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Death of a Decade: Best Games (#41-50)

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Top 50 Best Games of the Decade

41. Mafia

  • Publisher: Gathering of Developers
  • Developer: Illusion Softworks
  • 2002

An epic crime saga set in the 1930's that is defined by its riveting storyline and incredible action setpieces. It is often compared to Grand Theft Auto, but anyone who has actually played the game knows that nothing could be farther from the truth. Mafia does feature an open city, but it greatly emphasizes story and action setpieces over any kind of exploration.

42. Company of Heroes

  • Publisher: THQ
  • Developer: Relic Entertainment
  • 2006

Just as WWII started to get boring and drab thanks to countless first-person shooters and strategy games exploring the subject matter, Relic decided to take a shot at it and schooled every developer in the process. A graphical and technological powerhouse, Company of Heroes is the first ever game to feature fully destructible environments and incorporated it into the gameplay in such a way that completely revitalized the RTS genre. You could order your troops into craters made by heavy shelling, you could order them into cover, but no cover was permanent. German panzers would take down entire buildings as they mercilessly wanted to end your efforts. Company of Heroes proudly stands as one of the most atmopheric and insanely intense games ever made. This game is WWII.

43. Oddworld Stranger's Wrath

  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
  • 2005

A fantastically unique and horribly overlooked gem. Oddworld Stranger's Wrath throws the player into the role of Stranger, a creature of unknown origin that happens to be a bounty hunter in a Wild West inspired fantasy world. It bravely and successfully combines third-person action and platforming with first-person "shooting" with the most bizarre characters, bosses and weaponry.

44. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

  • Publisher: 2K Games/Bethesda Softworks
  • Developer: Headfirst Productions
  • 2005

The only survival horror game. Set in 1920's Massachusetts, you play as a Jack Walters, a private detective hired to investigate strange happenings in an uninviting coastal town of Innsmouth. It's a psychological rollercoaster in which you just want to get away from it all (not kill everything in your path) with not only your physical well-being intact, but also your mental health. In a truly inspired gameplay mechanic, the player grows more and more insane as he is exposed to chilling images. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a wholly unique and innovative game that courageously melds first-person adventure, puzzle, platforming, stealth and action elements into a coherent and consistent whole.

45. Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors

  • Publisher: Sega
  • Developer: From Software
  • 2004

By employing traditional Japanese art (as opposed to Disney-inspired anime bull****), Otogi 2 is a visual and sonic masterpiece that constantly delights the senses. The combat system is rather simplistic when compared to the best the genre has to offer, but the 7 playable warriors (each of whom has a distinctly different playstyIe) keeps things fresh and diverse. Destructible environments, unique and interesting enemies, aerial combat, vertical combat, water combat all contribute in making Otogi 2: Immortal Warriors a graceful ballet of destruction and death.

46. Need for Speed Underground

  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Black Box
  • 2003

The title that moved Need for Speed into the tuner culture. It was a story-driven over-the-top racer that drowned the player into flashy neon-lit city streets and insanely pimped out rides. Need for Speed Underground spawned lots of immitations, but none came close to replicate its impeccable sense of styIe.

47. Freedom Fighters

  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Io Interactive
  • 2003

The Soviet Union invades America. It's a well-known and oft-used alternate reality setting. But what makes Freedom Fighters special is its execution, game design and combat. The level and mission design is truly inspired in that it offers you lots of objectives which you can do in any order you want, but your choices affect how the game plays out. For example, if you decide to assult the enemy base before neutralizing the helipad, you'll encounter helicopters on your way. If you don't take out the bridge, the enemy will recieve additional ground troops in a later mission. Freedom Fighters is a squad-based game and it should be said that it offers, hands down, the best friendly AI out there. They never get in the way and they actually serve as something more than enemy fodder.

48. The Darkness

  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Developer: Starbreeze
  • 2007

The Darkness follows the exploits of young mafioso Jackie Estacado who discovers an ancient evil within him and uses it to exact vengeance on his uncle, Paulie, the mob boss that tried to kill him on his 21st birthday. A strong narrative, interesting characters, impressive voice acting (Mike Patton as The Darkness gives a fantastic performance), solid first-person shooting, unique Darkness abilities and several truly memorable scenes make The Darkness easily stand out in a sea of first-person shooters.

