Why 2007 Was the Best Year in Gaming
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Which year was the best in video game history? Which 12 month period had the biggest releases and the most influential games? Join us over the next few days as we look back in time at five of the most outstanding years in games. Today, we look at the great year that was 2007.
2007 defined the seventh generation of consoles. This was the year that developers finally got to grips with the powerful new hardware of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and delivered games that were bigger, brasher, and more spectacular than ever before. Enduring franchises like Assassin's Creed, The Witcher, and Uncharted all made their debut in 2007, while Nintendo Wii owners were treated to one of the greatest 3D platformers ever made in the form of the sublime Super Mario Galaxy.
The sheer amount of wonderful games crammed into 2007 is astonishing: Halo 3, Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, Dirt, The Orange Box, Mass Effect, Motorstorm, Rock Band, Forza Motorsport 2, Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, Peggle, Pokemon Diamond/Pearl, The Legend Of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass...the industry delivered hit after hit after hit. And even those people that hadn't yet made the jump to a HD console yet still had something to shout about, thanks to the release of the dazzling God Of War II on PS2.
BioShock | Irrational Games
GameSpot got its first glimpse of BioShock, the spiritual successor to the cyberpunk epic System Shock 2, way back in 2004, but it would be another three years until we could fully explore the murky depths of Rapture. Fortunately, BioShock was more than worth the wait. With former Looking Glass Studios developers on board--headed up by the always outspoken Ken Levine--BioShock was an intelligent mix of first-person shooter, role-playing-game, and Ayn Rand-like objectivism that made you think just as much as it made you reach for the trigger. The opening moments as you swam through the fiery wreckage of a plane crash, and stumbled into the bathysphere for the long descent into the underwater city of Rapture, remain some of the most unforgettable moments in gaming history. The richness of Rapture with its beautiful steampunk visuals and fleshed-out characters, and the dark story BioShock told (particularly with its use of radio transmissions and audio logs), remain a massive influence on games to this day.
Portal | Valve
Half-Life 2 and its related expansions might have been the primary draw of Valve's 2007 compilation The Orange Box, but it was lesser known title Portal that was the surprising hit. Inspired by a student project from DigiPen students who were subsequently hired by Valve, Portal mixed innovate first-person puzzle mechanics with a quirky story (directly linked to the Half-Life 2 universe) and a wry sense of humour to great effect. By making use of momentum redirection in a 3D space, Portal created some of gaming's most memorable mind-bending puzzles. The portal gun itself was the first challenge, but soon special wall surfaces, liquids, and yes, the Companion Cube, joined it for even more fiendishly tricky moments. Portal also introduced the world to GLaDOS and the strangely catchy end credits song "Still Alive," thanks to which internet memes and cake will never be the same again.
Super Mario Galaxy | Nintendo EAD
You've gotta hand it to Nintendo: while the Xbox 360 and PS3 pushed more power and HD visuals, the grandaddy of video games walked a very different, but ultimately more successful path. The Wii came to dominate the seventh console generation in a way that no one could have predicted, but while the world was busy cooing over the motion controls of Wii Sports, Nintendo was cooking up what was to be one of the most brilliant 3D platformers of all time. Like Super Mario 64 before it, Super Mario Galaxy changed everything about the genre, literally turning things upside down to create brilliant gravity-based platforming puzzles atop small planetoids that just wouldn't have been possible in a traditional 3D setting. The creativity of Mario Galaxy's levels cannot be understated: this is a game that wasn't afraid to take chances on some wacky ideas (many of which only ever popped up once), by shifting perspectives, toying with physics, and throwing Mario in multiple power-up suits, honing them to near perfection. It also looked the business too, showing Wii critics that you don't need HD to create an amazing-looking game.
Assassin's Creed | Ubisoft
The original Assassin's Creed certainly wasn't without its issues, but it marked the start of a franchise that would become Ubisoft's jewel in the crown for years to come. Assassin's Creed's spectacular visual take on the Holy Land and its freeform parkour action were the immediate draws, but it was its unique take on historical events, shadowy Knights Templar narrative, and stealthy combat that kept players hooked. It was like nothing else you could play at the time, and it would go on to spawn several sequels, including the all-time classic Assassin's Creed II. That's not to mention how many of its stealth and parkour elements would influence not only third-person action games to come, but nearly all of Ubisoft's games that followed.
Uncharted | Naughty Dog
Like Assassin's Creed, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune had its fair share of problems, but when it came to Hollywood-esque action and spectacular visuals, few games could compete with Naughty Dog's adventure. Taking inspiration from the likes of classic adventure films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and classic adventure games like Tomb Raider, Uncharted introduced the world to the cocksure Nathan Drake and his quest to find a hidden relic on an uncharted tropical island. Slightly ropey shooting mechanics aside, Uncharted was an exciting game, filled with action-packed set pieces and an undeniable charm that came from the snappy dialogue and colourful collection of characters. Indeed, Uncharted was the first time the world got a glimpse of Naughty Dog's true storytelling powers (the studio having worked on platformers like Jak and Daxter and Crash Bandicoot in the past), with the studio going on to not only create some wonderful Uncharted sequels, but also the heartfelt and critically acclaimed The Last Of Us.
