This year, I'm trying to do something different with game of the year awards. You can find a full explanation in part one, but the gist is this: I'm eschewing a list – because, let's face it, you've already skimmed 10,000 top-10s – in favor of writing about how these games affected their players and the specific moment that made me realize how great each game really was. Needless to say, SPOILER WARNING. Today's topic? BioWare's latest space odyssey, Mass Effect 2.
As much as I love my job, I have to admit that there's one major downside. After years of nitpicking games until their every naked flaw is flapping freely in the breeze, it's become rather difficult to separate work from play. Instead of seeing a giant battle brimming with earth-shaking violence, heartbreaking tragedy, and inspiring camaraderie, I see a highly scripted scene that'll go completely haywire if I even inch my pinky toe off the beaten path. Most people watch the puppet show; I look for the strings.
Every once in a while, though, a rare game comes along that's able to shatter my cold cynicism and spirit me away so thoroughly that – for a few magical moments – I forget I'm just some guy staring blanky at a monitor in a dimly lit room. Mass Effect 2, perhaps moreso than anything else in recent years, managed to be that game.
This year, I'm trying to do something different with game of the year awards. You can find a full explanation in part one, but the gist is this: I'm eschewing a list – because, let's face it, you've already skimmed 10,000 top-10s – in favor of writing about how these games affected their players and the specific moment that made me realize how great each game really was. Needless to say, SPOILER WARNING. Now then, on with today's pick: Fallout: New Vegas.
I've seen some stuff, man. I've seen some stuff. Fallout: New Vegas is about as variety packed as videogame worlds come, fully capable of evoking every major emotion in the book: happiness, sadness, anger, “OH SH** DEATHCLAW” – you name it. Most impressive, though, is the game's masterful ability to manipulate players' curiosity like a big red button with the words “Do Not Press” printed on it.
It's like you're some kind of post-apocalyptic private eye. Why is this office full of bloodthirsty robots? What's a lush green forest doing in this underground vault? Uh, how is Elvis still alive? Each of the game's many, many, many areas hooks you with questions before carefully reeling you in with a slow stream of incomplete answers. You have to put all the pieces together and get the full picture, though. It's this compulsive, almost overwhelming urge. If curiosity killed the cat, then Fallout – perhaps fittingly – is a WMD.
But there are “typical” (read: not typical at all) New Vegas adventures, and then there's the time the game truly, profoundly, “so much for sleeping tonight” disturbed me.
Lists, lists, lists. It seems like everyone throws together an obligatory “Game of the Year” list this time of year, because, well, everyone else is doing it. So we get all-encompassing, “comprehensive” rundowns that are immediately accused of leaving out Big-Name Game 127. It's all about "non-biased journalism," writers and readers alike clamor. But I don't think that's what game of the year should be. It's subjective. It's special. There can't be a unanimous game of the year because different games appeal to different people in different ways. A monolithic, "objective" game of the year spits in the face of creativity and - as a result - the fine folks who've striven to make it possible. If games are - in any way - art, then we can't reduce them to numbers and arbitrary rankings. And so, I present an experiment. I'm going to explain precisely why my favorite games of the past year are my favorites, and the precise moment in each game that made me realize just how important they were to me personally. I hope you enjoy each entry, and of course, feel free to contribute your own favorites as well. Lastly, as a general rule, SPOILERS AHEAD.
The original BioShock was thought-provoking, philosophical, and prone to painting in broad, all-encompassing strokes. It brazenly put its Big Daddy-sized foot down and made a far-reaching statement on both videogames and the nature of humanity. It also pitted you against an evil statue man in its final battle.
Sure, the game wasn't perfect, but its goals were undeniably admirable. Still though, it was missing something. Hard as I tried, I couldn't really feel for a sealed-up tin can full of snooty geniuses or their debatably sane dictator. Enter BioShock 2. It aimed a lot closer to home, and unlike its predecessor, it hit its mark dead-on. At least, for me it did. Although, I imagine that – in this age of extreme familial dysfunction – it very well may have played a pitch perfect solo on your heartstrings as well.
