So what if it’s the middle of February, that’s how long it’s taken me to wrap my head around the gaming that was 2007. It was a big year for gaming, well, console gaming at least. PC games had their share of excellence, just unfortunately not as numerous as the consoles.
It’s very hard to pick a favorite game of 2007. I played, roughly 15 games that could, at any given point, have taken home “Game of the Year” honors. All of the following came out in 2007 and deserve a nod towards excellence in one category or another: Bioshock, Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Rock Band, Mass Effect, Guitar Hero 3, Forza 2, Ghost Recon 2, skate, PGR4, Assasin’s Creed, Portal, HL2: Ep2 and Crysis.
For shear amount of “time spent” I was prepared to buck convention and give the nod to a game like Skate. It’s all consuming, fun to play and just “feels right” which is a very important characteristic to have when you’re trying to simulate something as free form as skateboarding. Bioshock certainly dazzled me in terms of it’s level design and overall feel. It’s engaging story, atmosphere and gameplay really make Irrational Games (may they rest in peace) one of the great developers of all time. Then there’s Valve. Sitting here wearing my “The Cake is a Lie” tshirt, it’s hard to argue that if Irrational is “one of” the best, then Valve IS the best. There’s little doubt. No single developer has time and time again delivered such beautiful, high quality products. Everything from the original HalfLife right up to Portal has literally shaped the way I play and enjoy video games. There is no bar higher.
That might sound like I’ve already decided a winner, but there are a few more games to consider. Call of Duty for example, was without a doubt the best entry into that series. It’s multiplayer (especially on XBL) is so mind-numbingly simple to get involved with that it deserves major points. Not to mention the fun the single player campaign was. Mass Effect was also brilliant. I would have considered giving it the nod but realizing it’s merely the first in a trilogy assures me that the best is yet to come. Everything else is icing on the delicious slice of gaming cake… which is a lie…
So, does multiplayer win out over story telling? Does FPS trump all? Do you want me to just shut up and tell you?
And the winner is….
TEAM FORTRESS 2
Actually, this time around, DESIGN trumps everything. TF2 features absolutely no story whatsoever. No deep plot mysteries to be unraveled, no sinister bad guys to save the world from. Just the most perfectly crafted visual style since The Incredibles. It plays smoother than warm butter. It’s got whimsical music to accent its whimsical visuals. It’s got perfectly balanced multiplayer goodness. TF2 is like warm cookies fresh from the oven. And we all know it’s damn near impossible to find anything wrong with warm cookies. Unless you’re a Nazi. A cookie hating Nazi.
Now some people might have given the nod to Portal. While I certainly love Portal (still wearing the tshirt), it was a grand total of 2 hours of game play. Sure, it was damn near perfect for those two hours, but 2 still isn’t a lot. Not that it should have been more. Wanting more Portal is like wanting to extend Casablanca by 20 minutes to see what happens to Rick. It would just ruin the classic is already is. I have no doubt that we’ll see another Portal adventure at some point. But as it stands, 2 hours of gameplay isn’t enough to justify a Game of the Year award, no matter how good. Remember, Citizen Kane didn’t win the Oscar either, and it’s still considered by many (the AFI for example) to be one of the greatest movies of all time. So too shall Portal remain. A brilliant albeit short adventure.
Third place is an even tie between Call of Duty and Mass Effect. Both are awesome games that need to be in your game library, or at the very least rented and played through multiple times. Mass Effect had some tiny qwirks that kept it from the top spot (mostly those damn elevators) and Call of Duty, while having a brilliant single player campaign, was quite prone to the all too common “the computer cheats” phenomenon. There’s nothing wrong with either game. Technically, if we’re evaluating everything evenly, CoD has more to offer than TF2. Single player story, ranks and unlocks in mutliplayer, brilliant visuals and so forth. Why then am I playing more TF2 than CoD?
Fun. Team Fortress is complete 110% fun. Top to bottom, design to gameplay, that game is meant to be fun. It’s meant to be lighthearted, enjoyed and played with a smile on your face. If you’re hard core serious about Team Fortress and you’re in it to win, you’re playing for the wrong reasons. Everyone likes to win, don’t get me wrong, but some times I like playing Scout and just running around double-jumping. Sometimes I like playing Spy and stabbing people in the back of the head. It’s a game I play to unwind and that’s important because more and more often I find myself coming home and wanting to unwind a little. Getting involved in a major middle east conflict, putting on a headset and barking orders to people in my fireteam isn’t quite as relaxing as it used to be. Hitting someone in the face with a bonesaw on the other hand… that never gets old.
If you’re still with me at this point, I should probably mention Skate and Bioshock coming in right behind, and in that order. Skate is great, provided you like skateboarding. I tried to play it with a rather strait laced friend who could have cared less about skating and they were both intimidated and frustrated by the experience. Not to mention that it doesn’t have any local multiplayer besides S-K-A-T-E, which gets old really fast. A local console, free-skate experience is what it needed to push it over the top. I understand it had technical limitations to it, and hopefully they can iron those out in Skate 2. Bioshock, well, Bioshock is the game I loved to be annoyed by. It was brilliant, beautiful, well told and completely and total repetitive in it’s game play. It followed the exact same formula for each and every encounter. True, you could have any of a thousand combinations of ammo and super-plasmid-powers, but in the end, it always came down to a shotgun to the face to take care of 99% of the games bad guys. Sure, I could have set up a web of electrified trap darts, used “Icecapade” to lure in an enemy and then watch him fry… but that took 20 minutes, more ammo than the game ever gave me and was only fun the first few times you did it. After that, I just blasted away. Awesome design… average game play.
There you have it kids. It only took me two months to decide on my favorite. I’m not even going to touch movies. You’re on your own for that one. Happy gaming.