Well it's that time to recap the year that was and give out my own personal picks of the year.
It was a quieter year than last year, we can probably thank Modern Warfare 2 for providing us with slightly less choice through October and November.
It was the year that Sony finally lifted itself from the whipping boy of the generation to become more competitive in terms of both the game library and price point but then took a step backwards with the PSPgo. We're all still wondering about the price point.
The 360 had the finest racing simulator to date released and precious little in terms of other exclusives.
The year also saw the Wii bubble burst a small amount. Have we found out that it was a fad or is it just a blip on the otherwise impressive sales figures, and of course it was the DS that sold, and sold and sold some more.
In terms of games this year was dominated by a handful of big titles. Most notably Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2. It was possibly the year that confirmed that super violent games on the Wii don't sell with Madworld failing, despite being warmly received by reviewers. It was the year of rhythm game burn out. There was something in the order of 5 or 6 'Hero' games, and a Rock Band. Time to say enough me thinks.
Well without further ado, here are my picks for awards this year around. As always this reflects games I have played and completed at this point in time (with an exception or 2). The list is not necessary final, but I will not be revisiting it on my Blog. The categories are discretionary.
Best Graphics (Technical): Uncharted 2. There is no contest here. You could argue that Forza 3 is better, but considering that it deals with single tracks at a time and cars I find it much harder to give it. Uncharted was beautiful, had varied locations and character models that were second to none. You always knew you were playing a game, but some of those backdrops did come close to realistic.
Best Graphics (Artistic): Muramasa. This is one of those exceptions I was talking about. I have yet to finish this game due to its late release here in Australia. Despite this it is a stunningly beautiful game. The anime style is perfect the backdrops give you the feeling that they were lovingly created in water colour. Again nothing really came close Machinarium was the best of the rest a charming flash based game but still couldn't get close enough.
Biggest Improvement: Assassin's Creed 2. It is unbelievable how much better they made this game. While I liked the first I was one of the detractors too. It was repetitive, and therefore hard to finish. The developers must be applauded, sure it still wasn't perfect but with the side missions to the tombs, there was so much to do and see and it was a much more interesting game for it.
Best Game I didn't Play until 2009: Mass Effect. Yes this one just kept getting put back and back, it finally made my play list and boy was I blown away. It is an amazing story telling experience and an awesome game to boot. For me it is Knights of the Old Republic, sans the Star Wars licence.
Biggest Disappointment: Scribblenauts. This was an extremely difficult decision for me. This year was surprisingly short on gaming disappointments. Scribblenauts stands out as a missed opportunity. The control scheme, while not as bad as everyone makes out was cumbersome and should have given the option to use the D-pad. Add to this the was no real incentive to use the same 3 or 4 items over and over again.
It was possibly my hype meter that built this up too high but as a sandbox this game was great, as an actual game with goals and objectives it wasn't everything it could have been.
Best Downloadable Game: Flower. Sure I finished this game in around 3 hours and in two sittings but that doesn't make this game any less impressive. It used the SIXAXIS in a meaningful way and it worked and felt right. It was beautifully simple, X to speed up and tilt the controller to move up and down in the world and from side to side. As you guide your petal throughout the world you pick up more and more petals, bringing life to desolate cityscapes.
It also has something to say about the state of our world and the impacts we have on it but it never forces the issue. All in all this is a breathtaking and thought provoking game.
Best Handheld Game: This year I greatly neglected the handheld side of gaming (although I acquired a few). There was one main stand out and that was Chinatown Wars on the DS. It was a return to form for the series (with GTAIV falling relatively flat, imo). It was slick, funny and an awesome game to boot. I must admit I was a bit sceptical with the return to the old top down but it works on this platform. There is no doubt this game pushes the DS to the limits, with car damage, night/day cycles and almost everything you would expect from a GTA game.
This is one great package if you own a DS or PSP you must own this game.
This only just beat out the PSP version of Little Big Planet. It keeps the same charm as the original, and some say with only two planes to move between some may say it controls better than the original.
