Thursday, 24 December 2009

Rundown of the Decade

Given that this will be the final entry of 2009 (I will be far to drunk to do anything next week), I thought I might review the year in games. Then I remembered that I am not a pedant and therefore I view the end of 2009 as the end of the decade (whatever, "Year 1" enthusiasts) so why not review the decade instead?

Though I may not be guilty of pedantry, I am given to laziness, so here is an awards ceremony (actually, "list" might be more accurate) with not much writing and lots of pictures.

Most Imaginative Concept

Psychonauts - Exploring the distorted psyches of your friends. It's really hard to choose a favourite disturbed psyche. I'm going to go with the mad old general who experiences life as if it was a game of Risk.

Gears of War 2 - The Riftworm. Which you have to destroy from the inside. Using a chainsaw. On its arteries.

Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball - Honourably scraps the Dead or Alive facade of not being about tits, dispenses with the male characters and puts a Tina and co on a desert island to jiggle it out for prizes.

Prince of Persia: The Sand of Time - It's hard to accurately convey how exciting the time rewind mechanic was in 2003 using only a few words, so I'll just show you a picture of the Prince without his shirt.

Winner: I'd so like to say Gears of War for sheer audacity. But I'm going to bestow the honour upon Psychonauts because it's so inventive.

Best Game From 1999 That I Only Got Round To Playing In 2000 Or Later

VibRibbon - This is an ancestor of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution in which you have to guide a bunny over sound-generated shapes. Best of all, you could load the disc in your Playstation, then take it out, put in your favourite CD and the game would generate shapes based on whatever you put in. Which is good because the only thing wrong with Spiceworld is that it doesn't have an interactive component.

The Longest Journey - This is a wonderful point-and-click adventure with excellent voice acting and a witty and subversive script. Its current popularity is due to the fact that many older games that would never make it to within 50 miles of a high street can be easily and legally obtained for £5 on the internet. Not only do younger gamers get to discover something rich and magical but the makers still reap the reward they deserve.

Crash Team Racing - This is a blatant rip-off of Mario Kart, but it is also way better. Actually, it is the best racing game ever made bar absolutely none. I wake up every day sad because all the racing games on the XBOX are deadly serious affairs with gearboxes and absolutely no missiles.

Worms Armageddon - The best Worms game thanks to the juiced-up banana bomb and the fact that you could give your team Scottish accents. Don't even mention any of the 3D incarnations.

Winner: The Longest Journey. I recommend it to anyone with a computer made this century.

Most Impractical Clothing Choice

Lulu from Final Fantasy X - Lulu is perhaps the most conservatively dressed in this section, but her dress is still made of belts and most of her chest is exposed. I understand this when she's wandering around the beaches of Besaid, but this woman climbs a snowy mountain in this getup. I worry about her catching cold.

The chick from X-Blades - I have never actually played this game, I just think the outfit deserves a mention. I like how she bothers to wear wrist armour.

Shadee in Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within - Same principle here, too. What there is of this costume is made of metal. For protection, one presumes.

Rachel from Ninja Gaiden - I actually laughed out loud when I saw this.

Winner: The perceptive amongst you will have detected a common theme amongst the entrants. Even though, as I said, I have never played the game, I am going to award this prize to X-Blades because of its ingenious focus on the bottom as opposed to the breasts, which I suppose is what counts for originality in some quarters.

Most Nauseating Star Wars-Related Game

Soul Calibur IV - Regular readers will remember that this game is set in medieval Europe/Asia. If you have been awake at any point in the last 30 years, you will know that Star Wars takes place a long time ago in a galazy far far away. Although your average gap year student might have you believe otherwise, Asia is not in fact in a galaxy far far away. Therefore neither Darth Vader nor Yoda should be there. The fact that advertisements for the simultaneous release of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed were all over the instruction booklet for this otherwise brilliant game is a little stomach-churning.

Lego Star Wars - I don't care how good everyone said it was, I thought it was rubbish because you couldn't actually build anything with Lego. It was just Star Wars but with all the people made out of Lego.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - This game wasn't actually too bad, but I couldn't think of any more Star Wars games.

