2007 Gaming Reference Guide
What a year! Honestly, this may be the best year for gaming that I've ever come across with just an absolute tidal wave of AAA content. At least two or three games that threaten to creep into the all-time best and an army of legitimate candidates for Game of the Year. I've played, enjoyed, and more importantly finished, more games in the past four months than perhaps the sum total of the previous twelve. Maybe more. It's really quite ridiculous.
It's completely understandable if you've basically forgotten ninety-five percent of what's been released this year, so we got together most of the GWJ writers to revisit their comments on some of the games of the year. Think of it as a 'buyer's guide' or a 'reference desk for the winter' or just a guilt trip about what's left on your 'stack of unloved games' for next year. We'll remind you what was good, what was great, what you may have forgotten about and what you should avoid as though it had a big biohazard sign on the front.
Beautiful Katamari (Xbox 360) - A disappointing revisit of a loved franchise. Somehow losing everything that made the previous games seem special and fun, Beautiful Katamari finally makes you feel like you're just rolling a big ball over a bunch of stuff. Cluttered level design, a stale presentation, annoying screen clutter, framerate hiccups, lack of variety in levels and awkward controls on the 360 make this an easy game to pass on. Go play We Heart Katamari instead. - Elysium
Bioshock (Xbox 360) - The only reason we've stopped talking about Bioshock is that, let's face it, the game has limited replay value. That we can see this as a fault really only shows us how good Portal is. Bioshock is a compelling piece of storytelling. It showcases every aspect of interactive fiction: visuals, sound design, level design, character development, script. And it does it wrapped up in gameplay that was entertaining and occasionally brilliant from start to finish. - Rabbit
Can you believe it's only been 2 and a half months since the gaming press declared this year's race for Game of the Year over? And, at the time it certainly seemed like everyone else might as well pack their bags and take aim at 2008, because Bioshock was just that damn good, and while the race for 2007's crowning achievement has proved suprisingly competitive, let's not forget what a fantastic game this truly was. A stellar story, gorgeous visuals, tight gameplay and absolutely amazing atmosphere highlighted the first epic game of the year, and reminded us all that games can have subtext, subtlety and intelligence while still making it fun to shoot guns, like hanging out with the head of Harvard's gun-enthusiast club.
It's easy to forget in the aftermath of so many games in such a short span of time what an achievement Bioshock was. – Elysium
BioShock is the middle part of a process that began with System Shock 2 and concludes with the player digging up that old copy of Atlas Shrugged to discover just how awful an ethos can be when swaddled in a third-rate romance novel. When placed in a creepy underwater dystopia, however, it's quite delicious. This masterpiece of storytelling could only be told in this form, as an FPS, and more specifically, as a self-aware one. The symbolism, art design, and forced moral choices constantly remind you that you're playing a game. This distancing effect should ruin the immersion, but instead creates a rich, dreamlike experience full of conflicting motivations and changes in perspective. Still, it would be just be an arty failure if the game itself weren't fun. Fortunately, playing with plasmids, setting up traps, and taking down Big Daddies doesn't get old until the last few levels, at which point the game sadly drowns in its own message. I'd recommend not playing the final encounter at all, for a fittingly ambiguous ending to a complex, deeply affecting game. – Nyles
Call of Duty 4 (360, PC) - This is likely the game that will survive beyond the holidays for Xbox Live multiplayer once the snow has settled and Santa is relaxing in the hot tub. With frantic and fun multiplayer modes that encourage communication and whip-smart decision making, it's an easy game to recommend to anyone into online shooters looking to play with their Gamers With Jobs pals. – Certis
Crackdown (Xbox 360) - Crackdown pleasantly surprised gamers who bought it primarily for a shot at the Halo 3 beta. Its huge, elaborately crafted cityscape is essentially a giant playground, the perfect backdrop for hours of exploration and explosive shenanigans. Crackdown's wisp of a plot didn't inspire long-term devotion, but boy was it fun while it lasted, especially in co-op. Climbing the Agency Tower was one of the highlights of my gaming year. – The Fly
Earth Defense Force 2017 (PC) - Massive, completely destructively cityscapes overrun with armies of giant insects. Flying saucers that blot out the sky. 150 different weapons, each with unlimited ammunition. Squads of death-ray wielding, skyscraper-sized robots. And more! Earth Defense Force 2017 may be a low-budget, low-concept third-person shooter, but it had some of the most spectacularly epic, hilariously campy sci-fi battles I played all year. – The Fly
Gametap (PC) - It's easy for us to forget the dull months - say, February through September - but during those occasional dips into sleeperland, Gametap was a godsend. It's let me fill in the holes in my gaming resume, and they continue produce, month after month. Easily the best deal in gaming. – Rabbit
Guitar Hero III (Xbox 360/PS3) - A disappointing outing for the franchise that once redefined the amount of fun I could have with my console. I realize that may be a statement with which many may take exception, but this game was a step backward in almost every imaginable respect. For you football fans out there, Guitar Hero III is the 1995 Dallas Cowboys. Yeah they still won the Super Bowl with Barry Switzer as Head Coach, but we all know it was on the back of Jimmy Johnson's team. For those of you who don't follow football, it means that Guitar Hero III was on autopilot enough following the loss of Harmonix to still be a passable game, but the magic is clearly fading fast.
