Best and worst from the first half of the year

Article

posted 8/22/2006 by The GN Staff
other articles by The GN Staff
With the year a little more half over (or with half the year remaining if you are the optimistic type) we decided to talk to the staff to see what three games they really liked and what three game they thought they could have been better off without as well as what new industry trend they saw and liked. There was some consensus among the group (GRAW was a big winner and X-Men: The Official game a big stinker) and some disagreement (Sean and Charles both liked New Super Mario Brother while Matt thought it was a bad trip down nostalgia lane) but the curious thing was that there were a few people who had trouble coming up with three bad games. This either means that there haven’t been a lot of really bad games out this year or that our bad game detection system has stopped a lot of poor purchases. Either way here’s our list of what we have and have not enjoyed so far this year.
 
Randy Kalista – Staff Writer
 
Top three from the first half of 2006
 
Let’s skip the no-brainers (Oblivion, Half-Life 2: Episode One, and Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords. There, happy?) Now, here are my next to theTop Three games of 2006:
 
1.      Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (PC) The game draws uncanny parallels to contemporary social tribulations. With the most memorable cast I’ve encountered all year, this action adventure unapologetically battles the evils of colonialism, military occupation, religious oppression, and racial profiling. Complain about the clunky combat controls if you want, but this is the finest interactive storytelling I’ve witnessed since Indigo Prophecy.
2.      Dungeons & Dragons Online: Stormreach (PC) – This choice will undoubtedly elicit some boos from the crowd: But I stand firm. The character system places unspeakable significance upon the unique abilities of each individual class; the art style boldly pushes the steam punk and high fantasy envelopes; and the adventures have some of the most preeminent writers on the planet cooking up tasty, full course meals. And it has one of the most mature populations you’ll find in online gaming -- a factor that cannot be ignored in MMOs.
3.      Hitman: Blood Money (Xbox). The bald man is so back with six million ways to make other people die. The settings are richly planned from every angle; the scenarios are intensely gratifying to complete, although -- and this is my only nitpick -- the gameplay feels a little too familiar for returning fans. Not that these chapters are any easier to complete the first time around; it’s just a little less heart-pounding if you already know the deal.
 
Worst three from the first half of 2006
 
I’ve been lucky. I haven’t subjected myself to the buckets of drek that splashed store shelves this year (True Crime: New York City made it to the PC? And I couldn’t even stand the demo of Rise & Fall: Civilizations at War). This particular crop just didn’t reap in all the 4-star reviews they could have.
 
1.      Auto Assaualt (PC)- Despite its refreshing breath of post-apocalyptic air, Auto Assault is scratching a rather specific itch. Click-and-wait combat is contested, but long fantasy jogs have merely turned into longer sci-fi commutes. And while MMO fans clamor for mounts, they apparently don’t want to be encased in a steel-clad Honda Passport for 98% of their $14.99 a month. Where did all the momentum from those “Most Anticipated of E3” awards go?
2.      The Godfather (Xbox)- So The Godfather game didn’t capture the legendary splendor of the films. But as a standalone, it shells out Tommy gun barrels full of addicting Grand Theft Mafioso play. I grew neurotic about taking over businesses. I lost sleep accumulating lucrative rackets. I perfected my fat-cat sneer with each and every rival storefront torched. And I did it all with the pin-striped panache that a San Andreas gangsta-gangsta couldn’t touch.
3.      Desperados 2: Cooper’s Revenge (Xbox). With this one, I want to take back my disclaimer about this list not getting splashed with a bucket of drek, because Desperados 2 is bucket-o-drek bad. Beyond its pulpy Wild West veneer (which is always good) the exasperating controls frustrate the gameplay all the way to high noon. Forget Desperados and the horses they rode in on.
 