Winner: As you might have guessed from my failure to come up with more than 2 rubbish Star Wars games, I basically just wanted to complain about the Soul Calibur thing because it makes no sense and manages to simultaneously insult my intelligence and rape two of my favourite franchises. Oh dear, do I really have favourite franchises? And did The Phantom Menace not do enough raping?

Biggest Time Waster

Ratchet and Clank - Technically for children, this game contains hundreds of secret areas to discover. Also, it has about 12 weapons (really fun things, like a Tesla Claw) which you could only upgrade once you had used them enough. On top of this, the worlds are designed with humour and attention to detail, making them a great place to spend hours not doing A-level coursework.

Peggle - I am one of the lucky few who played Peggle and am still able to function in society. It plays Ode to Joy when you hit all the orange pegs.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - This game is massive and there are hundreds of quests, not to mention the awesome number of things you discover just by fannying about in the woods. It is basically better than real life.

Saints Row 2 - (apparently it is "Saints" plural as opposed to posessive, so no apostrophe). I might have completed this game in half the time if I didn't keep going to the mall to buy a new outfit for my character.

Winner: Peggle. Seriously, I am one of the lucky ones.

Best Party Game

Guitar Hero - In some circles, this game is considered more of a threat to music than even Simon Cowell, though that's less of an accolade this week (yes!). But those people have never seen the flush of blood to a novice's cheek as she gets to the end of Number of the Beast with the plastic guitar clasped in her trembling fingers. And then everyone sings along. Really, it's a beautiful thing.

Wii Sports - The Nintendo Wii really has revolutionalised party gaming. Did you know that many retirement homes have Wiis so residents can play golf or go bowling from the comfort of their armchairs? Wii Sports came free with lots of Wiis a couple of years ago, and it's still one of the best games on the console. Watching four grown adults flail about playing imaginary tennis is truly a sight to behold.

Gears of War - The best way to play this game is cooperatively, with beer for the cutscenes. I said that last week, but you might not have been paying attention.

Warioware - From what I can determine, this game has nothing whatsoever to do with Wario. It is another game for the Wii, but this one makes the participants mime tasks such as shaving, balancing a broom, doing the hula hoop and flipping a pancake. It's like charades except the other way around because the person doing the action often has no idea what they are supposed to be doing.

Winner: Warioware. Surely that picture is enough?

Most Disturbing

Portal - In this game you slowly realise that you are a disposable lab rat after cracks begin to appear (literally) in Apature Science's facade. Gaps in the walls reveal tortured scrawls by those who have come - and gone - before you.

Bioshock - The sunken city of Rapture is crawling with Little Sisters, tortured parodies of children who harvest genetic material. You are free to either save or plunder them.

The Sims - This game is troubling because it encourages your most sadistic instincts. If you want to build a swimming pool, that's fine. If you want to tell a Sim to go swimming on a hot day to raise their fitness score, that's also fine. If you want to then remove their only means of escape from the pool, that's also fine. They will die and they family will cry. Unless of course you never let them forge any relationships, in which case no-one will care. You can also burn down their house or (better still) build them a house with no loos. It isn't clear, but in the picture the black pointy thing is actually the Grim Reaper who has come to take away whoever was stuck in that tiny room that some twisted individual built with a fireplace but no doors.

Silent Hill 2 - This is just really scary. It achieves this, very simply, by being slow-moving, ambiguous and foggy. The story is a twisted and shady tale of mistaken identity and disturbed individuals. There is no villan, and the most frightening character is a guy with some kind of traffic cone on his head, who is scary because he advances relentlessly and is completely inscruitable.

Winner: Silent Hill. Although Portal is just as affecting, it leaves you feeling triumphant and exhilarated as opposed to making impromptu telephone calls to your mother about nothing in particular.

The "WTF" Award for Complete Impenetrability

Condemned - This starts really well. You're attacked by junkies, there is a disturbed serial killer on the loose and all the pigeons in the city have gone insane. What's the connection? None, apparently. None of these things is ever explained. Well the serial killer is revealed to be "some guy" who is apparently the son of "some other guy" and the pigeons and junkies are just abandoned by the narrative about two thirds of the way in. It wasn't until the credits began rolling that I realised I had actually finished the game and that no, that wasn't a twist or some exposition, that was the end. Right.

