2009 – A Look Back At The Year In Gaming

11 02 2010

Looking back at this post, where I talked about my most anticipated games for 2009, I can’t help but be amazed at how after all these years, so many games that seem like sure-fire hits simply don’t make the cut when viewed in retrospect, and how many come out the gates with little fanfare and end up becoming beloved classics.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at that old post and contrast with what really happened in 2009.

MadWorld scrnWhat surprised me most about this past year’s games was not that the games I’d been looking forward to were bad, or terrible…it’s that they were so woefully generic or vanilla, that they simply didn’t connect as promised, all too often.  The games I’m thinking of most in this area were MadWorld, and Halo Wars.

Both games were exactly as promised.  Halo Wars, was, indeed an RTS game set in the world of Halo.  However, that’s about where the innovation stopped.  Sure, it was a decent control scheme to bring RTS to the console in terms of GUI and little ways the game was tailored for the 360, however, in general, this also left the game a bit neutered, and less than exciting, despite the thrill of “zerg-rushing” with a pack of Warthogs. Halo Wars

A similar problem dogged MadWorld as well, as the game’s visuals were striking, stark and unique.  But in the end, repetition (along with over-the-top silly commentary) killed the artistic purity of the idea.

Both games are not bad at all, in fact, I’d still say that missing either would be a detriment to understanding what 2009 offered.  It’s simply that at the same time of being good games, they were nothing more than good, when most of the gaming press and enthusiast fanbase expected greatness.  Neither really delivered, and that’s the disappointment more than anything else.

Mary Smith

Image via Wikipedia

My biggest hopes for the year seemed to come from one game that hasn’t yet arrived.  This “coming-soon” game, Heavy Rain from Quantic Dream looks pretty much as-promised in terms of the visuals as well as the new style of gameplay (that tends to work more like EXTREMELY interactive fiction, rather than actual…you know, gaming).  However, while I haven’t gotten my hands on the game yet to verify this, most recent previews/reviews point the the fact that the dialogue is a bit stilted, and that the voice acting is stiff, which, as a more narrative experience (as opposed to simply a gaming experience), may stifle sales of the game and potentially,  kill this “choose-your-own-adventure-digital-edition” fledgling genre…

Resident Evil 5

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As for the game that lived up to expectations last year, Resident Evil 5 sold extremely well, played just as I had hoped it would, and worked well in a very game-y “extra modes” way, while still maintaining the momentum (although, not really growing) of it’s most recent predecessor.  Co-Op play really changed the face of the survival-horror genre, and was implemented quite well.  This was surprising, and I think really gave the game a lot of replayability, as did the leaderboard aspect of the game (something entirely new for a horror franchise).

Dragon Age: Origins, also was a game that a lot of people had high hopes for, but were worried, because screenshots did not show the game well.  And while BioWare‘s pedigree for RPGs with story held a lot of cred with the gaming public, no one was sure whether this would be a step forward or a large step backward, in terms of the genre.  However, BioWare has once more, hit it out of the park, delivering a very compelling, rich, lore-filled world in which every single character resides.  The story is epic enough to lend drama, but personalized enough to make the player care about the small decisions and conversations.

Batman - Arkham Asylum

Image by sean geer via Flickr

Abel attacking Ryu in Street Fighter IV.

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond what I knew about at the time of writing that anticipation post, more than a couple really great games came out, some out of the blue.  First was Capcom’s Street Fighter IV, which really revitalized and brought some credibility back to the fighting genre.  Also definitely worth mentioning (and also one that was unexpectedly great) was Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum.  While the Batman title brought some cool innovation, story/character depth,  and a lot of fun gameplay to 3rd-person brawlers, Street Fighter IV took all of the conventions of the fighting genre and refined them (with some pretty decent net-code for online matches) into something that felt both new and familiar at the same time.

Assassin's Creed 2 PS3

Image by louisvolant via Flickr

Another suprise hit of 2009 was Assassin’s Creed 2.  Obviously Ubisoft learned a lot from the faults of the original game.  AC2 really developed the story of the Desmond character to a satisfying end, as well as refined and expanded the gameplay which kept the player from feelings of repetition, which was a major complaint in the first game.  Add to this, attractive “side quests” as well as the promise of expansion through downloadable content, and Assassin’s Creed 2 delivers in a way that many other games simply couldn’t.

Uncharted 2_ Among Thieves™3 grenade toss

Image by misplacedparadox via Flickr

Rounding off my list of games that were anticipated, or surprises, is Uncharted 2.  In a year of sequels and more story-driven content, Uncharted 2 really did the best job of pulling off the trifecta of gaming fun.  The story was interesting, and acted well, really giving you a sense of “being in for the ride” much like a good action film.   Secondly, the game plays tightly (gunfights are exciting, not painful), and there’s enough new types of content to prevent you from feeling that it’s simply a rehash of the previous title.  Finally, the visual quality of the game is really top-notch.  So many people have referred to the game as very cinematic, or film-like, and the care which went into crafting the character models, the environments, and the set pieces really are the key to that feeling of realism and getting sucked-in.

All in all, the year (like many others) had a lot of ups and downs, wild successes as well as letdowns.  However, the number of quality, engaging, and replayable titles of this past year really stun me, when one considers that so many developers are making some bold and unique choices with their games.  Sure, Bungie put out some games.  Sure, Ubisoft did as well, but Capcom had a stellar year in terms of original IP, revitalized old IP, and flat-out sales.  relative newcomers like Quantic Dream got a lot of news, and Rocksteady came out of nowhere to claim a (rightful) place amongst the standard greats in the industry.  And who would have predicted that a year chocked-full of sequels would leave us so immensely happy?   It was definitely an interesting and good year for gaming overall, and one can only look forward to now, 2010, when so many games are still on the verge of coming out, all year, and think “what can we anticipate this time?” 

(And yes, that post will come.  Soon.)

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Street Fighter IV – Quick Thoughts

2 03 2009

 

I dig Rufus...

I dig Rufus...

While I’m writing a full review soon for another site (and therefore can’t spill the beans here) I’d love to give you peeps my down and dirty quick thoughts on Street Fighter IV:

  • As far as new characters go, I’m loving those added to this edition of Street Fighter:  Abel is strong and ranged, El Fuerte is fast and crazy, Rufus is, well…hilarious, and Crimson Viper fits well into the Street Fighter world.
  • The cel-shaded, comic-book-y not-quite-3-D style was really neat (especially in HD) but left me wondering how cool a more realistic Street Fighter would have been…
  • Chun-Li Thighs?  Creepy and mannish.
  • Apparently no one at Capcom can draw feminine arms/hands.  Everyone looks like they have Trogdor arms.  Everyone.
  • Seth is a cheap fighter of the cheapest-cheapies variety.
  • Unlocking stuff that already exists on a disc you already paid for is well and good if it’s easy to do.  If it takes more than an hour, that’s not cool.  Very uncool, Capcom…very uncool.
  • When I get old, I wanna be Gen.
  • My best character?  Cammy.  Yeah, who knew?