Industry Trend(s)
 
Long live the franchise. In the first half of 2006, unless your original IP was named Prey or Rockstar presents Table Tennis,then your Metascore didn’t break the 80% waterline. In those cases, Table Tennis isn’t going to set off a rash of copycats. But Prey is likely to usher in a new sci-fi staple with its topsy-turvy tactics and its non-sequitur portal play. Half-Life 2: Episode Two ships later this year with a puzzle-shooter (all you get is a portal-opening gun) in the tell-all title, Portal. This soon-to-be-trend is doomed to be copied to greater and lesser effect in coming years. Most shooters (with the exception of the throwback mechanics found in games like Painkiller) have gradually layered complexities in the holy name of innovation. But Prey’s incongruent path movements add greater dimension without leaving players shooting off rounds of question marks.
 
For the rest of 2006, expect franchises to keep pushing their proven winners. Splinter Cell Double AgentBattlefield 2142. Even Guitar Hero II. Not to mention the annual sports titles like Madden NFL. Best of luck to original works like Dead Rising or Ninety-Nine Nights. Maybe they’ll turn into the comeback kings of 2007: Dead Still Rising, or perhaps even a prequel called Eighty-Eight Days.


Sean Colleli – Staff Writer
 
Top three from the first half of 2006
 
1.      Metroid Prime: Hunters (DS) - If you’ve read my review, you probably know that I was almost euphoric over Metroid Prime: Hunters. And while I might have praised the game a little excessively, it was still a Metroid fan’s dream come true and an impressive accomplishment for Nintendo’s new development house, NST. The fact that such an involved solo adventure and a groundbreaking multiplayer were packed into that little cartridge really amazed me, control issues aside.
2.      New! Super Mario Bros (DS)- . was a bit of a let down for me at first. I was expecting a Mario platformer that would change the industry, and what I got was simply not that. It took me a little while to realize that the point of New Mario Bros. was nostalgia—we hadn’t had a 2D Mario in 14 years, and fans wanted something familiar and comforting. Once that clicked, I loved the game, and was content to wait for my Mario revolution in the form of Galaxy on the Wii. New Super Mario Bros. is everything an old school Nintendo fan could ask for, although the Tanooki suit is absent. 
3.      Feel the Magic: XX/XY (DS)-   When I first bought my DS, several smaller titles evaded my attention, one of them being Feel the Magic: XX/XY. Once I picked it up I was quickly endeared by Sega’s bizarre, charming little minigame collection, and thus I approached the sequel, The Rub Rabbits, with higher expectations. Rub Rabbits didn’t offer a whole lot of new content, but at least it was deeper, richer, and overall longer. The multiplayer was a nice passing distraction and the minigames had more substance, with only mild repetition. My only qualm was that many of the ideas felt half finished and underused.
4.      Super Princess Peach (DS)- Say what you will about my masculinity, but I thoroughly enjoyed Super Princess Peach. It kept me occupied during the months-long wait for New Mario Bros, and even if it was ridiculously easy, it was still classic Nintendo platforming. The sizeable stock of extras, minigames and unlockables were a nice inclusion, and the ability to play as Peach and save Mario for once was a novel concept. It was a feel good game. So shoot me. 
 
Worst two from the first half of 2006
 
X-Men: The Official Game (GameCube)-  I really liked X-Men: The Last Stand, which made my disappointment with the tie-in game even bigger. X-Men: The Official Game had several good intentions (at least on the consoles) but it was too rushed to let any of them develop. Wolverine’s levels, which I hoped would be interesting this time, were reduced to a flat sequence of beat-em-ups. Iceman was cool to look at but ultimately disused and frustrating. Nightcrawler was the best part of the game, but his levels were too short and few, and even they got tedious at times. The final insult was low-tech cutscenes that robbed the A-list acting cast of their fire; Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman were reduced to talking cardboard cutouts. The whole package was a case of grossly unfulfilled potential.
 