49. Crackdown

  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Developer: Realtime Worlds
  • 2007

Yet another Grand Theft Auto clone, innit? Not really. Crackdown never even attempts to be grandiose or sophisticated. It doesn't want to be anything more than a game. And that simplicity turns out to be its redeeming quality. You run around, jump around and drive around in order to kill bad dudes. That's it. However, it's a cleverly designed game. The boss hideouts are very well thought-out and give plenty of opportunities for experimentation. As you clean a borough and kill more bosses to get to the kingpin, you encounter less and less resistance on the streets which actually makes perfect sense as opposed to wiping out throngs of enemies only to face more and more as you near the end.

50. The Sims 2

  • Publisher: Electronic Arts
  • Developer: Maxis
  • 2004

I used to hate The Sims. Hated it. Then, on a cold and boring January afternoon, I gave The Sims 2 a shot. What ensued is a week-long addiction and obsession. I've been a fan ever since. It's the only true sandbox game in which you can do anything you want, how you want it. Some people only build and decorate houses, others play out their dreams. It's anything you want it to be.

The Sound Of Violence

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Today I wrapped up my PC gaming peripheral needs for the foreseeable future. It all began several months ago when I bought the Razer Tarantula:

  • Anti-ghosting
  • On-board memory
  • Interchangeable keys
  • 2 USB ports
  • Headphone/mic jacks

Soon after I got the Razer Lachesis:

  • 4000dpi
  • On-board memory
  • 9 buttons

As I said, today I wrapped it all up with the Razer Piranha:

  • High-quality audio
  • Noise-filtering microphone
  • Ergonomic and comfortable
  • 3 meter non-tangle cable
  • Seperate headphone and mic jacks
  • USB plugin

The Future Is Now

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Digital Distribution Sales Surge

While NPD reported that US games industry sales suffered a fourth consecutive month of year-over-year declines in June, Valve saw a 97 per cent increase in download sales year-over-year during the month, and competitor Direct2Drive recorded a sales increase of 56 per cent.

Earlier this month Microsoft also announced that, in the first half, the number of paid downloads via Xbox Live jumped 73 percent year-over-year.

Microsoft "Not Anywhere Close" To Simultaneous Retail, Digital Releases

"We're not anywhere close to that world today. We have great relationships with the retail channel - they're important partners. We sell a lot of hardware and software through retail channels. We have to be smart about how we approach this business."

The question "Just how much out of the loop is Microsoft?" poses itself instantly. It's funny to read these articles literally back-to-back on Edge Online. This actually goes back to the Xbox 360 launch when Microsoft failed to predict the huge importance of HDD's. Few people were actually worried about this back then. Fast forward four years later and Microsoft has a console without a standard HDD. That's why we have a half-assed service with games that have to abhere to arbitrary limitations. That's why Microsoft really isn't anywhere close to a serious digital distribution service.

Live is such a wasted potential that it's painful to watch. Meanwhile, Microsoft is wasting time copying Nintendo with crap like Natal instead of realizing the true future of the medium. Seriously, just how much out of the loop is Microsoft?

This blog entry is sponsored by Telus, the future is friendly®.

New Car, Caviar, Four Star Daydream

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As soon as I got back my PC, I started buying games. I ordered these games over Amazon.co.uk in the past few days:

Fallout 3 - I think this is the last 2008 heavyweight release I have left on my "to do" list. I'm pretty excited to finally play this, heard so many good things about it.

Elven Legacy - I played the demo a while ago and loved it. It's a rather unique fantasy turn-based strategy in that you actually lead big armies across a huge hexagon battlefield.

Sid Meier's Railroads! - I actually played the demo way back when this game was released three years ago, but never got around to buying it.

Need for Speed Undercover - I'm a big Need for Speed fan. The series fell by the wayside with subpar releases like Carbon and trash like ProStreet, but I heard that Undercover goes back to the awesomeness that was Most Wanted. It's interesting to add that this is the first Need for Speed that I won't be playing on PC.