Xenosaga - I just do not have the stamina for all three parts to this game, and it makes precisely no sense unless you do.

Onimusha - I really enjoyed this game without having any idea what was going on. However, this is often the case with anything featuring martial arts.

Mass Effect - This would probably have made a bit more sense if I had actually listened to all that expositional dialogue instead of actually turning the sound off and reading a book until it had finished. However, I don't think there is anyone who did that.

 Winner: Condemned. I have never been so dissatisfied in my life. Well maybe once.

Gaming Event I Completely Failed To Engage With

Rockband - Those Guitar Hero guitars just about made up for the space they took up by being fun. I cannot imagine the same being true for a plastic microphone and drum kit as well.

World of Warcraft - You must have heard of this. It is an online world to which you can emigrate and forget all your earthly troubles as you assume the form of an elf and never look back. I have never played this game as a) I have never had a good enough internet connection until now b) I have been unwilling to play any game which requires a subscription fee and c) I have been outside a couple of times. It wasn't bad and I wish to repeat the experience. (Hey, that girl looks like she knows Shadee.)

The release and subsequent world domination of the Nintendo DS - I think this is a brilliant little console, and the fact that it is marketed on the strength of its cerebral brain training and mystery games is fantastic. However, the last time I checked, I could get a book for £1, but a DS is still about 1000% more expensive plus a subsequent £30 for each game. This does not mean that I do not appreciate Nintendo's admirable (and fairly successful) attempts to market video games to previously untouched demographics, like Scientology refugees.

The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time - When this came out, I was not (and still am not) equipped with the appropriate hardware to play with it.* That is pretty much all that stands between myself and complete enlightenment at this moment in time.

Winner: Zelda, because it is the only game I have any intention of actually playing at some point.

Best Tomb Raider Game

Angel of Darkness - Here we see Lara breaking into the Louvre and losing her grip on reality. The plot involves occult paintings and genetic experiments in a secret laboratory under Prague. Lara is on the run from the law after she is suspected of killing her former mentor, Werner Von Croy. Despite the great plot, this game was rushed under pressure and the controls were a bit wonky. Consequently, it was the last game made by Core design (who have been with Lara from the start).

Legend - The first game by Crystal Dynamics was widely praised for being slick and well-executed. It also dispensed with Core design's (and thus Lara's) history and introduced us to her irritating and hitherto unheard of housemates Zip and Alistair. The less said about them the better. The plot has something to do with King Arthur, who apparently spent some time backpacking around Bolivia.

Anniversary - A remake of the original Tomb Raider.

Underworld - A sequel to Legend. Pretty ropey plot, but great fun to play. Also features the welcome return of Amanda Evert, a woman who always finds time in her busy world domination schedule to accessorise.

Winner: Angel of Darkness. The plot, ambiance and characterisation in this game, for me, make up for its failings in the control department. At least it did when I was 15 and had about 4 hours a day to spend executing a single jump to the ventilation grate on top of the Mona Lisa.

Biggest Disappointment

Halo - This is by no means a bad game. It is actually great fun and I played it through to the end with no major complaints. Unfortunately, it was hailed as the second coming and somehow the man in the Action Man costume failed to live up to my expectations.

Earache Extreme Metal Racing - Given the enormous crossover in their fanbases, I am amazed that there are not more video games about heavy metal. Therefore I bought this with great excitement, thinking it would be like Mario Kart at an Opeth concert. The game however, is quite possibly the worst game I have ever played. It shocks me to say that. It is just crushingly bad. I can't honestly think of anything in particular to criticise because all aspects of it are soul-destroyingly awful.

Spore - Oh yeah, the next nominee is Spore which was both overambitious and schizophrenic. It was marketed as a creation simulator which enabled you to shape the evolution of a species, but it playing it was a bit like going speed dating and being unable to remember anyone's name at the end.

Ninety-Nine Nights - This game came with my XBOX. You play one of six equally uninteresting characters and slaughter hoardes of completely identical characters by pressing the same button repeatedly. Swing sword. Swing sword. Swing sword. Swing sword. Swing sword. Disappointing because all I had during that the first heady week of XBOX ownership was this derivative piece of garbage. I could have replicated the experience by pouring toys all over the floor and then kicking them over.