Gray. Dingy darkness as far as the eye can see. The sky is gray. The mountains are gray. Even the snow looks as though Mick Jagger tried painting it black and got bored half-way through. A gruff voice struggles to be heard through a radio, practically clawing its way out of the speakers. “I'm in position! I won't be able to hold it for long!” Helicopters swoop in as orchestral music swells in the background. This should be big. This should be epic. But it isn't, because you're a gamer, and you've been here a million times before. Oh, and here's the kicker: the thing I just described? It's the sequel to a colorful, over-the-top snowboarding game.
Announced during last weekend's Spike TV's Videogame Awards (a whole other can filled with equal parts worms and disgrace), SSX: Deadly Descents is pretty much everything that's wrong with big-name, triple-A game development these days. It's gray! It's edgy! It's realistic! It's... so damn boring that I'm going to stop describing it for fear of falling asleep mid-sentence. Most depressing, however, is the fact that it's certainly not alone. The grand majority of big-budget mega-games – almost regardless of genre – seem to be pandering exclusively to the testosterone-fueled manly man who thinks Michael Bay's filmography is the height of human achievement.
Creativity may not be dead, but it's whistling an all-too-merry tune while digging its own grave. Call of Duty: Black Ops, Medal of Honor, Killzone, Gears of War, Resistance, Halo: Reach -- what do they all have in common? They're the same stinkin' game! But their wide variety of three whole character stereotypes, two level patterns, and one color palette is where the money's at, and when budgets are this over-inflated, one wrong move will make the bubble burst. The bottom line? Caution. No unnecessary risks. Applying the same old formulas to new products over and over and over and over and, well, you get the point.
But hey, there's a silver lining here – and a big one at that. Find out what it is after the break!
If you've ever played a Diablo game before, you pretty much know what to expect from Diablo III. There will be hacking. There will be slashing. Enemies will drop piles of gold upon death because apparently hell doesn't have a bank. Been there, done that. Shamefully walked into Hot Topic and bought the T-shirt.
When we went to BlizzCon, we were pretty much in the same boat. But the devil's in the details, and Diablo III's newly announced PVP Arena system is a detail the size of the big red guy – no, not the Kool Aid man – himself. Better still, in some ways, it legitimately surprised us. How? Well, let's run down the list.
1. The chaos – Sure, we expected three-on-three Diablo matches to be pretty wild, but we were still a bit taken aback when our tiny four-sided arena exploded into an ocean of fiery wizard magic, witchdoctor hell hounds, and barbarians hopping around like steroid-fueled, axe-wielding bunny rabbits. Basically, there were more than a few moments when our character keeled over, and we just paused, blinked, and said, “wait, what just happened?” However, confusing though it may occasionally be, it's also wildly exciting. Matches have their share of tactics, sure, but this is no chess match. If you get bored while playing this game, you might want to check your pulse, because you're probably dead.
Have you ever listened to yourself talk and/or think while you're playing videogames? We like to think it's akin to hearing William Shatner read a comment on any given Internet message board: it comes at a breakneck pace and doesn't make a lick of sense. And if it's a game or level you've never played before, turn that into a crowd of William Shatners all reading different spam emails simultaneously.
So, while taking Diablo III's brand new Demon Hunter class for a test drive during last weekend's BlizzCon, we decided to play Rosetta Stone and translate our sleep-deprived, caffeine-addled spill of Brain Soup into a real human language. The results were... amusing, to say the least. Also, surprisingly informative! 1. “Sh** sh** sh** sh** sh** sh**!” – The Demon Hunter – battle-hardened and thick-skinned though she may seem – is actually quite squishy. She's a ranged fighter, after all, so she doesn't take too well to pointy objects making shish kabobs out of her internal organs. As a result, seeing a horde of bulky demons, shambling zombies, and other hell-born riff-raff booking it straight for your Demon Hunter will have any number of four-letter words spewing out of your mouth as you make the necessary split-second precautions to intercept them. On the upside, it's utterly thrilling to be constantly walking such a thin line between life and death. On the downside, though, make one misstep and you''ll probably go splat.
