You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have "… the 2005 year-in-review. Or, more accurately, the highly biased, completely subjective, and woefully incomplete Elysium-flavored look back at 2005. Writing for a website such as ours, you are always faced with the choice of slaving over the keyboard to create clever and engaging content, or writing easily familiar and formulaic pieces that depend on established clichés. Sometimes you are strong, and other times you are weak. Sometimes you take the road less traveled by, and other times you realize the DMV hasn't paved the road less traveled by in twenty years and there are no good fast food joints where you can grab a burger. You get where this is going, right? Clicheville.
I'm hoping my self-effacing manner will disarm your well manicured cynicism. And, now I'm hoping that my unrestrained honesty is refreshing and will augment my established self-criticism, mitigating the complete averageness of my concept. Now, my postmodern authorial monologue is probably just getting on everyone's nerves. Let's just roll this thing, shall we?
2005, the highlights and lowlights:
Jack Thompson: I love Jack Thompson. Really, I do. I love him in the way that professional impersonators love Jack Nicholson, as a wonderfully iconic but ultimately impotent target of limitless material. I've never met the man, had a conversation with him, or had the inclination to engage in either activity. After all, every indication is that he's a delusional jerk with a sharpened sense of moral superiority and a law degree that was, perhaps, given to him by accident. Whether that perception remains accurate should you sit down to Christmas dinner with the guy is completely irrelevant to me. He is to gaming as Bill O'Reilly is to politics, or journalism, or western civilization, a person so repugnant in his public persona that to imagine him as anything civil or likeable in his personal life is like trying to draw a four dimensional shape. Is that fair? I don't care; I'm a guy who runs a small gaming website, and he's some media chasing lawyer with an ego problem and a functional impairment with reality.
Jack Thompson is the PETA of the anti-video-games movement, a figure that can't even seem to get what should be his most ardent supporters from backing slowly away like a guy that accidentally walks into an Ani DiFranco concert wearing a No Fat Chicks shirt. And yet, through his sheer force of narcissistic will, Thompson has wedged himself into the role of spokesperson for those seeking to legislate the videogame industry, and as gamers that's a great thing for us. Should that movement ever find someone reasonable, informed, and charismatic to spearhead their legislative and public relations efforts, the gaming industry might find itself in a publicity fight doomed to failure. Thank God we can rely on Jack Thompson to be such an incompetent and unpleasant figurehead!
We love you, Jack. Seriously.
Serenity: You're crazy if you didn't think I was going to include this film.
As many of you are painfully aware, Serenity and Firefly discussion dominated our forums this year. Woe unto thee that breathed ill of her stalwart crew, and long may your bunions ache thou whoest says nay of the Whedon. But, lo the unwashed heathens that did cast their ducats upon lesser films, verily they shall be smote. And yay, tho I walk through the valley of cancellation, I shall fear no Fox Executive. Well, if we're to be accused of turning this stuff into a religion, then we might as well ride that train full speed straight into the station.
Serenity, despite the nonsensical and notably isolated ravings of one immense forum primate, was an outstanding movie. This is not an opinion, but an empirical fact. You might as well try to convince Jean-Paul Sartre to adopt a Positivist methodology as try and tell me that Serenity didn't f'ing rock.
And, though movies like Hitch and The Longest Yard remake managed to gross well over 100 million each, Serenity "… um, didn't. No, Serenity made only 25 million back during its domestic release against its 40 million dollar budget, which makes it neither a flop – unlike Doom the movie which ended its US run at only 28 million off a 70 million dollar budget. Eat it, Dwayne! – nor a particularly successful movie. What this means for the future of the franchise is anybody's guess, though it seems that most of the anybodies with a reasonable, informed, or objective perspective suggest that this, truly, is the end.
I say screw those guys. Who's camping out with me for Serenity 2?
Nintendo: It's hard not to start getting excited about Nintendo, and this from someone who had virtually zero faith in the company as it launched the DS last year. Nintendo may be busy milking tired franchises as it lets the Gamecube slip into a well-deserved obscurity, but the strategies it's employing in the handheld and next-gen market smack of greatness.
The DS spent much of this year soundly trouncing Sony's far flashier and higher-tech machine, by making strides where it counts: gameplay and diversity. As developers finally devised clever and fun gameplay interfaces that matched Nintendo's unusual system, the overall creativity and fun-factor of the DS's offering increased. The DS has become virtually the only system on the market with something new, innovative, and worthwhile to consistently offer. It's not just that the control medium forces developers to expand their horizons, which, frankly, would be good enough considering the stale cookie cutter methods of design across other platforms lately, but the system itself seems to invite creativity from developers in every facet of the process. Games on the DS are often not unique only for their implementation of the stylus, but also their presentation, gameplay, and concept. It may simply be that engaging developers by forcing them to take nothing for granted, has opened the door on creative output.