Winner: Earache, which I played for about two hours because I could not believe any game could be that awful and thought I must be missing something.

Best Supporting Character

Wakka from Final Fantasy X - Imaginatively voiced by John "Bender" DiMaggio, Wakka is like many Final Fantasy characters, endearing and complex. He is simultaneously selfless and immature, as well as being deeply uncomfortable when his prejudices are challenged. He somehow gets to hook up with Lulu (see above) in the sequel.

Alyx Vance from Half Life 2 - I've sung Alyx's praises before, so I'll keep it brief. She's likable and believable. However, when her direct competition in the sidekick stakes comes from Rachel and friends (see above) maybe she has it easy.

The Rasta Rhinos in Beyond Good and Evil - They run a garage which serves both hovercraft and spaceships and play reggae all day.

Augustus "Cole Train" Cole from Gears of War - Taking racial stereotyping to a new level, Cole Train makes saving the world look easy.

Winner: Wakka. I honestly felt guilty when I failed to win the Blitzball tournament and he told his team manfully that they had played well.

Game of the Decade

Beyond Good and Evil - If you haven't heard of or played this and you have eyes, ears and motor skills I will direct you here and here and wait for your tears of gratitude. The title is misguidedly hyperbolic, which may go some way to explaining its commercial underperformance. But any game where you get to photograph wildlife, live in a lighthouse and dance with a space whale has to be a good thing.

Portal - Again, I've wittered on about this already. It's great.

Final Fantasy XII - Bit geeky, this one. Unlimited freedom to determine your characters' abilities, and the power to program their actions and fight preferences in advance. Revolutionary as far as Final Fantasy games go. Which, erm, isn't very far. Anyway, it has a race of rabbit women in it.

Prey - In this game you play depressed Native American Tommi, who, along with most of the people from his reservation, is abducted by aliens. Cue lots of interesting gravity puzzles and some really spooky monsters. All this, however, pales in comparison with the penultimate scene. Your beloved girlfriend Jen has been tortured and had her torso grafted onto the lower body of some kind of hideous beast. Powerless to stop herself, she stampedes towards you, screaming "IT HURTS TOMMI IT HURTS!" whilst you try and dismember her in order to save yourself, and the lives of every human left on earth. If you like torture and gore, the video is here. I am not going to embed it. Anyway, once Jen crashes to the floor, her deformed legs twitching, she begs you to put her out of her misery. You are armed with a vast arsenal of weapons, all of which could end her torment in a millisecond. I happened to play this game with someone who has a really top-notch sense of humour, and he decided to disregard these weapons altogether and instead chip slowly away at her head with the blunt wrench instead. That's what I love about games. The freedom to be a sadistic bastard simply because it's quite funny.

Winner: Despite leaning towards Portal (which is perhaps the better game), I must go with Beyond Good and Evil because I still find it moving. It also has the most beautiful and imaginative soundtrack of any game I have ever played.

It's been a good ten years for games. They are more accessible and diverse than ever before, and if you're still wondering whether there is one for you and if they are really worth your time I assure you that there is and they are. To the rest of you, happy gaming and I will see you in 2010!

*would a filthy joke about Scarlett Johansson be inappropriate at this juncture? I think so.

1 comment:

  1. OH how I miss Guitar Hero!
    Chris briefly had Rock Band & you can't appreciate the fun it can bring until you've heard me 'sing' Rebel Girl 50 times in a row without stopping.
    So much potential for torture you missed in The Sims, as well.
    Try making yourself a slave child! Keep him in a doorless room where you drag & drop all the household rubbish & washing up for him to clean for eternity. Only let him out once a week to be beaten by the 'Oops I Did It Again'-era Britney Sim.
    If only Josef Fritzl had such an outlet for those troublesome imprison & torture instincts!
    Also, in Sims House Party you can hire strippers to do all kinds of raunchy dances. If you get the 'remove blur' patch, you can drag people out of the shower to pose with the strippers for way more inventive pixel porn than you'd find on any volley ball bikini fighting game.
    Happy Christmas!