Because I haven't posted anything on here in far too long, I thought I'd talk about the gaming I did during the two-week span I was chilling (figuratively) in North Carolina over the break. There may be some spoilers, you've been warned, etc.
Mass Effect: I was ready for this game to be my favorite of the year, and although it's pretty flawed in a few aspects, it was probably the most enjoyable gaming experience I had in 2007. For every frame rate hitch or mind-numbing uncharted world I ran into, there were half a dozen brilliant dialogue sequences, dynamic combat scenarios, and satisfying plot revelations. I thought the last two hours were the best of the game, bringing the loose plot threads together quickly and sensibly amidst some really impressive action set pieces.
The game's narrative scope is so great, I sat one night for a couple of hours just reading through all of the codex entries to absorb the universe the writers fleshed out with such a stunning combination of breadth and specificity (check out the lengthy descriptions of the Turians' duty-bound militarized society). I'd love to see the Mass Effect property extended to other media, and it seems especially ripe for serialization in the Battlestar or Babylon 5 vein.
I hope EA can help Bioware shore up the technical areas in which ME is lacking, because while the game's lows are a little irksome, the highs are phenomenal.
Call of Duty 4: The multiplayer, anyway (I haven't finished the single-player because playing through it on 'hardened' is becoming a bit of a grind. Stupid infinite respawns!). I feel like all I need to say here is that I obsessively played COD4 online without the promise of any online-related Xbox Live achievements to strive for whatsoever. They dole out the imaginative perks and tasty new weapons at just the perfect rate to keep you hooked, and even without that carrot-on-a-stick thing going on, the core shooting model feels so perfect I stopped playing Halo 3 for it (and Halo 3 ain't no slouch).
If you want to level up quickly, play headquarters. Thanks for the power-leveling, Rich.
Switchball: The first few levels of this were surprisingly fun and addictive; it felt like a combination of Marble Madness and Mousetrap (or any Rube Goldberg-like contraption). I feel like this is the sort of game I'd want to make if I ever tried to make a game. I also feel like it's a game my mom could enjoy, although I never got her to sit down and try it. (My parents actually have a 360, believe it or not.)
Resident Evil 4 Wii: Holy crap does this game ever hold up! Even three years after its original release, RE4 on the Wii offered the most concentrated fun-per-minute rate of any game I played over the break. My cousin and I plowed through the storyline in two marathon sittings, just so we could open up the Mercenaries and other bonus modes to start trying for the elite weapons. You really can't say enough about how great RE4 is... it's probably in my top five (maybe three) games of all time. On one hand, I don't know how RE5 can live up to this. But on the other, if it does, wow.
Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: I was a vociferous complainer about Twilight Princess' similarity to Ocarina, and especially its staunch adherence to the old Zelda formula. You know, explore dungeon-find new item-fight boss-repeat. How many times can you really play the same fire temple and collect the same boomerang? So I feel a little hypocritcal having so much fun with Phantom Hourglass, which has been utterly delightful so far. I like that it doesn't take itself too seriously, with characters like Linebeck and the traveler adding some needed mirth. The controls are also totally refreshing and have worked beautifully so far. The map-annotation features is surprisingly useful. And probably more than anything else, I love its personality. The cel shading looks surprisingly good on the DS, and there are some great little touches like the characteristic poof of smoke when enemies die, or the way Link tamps down the earth with his foot when he fills in a hole with his shovel. Basically, I'm just glad the Wind Waker's cartoony visual aesthetic didn't die out. I for one thought Twilight Princess' return to realistic form was pretty well unnecessary.
I bought multiple copies of this game as Christmas gifts, and my girlfriend is now almost as far in it as I am.
Anyway, that's all the gaming I had time for during a surprisingly busy holiday break. What games did you play, and what did you think of them?