Dumb boss battles, a poor song selection from a gameplay perspective, no standout fun songs to play, a disorganized and seemingly random note chart (particularly on higher difficulties), uneven difficulty, hit detection that's far too forgiving and seems to mask poor design, songs that can only be unlocked through co-op play and a half-dozen other mis-steps highlight a game that can be fun almost despite itself. The only real thing to get excited about here is a pretty snazzy new guitar and some very well implemented community and online features. Otherwise, take the new guitar and go play Guitar Hero II or Rock Band. – Elysium
I can't argue that most of the "innovations" in GH3 are giant leaps into "seriously?" But the new guitar is nearly worth the price of the game, and while some of the songs are truly ass, I think I would have paid $90 for the guitar plus the songs I do enjoy as downloads for Guitar Hero 2. The online features are nothing to sneeze at, so I consider it a purchase from which I extracted ample Value. – Rabbit
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 (PC) - It comes with Portal, and it's sort of worth playing. The last section is great fun, but you need to play through all the other sections to get there. I can't point out the massive flaw in the game without revealing major spoilers, so I'll just say that although it lives up to Valve's usual level of polish and pacing, it doesn't hold up as a game in itself or as an "episode," whatever that means. Half-Life 2 was a story, Episode 1 was a game, and Episode 2 is neither. It's one inventive set piece padded out with Half-Life's Greatest Hits, awkwardly spliced with a narrative bait and switch. Who would have thought that the new Half-Life would be the weakest one of this fall's great games? – Nyles
Halo 3 - Love it or hate it, Halo hit this fall's lineup like a nuclear weapon. The single-player campaign was just the tip of a very large iceberg of community-oriented features that set a new bar for console online gaming. Four player online cooperative play lets you squad up and move out with your friends and family, the plethora of multi-player options, and the robust Forge map editing system truly gives you the option to play this game however you want. The ability to record and share the action over the XboxLive system lets you brag about your prowess/cwnage, create instructional videos, and is spawning a whole new group of machinima and mashup artists. – momgamer
A decent enough conclusion to the franchise that fails to disappoint or really impress. The 360 visuals are adequate, and the gameplay remains faithful to the Halo model, but there's just nothing really outstanding to say about the game. It's good, but good like watching Michael Jordan do a lay-up. It's simply fails to be spectacular, incorporating all the elements that unified the series in a really natural and expected way.
As a multiplayer game, however, Halo 3 is exceptional with unparalleled opportunity for game management on the 360. Being able to watch matches from any angle only adds to the remarkable coolness of the Halo 3, and fans should be comfortably satisfied. – Elysium
Hellgate London (PC) - Marred by bugs and a perhaps early release, Hellgate London is the game I expect more than most to still be playing in 2008. A less than polished release and poor documentation obscured a solid game that, when working as intended, was a joy to play, and as Flagship makes progress in patching up the final necessary touches on Hellgate it becomes increasingly clear that once Bill Roper and his team finish tumbling it through the rock polisher a gem is very likely to emerge. That's not to say that the absolute bungling of account system, the atrocious chat system and the widespread bugs are excusable, but that if you're looking for something to play once the Chirstmas glut has come and gone, Hellgate London might finally be in the shape to be a legitimate recommendation. The more that Flagship can get the statistics, UI and bugs out of the way of letting the gameplay shine through, the more I'll be playing. – Elysium
Lord of the Rings Online (PC) - WoW done right. Send the hatemail to someone else, I still think the game is awesome. It succeeds in immersing me in Middle Earth, and that's just damned cool. I hope Turbine keeps the game alive and growing for years to come. It's a game to keep on your radar, and if you're not playing it now, grab it when they have some "2 months free" promotion. – Rabbit
