My Year in Games

11 01 2010

Having finally acquired an HD TV, a mighty blow from which my credit card has still not fully recovered, I officially entered the modern era of gaming in 2009.

Thus equipped, I spent the year checking out the hype on new games, but also pursued low-fi fun by replaying of old favorites and discovering the joys of a java-version Settlers of Catan.

Now a few years out from launch, the next-generation consoles are churning out quality titles, dropping a bevy of acclaimed games in 2009. Of course, only one can be the best and my pick goes easily to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Similar to what Skate did to Tony Hawk for skateboarding sims, Uncharted has supplanted and surpassed the place once held by the likes of Laura Craft by delivering a gaming experience that defines “cinematic.”

The strength of the gunning gameplay and puzzle design is not its ingenuity, but the way it seamlessly moves the story along, offering just the right challenge and thrill, pacing the game from high point to high point.

And the storytelling is what really carries the game for me. While not exactly an example of high-brow literature, the writing is such that the characters from other such action games (think Assassin’s Creed 2 or the latest Prince of Persia) seem amateur level, condemned to realm of quality that is acceptable only because it’s a video game.

More than anything, video game storytelling is visual and in this area, I found myself impressed beyond expectations. A gamer since the original Super Mario, I’m used to the kind of super-hype that can be attached to a game’s graphical prowess.

A lot of next-gen games have caused initial expressions of awe, but Uncharted 2 kept my jaw agape the whole way through. The detail in the environments showed such a level of attention that I wondered about the sanity of the artists and programmers who created them.

Nothing ever looks plain or simple, even upon closer inspection. Unlike, for example, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2, which has trees and grass that rely on the last-gen technique of crossing two 2-D planes to create an illusion of depth. Try harder next time, Infinity Ward.

Game of the Year aside, my friends and I continued our quest toward total domination of computerized foes in the Warhammer 48k universe RTS Dawn of War: Dark Crusade.

While publisher THQ released a sequel to the aging franchise this year, my laptop has not aged as gracefully as I would have hoped, so technical limitations forced me to stick with the older iteration.

One of my regular gaming compatriots chose a career that actually pays him a sizable salary (unlike the field of, say, journalism) and built a monstrous graphical beast of a desktop PC.

With myself still recouping moving costs and another friend working through architecture school, we had to keep our joint games toward the older end of the scale.

The abundance of races available in DoW kept the variety up and by cranking the computer difficulty to the highest levels, we assured the receiving of the occasional complete obliteration.

For the three of us, working together is key because games of a directly competitive nature tend to end divisively. Matches of Starcraft in high school resulted in instances of real physical blows after virtual defeat, and we have since regulated our male-driven need for dominance to hard-fought games of darts.

Speaking of Blizzard’s classic RTS, its planned sequel became this year’s game that wasn’t. Promises of a Starcraft 2 open beta soon gave way to hang-ups with the integration of the game’s online service and overall upgrade to the Internet framework supporting its titles, Battle.net.

The ability to purchase old games for the original Playstation through my PS3 snared a good chunk of money and sizable amount of my time. In particular, I picked up a copy of Nuclear Strike, the fifth installment in a foray by mega-publisher Electronic Arts into isometric, Apache attack helicopter action.

I purchased the game, originally released in 1997, on the whim of nostalgia and found that despite its age, it still plays refreshingly unique.

Of course, it also benefits from the fact that I’m not sure how many other games focus on the piloting of a missile-laden helicopter.

The objectives for each map have consistent variety and the start menu offers the kind of detailed background info on the various objectives, missions and foes associated with more modern titles.

In addition, the controls are responsive and the enemies challenging. Your ‘copter is maintained and supplied by picking up various items scattered around the level and keeping track of fuel, armor and ammo levels adds a nice tension to the experience.

Nuclear Strike is an example of the recurring attempt of developers to insert real actors into game cut scenes. The result in this particular effort is clichéd characters (hard-nosed general, hot female field operative and fast-talking tech geek) and dialogue so atrocious even Steven Seagal would be offended.

Overall, the decade closed strong for video game fans, but next year is poised to be so-awesome-its-scary with the impending launch of Final Fantasy XIII, Bioshock 2 and (hopefully) Starcraft 2 in 2010.

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