Saturday, June 27, 2009

FEATURE - Games of 2009 - Part III

And now, we move on to the best of the best. Games that have cruelly whipped and bludgeoned my imagination, games I have no choice but to submit to, for they are

MUST-PLAYS
We can't always agree on what's awesome, but for me these are The Games of 2009.

Thank goodness for the ability to rent, 'cause to purchase every game here would no doubt break the bank. You may disagree with some of the titles listed here, but if it's on this list, it is a game I will get my hands on. It has seduced me, and I would not break free of its spell. Well... I suppose there is one I won't be able to play:


The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf
Never

Action RPG. The only game that makes me wish I was a PC gamer.

Based on the popular (in Europe) novels of Andrzej Sapkowski, almost everything about The Witcher looks incredibly cool - from the gothic art style to the solid narrative to the genuinely ambiguous moral choices - and I will likely never get to play it. It was slated to come out this year on the PS3 and 360, but the developers (Widescreen Games) stopped working on it because CD Projekt stopped paying them because Widescreen wasn't living up to the technical standards CD Projekt had projekted for the title.

Long story short? We're not getting The Witcher on consoles, and that sucks balls. I list it here because, in my heart, it's still coming out, and I'm very much looking forward to it.


Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition
Fall

Post-apocalyptic FPS RPG. Not Borderlands, though - this is the important one.

I admit it - as with GTA IV, I am jealous of the downloadable content that appears on the 360 and not the PS3. Fallout 3 was one of 2008's most successful, critically acclaimed titles for a reason: because despite Bethesda's usual plethora of sharp edges and annoying bugs, it's incredible. When the first two bits of Fallout 3 DLC appeared on the 360, I didn't mind much. But with the advent of Broken Steel and Point Lookout, the loss grew much harder to bear. Thank goodness they're porting all five DLC packs over to the PS3, with an Oblivion-style Game of the Year Edition coming this fall.

Yes, Fallout 3, I will buy you twice.


Demon's Souls
Fall

Roguelike action RPG. Oh yes, there will be blood.

You are the king of localizations, and for that I love you, Atlus. I was this close to importing the English-friendly version of Demon's Souls from Hong Kong when news dropped that you would be sending copies within more convenient reach. Why is Demon's Souls important? Well, for one it's a Japanese RPG, which the PS3 doesn't see enough of. It's a good JRPG, which neither the 360 nor PS3 see enough of. And it's a brutally difficult roguelike, which console gaming doesn't see enough of.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that it's also gorgeous, has huge bosses and seems to have some really visceral combat. Demon's Souls isn't just a must-play, it's a must-buy.


WET
Fall

Cinematic action. You're surprised to see it in this section, aren't you?

No, it's not a sexual pun. It's 'wet' as in wetwork. The title is a reference to military slang for particularly violent covert ops, which leave your hands "wet with blood". Get it? Good, moving on...

Developer Artificial Mind and Movement haven't been responsible for many exceptional games in their history - their credits read like a laundry list of licensed crap, churning out titles for everything from High School Musical to Smurfs. So why do I consider Wet a must-play? Well, first of all, consider EA Redwood Shores. Their credit list was the exact same thing - licensed crap - until they were given the freedom to make the game they wanted to make, and blew our collective minds.

Well, that's what Artificial Mind and Movement is trying to do. They're trying to make a title that interests them, and if that's not enough to win you over, watch some videos of protagonist Rubi Malone doing some crazy acrobatics while dual-wielding pistols in slow motion. My inner child peed himself when he saw that. It won't win any Game of the Year awards, but it looks like it could be the B-quality fun-as-hell cult classic of 2009.


Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time
Fall/Winter

Adventure platformer. Stunderwear: huge seller on Umbris.

Since 2002, Insomniac Games have been pumping out Ratchet & Clank titles every few years - and I just keep on buying them, clutching them to my chest like a preteen who's gotten their mitts on the 8th Harry Potter novel. Over the years, very little aside from the technology has changed. At its heart, R&C is a kid-friendly, cartoony platformer with ridiculous weapons, zany alien worlds, snappy dialogue and a wonderful space-bop soundtrack - and every game is essentially the same. Start out with a single weapon, build your armory and explore strange new worlds. The formula works, the games are a blast, and with Crack in Time - the fifth entry in the core series - I hope they don't change a thing.