I'm Going In For The Kill

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The torment has ended. I have been without my PC for the past two months. The sound on my motherboard crapped out so I went to the shop where I bought it last year to get it fixed. Turned out that the company was in serious financial problems, layed off a lot of people and closed down the local service so I had to send it to the capital. It was there for three weeks until one joker sent it back and said it was a software issue. Of course, it didn't work. So back it went. It collected dust for about two weeks until someone realized that it was indeed a hardware issue. But they didn't have my motherboard so it was kept in limbo waiting for the replacement to arrive. Yesterday, the guy from the local shop says my rig arrived. I go and pick it up only to see that the casing was damaged during shipping.

DESTROY MODE

Several dead bodies and a day later, my PC is back where it belongs. New cool Alienware knock-off casing. Sound works. Listening to La Roux's "In For The Kill". More on that later.

The Importance of Steam

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Steam is a great service which enables some truly amazing things for modern PC gaming. But recently certain tidbits of information made me think that Steam is much more important than that. Let's begin with the thing that spurred this blog entry - casually mentioned in the Unreal Tournament III Free Weekend article:

During the previous Free Weekend of Unreal Tournament 3 Black on Steam, the game claimed the number one spot on the bestseller list, and simultaneous player numbers jumped by more than 2000%.

Most of you know that Unreal Tournament III didn't set the charts on fire, in fact, it sold rather poorly on both the PS3, PC and subsequently the 360. In the console realm, a game's success or failure is determined by its launch. After that, it's all over. A resurrection is only possible on the PC - specifically, Steam. Sales increased with the game's Steam release with a lowered price and then they spiked monstrously after the recent Free Weekend. They will surely spike once again.

A few months ago Edge ran a feature discussing Steam's ability to experiment with pricing models:

Newell showed the results of a Left 4 Dead promotion Valve ran last weekend, which cut the price of the game in half to $25. The discount (and promise of new content for the game) rocketed sales of the game on Steam by 3,000 percent. "We sold more in revenue this last weekend than we did when we launched the product," says Newell.

This phenomenon is not limited to Valve games. Over the holidays, Steam discounted third-party titles. Sales increased 300 percent and units-sold increased by 600 percent. Newell said that a weekend sale of one third-party title drove that game's sales up by 18,000 percent and units-sold increased 36,000 percent. It energized the user base, says Newell. When the sale ended, baseline sales were double what they were prior to the weekend discount.

Discounting games does not only increase unit sales--it increases actual revenues. During the 16-day sale window over the holidays, third-parties were given a choice as to how severely they would discount their games. Those that discounted their games by 10 percent saw a 35% uptick in sales--that's dollars, not units. A 25 percent discount meant a 245 percent increase in sales. Dropping the price by 50 percent meant a sales increase of 320 percent. And a 75 percent decrease in the price point generated a 1,470 percent increase in sales.

Steam could change the way games are distributed, marketed and priced - industry-wide. This is already happening in the PC realm. PC retail is, for all intents and purposes, dead. Almost every PC game is sold both digitally as well as at retail. Digitally distributed-only games such as Zeno Clash are becoming more common. Companies like Valve and Capcom have gone on record to say that over 50% of all PC revenue comes from digital distribution. Recently, EA has stated that their digital game distribution has almost doubled year-over-year to $80 million.

History has shown that most trends originate on PC. Digital distribution is already here. We can only hope that Steam will be successful in changing the way games are priced as well.

Through My TV All My Problems Come

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I bought an HDTV. It happened at a later date than I expected it to (planned to get one with my 360), but better late than never. I got a 37'' Panasonic TX-37LX85P. It's native resolution is a standard 1366x768 pixels @ 100Hz. It's pretty huge and I'm very pleased with it so far. I only tried out a few games briefly on it yesterday and the difference is quite big. First off, this is my first widescreen TV and naturally everything looks a lot more cinematic. Second, it's BIG and I'm not sitting that far away from it at all (about 2-3m). Third, it's higher res which makes everything a lot crisper and clearer. It's funny actually because playing console games on an HDTV shows a bigger difference from PC games than an SDTV. Higher res naturally makes crappy backgrounds, muddy textures and jaggies a lot more visible than on an SDTV. Ironically, it's the higher resolutions that truly expose a console's weakness in comparison to a PC. It's not very important, really, but I couldn't help notice it. Overall, it's definitely a step up from my old 29'' Sony Trinitron CRT.