2008 – “The year of …………. “
After a slow transition into new platforms, with the Ps2 releasing its onslaught of swan songs (“Ôkami”, “Shadow of the Colossus”, “Final Fantasy XII”), next-gen finally become current-gen in 2007. An absurd amount of games were released, and amongst them, you could find interesting ideas and new paths for games to tread in the future. “Bioshock”, “Orange Box” (especially, when it comes to “Half Life 2 – Episode 2” and “Portal”), “Mario Galaxy” all brought something new into the derivative mix of big budget blockbusters. The thought provoking nature of “Bioshock’s” aesthetic and narrative, the epic and dramatic ending of “Episode 2”, and the gameplay revolution behind “Mario’s Galaxy” or “Portal’s” 4D design, were all good reasons to enjoy 2007. Personal favorites of mine, such as “The Darkness”, “Lost Odyssey” and “Eternal Sonata”, though derivative in terms of design, all told original stories, a rare feat for videogames, whichever the year. Not only that, the quality of most blockbusters was above par, even when it came to the more simple-minded releases. “Halo 3”, “Call of Duty 4”, “Uncharted” and “Mass Effect” were all incredibly polished, and had a distinct identity to their game design philosophies, even if none of them were particularly original. The blooming of downloadable services in all 4 platforms, allowed for indie ventures such as “flOw” to shine and reach mass markets, without the need for big budgets; their more intimate and discrete nature challenge big producers to deliver artsier experiences that rely on more than just high polygon counts. Retro also made a comeback through these services, as games that were once the privilege of a select few (who had the money and the patience to stalk online auctions in search of prized rarities), were now instantly accessible to anyone – classics ranging from “Super Mario Bros.” to “Psychonauts” were just a few coins away from being played in all their glory. Though far from being one of the best gaming years ever (as so many put it), 2007 was a good year for videogames.
2008 is almost over. And I say… thank God. While most might be content with the scale of 2008 releases, which more or less matches that of 2007, I am not, because though there was quantity, quality was sparse. Though not a bad year “per se”, there were no groundbreaking games, blockbusters were mostly sequel-ish and too safe, and there was an insane amount of unfulfilled potential in most games. Simply put, I feel that no new steps have been given towards the future… at least, in terms of mainstream gaming (we’ll get to indie later). Also, because of the barrage of media hype, games were augured as divine, breathtaking, revolutionary, stunningly beautiful… but in the end, never were. It’s the year of wasted sequels (“Gears of War 2”, “GTA IV”, “MGS 4”), failed promises (“Mirror’s Edge”), dying franchises (“Silent Hill Homecoming”, “Prince of Persia”) and lackluster new IP’s (“Dead Space”, “Army of Two”, “Dark Sector”). I’m aware of this being a controversial opinion, as most media outlets and gaming magazines seem thrilled with this year’s batch of games (relax, I’m not going to waste any more time criticizing the media for their opinions, no matter how unfortunate they may be…). Metacritic scores support this notion, as this year’s games rank amongst the highest ever. The 360 all-time top ten (the best frame of reference for the current generation) includes only two 2006 releases, “Gears of War” (rated number four) and “Oblivion” (fifth), four 2007 releases, “Bioshock” (second), “Orange Box” (third), “Call of Duty 4” (sixth), “Halo 3” (seventh), and four 2008 releases, “Grand Theft Auto IV” (number one), “Gears of War 2” (eighth), “Fallout 3” (ninth), “Braid” (tenth). A blunt statement could be made: according to a majority of game reviewers, 2008’s games are on par with 2007’s. I can’t but feel this is far from the truth, and I’ll do my best to show my point of view concerning 2008 in the coming series of articles called “2008 – The year of ………… ” .