X-Men: The Official Game (DS) -   If the console version of X-Men was disappointing, then the DS port was painful. So many feasible concepts were sloppily implemented, when they could have worked with proper polish. Ugly graphics, broken gameplay, cramp-inducing controls, mediocre music…the DS version of X-Men was a textbook example of movie-licensed shovel ware.       


Matt Mirkovich – Staff Writer

Top three from the first half of 2006

It’s been a pretty dry year so far for me. I didn’t immediately hop on the next-gen bandwagon, and I’m just now getting a PSP in late July. But that’s not to say I haven’t had my share of great games to play this year. Here are a couple of games you absolutely must have in your library, along with a few you should avoid...
 
1.      Kingdom Hearts 2 (PS2)– I think this is without question, one of the best games released for the PS2 this year. While a little too easy for me, the great story and engrossing game play managed to get me to play through this game and complete that entire damned journal that Jiminy keeps. If you haven’t played this one yet, do yourself a favor and simply play it on Proud mode.
2.      Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth (PSP)– Can I count this? This is a re-issue of a PS1 RPG released in the shadow of the PS2 back in 2000. It’s an amazing game with a fun battle system, and some new CG sequences to prep for the upcoming sequel, Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria. If you’ve got a PSP make sure you grab this before it becomes a rare find like the 73,000 copies of the PS1 version.
3.      Tomb Raider Legend (PS2)– Here’s a game that totally caught me by surprise. After the atrocious Angel of Darkness I gave up on Lara completely. It wasn’t until I had a friend at Eidos in the QA department knock some sense in to me about how good this game was that I gave it a chance. Imagine my surprise to find how responsive Lara was to my commands, and the back story that she has been given only makes me more interested in a sequel.
 
Worst three from the first half of 2006
 
For every diamond, there’s hundreds of cubic zirconium, the game industry is no different. Here are a few games that I just didn’t think were worth my money so far this year. This isn’t to say that they are bad games, but perhaps are the most disappointing to me.
 
1.      Shadow Hearts: From the New World  (PS2)– This is especially painful considering how much of a verbal fellation I’ve given Shadow Hearts 1 & 2. From the New World for some reason failed to grab me, and didn’t feel nearly as epic as the previous entry in the series. The characters were interesting, but they didn’t seem to have the hook that Yuri alone had in the first two games. I still enjoy the game and I think it’s good, but I’m just sour after the first two adventures.
2.      Tourist Trophy (PS2)– Polyphony Digital makes some beautiful games, it’s a shame that this one is all looks and no substance. If you’re an absolute gear-head when it comes to bikes then I still recommend this title. But if you’ve never tried anything like this before you might be in over your head. Couple this with the short length and the steep learning curve and you’ve got a definite try before you buy scenario.
3.      The New Super Mario Bros (DS). – Wow, color me peeved with this one. It’s like they sucked all the fun out of the previous Mario games, and mashed them all together. They could have out and out lied and just repackaged Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3 and I would have felt less ripped off. The new forms of Mario are a fun novelty at first, but quickly go tiresome. I’m trading my copy in and putting a reserve down for Super Mario Galaxy, at least there is some originality there.
 
Industry Trend(s)
 
What would the games of this year be without some banter about the companies that produce them? Not a terribly interesting one if you ask me. Here are just a few things about the industry that really grind my gears.
 
First off we’ve got this utter arrogance of Sony, attempting to force a computer system into the homes of the gaming populace thinking it’ll be the ultimate gaming machine, I don’t want to invest my money in potential, I want to spend my money on what is definitely going to happen, not could happen. The 360 has shown that it’s got the horsepower to keep up with the PS3, and it’ll be interesting to see whether or not Sony falters in this console generation. And while we’re at it Sony, allow Suikoden 1 & 2 to come out for the PSP over here. I think it’s ridiculous that you’ve got a suit up there who can determine whether or not something is “Too Japanese” for me. Count your blessings that you even have 3rd party support for the damn system. I swear if you guys screw up the PS1 releases later this year, count me out on any more purchases for your hardware.
 