Bayonetta
September

Action. That makes all other action look idle.


Ready for some name-dropping? Good. Shinji Mikami was the director for legendary games like Resident Evil and Resident Evil 4 before he moved on to Clover Studio and made God Hand, one of the best brawlers ever. Hideki Kamiya directed Resident Evil 2, the original Devil May Cry and Viewtiful Joe before he moved on to Clover and made Ōkami. I hope you see the running theme here - these guys make classic games. Incredible games. And when they started up their own independent studio (Platinum Games), they continued making stuff no one else would attempt - like the ultraviolent Mad World on the family-friendly Wii.

This fall they bring their gonzo brilliance to the high-def consoles with Bayonetta. That's it - that's my whole schpiel. They only make incredible stuff - they're like the Team ICO of action games.


Muramasa: The Demon Blade
September 8th

2D action RPG. Beauty isn't all that matters - but it sure helps.

If you have a Playstation 2, you really should find yourself a copy of Vanillaware's Odin Sphere. It's certainly not for everyone, but it is a forty-hour, uniquely beautiful two-dimensional side-scrolling action-RPG with lovingly detailed animation, a deceptively deep alchemy system, Atlus's pitch-perfect localization, a gorgeous soundtrack and a moving story. Again, it's not for everyone (the gameplay is repetitive), but it's definitely for me - and so I cannot help but get goose bumps when I see screenshots of Muramasa.

Admittedly, there is a flaw in my plan - I don't own Nintendo's Wii. But come September 8th, I can promise you I will own a copy of Muramasa, regardless of my console collection.


Brütal Legend
October 13th

Action adventure. Tim Schafer? Tim Schafer.

Don't worry if the name is unknown to you - it's entirely possible you've fallen in love with a Tim Schafer game and never known it. Schafer had a hand in Lucasart's classic adventure titles like The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Full Throttle before he started up Double Fine and put out the critically acclaimed commercial flop Psychonauts. Well, he hasn't given up. He's back, and he's got a lot going for his new game. But even if you ignore a star-studded cast of heavy metal legends, the unique energy of Jack Black, striking art direction and original concept, it's still a Tim Schafer game - which means it will have more life, more creativity, and more laughs than 99% of the titles out there.


Uncharted 2
November

Action adventure, third-person shooter. Basically, think of it as Indiana Jones 5.

Uncharted was a bit like God of War for me - it took me a long, long time to appreciate how special the game was. Over time, I was able to see that technical wizardry, rock-solid gameplay, the gold standard of voice work and truly endearing characters made the original Uncharted one of the best games of this generation - and based on the trailers shown thus far and the multiplayer beta, Uncharted 2 will be better. Day one purchase.


BioShock 2
November 3rd

First-person shooter. But that's not all.

There's not really much one can say about BioShock. If you are a gamer, it is required reading - so critically acclaimed, so artistically successful, that it begs the question: is a sequel required? As much as my intellectual side insists that we need no sequel, my imagination longs to explore the city of Rapture for the first time again. See unseen sights, hear unheard tales of ideals gone horribly wrong...

It may not be as good as the original - that was lightning in a bottle - but with Jordan Thomas at the helm (the fellow behind the legendary Fort Frolic level and Thief 3's Shalebridge Cradle), and most of the original team still on board, I can't wait to see where BioShock 2 will take us.


Assassin's Creed II
November 17th

Stealth action open-world. Less hype, more hope.

Assassin's Creed got a reasonably tepid response from critics after its mind-numbing crescendo of hype, but tedious, unskippable cutscenes and lack of mission variety aside, it is still exceptional in a number of ways. The fortunate thing about video games is that, unlike films, things tend to improve and refine as sequels appear. With all the complaints made against Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft Montreal certainly has plenty to refine - but even if the sequel is merely as good as the original, it will still be an umissable experience.



IN CLOSING
Because all exhaustively long lists must come to an end.

So there you have it. The remaining potent notables of gaming for 2009. In an unusual showing, this year's first six months have already been pretty darn good - but that's nothing when compared to the quantity of quality that will appear in the build-up to Christmas. Perhaps I misjudged my position when I said I am only passably blessed - at the very least, it is a wonderful time to be a gamer.




PART I : awesome games I don't give a crap about

PART II : radar hotspots

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