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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

2009 - Games In Review

2009 was pretty good year for games. Let's hit a few of the trends and games that made it so:

PlayStation 3 finally matures
Sony said around the time the beta for Home was announced that they were done focusing on hardware and wanted to focus on software. Home itself continues to be a mixed bag (and by mixed, I don't mean an even mix) - but Sony finally delivered the goods. A strong showing from both cross-platform and exclusives means that PS3 owners aren't missing out when it comes to the top games of the year, and some like Uncharted 2 provide a damn good reason for owning the console just on their own. Next year will continue to be interesting as Sony seems poised to roll out "premium" online services (though what that will actually mean to users is a bit of a mystery).

The decline of the Wii
If there was one word to categorize the Wii's library at the end of the year it would be: shovelware. Swamped with license titles that would make George Lucas blush, the main reason to own and use a Wii remains Nintendo's own offerings. Sadly, decent titles directed at mainstream/hardcore players regularly undersold on the platform, despite its massive audience.

This hasn't really stopped Nintendo from continuing to sell a bunch of the tiny white boxes, but as not only the price of 360 and PS3 consoles decline but also HDTV's, the future of the Wii's dominance is very much uncertain. Sorry, Nintendo, but the honeymoon is officially over.

The 360 ... stays the same
What's interests me the most about the 360 is how rugged the platform remains. No, I don't mean reliability, although 2009 may be the year that Microsoft finally put to rest quality issues which have plagued the box for years. I mean its ability to continue strong sells and a solid library despite such issues, losing the HD war, not really being able to successfully upgrade the offering, etc. Microsoft clearly made the right decision when they got out early and made strong connections.

Yet next year Microsoft will clearly not be comfortable with this stance. Natal, probably new hardware configurations, even more additions to Xbox Live - 2010 promises to be good to 360 users.

Originality Continues To Pay
EA began reaping the benefits of titles like Dead Space and indie hits continued to sell well on both the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live - with stars like Flower even making several Game Of The Year lists. It's going to get weird when "indie" becomes "mainstream", but thankfully we're not quite to that level of cognitive dissonance just yet.

Just how much are we pushing those graphics?
There's an interesting juxtaposition at place with the PS3 getting a larger share of cross-platform titles as well as more exclusive titles - you have exclusive developers claiming the PS3 has plenty of room to grow ... and several cross-platform titles where the PS3 has worse (though often only slightly) graphics and/or performance. Just how much prettier are games can get is in question ... though we do have a spiritual successor to Shadow of the Colossus arriving soon.

The DS gets real competition, and it rhymes with iPhone
I gotta say, I've nearly lost all interest in my old DS now that I carry my iPhone with me. Apple's popular smartphone has proven it has the hardware chops to play fully 3D games, comes with a variety of online options, and has the industry standard for an online app store. Nintendo probably isn't sweating the sales numbers - but for the first time it is playing some catch up in the handheld arena, and not to either Microsoft or Sony.

We get some goddamn good games
People, I haven't even bought Brutal Legend or Assassin's Creed 2 and everything indicates they are quite awesome. I haven't even cracked open Borderlands. Mostly to blame are the two major time suckers - Demon's Souls and Dragon Age: Origins ... which are both some of the finest RPG's ever made.

...and some major disappointments
The Fallout 3 DLC was the biggest downer for me this year. I was extremely excited to see that it was coming to the PS3 and that excitement was met with hands down the buggiest experience I've had on any console, ever. Crashes, slowdowns, and very uneven content in general - this was a rare instance where a good game was probably better left alone.

Oh, and the No Russian thing
Some readers have wondered why I've fixated quite so much on Infinity Ward's No Russian mission within Modern Warfare 2. The scene, which everyone knows by know, depicts a lengthy and brutal slaying of civilians in an airport. When the scene was first leaked there was some condemnation and Infinity Ward told everyone to wait until the scene could be viewed in context.

Let me specific - the scene disturbs me. But Infinity Ward's response is what we should really be worried about. It was essentially two pronged, one being a completely bullshit explanation of the scene's integral role in telling a story. Modern Warfare 2 had a story that could have been written by crack addicted chimpanzees. The scene is integral only because someone had a massive yearn to depict Russians invading Burger Town and this was the best they could muster to kick that off.

The other prong being potentially far worse: it's only a game. And sure, lots of gamers will take solace in this. It was by far the most oft heard defense. As if we've been beaten down by Jack Thompson's insanity for so long that we feel like we need to remind each other that this isn't really a murder simulator and we really actually know real people aren't dying.

The problem isn't the gamer, but the game. By having a high profile title like this do something so low, so horrific, and use "it's only a game" as an excuse gives carte blanc to every other developer to do the same. Put in what you want. Story schmory. It's only a game.

Roger Ebert just got that much closer to being right - games aren't art. Not when they treat themselves like that.

So Happy New Year, Nathan Drake
I think that's long enough for the first post of the year. My favorite for the whole year is by far Uncharted 2. Naughty Dog's title is, for me, the anti-Modern Warfare. Whereas Infinity Ward couldn't must two plot points that made any sense together, Uncharted 2 was at least as good as any big budget Hollywood fare - and often much better. Great graphics, great writing and great gameplay. That's what makes game art.


Winkyboy said...

You forgot to mention that Duke Nukem Forever finally did die...

... or did it?! LOL

Good, quick summary of the gaming landscape out there. I've got Borderlands on Steam but have barely even pulled it up. It's fun from what I've played, already.

Josh said...

Yeah - it's weird ... either it is dead and every knew it was going to happen and so it doesn't feel like new news ... someone will try to run with the franchise and which it's kinda like yesterday's news :)

I'm going to campaign to get some of my fellow PS3'ers to try Borderlands at around the same time, not sure how well that will go.