Now I’m not all negative on this industry, no I have a few nice things to say. A lot of companies have hopped on the anthology or collection boat as of late and it’s nice to see a lot of titles get another lease on life. It also gives me a chance to show the youngin’s that we didn’t always have awesome things like Guitar Hero to play. That’s another great thing about our industry and culture, music games are really starting to move out of their niche. With Konami’s release of Beatmania and an attempt to cash in with a release of Guitar Freaks (Looks like it’s going to be called Guitar Revolution in the US) and a new yearly iteration of DDR on three different consoles, people will have a lot of stuff to get down with later this year. I’m just waiting for EA to jump in on this gravy train, you’d think with EA Trax they’d be able to get something together… but what do I know?


Tyler Sager – Senior Staff Writer
 
Top three from the first half of 2006
 
Galactic Civilizations 2: Dread Lords (PC) - I keep finding myself heaping praises on this wonderful 4x space strategy from Stardock. This lovingly-crafted time eater just keeps getting better with each upgrade, and my free hours keep evaporating…
 
Kingdom Hearts 2 (PS2) - The Disney-and-Square combination once again won me over. 
 
Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (PC)- I’m just getting my feet wet with this one, but so far this is one of the most absorbing RPGs I’ve played in years. 
 
Worst three from the first half of 2006
 
Worst of 2006: Believe it or not, I haven’t had any real stinkers come across my desk so far this year. Some titles have been better than others, but there’re really no titles that are bad enough for me to lump into this category. 
 
 
Industry Trend(s)
I’m really liking the continuing move toward completely downloadable games, with companies like Stardock and Steam leading the charge. Sure, sometimes I miss being buried underneath stacks and stacks of old game boxes, but that nostalgia wanes every time I have to pack up and move this massive collection of jewel-cases and cardboard.


Cyril Lachel – Senior Staff Writer
 
Top three from the first half of 2006
 
1. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (Xbox 360) - Choosing a list of top games isn't an easy task; there have been a lot of great games that will surely go missing from this small list. Thankfully choosing the best of the best was a little easier, without a doubt the best game I have played so far this year is The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion for the Xbox 360. It wasn't the first game that made me love Microsoft's next generation console, but it is the one game that I will probably still be playing well into 2007 (and beyond). The game is simply massive, full of nooks and crannies I can't even imagine yet. I have put hundreds of hours into the game and feel like I've barely scratched the surface.
 
The game combines a lot of things I like to do. I love role-playing games and fighting strange beasts, but I also love exploration and finding new areas I've never seen. Oblivion managed to mix both of those elements into one amazing package, a game that I would recommend to almost every gamer (even those who normally wouldn't be into role-playing games). I could go on for hours about how much I love Oblivion, but I won't. Instead I'll just say that if you've played Oblivion you know why it's on the top of my list and if you haven't, well, what the heck are you waiting for?? Get out there and see why this is the best game of the year. NOW! (Yes, that's an order.)
 
2. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360) - I'll confess, I was never a big fan of the Ghost Recon games before Advanced Warfighters. But now that I've experienced Ubi's best Xbox 360 title I have to say that I'm a fan, a convert if you will. It's not just the amazing graphics and gripping single-player story (though, those certainly help), it's the way the game is put together and all of the new aspects to the game I had never seen before. I could probably write a thousand words about how much I love the picture-in-picture display that shows what your teammates are looking at (or an overhead view from your trusty little drone).
 
But as cool as the single-player campaign is, it's the online game that keeps me coming back for more. While it's fun to play against other real players, my true addiction came when I discovered the online campaign. Getting your buddies together online to play through missions online is everything I was hoping for and more, there are plenty of levels and all kinds of objectives to complete. Add in the Chapter 2 expansion pack and you have enough online options to keep you entertained all year. This is one of the first next generation games that I sat up and noticed. After playing Ghost Recon I can't wait to see what Ubi comes out with next.
 
3. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror (PSP) - The PSP version of Syphon Filter is one of the most unappreciated games of 2006. When I previewed the game I wasn't sure what to make of it, it seemed like a good time but I was skeptical. The past few Syphon Filter games ranged from just okay to absolutely terrible, the series just isn't that hot anymore. But something happened on the way to the PSP, it's almost as if somebody remembered how good this series could be and decided to make one of the best portable games ever. What we ended up getting is not just a great action game for a portable game system; it's one of the best games Sony has ever made.
 
Syphon Filter is so many things. It features an amazing story with all kinds of twists and turns. It's a fantastic online game where you can play cooperatively with your friends (or strangers). And best of all, the game just feels right (assuming you've tweaked the controls around a little bit). There are so many memorable moments in Dark Mirror that I wish I had more space, but this is one portable game that sucks you in right from the beginning. This is one of those games that's incredibly hard to put down. True story, the day I got the game I ended up not putting it down until I beat it. The game is that good. If you're into spies and great online games then you owe it to yourself to pick up Dark Mirror, it's easily one of the best games I have played this year.
 
 
Worst three from the first half of 2006
 
1. IHRA Drag Racing: Sportsman Edition (PSP) - As I look back over the last seven months or so I realize that I haven't played that many truly terrible games. While some of the games I have reviewed this year (From Russia With Love, Neopets Petpet Adventure, etc.) have left me cold, none of them were so bad that I stopped wanting to write about games. So in order for me to complete this list I was forced to think about the games I accidentally played at other people's homes. IHRA Drag Racing: Sportsman Edition is one such game.
 
I 'm sure that the fans of Drag Racing are going to find something to love, all I know is that I couldn't find anything redeeming about this clunker of a game. The game barely even seems like it's about racing since you spend most of your time setting up the race rather than actually playing it. On top of that the graphics are terrible. The PlayStation 2 may be on its way out but it's still able to pump out good looking games. Yet IHRA Drag Racing looks dated and has terrible frame rate issues. But the biggest sin is that this is a video game based on the sport of drag racing. If you can't figure out why that is no fun at all then perhaps I'm not the staff writer to listen to.
 
2. Top Spin 2 (DS) - How do you mess up a tennis game? That's a valid question; it seems like such an easy genre to get right … no matter what console you're making it for. Ever since the days of 8-Bit first and third parties have managed to make good tennis games, but Top Spin 2 for the DS may just be the worst the sport has ever played. I had high hopes for the DS version of Top Spin 2, the console versions of the game were fantastic and I'm generally a big fan of tennis games, but this game is so bad it made me feel bad for even buying a Nintendo DS.
 
It's not that the game doesn't feel right or looks bad; it's that the game is completely unplayable. The characters don't move smoothly and when you return the ball it seems to disappear from one side of the net and then reappear on the other. The game makes it nearly impossible to know where you're supposed to run, and even when you do run you look bad doing it. Had the game had a better frame rate this would have stayed off of this list, but I cannot ignore something so flawed that it makes the game unplayable. Top Spin 2 is a perfect example of how a fatal flaw can ruin your whole experience. Top Spin 2 is worth playing (though, not buying) just to witness how bad the sport of tennis is represented. This is by far the worst sports game I have ever played (and I'm not just talking about tennis).
 
3. Ape Escape Academy (PSP) - I've played a lot of great PSP games this year (Daxter, Syphon Filter, Pursuit Force, Exit, etc.) so when I run into a bad one I'm usually pretty disappointed. I'm not looking for perfection in my portable video games, but if you're going to go as far as to make a video game you might as well attempt to make it fun. Sadly Sony didn't have a lot of luck putting the fun in Ape Escape Academy, one of my least favorite games on Sony's PlayStation Portable.
 