Mario Galaxy (Wii) - Of all the games that have crossed my desk this month, Mario Galaxy has probably been played the least despite the fact that I think it's one of the best overall games this year. Because the levels take about as much time to beat as it would to say, make a sandwich, it's easy to play a few and then put it down for a while. Considering it's even more creatively charged than Portal (in a family friendly sort of way) Mario Galaxy is a must-play for any Wii owner. – Certis
Super Mario Galaxy is a testament to Nintendo brainpower. There's more smart, creative puzzle and level design in its first hour than most games can manage in twenty. It may have a tired main character, trite storyline, and syrupy presentation, but who cares? It puts other games' so-called innovations to shame. I'll play Mario games forever if Nintendo keeps making them like this. – The Fly
Metroid Prime: Corruption (Wii) - Corruption is another excellent Prime game, and I was pleased by the slightly more streamlined, arcadelike experience it provides. What really impressed me, though, was its use of the Wii hardware. Corruption's precise FPS controls show that there's no excuse for sloppy Wii interfaces. And Corruption, more than any other release to date, demonstrates that the Wii's dated tech can still crank out stunning scenery. – The Fly
Orange Box (PC)[/b] - Without a doubt the Orange Box was the highlight of my gaming year. Team Fortress 2 may be the best casual multiplayer first person shooter experience I've ever played. It's nothing revolutionary, it just happens to get everything 100 percent right. Portal is close to, if not the best 3 hours of gaming I've had all year, and I continue to enjoy going back and playing it again and again. Half Life 2 Episode 2 may just be more of the same, but that's like saying a new chocolate bar is just another chocolate bar - it's still damned yummy. – Rabbit
Persona 3 (PS2) - At its best, it's like playing Buffy Summers, struggling to survive high school by day while saving the world from demons at night. Despite all the pressure, it feels good to be the Slayer. On the other hand, it often feels like a repetitive JRPG monster hunt mixed with a frustrating dating simulator where you can't get to second base without leveling up your bra-unhooking stats. Persona 3 gained some notoriety as the game where kids shoot themselves in the head, but I was unprepared for how frankly endearing this act of self-negation makes them. The fact that I needed to make my character do this horrifying thing, over and over, eventually forced me into giving a damn about his silly social life. When killing a monster seems less urgent than renewing a friendship, something very interesting is going on under the hood. The game turns out to be much more than its one controversial feature. – Nyles
Portal (PC) - Does it seem strange to say that I may not have had a better gaming experience this year than a three-hour long perspective bending puzzle game? And yet, when I think back on the most fun I've had all year, and I don't necessarily limit that to gaming, the fun of playing Portal the first time ranks up in the top tier. An inspired game that takes an absolutely fantastic game mechanic and blends it with clever writing, smart level design and cake, Portal is what happens when you throw time-expectations out the window and just let creative people make fun games.
I've already played it through to completion five different times. – Elysium
Portal has the best AI ever seen in a video game. Most of the enemies sit around cheerfully burbling to themselves, but one enemy employs sophisticated tactics of passive aggression and clever one liners. Do not be afraid, because the game itself will not hurt you. Valve's design philosophy of exhaustive play testing has created a perfectly tuned, elegant two hours of challenges and surprises. That would have been enough, but the real treat is the brilliant writing and voice acting, which could never have been designed by committee. Thanks to this humanizing (not to say human) element, playing with portals becomes a delightfully paranoid exploration of a ridiculous technological funhouse. I cannot imagine someone playing this game to completion and not falling in love with it. Such a person would deserve to have something unpleasant (not to say fatal) happen to them. Portal's only real flaw is that it's so universally charming, references to it have sprung up all over the Internet, potentially spoiling the fun for first timers. If any individual has not yet visited the Aperture Laboratories testing facilities, they should do so at their earliest convenience, barring any serious medical conditions, such as an inability to metabolize pure glee. – Nyles
Portal stands out as something really special, even in the company of its extremely awesome Orange Box counterparts. I ache for more games like this, that so thoughtfully marry game design to intelligent plot concepts.
