The following is a column that I wrote for the roundtable, reviewing games for Holiday 2009. This was a particularly fun article to write, and I thought it would be important to share it here on My Back Pages: Question the Answers.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is by far the most popular game at Stuart Hall. Noting this, Stuart Hall’s taste is regulated mostly to mainstream super-hits. For this set of reviews, I have focused on true classics in desperate need of greater attention. Enjoy.
Half-Life 2 is easily the greatest first-person action game ever made and one of the most atmospheric. Its dystopian near-future world is frighteningly believable and imaginative, contributing to an original and gripping story. Excellent voice-acting and facial animation are to this day unsurpassed.* The frantic combat might come as a bit of a culture-shock to those raised on Halo and Call of Duty, but brutal AI makes encounters entertaining. Nonscripted enemies will pathfind, suppress, flank and take cover, using a small variety of unique guns as well as use physics objects as weapons. The gameplay variety within Half-Life 2 is huge, each chapter capitalizes upon a different gameplay mechanic. Puzzle, squad-based, vehicular travel, turret-defense, stealth and horror elements are found throughout the game, preventing it from ever becoming repetitive. Half-Life 2's eighteen-hour campaign is one of the best ever found in a shooter, and is one that fans of the genre must experience. The game costs $20 on STEAM. It is also available for mainstream consoles as part of The Orange Box for the same price.
PS3. Uncharted 2 – Naughty Dog
Uncharted 2 was released to a metascore of 98 and was hailed to be the best game on the Playstation 3. The absolutely gorgeous game plays like a hybrid of Gears of War, Zelda and Tomb Raider, with the gunplay, puzzle and platforming elements from each respectively. The graphics are among the best seen on a console, its varied, colorful and photorealistic locales make for impressive set-piece sequences. Decals and textures are matched only by Crysis. Its gripping story is enhanced by fantastic voice acting and facial animation, which were the only to surpass Half-Life 2 in quality. Uncharted 2 is highly cinematic in nature, its action sequences are intense and involving, making the game fun to watch as well as play. Strong stealth, puzzle and precise platforming elements prevent the game from becoming repetitive and add variety to the lengthy campaign. Robust multiplayer rounds off the $60 package, with variants on deathmatch, team deathmatch, domination and capture-the-flag. Difficult and satisfying co-op missions make the game incredible. Uncharted 2 is this year’s most likely contender for Game of the Year and a game that shouldn’t be missed by any action enthusiast.
Wii. Okami – Clover Studio (Ported by Ready at Dawn Studios)
Okami is the freshest and most original action-adventure game in recent years. Intense attention was given to the games graphics, and it shows. Okami is a magnificent-looking game, using cel-shading robustly to create a watercolor/woodcut art-style, making the massive world a joy to explore. Fantastic music, gameplay and thematic content make it a particularly refreshing experience. The 30-hour story casts you as an incarnation of Amaterasu, a Shinto kami. Combat and exploration is influenced by the Zelda series, melee combat in the enormous world is done by rhythmic swings of the Wiimote, far more interesting is the Celestial Brush mechanic, allowing you to interact with the environment in any number of ways, including solving puzzles and dismembering foes. Drawing bombs, suns, moons, lightning bolts and flames and turning those into objects make for radically different gameplay. However, by far the most invigorating aspect of Okami is its story, which definitely has a Luddite edge to it. Plants and flowers flow in your wake as the player moves throughout the world and antagonists are based on some aspect of civilization, like illness or environmental destruction. Having the player restore a dead, rotting countryside makes for one of the most memorable moments in recent gaming. Okami is simply amazing and a game that anyone must experience.
Xbox 360: Shadow Complex – Chair Entertainment
Shadow Complex is a 3D side-scrolling action-adventure game, a nostalgic tribute to Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It is also the most inexpensive game on this list, retailing for 15 dollars on XBLA. Fantastic writing by Orson Scott Card of Ender’s Game fame powers forth this fantastic action game. Its gameplay, right down to the shooting, exploration, character development and minimap, is highly reminiscent of Super Metroid. Upgrades to the player character are numerous and hidden all over the large world. Basic rifles give way to fantastic foam guns, double-jumps, wall climbs and missiles give the player plenty reason to explore the 2D world. Shadow Complex runs on the Unreal Engine 3 and is easily the prettiest downloadable game around. This game, like Super Metroid, is short, clocking at nearly six hours. But given the low price, as well as quality and replayibility, this is easily a must-play for Xbox 360 owners looking for both retro appeal and modern advancements in 2D gaming.
MOBILE. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars ~ Rockstar
When Chinatown Wars was unveiled, it drew a great deal of disappointment. Screenshots made it look like a throwback to the days of the top-down perspective of the original GTA games. When it was released, all fears were proved wrong. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars despite its visual similarity to the games of old, had much in common to the recent Grand Theft Auto IV. Liberty City was still gigantic despite the 4 GB limit, with a multitude of things to see and do, driving remained fun with realistic physics and a huge variety of vehicles, changed however is the gunplay and travel, which have evolved due to the top-down perspective. Despite the glowing critical reception, Chinatown Wars flopped when it was released, selling only 90,000 units in its first few weeks. A price cut was announced and it was ported to all three portable platforms. Chinatown Wars is the closest thing that portable gaming might ever get to console-like complexity. Given its wide availability, there is little excuse not to own it.