What a Great Year

Not that anybody cares really, but I personally enjoy reading other people’s “best of the year” lists in the hopes that I will find something new or change my mind about something I dismissed. Considering the AIAS nominations came out today and chock full of decisions I disagree with (I’ll leave it for another post or not at all), now seems like as good a time as ever. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I single out a few games a year as being my favorites and then I add them to a list (sort of a personal hall of fame) in order to go back at a later date and replay some of my favorites.

Here’s my previous list:

2001 – Halo, Ico
2002 – Splinter Cell, Jet Set Radio Future
2003 – Disgaea, Beyond Good and Evil
2004 – Katamari Damacy, Burnout 3: Takedown
2005 – Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, Psychonauts, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Meteos
2006 – Oblivion, Dead Rising, Guitar Hero II

This year it was very hard to pick three games. I started out only picking one (Ico was added to 2001 after the fact), then because I had a hard time choosing one I moved to two, then to three. I’m apprehensive about moving up to four because I don’t want it to be an “every game I played this year that was marginally good” list, but 2007 was so jam-packed with good content that it makes the whittling hard. So I’m going to put my ideas out there and whittle down from there later. Here’s what I came up with:

I can’t really say anything about Portal that hasn’t been said. It has a clever new game mechanic, a clever nontraditional villain, the best ending theme in gaming history and it bravely cuts itself short before overstaying its welcome. My expectation for Portal originally was that it was going to be a moderately distracting puzzle game. I didn’t foresee it being my game of the year.
Continuing with the theme of games I didn’t expect to be good, skate came out of nowhere offering the best control scheme I’ve seen in a while coupled with a huge interactive environment that was essentially the definition of a playground. I never enjoyed the Tony Hawk series, so the addiction to this game was very unexpected. I’m comfortable saying that this is the best sports title since Madden 2005.
From D3, a publisher I expect nothing but Japanese shovelware from, comes this original melding of puzzle game (yes!) and RPG (double yes!) Buggy as hell and laden with design flaws, but the strength of the core idea carried it to critical acclaim. The irony here is that I am a story snob and Puzzle Quest endeavored to have the most cliche story in the history of cliches.
This is the only game on my list of things to watch for at the beginning of the year (I first saw it at E3 06!) that actually panned out to be as impressive as I thought it would be. While it has it’s flaws, I don’t find it nearly as repetitive as some of the other traditional Game of the Year candidates (Mass Effect, I am looking at you).I was particularly impressed by how they could keep the city looking so beautiful while simultaneously having umpteen dozen unique NPCs walking around the world. I was reminded of the 360’s Hitman game where there is a Mardi Gras level and you walk through a crowd of 4 different people copied and pasted a hundred times over with synced animation. This game is next-gen. Add to it that it had a story, while incomplete, that I actually cared about (although I didn’t care about Altair at all, the supporting cast was well-created) and Assassin’s Creed was a winner.

I’m so surprised at the panning this game got from some critics. Maybe Ubi sent them some Ebola virus with their review copies? I guess they just want the same Zelda game again for the fifteenth time that they can’t be bothered with something that reaches new ground and pays for it by having some flaws.

It also gets bonus points for doing something that Splinter Cell made me do. After playing that game, I had a keen awareness for the next few weeks of where all light sources were around me. After playing Assassin’s Creed, I now notice any outcroppings on any wall I look at.

Peggle is the ambrosia of casual games. I bought it for PC and then for iPod and I will likely buy it again when it comes out on XBLA. There’s nothing magical about the game – it is just so well-crafted and addicting that one comes back again and again for just one more level. In a time where people claim to need 60-hours of cutscene laden, bloom-lit, emergent gameplay, it is nice to see that a well-designed casual game can still rake in gobs of money.
If you’ve ever heard me talk about games, you know what a snob I am for stories that are well-crafted, characters that are multi-dimensional and gameplay that enhances the story instead of running parallel with it. Hotel Dusk delivers, while trying out a unique choice in art direction that shows all of the characters as animation pencil sketches like in the infamous A-ha “Take on Me” video. I actually felt for poor Kyle Hyde, where he could have easily been a hackneyed hard-boiled ex-cop. If you haven’t played this game and you enjoy a good story half as much as I do, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

The fact that I don’t have Halo 3, Rock Band, DiRT, Mario Galaxy, HL2:Ep2, Guitar Hero III, or Bioshock on the list just goes to show what a great year it was.

Also, there are a number of games from 2007 that I haven’t played or completed but want to that may get added to the list post facto: Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, Aquaria, Eternal Sonata, God of War II, &c.

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