Many of the players may have started with this in 2004 but it didn’t come out here until February and I didn’t get it until October, so it definitely qualifies for my 2005 list.
Anyway, my experience with MMORPGs and online RPGs in general was limited before this year, with only a fair amount of Phantasy Star Online and a dabble in the betas of City of Heroes and Guild Wars under my belt, but when I got this for my birthday it really showed me how great this genre is. Trust Blizzard to do it so right first time.
As I type this I’ve suspended my account so that I can enjoy my 360, but after two months I’m pushing 100 hours of play, a number that only a small handful of games come close to with me, and once I jump back in it will show no signs of abating as I get more drawn into the more interesting quests and plethora of group activities (I’ve barely dabbled in instances with groups of other players), money making schemes, and general community aspects that the higher levels bring. It really says something about the immensity of this game that despite all the time that I’ve poured into it, I’ve only really played one race out of six (all with different paths and quests) and have set foot in maybe ten of the game’s fifty-odd zones as quests and the urge to explore begin to expand my horizons.
On paper this, like most MMOs, looks fairly monotonous, but somehow the great community and personality that Blizzard have imbued their world with (it might look like generic fantasy in screenshots but believe me, it’s not) combine to make a game that’s maddeningly addictive but never less than a wonderful place to be. I dread to think what the expansion will do for me but in the meantime this is my game of the year. Easily.
Speaking of sequels that don’t play it safe, here’s another one, although the Resident Evil name on the box obviously helps one to achieve financial success. Even so, the risk with making such big changes to such an established formula can’t be overestimated.
As revolutionary as Resident Evil was, the gameplay has dated fast in this world where action shooters and 3D environments rule. Some fundamental changes later – the new perspective, the death (again) of the trademark zombies, a whole new threat that isn’t Umbrella – and they have this, the latest RE game that makes a huge deviation from the established formula whilst still leaving some of the hallmarks that make this unmistakably Resident Evil and the best GameCube game in a long time.
The precision gunplay, creepy atmosphere (helped by some of the most impressive visuals of this generation), and excellent pacing make this an all-time classic and a clear choice for one of the best of the year. It was tough to relegate to second, believe me.
In an industry built on sequels that play it safe it’s unusual to see a high profile game that is not only a sequel (sort of), but also an original idea of the type that hasn’t been attempted before. It takes one of the seamless worlds which are all the rage at the moment but sets it in a strange and isolated land, all based around the unique idea of taking the enemies, puzzles, and levels and making them one.
The colossi are the biggest (no pun intended) achievement that push the PS2 to its absolute limits, and beyond at certain points as any framerate whore will tell you. Despite technical problems they look stunning, often not actually bothered by your prescence until you start trying to murder them on your selfish quest to bring back your lost love. It really is hard to classify whether they’re simply enemies, puzzles, or whole levels – you have to kill them while they usually try to do the same to you, they’re you’re only real measure of how far through the game you are, and actually getting on top of them and doing the dirty work is rarely straightforward, requiring a cunning mind and a fair amount of platforming acumen.
Not only is Colossus a beautiful game graphically, it’s also absolutely enthralling, with the solitary atmosphere, soundtrack that ranges from haunting to rousing, and the process of figuring out how to bring down each monster combining to create something really great. It’s not very long, but it’s still an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
I own the Japanese version of Lumines (pictured) which came out in 2004, but since it came out everywhere else and I bought it in 2005 it gets in, and deservedly so. It’s one of the few challengers to the Tetris throne that even comes close, and it’s still the best game on the PSP by some way.
Lumines is essentially your common or garden falling block puzzle in which coloured blocks fall from the top of the screen, and by matching up four or more of a single colour they’ll be removed by a bar that sweeps horizontally across the screen at varying speeds. It’s as simple as all the best puzzle games and is maddeningly addictive (even when matching your high score can take a couple of hours of solid play), which is really all you need to make a good puzzle game for a handheld.
That’s not all you get, though. Like Mizuguchi’s last game, Rez, music plays a central role in the game, and every few levels you’ll come to a new “skin”, changing the backgrounds, block colours, speeds, and the music. It’s the same sort of music that you’ve seen in Rez (good thing) and makes headphones a necessity to fully enjoy the hypnotic beauty of the game. Even if saying that that this is the best game on the PSP isn’t really high praise at the moment, saying that this is one of my favourite puzzle games ever made certainly should be.
Metal Gear Solid may have popularised the stealth action genre but I’ve always thought that the Splinter Cell series did it better, with all the post-modernism thrown out and a fully 3D camera, which I find essential to any game requiring the awareness of your surroundings that a stealth game does. The camera was the main reason I gave up on MGS3, as without the radar but with the anachronistic camera I found it frustrating beyond belief to have to keep switching to first person to see beyond the top of the screen.
Pandora Tomorrow expanded on the first game and added that fantastic multiplayer mode, but suffered from annoying difficulty spikes that detracted from things. By handing development back to the original team for Chaos Theory, we got significant improvements to the gameplay as well as some of the best graphics of that generation. The campaign was long and had variety (the Seoul level is a particular standout moment, and its setting in an urban war with you as a neutral shows similarities to MGS4), and the way that you were ranked on your ability to go undetected and avoid killing anyone encouraged perfectionism that’s unusual for me, actually getting me to go back and replay the game when I’d finished it.
When you factor in an improved version of the multiplayer and an entire co-op campaign with online play, this is one of my favourite action games ever made. Splinter Cell Double Agent is going to have a lot to live up to now and I really hope it can manage it.
By far the best game about omniscient trenchcoat-clad male cheerleaders that I’ve ever played. If that doesn’t convince you that this is one of the best games of the year I’ll try to do it now through some more traditional evangelisation.
I first heard of Ouendan from the Edge review a few months back and bought it after seeing a friend play it in Japan, and for a very simple rhythm-action game they do a great job of imbuing it with some quirky humour and a huge amount of personality. Musical games are made on the music they feature, and it’s here that Ouendan also shines by including some absolutely brilliant J-rock from a selection of real Japanese bands. If Nintendo decided to release the soundtrack album I’m sure it would be a big seller based solely on the cult following that this game has amassed online.
The gameplay is fairly basic rhythm-action with the touch screen put to good use to give it a pleasingly tactile interface, but the real stars are the catchy music and hilarious design which never fail to bring a smile to my face and keep me playing a music game over three months since I bought it. Even my perennial favourite, Samba De Amigo, didn’t manage that.