Top 5 of the year:
5. Forza 3 – This is easily the best racing game this year, I only really invested time in Dirt 2, admittedly but this trumps it in every regard. So many tracks and variations, a massive selection of cars and customization and tuning options that can easily keep you occupied for just as long off the track as on it.
It caters for everyone no matter what your skill, just interested in hitting the right lines, well then turn all the assists on including auto braking? You the most hardcore racing fan? Turn them all off and watch your race cars bite back and punish you for a slow gear change, or just touching the grass. All in all there was no finer racing game.
4. Assassin's Creed II – What can you say about Assassin's Creed 2? To sum it up as an improvement over the original would be an understatement to say the least. In every single conceivable way it is better. When you are exploring Renaissance Italy, the game looks spectacular. Unfortunately, out the animus isn't as good looking, but you are hardly ever out of it. The developers really addressed the issues from the first there is so much to do, be it assassin's toms, which focus heavily on platforming, to the variety in weapons and even the mission structure has been overhauled. The open world also gave you plenty of direction, sure you could just wander aimlessly but I always felt compelled to continue.
3. inFamous – The game that has oft been compared to Prototype, which is very unfair. It is a hell of a lot better and a hell of a lot more fun. The game encapsulated everything that is good about open world games, the developers realised that side missions do get repetitive, so they limited the number that are available and tied them into you 'cleaning the city'. Even though you can't drive vehicles moving about the city is unbelievably easy, and just plain fun. While the story is a little convoluted, there is one moment that brings it all together that was truly inspired. The one thing that held it back was it was a very black or white morals system that almost punished you for not sticking to the good or bad path. The powers were fun and got progressively more 'bad-ass' no matter which side you chose and you didn't feel that you were underpowered if you chose the good side. A great game, and the best open world game by a long shot.
2. Uncharted 2 – It was with great pains that I put this at number 2. This is a fantastic game, just about everything in this game is right. The story is blockbuster popcorn movie, but it somehow just works. The voice acting is excellent, is one of the prettiest games in a long time, and not only that but people look like people, and have realistic facial movements, and on top of that the set pieces are outstanding. Who would forget the train scene? Or the gun fight in a collapsing building?
The platforming was similar to the first, but refined, and the gunplay and general combat was vastly improved, although still a little on the unrealistic side with enemies that would take almost a whole clip. The puzzles were not that challenging on the whole but worked, and the note book would always give you a clue in the unlikely event you were stuck.
The multiplayer was an excellent addition and it worked surprisingly well, it was good to see the multi-player did not detract from the single player experience.
About the only downside is the length for what it tried to achieve, it was overly long for an action game and by the end I was getting near the end of my patience with the story.
This being said it is still a game you must own if you have a PS3.
1. Batman: Arkham Asylum – I had some reservations about this game when first announced. I have been bitten by licensed games previously and while it had potential, I was sceptical. Needless to say this game surprised and delighted me. The combat was awesome, it was simple to learn but hard to master and chain those hits together effectively. There were some great locations and puzzles to solve, and the choice of location and limiting your movements was an excellent choice although the inclusion of a bat cave was a little baffling.
The game looks absolutely fantastic, it is grimy and dark and captures the comics perfectly (in my limited knowledge of them).
There are some awesome moments, like the sections with the Scarecrow, and one in particular that blew my mind.
The voice acting is perfect. Mark Hamill does an excellent Joker and it pays off as does including other voice actors from the cartoons. Hamill's performance is head and shoulders above anything else this year.
The collectibles are well thought out and pay massive fan service, but that being said this game is accessible to everyone.
I was actually disappointed when the game ended and I had found all the secrets, Arkham Asylum is just that good a game. The challenge rooms add extra life to the game, where you try to build big scores with combos, or take out thugs silently and in various ways to earn bragging rights.
This was a great game from start to finish. It was the best game that I played this year, and quite simply, no matter what platform is yours of choice you need to play this one.