Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Byte: The Best (and Worst) Buys of 2006

I was debating whether to do another all-round review of the year, like I did with last year's Bark and Byte awards, but I decided that the news was just too depressing, so I'm going to concentrate on the fun stuff.

So, in reverse order, my favourite five games from 2006:

5) GTR 2 - Simbin (PC)
The ultimate PC driving sim. A fabulous graphics and physics engine, oodles of unlockable content and some wonderfully vicious AI. There's no need to feel nostalgic for Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix series anymore, because this is better.

4) Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Capcom (Nintendo DS)

I may have stuck more hours in on Animal Crossing: Wild World this year, but in terms of making my 2006 shortlist, this is probably my favourite DS game. The script is just so good. It makes all the right references ("For great justice!") and is consistently entertaining and nicely paced. The investigative puzzling bits aren't a chore and the court room scenes are brilliant, twisting and turning like an episode of LA Law. Anything that can get me playing an adventure game (probably my least favourite game genre) and like it has got to be worth your money.

3) Company of Heroes - Relic (PC)

This would rate higher, but I'm not a huge RTS fan. Which is a shame, since I probably reviewed more RTS games this year than any other genre. This is, however, without any doubt whatsoever, the peak of the RTS genre. Visceral, compelling and adrenalin-charged, this is World War II RTS like you've never seen it before. It's essentially Dawn of War with Nazis. Brilliant stuff.

2) DEFCON - Introversion (PC)

I didn't get to review this one for Pro-G, but Andy nails it spot on. Easily the best value game of the year and almost the outright winner. I've already talked at length about DEFCON's virtues, so I won't retread too much ground here. Thermonuclear genocide as a spectator sport. Hypnotically good. I still watch games as a screensaver on my games PC when I'm working from home.

1) Wii Sports - Nintendo (Wii)

Well, my Number One had to be a Wii didn't it? Unfortunately, I haven't acquired a copy of Zelda yet, otherwise this may have been a Wii Number One and Number Two - (though this is surely a contradiction in terms, no? - Scatalogical Ed)

It's interesting to see how many websites have been giving it lowish scores (around the 6/10 mark), only for it to turn up on their Top Games of the Year lists... Yes, the game may be slight on content, but it's all about the replay value and the interface. This is my game of the year purely for the Bowling. It's hideously addictive and an absolutely perfect use of the controller. The game just feels so *right*. The clatter of flying pins... twisting the controller to put spin on the ball to reach those pins tucked away in the back corners of the lane... the way your bowling ball gets decorated with stars when you reach Pro skill level... nailing your fifth strike in a row on the way to a 220 point game... Pure gaming joy. This is what the Wii is all about. Let's hope Nintendo can give us games that use the controller so beautifully this year as well.

Now, the Walk of Shame...

I didn't play that many stinkers this year (mainly because I was quite picky about what I got to review), but there were a few standouts for badness.

3) Neverwinter Nights 2

A big disappointment. The spiritual successor to Knights of the Old Republic 2. Lots of potential, but it shows that they rushed it out. While not outright unplayable, it still had far too many bugs and made my PC want to weep at the inexplicably high technical demands placed on it. It doesn't even look as good as KOTOR or Oblivion, but it sure ran a lot worse. And weasels with waraxes. The prosecution rests.

2) Star Wars: Empire At War - LucasArts/Activision (PC)

I summed this one up nicely in the comments thread to my review: Lazy, unambitious shite. As a strategy game it's soundly trumped by a game ten years its senior (Star Wars: Supremacy) and as a videogame it's designed to be watched rather than played. Why else would they have put so much effort into the cinematic camera? One wishes they'd put the same amount of effort into the game mechanics.

1) Battlefield 2142 - EA (PC)

Unfortunately, I can't (or rather, won't) link to a review of this, because I pretty much disagree with them all. Especially the one that said: "This is essentially a $50 mod of Battlefield 2. 90%" Muh?? What I was given to review was an unplayable mess. A rewarming of Battlefield 2 in malfunctioning techno-trousers. I can imagine that on a supercomputer with a quad core, an SLI graphics setup and 4GB of RAM it might approach being passably playable, but regardless still wouldn't surpass a decent game of Battlefield 2. (Which I do like, incidentally) This game embodies *everything* that's wrong about the way EA produce games. And let's not even get started on the in-game advertising. Oh, my immersion! Oh, my framerate! Of course, you've probably all bought it by now, but that's your fault for not listening to me...

Honourable mentions that would have made a Top 10, if I could have been bothered to write one: LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Animal Crossing: Wild World, Spellforce 2: Shadow Wars and Galactic Civilizations 2.
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