DS)
  • F.E.A.R. (UK 360)
  • Guitar Hero II (US PS2)
  • Football Manager 2007 (Mac)
  • Final Fantasy III (US DS)
  • Final Fantasy V Advance (US GBA)
  • Gears of War (UK 360)
  • HD DVD drive (UK 360)
  • Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (US Wii)
  • Lumines II (US PSP)
  • Rainbow Six Vegas (UK 360)
  • Wii (US)
  • World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (Mac)
  • Yoshi’s Island 2 (US DS)

December

  • Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (US DS)

Throw in a few HD DVDs and all the summer movies that are hitting DVD and you have some serious wallet rape going on here. The average person isn’t going to be able to afford to spend a tenth of that on games alone so surely this practice of all saturating the market at the same time can’t be beneficial.

I’ll bet that there’s more than a couple of European gamers out there who are silently thankful that the PS3 was delayed.

So Long, E3

So fresh off one of the biggest and certainly most controversial E3s in recent memory we find out that it’s going to be the last. It’s certainly going to change the dynamics of the average year in this industry but now how are games journalists supposed to get an annual free holiday to California?

Honestly, they might as well not bother putting on a show now. Publishers hold their own little events all year round (EA and Ubisoft have had them in the last month, for example) so nothing will change there, and since the huge events are incredibly popular it’s tempting to speculate that this is only going to make the venerable Tokyo Game Show and neophyte Leipzig Games Convention even bigger. Tempting in that it’s easier for me to get to Germany and preferable for me to go to Japan than Los Angeles.

But now how are fanboys going to endlessly debate who “won” E3? How are we going to see Peter Moore’s tattoos and Kaz Hirai’s hyperbole in the same place? What else do kids who run fan sites have to blag their way into? Where can shitty doomed peripherals go without Kentia Hall? And now there’s one less career path for jobbing “actresses” who are willing to drape themselves over cars and guns while overweight men in shorts have their photos taken with them.

And I’m not at all bitter that I’ve never been and now never will…

Completely off-topic I know, but I’ve also written a review of New Super Mario Bros. for the DS which can be found here and on the review index. Take a look.