Better still, Nintendo seems ready to engender that same style of daring and creativity in the Revolution. With an absolutely brilliant controller, and a focus on accessibility above techno-stats, the Revolution is distancing itself from the more-of-the-same with more textures mentality of the PS3 and Xbox 360, and instead seems to be trying to do something inventive with gaming.
Obviously, this is a tactic met largely with scorn from a gaming public that places far too much value on texture mapping and poly counts, but I think it's kind of a neat idea anyway.
Sony: While Electronic Arts has become public massive corporation enemy number one for gamers, and not without good reason, Sony has been all over the place this year. Kicking off the spring with a huge portable launch that was destined to redistribute the handheld wealth forever, the PSP exploded on the scene and then just kind of sat there looking at us. With a remarkable string of outstandingly average games, tired franchises, and firmware updates that crippled the best reason to buy a PSP, emulation, the system was quickly and surprisingly obscured by a Nintendo DS that hit its stride. Granted, it plays movies, but so does my portable DVD player. On a larger screen. Without running out of battery quite so quick.
But, the PSP was just the beginning for Sony, as they prepared to whip consumers into a lathered fit of Playstation brand loyalty and enthusiasm. Sony employed amazing new marketing strategies that mere mortals like myself obviously can't comprehend, because it seems to me all they've done is create fictional and inconsistent promises, withold any kind of gameplay footage, and tell us all to expect some overtime work to afford the PS3. Hooray for Sony!
Sony, which still claims the PS3 will launch in Spring 2006, is either a) lying, or b) has come up with a new marketing strategy for launching a console not unlike the methods employed in putting together a surprise birthday party. Who knows, maybe next March I'll walk into a Best Buy one morning, and all the lights will be off. Then, suddenly, blue-shirted employees will leap out from behind cashwraps, standees, and end caps wearing party hats, blowing noisemakers, and holding PS3 boxes. But, to be honest, I'm leaning toward the former theory, and don't expect to see the system for at least a year.
Also, nice job Sony, on exposing millions of computers to viruses and identity theft with your overreaching efforts to subvert fair-use laws. Fight the power!
Xbox 360: Ugh, I hate to even talk about it, that's how tired I am of hearing about the 360. I mean, what can I say about the 360 that hasn't already been said? Well, I suppose there are any number of things I could say, like: Every 360th Xbox 360 is armed with puppy killing death pheromones, or the 360 is colored white because J. Allard is a screaming racist, or that Xbox Live's network has grown so vast and sophisticated that it became self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. Unfortunately none of these things would be true.
Here's the skinny. It was a bad launch with not enough product to satisfy demanding consumers. I'm just going to check my Big Book of Painfully Obvious Events here and "… yes, that's a solid description of every single significant console launch of the past two decades. Shame on us for being surprised.
Games of 2005:
The Elysium Game of the Year – World of Warcraft: Oh, I hear all you purists now, calling foul. You say WoW wasn't even released in 2005, or that's it's the dumbed down, overhyped, childish step cousin of a real man's MMO. Well, let's check with the judges. Judges?
Year-in-Review bylaws Article 1, first paragraph: "Elysium can choose whatever the hell he likes, and if you don't like it, you can bite him."
There were plenty of good to great games in 2005, but nothing dominated my time like World of Warcraft. A completely absorbing game; a life consuming, mind altering piece of work, against which all other titles were barely passing interests against the colorful backdrop –
Oh, OK! Fine, I'll pick another game.
The Actual Elysium Game of the Year 2005 – Civilization IV: It's really quite something to take one of PC gaming's most storied franchises from one of PC gaming's all-time great designers and not just breathe new life into the series, but create a game that surpasses its predecessors entirely. This is exactly what Civilization III did not do. Not by a long shot.
That's why I really wasn't anticipating this fourth iteration quite so much. Oh, what a pleasant surprise. Civilization IV is so impossibly good, that I'm willing to wait as much as an hour in the multiplayer lobby for Fletcher to figure out what's wrong with his connection this time, as Gaald offers well-meaning, but ultimately fruitless advice, just for the opportunity to play. This is made all the more remarkable when you think about how much World of Warcraft I could've played while waiting!
Any game where the phrase "Sextown founds Buddhism" might appear, is by definition an instant classic.
God of War: A premier example of how to craft an action game on a console. Bloody, engaging, and intense, God of War is like Ninja Gaiden, only they replaced the frustration with fun.
Psychonauts: A game that harkens to better days of gaming. Clever. Quirky. Inventive. Fun. Naturally, regurgitated franchises with minimal improvements sold far better.
Well, I could go on and on about 2005, with no lack of material. I didn't even touch the EB/Gamestop merger, or the Hot Coffee mod, or Mark Rein, or Katrina and so-on. I invite you, if you're so inclined, to think of your own high(low)lights of 2005, craft witty acerbic banter on the topic, and post it below so that all may bask in the cynical glory of your insight. Frankly, just thinking on the topic has left me tired of 2005.
So, with that I sign off and leave you to enjoy the final icy days of the year. I'll see you all in the bright promising future of 2006. Til then, stay gold, Ponyboy.