I was home sick from work yesterday, and when I finally felt good enough to make it to the living room, I needed something to do. And so I'm now 6 or 7 hours into my 2nd playthrough of Mass Effect, using my character's stats from the first game (so I'm now at level 51 or 52) and going Renegade instead of Paragon.
It's maybe not the best game for immediate replay purposes, if only because most of the conversations are still very fresh in my mind and I keep fast forwarding. That said, I am consciously going for Renegade points this time around, so it's forcing me to pay attention - there's already been a few times where I accidentally skipped over a dialogue response.
What's funny, though, is that while I'm fast fowarding through conversations, I'm actually being even more thorough about planetary exploration than I was the first time around. Before I even start the 3 main planet missions, I'm going through every other cluster/system/planet, and I've already encountered a number of missions that I completely missed the first time around. (Actually, I'm also doing a previously unseen mission that I picked up on the Citadel, too.) The game's story hasn't changed dramatically just yet - I expect that to happen once I've done the 3 main planets - but it is kinda nice to be able to play the Renegade side of things. It's actually kinda tricky - you can't always be a jerk, or else missions close up before you have a chance to really put the hurt on.
I've not yet determined whether I'll play it a 3rd time - if I do, it'll be on a different difficulty level, and with a completely different starting character, and I'll make more of an effort to use the Force - er, Biotic powers. Right now I'm completely decked out with ridiculously powerful weaponry and I'm laying waste to everything I see, and there's almost no need to use any of those powers.
I feel a little wierd doling out GOTY awards, when I'm only rockin' a 360 and a DS, and I didn't shell out $170 on Rock Band because that's what my actual life is supposed to be like. Wiis are still impossible to find, and - as before - I am getting used to the idea of not having one, so my hunger for Super Mario Galaxy becomes less and less fierce with every passing day. And while I confess to being intrigued by the PS3's Drake: Unchated Fortune, I'm not THAT intrigued, and I've already committed to HD-DVD for the time being. And these days my PC is being used for music, instead of gaming, so there's pretty much no chance I'll see Crysis unless it gets a 360 port. That said, I'm gonna make a GOTY list anyway. It's my blog.
DS-wise, there wasn't a lot that got me terribly excited. I was tremendously underwhelmed by Zelda - I got frustrated during my 2nd or 3rd trip through that stupid dungeon and put it down and haven't ever picked it back up. Most of my DS time this year was spent with Puzzle Quest, New York Times Crosswords and Brain Age 2. (I must admit I've not yet played Picross, WordJong or FFXII, though.) And if I had to rank my DS GOTY, I'd probably put them in that order.
On the flip side, the vast majority of my 360 playtime was spent with potential GOTY candidates - which is why I haven't really needed a Wii or a PS3, or bothered to jack up my PC. The 360 had an outstanding year - I'm actually a little worried that 2008 will pale in comparison, because just between Bioshock, Mass Effect and Portal (Orange Box), you have 3 of the best games ever made, not to mention Halo 3 and COD4, and forgotten gems like Crackdown and The Darkness. I also played the hell out of Blue Dragon and I still need to get back into Eternal Sonata, which I was really enjoying before the onslaught of AAA titles hit - and as long as we're talking about RPGs, the Oblivion: Shivering Isles expansion set me back another 25 hours or so. I was a little disappointed in Forza 2 and PGR4, but I was completely blown away by DiRT.
Still, though, those big 3 - Bioshock, Mass Effect and Portal - very tough to choose between them. All three of them featured a fantastic visual design (and while Portal may not have had all the bells and whistles that the other 2 have, it's really the only way that game could look, and I think it does a remarkable job at that), a great story featuring some of the best dialogue and voice acting of all time, an exquisitely refined approach to gameplay (as different as they could be), and - most significantly - they all featured some of the most talked-about moments in all of gaming history. The meeting in Andrew Ryan's office features a pretty amazing twist that makes you rethink the previous 10 hours of gameplay; the last 3 hours of Mass Effect are as epic and exciting as any space opera can get; and Portal, well... I'm not sure any game has ever been quoted as much as Portal has, and I'm sure that "The cake is a lie" is one of the greatest yearbook quotes of all time.
If I had to choose - and, well, I guess I do - I have to pick Portal. It may have only been 3 hours long, but those 3 hours were among the most fun I've ever had playing videogames, and any time a 3-hour gaming experience can upstage HL2:Ep2 and TF2, in the same package no less, that goes a long way.