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I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Following Games are NOT the Best Games of 2006

I really wasn't going to do a "Games of the Year" type post, because there are plenty of those out there and they're all equally meaningless (or, I guess, meaningful, relatively speaking). However, it was Next-Generation's list that was the back-breaking straw upon my back. I might throw together a quick list of the best games I played this year, if I have the patience, sometime later. But for now, a clarification on what certainly were not the best games of 2006 is needed much more. If you wanted to, I guess you could consider this somewhat of a, "Games I'm Playing Right Now" type post; I'm overdue enough on those to warrant one anyway.

Gears of War

I’m still trying to figure out exactly why this game isn’t being hung high.
In fact, I am downright stunned at its staggeringly warm reception. If I wasn’t so sure that the game was startlingly average in all regards save technical horsepower, I would honestly feel the fault was with me, and I’d make sure to keep my opinion to myself. But if you go past the numerical reviews that Gears is getting, you’ll see that I’m not as alone as perhaps it would initially seem. Edge magazine, legendary for their conservative scoring, dedicated virtually their entire review to criticizing the game, only to lavish an 8 on it at the end of their review - an enviable score by any measure.

The entire time I played Gears of War, I sat waiting for the promise of the game’s greatness to hit me. Yes, I saw the pretty graphics. I reloaded my weapons perfectly. I executed numerous enemies with my chainsaw bayonet. I stopped. I popped. All the way up to and through the final boss, I waited. And as the credits rolled, I sat completely unsatisfied. Like apparently all of gaming, I allowed myself to be swept up by the Epic hype, believing that for whatever reason, they would be able to make a game with more substance than any of their other competent but ultimately forgettable games. What differentiates me from all of gaming, apparently, is that I sat and took Gears at face value, for what it actually did as opposed to what talking heads told us it would.

Wii Sports
Okay, here’s the deal: the Wii has an uphill battle ahead of itself with me. I agree that video game control has gotten excessively complex, and that steps to rectify this will likely lead to increased market penetration. But when I sit the Dual Shock next to the Wii controller, simplification is not what I see. Rather, what I see if a different direction of interface entirely: mimicry. It’s the same type of interface exploited in games like Dance Dance Revolution, Taiko no Tatsujin, Guitar Hero, and pretty much every arcade racing game since the dawn of time. Playing Wii Sports is just simulating the act of actually playing real sports. You want your in-game avatar to swing a baseball bat? Act like you’re swinging a baseball bat. You want your in-game avatar to throw a bowling ball down a lane? Act like you’re throwing a bowling ball down a lane. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This is Wii Sports. If you like games that already exploit this style of interface, you’ll probably feel right at home with the Wii. Me, I’ve never cared for this type of performance gaming – it’s just doesn’t fit my personality type. Data suggests, however, that most people do. My girlfriend likes bowling, and so it’s reasonable that she likes Wii Bowling. I’ve thought about taking up golf recently, but I’ll be damned if Wii Golf appeals to me in the slightest. When I’m ready to take up the sport, I’ll throw on a colorful polo shirt, some expensive shoes, and haul myself over to a proper golf course. If all the Wii has to offer is simple mimicry, color me disappointed.

Resistance: Fall of Man
Of these three most decidedly not games of the year, I feel most sorry for Resistance. You see, I’ve never gotten the impression that Resistance was supposed to be a very big deal. Rather, the game has the misfortune of being a first-person shooter developed by a company known for making cool games for Sony, set to be released at the launch of the Playstation 3. Had Resistance been made by any other developer, and had it been released at any other time, it probably wouldn’t garner nearly the attention it has. Had Warhawk, Motorstorm, Lair, and a handful of other key titles met the PS3’s launch, few people probably wouldn’t give a damn about this game. Such is life, I guess.

Resistance is nothing more than a very competent first-person shooter. It looks and plays more or less like any average first-person shooter should. And unfortunately, that’s probably the greatest offense a game in its position can commit. I purchased two games for my PS3: Resistance and Ridge Racer 7. As a known quantity (I just played Ridge Racer 6 at the Xbox 360 launch), Ridge Racer 7 still sits in plastic. Resistance is the game that currently sits in my PS3 drive bay, and it takes supreme effort for me to choose firing it up over other domestic recreational activities, such as reading a magazine or cutting my toenails. And it's not because Resistance is a chore to play, but simply because it feels like I’ve been down the road it travels so many times before. In many ways, it's as much a known quantity as Ridge Racer.

So this is my attempt, dear reader, at helping you avoid any confusion as we bring 2006 to a close. Undoubtedly you have read or will read in the future lists proclaiming that one or all of these games are among the best releases the year had to offer. Well my friends, these lists are simply wrong. There were far, far better games released in 2006 - games that really deserve your time, money, and attention. Don't be mislead.

Thanks for reading.