This game is simply awful, it takes everything that was fun about the Ape Escape series and turns it into something so painful that you'll wonder why you're even playing it. This could have been a great game full of mini-games. But no, Sony decided to make all of the games either really vague, really boring, or really vague AND boring! And that's not the worst of it, in order to progress you have to play these games over and over. Couple that with the terrible music, terrible localized writing and relatively small amount of mini-games and you have a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately this game is more like the sadness everybody feels after the disaster.



John Yan – Hardware Editor
 
Top three from the first half of 2006
 
Guitar Hero (PS2)- Who woulda thought that such a simple game can be made so fun with the right peripheral? From the cool tracks to the great guitar, Guitar Hero is one of my favorite games this year

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360)- It's not the single player that had me throwing this in the top three but the multiplayer aspect that really drew me into this game. Playing with three friends, co-op play was a blast and when working well as a team, the experience was a ton of fun. It's also funny seeing one of your buddies go rogue amd bite the bullet right after you tell them it's not a good idea.

Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (PC)- The continuation of Gordon's story is most welcomed. While the game is short, it delivers with some great sequences and shows you why the Half-Life series has always been one of the best first person shooters around.

Worst three from the first half of 2006
X-Men The Official Video Game (Xbox 360)- You know the game is bad when you're bored playing Wolverine. It's just another bad movie tie-in game for this one.

Industry Trend(s)
I really like the way physics are being brought to the forefront with Havok leveraging video cards and AGEIA coming out with a dedicated card. Let's hope there'll be some good games to take advantage of the hardware soon.


Charles Husemann – Editor In Chief
 
Top three from the first half of 2006
  1. Ghost Recon :Advance Warfighter (Xbox 360) – Like Cyril I never really played any of the earlier games but GRAW absolutely pulled me in and didn’t let go. The great single player action was complemented by near perfect multiplayer missions. There’s nothing like sneaking around the jungles of a third world nation with your buddies and taking out enemies. This was easily the most fun I’ve had online and one of the best reasons to own an Xbox 360.
  2. Half Life Episode One (PC) – Pure Gordon Freeman goodness in a nice easy to digest chunk. What I liked about the game is that it really had almost as many set pieces as Half Life 2 and they just as good if not better. Sure Valve nerfed the Zombie elevator sequence but the game still packs a lot of value for your $20.
  3. New Super Mario Brothers (DS) – While the party games are a nice touch the game itself is pure old school Mario goodness. There’s such a purity to the gameplay that even people like me who hate platformers and jumping puzzles
 
 
Worst three from the first half of 2006
  1. RF Online (PC) - If ever there was a game the demonstrated the gulf in gaming tastes between Western and Eastern gamers it was RF Online. I participated in the beta for the game and while the game had a really great look and feel to it the game was so grind focus that I quickly lost interest in playing it. Sure there was the promise of the large scale faction wars but I wasn’t about to sit on the side of a hill and grind XP just to participate in it. 
  2. Xbox Live Marketplace/Arcade (Xbox 360) – Xbox Live Arcade is on the list only because in the first half of the year there really wasn’t a consistent release schedule or great content flowing through the system. You would have the occasional great demo and the big flood of content Microsoft posted during E3 but there were long periods of time when there wasn’t much to download. Microsoft has rectified the problem with their weekly Wednesday downloads and near constant stream of high quality demos as demos for Saints Row, Dead Rising, and Ninety Nine Nights have hit the system in recent weeks.
  3. Brain Age (DS) – This really isn’t much a ding against the game as more that it’s one of the more frustrating gaming experiences I’ve had all year. The concept is great and the puzzles are fun except for anything that involves handwriting or speech recognition. While my poor penmanship is probably to blame for the latter the game’s inability to recognize the word “Blue” has caused a great deal of frustration (and much lower than expected brain age)
 
 
Industry Trend(s)
Episodic content – So let me get this straight, I get a new, somewhat shorter game every three to four months and you’re only going to charge me $20 or so? Between iterations the game developers are going to listen to the feedback and use it to make the game better? Sign me up for a piece of that action.