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3) - Another reason for PS3 fans to celebrate, the latest Ratchet & Clank is a sure bet for anyone who loves a good platformer or even a good graphical showcase for their system. With a good 12 hours to finish the game the first time, there's still plenty to do on a second run through with all your weapons and tougher enemies. There's also an arcade mode and plenty of golden screws to find -- if you're into that sort of thing. – Certis
Rock Band (Xbox 360/PS3) - Awesome in a box. A game much more focused on creating a fun experience, and while still challenging, particularly on drums, this is a game about experiencing music rather than taming it into submission. I would prefer a little higher quality in the instruments for the money, but from a pure gameplay perspective this is a fantastic effort with an outstanding song list and absolutely unbeatable multiplayer experience. A hefty price tag, but if you can put together enough friends to form a band then it's entirely worth it. Maybe the drummer can chip in $20? – Elysium
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC) - STALKER takes place in the abandoned, poisonous area of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, but it's much more than an another post-apocalyptic first-person shooter. It was one of the most richly atmospheric, uniquely disturbing games I played in 2007, probably second only to Bioshock and Portal in terms of its gut-level impact. STALKER had its share of flaws, owing to a long and troubled development cycle, but most were alleviated via readily available mods and patches. – The Fly
Tabula Rasa (PC) - Admittedly, for me, a sci-fi MMO starts off with two extra points in its favor with me right from the start. I'm weak-willed enough already when it comes to games of the massive and multiplayer variety, perhaps suggesting that I had an earlier life as a brain-addled lab rat taught to push a button for the occasional treat in a study of perhaps OCD or terminal boredom. Add to that the complete lack of elves and it's difficult to leave me displeased, but Tabula Rasa offers a lot of touches that suggest a good game could develop. The action is fast, and while it's all an illusion of action within the traditional trappings of the MMO formula, it's exciting enough to be meaningful. The addition of a cloning system that allows you to revisit branching points on your skill path - so you don't have to start from level 1 to explore a new class - and an inventive enough artifice for magic in the sci-fi trappings, called Logos, give players lots of options for development.
However, there's a serious question of longevity here, and a lot of content, features and finishing touches need to be added to keep the game compelling. It starts on a positive note, but to retain and continue to grow its player-base the next few months will be critical. Let's call it a game worth watching. – Elysium
Team Fortress 2 (PC) - It's hard to say if Team Fortress 2 has staying power. With nine different classes, all types of players can jump in quickly and have fun, and getting killed provides a chance to switch classes and play a whole new way. On the other hand, with too many of one class, predictable outcomes ensue. A scout rush is like being attacked by gnats and especially humiliating when the gnats win. Two bases full of engineers is as exciting as chess by mail. More than other multiplayer games, TF2 needs a full server with versatile players. Sadly, the online FPS player community hates learning new tricks. They want to get good at one thing and rack up kills. That's why many public servers are overrun with snipers. Often they snipe at the same person each time. That just isn't fun, and can't be healthy for the soul. If TF2 can overcome the deathmatch mentality, it could become a massive success and a fixture of game nights everywhere. If not, it would be a true shame, because when everyone is on the same page, that is to say, different pages, it's a wildly chaotic yet surprisingly unified experience. – Nyles
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3) - This might have a little more shooting than people may expect, but don't let that discourage you from one of the most engaging stories found on any platform this year. The production values coupled with great writing and voice acting make this a great Tomb Raider style game with the sort of duck and cover shooting players seem to expect these days. Enemies come at you in waves, flush you out with grenades and flank you when they can, so expect to play on easy if you're a novice console player more interested in the story and exploration. Highly recommended as a rental, with no loads to speak of and a plot that doesn't let up, you may finish this one quickly. – Certis
World In Conflict (PC) - Probably the best game that nobody has played this year, this is the game that got lost in the shuffle despite its excellent single and multi-play. For you children of the eighties, who wondered whether you'd measure up to Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn when the commies invaded, this is a game that hits at the gut level. RTS games without resource management are, in my book, already a step ahead, but adding in the sensation of being a part of a larger battle and having to adjust tactics and even expectations on the fly brings a great sense of tension and immersion into the game. Going from the traditional tactics of directing tanks around the battlefield to managing naval artillery strikes to directing key airtstrikes all in the span of moments reinvigorates a tired gameplay model.
When February comes and you're trying to remember the games of 2007 you missed and should have played, this needs to be at the top of the list. – Elysium
Xbox LIVE Arcade - This was an incredible year for XBLA, giving us Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, and half a dozen solid timewasters. The move towards online boardgaming is just insanely great, and I hope it's a trend that continues. – Rabbit
Zack & Wiki (Wii) - A grand little point and click adventure for the Wii, or more accurately, point and click and shake and swing and wave and so on. The physical gestures enliven without overwhelming the main game, the puzzles are challenging, and the cartoonish characters grow on you after an initial bit of adjustment. It's frustrating to replay an entire level after one fatal misstep, but most deaths can be avoided with caution, planning, and clever approaches to hazards. So, it's a non-Nintendo, non-franchise Wii title, an adventure game, and requires persistence and intelligence. As expected, it's selling worse than a lipstick named Herpés. – Nyles