I wish I could say this was unexpected, but, well, let’s be honest here: My reaction to EA’s last-minute act of self-censorship was less of a “WHAT” moment and more of a dejected sigh followed by the shocking realization that, holy moly, the sky is blue today. And the grass! It’s green! When did that happen? The pieces were in place, after all. There was a controversy, subsequent knee-jerk reactions on all sides, and an unfortunate precedent left festering on the shelf for years. Sad to say, it was only a matter of time before this happened:
“We have also received feedback from friends and families of fallen soldiers who have expressed concern over the inclusion of the Taliban in the multiplayer portion of our game,” said EA producer Greg Goodrich. “This is a very important voice to the Medal of Honor team. This is a voice that has earned the right to be listened to. It is a voice that we care deeply about. Because of this, and because the heartbeat of Medal of Honor has always resided in the reverence for American and Allied soldiers, we have decided to rename the opposing team in Medal of Honor multiplayer from Taliban to Opposing Force.”
GameStop’s military base locations – which formerly refused to sell the game -- are now engaged in a “thorough review to fully understand the extent of the modifications."
Which means everything’s peachy, right? Well, no. Not at all, actually.
Obsidian's taking Fallout to the wild, untamed (or “tamed but then subsequently re-untamed thanks to a nuclear holocaust,” if we're being technical about it) west, so we're doing the same with our preview. Well, kind of. In the spirit of classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” we're breaking down Fallout: New Vegas' opening hour – which we had the privilege of taking for a test run during QuakeCon – into thematically appropriate, self-explanatory categories.
Before we dive into the meat of things, though, let's set the scene. You're... a person. We can say that with a fair deal of certainty. You come to in a doctor's office, which – thanks to wasteland sanitation standards – is about as sterile as your average convenience store toilet, but you've got bigger things to worry about. Apparently, you nearly bit the big one at the hands of some pretty shady customers, but you don't know why. The doc, thankfully, patched up that pesky organ leak that tends to come as the result of bullet wounds, but unfortunately, he can't fill the gaping hole in your memory. He does know this, however: the bastards who did their darnedest to turn you into Swiss cheese were headed toward New Vegas. Well, there are certainly worse places to go for a vengeance-fueled vacation, eh?
QuakeCon may be named after, you know, Quake, but this year, a different multiplayer shooter stole the show. Yeah, Brink’s always sounded great on paper, but so did the N-Gage -- and then it was a taco. So obviously, we walked into our hands-on session with some trepidation. Watching a game stand on the – oh, what’s the word – cusp of greatness, only to fall backward into the Mortal Kombat-style spike pit of mediocrity is generally enough to brew up a tiny storm cloud over our heads, and we wanted so dearly for Brink to be awesome.
Fortunately, we weren’t disappointed. Put simply, Brink works. It’s ambitious, yet practical – complex, yet incredibly accessible. We got to play a couple matches in an area called Container City, and here’s why – days after the fact – we’re still aching to play more.
When you're at the forefront of an emerging trend, you're bound to have imitators. Such is the case with Fallout, a series that's been wandering wastelands and mutilating mutants since long before videogaming came down with an incurable case of post-apocalypse fever. Imitation's a sticky subject, though. Sometimes, it's just a sh**-eating grin away from outright flattery, but other times, it's a lawsuit and a career-in-tatters away from bold-faced plagiarism.
So, the question arises: where, exactly, does RAGE stand? Well, we saw the game in action at QuakeCon, and we decided to run a little DNA test on the post-apocalyptic shooter in order to find out how it stacks up against its closest living – and also Bethesda-published – relative. So, without further ado, let's see what makes RAGE tick.