Executive Editor, PC Games
Recent Favorites: Wizardry 8, Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Most Wanted: Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Soldier of Fortune II, Warcraft III
Now Playing: EverQuest: Shadows of Luclin, Final Fantasy X
The Year's Surprises
When you've worked as a game editor for a while, you eventually learn enough about games that you start to think you really know them well. All of a sudden, you start predicting how games will come out as though they were sporting events--Return to Castle Wolfenstein is going to be better in multiplayer, Warcraft III will be worth the wait, Microsoft will keep Halo off the PC, at least for a while, and so on. It's only natural to start anticipating trends in the fields you know well. And the more times you guess right, the more likely you are to keep on guessing.
However, guesswork is the devil in the gaming industry. I review a lot of games, and the worst thing I can do as I begin an assignment is bring a bunch of preconceived notions and expectations to the table. A lot of people like to mislabel this as "bias," which implies favoritism. Favoritism doesn't have to figure into it.
Sometimes a reviewer should have certain expectations for a game. You can't review Warcraft III without acknowledging its predecessor, or the many years the game has spent in development. Since other people will approach Warcraft III with high expectations, so should any reviewer. It's not just another real-time strategy game.
The goal for the reviewer is to match his or her expectations with those of the majority of his or her readers, and then write a review that addresses the points that people are most curious about. That's how to "stay in touch" with readers, and it's a big part of how to write a decent game review.
While I once felt like a fortuneteller when it came to predicting how well certain games would finally turn out, I've recently come full circle. I now acknowledge that, every year, some of the best games turn out to be the ones that no one really seemed to have much hope for--let alone know about. Last week, I talked about my five favorite games of the year. Some of these I was looking forward to, but a few of them I wasn't. This time, I'd like to present a slightly different list--the five most surprisingly good games of the year, from my perspective. These are games that I didn't expect anything from, but turned out to be outstanding. In order of appearance:
Serious Sam: The First Encounter
Serious Sam is on my personal list of top five games of the year, but it was also a great big surprise for me. Here's this $20 shooter that looks pretty basic--and maybe it is--but it's tremendous fun, and it comes with a great multiplayer mode and mod tools straight out of the box. It's also from a previously unheard of Croatian developer. Some people got excited over Serious Sam when the original test demo was released, but I wasn't one of them.
Take a good look at one of the year's best strategy games.
This is no Starcraft clone.
It sounds stupid, but I've never seen anything quite like this in a game.
Dark Age of Camelot
How could any game stand up to EverQuest or Asheron's Call--two online RPGs that have spent two years entrenching themselves? I can chronicle my skepticism of Dark Age of Camelot week by week, leading up to the game's release. My limited exposure to the beta and the claims I'd heard about how stable and well made it was certainly didn't convince me that Dark Age of Camelot would be a success. The proof, as always, was in the final product--a well-designed, stable, and fun online role-playing game, easily good enough to roll with the best of them.
There are plenty of people out there who saw the potential for all five of these games well in advance of their release. These games all had strong followings by the time they shipped. This is part of what makes PC gaming different now than it was, say, 10 years ago--when the only real way to propagate information on games in development was through a handful of print publications. I suppose it's theoretically possible to anticipate every good game that will ever come out, thanks to the Internet. But it's not humanly possible. Like I said, I approach most every new game objectively and with an open mind. But the five I listed above really caught me off guard.
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