Rock Band | Harmonix
By 2007, the rhythm game genre was at the peak of its powers, with the original Guitar Hero and its spin-offs raking in some serious cash for Red Octane, and then later publisher Activision. But by the time Guitar Hero III was released in 2007, original developer Harmonix had moved on, creating its own take on the plastic-peripheral genre with Rock Band. Like Guitar Hero, Rock Band made use of a guitar controller with buttons that you hit in time with a corresponding note track on screen. But unlike Guitar Hero, Rock Band let you play not just the guitar and bass, but the drums and vocals too. With that, a phenomenon was born. Rock Band quickly became the go-to party game, with living rooms the world over rearranged to make space for drum controllers, mic stands, and plastic guitars. Rock Band spawned a number of sequels, and even later included the ability to play real instruments along with the game, but none ever managed to replicate the success of the original. Sadly, the guitar game has all but disappeared (Rocksmith not withstanding), but we'll always have the memories...and attics full of plastic crap.
The Witcher | CD Projekt Red
Consoles may have been grabbing much of the attention in 2007, but PC players were treated to a few classics of their own too. Based upon the book series of the same name by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski and developed by Polish developer CD Projekt Red, The Witcher was a groundbreaking RPG that moved the goalposts for just about everybody working in the genre. The Witcher was a truly grown up tale that took place in a fantastically gritty medieval world. Old notions of good and evil were thrown out for a more ambiguous (and arguably more realistic take) on classic fantasy storytelling, while mechanically the game strayed from the norm too, featuring a combat system that rewarded strategic attacks over mindless left-button clicking. The Witcher's darker tone has gone on to inspire numerous games since (not to mention spawn two sequels), taking the fantasy RPG from private pleasure straight through to mainstream acceptance.
"But can it run Crysis?" To anyone reading anything about PC hardware in 2007 (and even to this day!), these are the immortal words you'd see splattered across every forum post and every comment page. Crysis was a solid game, but it's influential not for its huge environments and compelling nanosuit powers, but for how it brought nearly every system that tried to run it on high setting to its knees. Sure, this was just as much due to some shaky code as it was due to game's spectacular CryEngine visuals, but if you wanted to be the guy with the best gaming rig around, it had to run Crysis better than anything else out there. For years the game was the go-to benchmark for system builders and enthusiasts, a distinction that the studio has carried on with sequels Crysis 2 and Crysis 3.
Team Fortress 2 | Valve
Starting life as mod for QuakeWorld back in 1999, the original Team Fortress pioneered team- and class-based online mayhem. Years later, the world finally got its hands on Team Fortress 2, now developed by Valve on its Source engine. The game was a dramatic overhaul, most notably in its smooth, Pixar-inspired visuals, that dropped any pretence of realism for a more distinctive cartoon-like feel. Underneath that visual overhaul, Team Fortress 2 stayed true to its roots, giving players access to classes like Medic, Soldier, and Demoman, and classic modes like capture the flag and attack/defend.
It was riotous fun, but what's most impressive about Team Fortress 2 is its longevity. The Team Fortress 2 of today is massively different to the Team Fortress 2 of old (just check out the console version if you don't believe me!), thanks to Valve consistently iterating on the game since its release. And yes, these days, Team Fortress 2 is a free-to-play game, something that would have been inconceivable back in 2007. Today, it stands as a stellar example of how to do free-to-play right.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare | Infinity Ward
Call of Duty was always big. But with the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007, the series went from big to household name almost overnight. This wasn't undeserved either: Modern Warfare was a hugely impressive and innovative game. After a string of yearly, derivative sequels, it's easy to forget just how groundbreaking this game was. With Modern Warfare, developer Infinity Ward moved the series away from the World War II setting, and into the modern day, creating one of the most explosive and action-packed shooter campaigns of all time. Sure, the Modern Warfare formula might be repeated ad nauseum these days, but the pace of the campaign, the Hollywood set pieces, and the excellent voice acting pushed the boundaries of interactive entertainment further than anyone thought possible at the time.
But the real meat of Modern Warfare was in its multiplayer. With a killer selection of maps, 18-player combat, kill streaks, perks, and a full RPG-like ranking and class system, Modern Warfare's mutiplayer changed the world of competitive shooters forever. And, thanks to some exclusive DLC dealings with Microsoft, Modern Warfare helped make the Xbox 360 the console of choice for multiplayer shooters and beyond. To say that Modern Warfare and its subsequent sequels have been a financial success for publisher Activison would be an understatement. The series has dominated the industry, bringing in over $10 billion in revenue since its launch in 2003, and ranking as one of the biggest selling games of all time.
Do you think 2007 was the best year for games? Did we miss any other outstanding games released that year? Sound off in the comments below! And don't forget to come back over the next few days for more Best Year in Gaming features.
Check out our previous Best Year in Gaming features below: