Tag Archives: videogames

Best of 2008 Awards: Best Shooting Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Shooter

  • Gears of War 2
  • Left 4 Dead

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Shooters are quite the competitive category these days. It is a genre I enjoy, but one in which it is easier than some of the other crowded categories for me to choose a favorite. This is because I tend to be rather selective with my shooters. It is a genre from which I accept no mediocrity. The primary reason for this is honestly that I get bored of any shooter that isn’t fantastic, so I don’t waste time or money on anything that’s not pretty much spectacular.

Thus, for me, a game like Call of Duty 4 was only a rental. I haven’t even bothered to play Resistance 2 yet. Call of Duty 5 and its WWII setting holds no appeal whatsoever. You see my point.

Two shooters in particular managed to sneak their way into my lineup last year. For me the choice was clear. Gears of War 2 was a brilliant dose of high-octane, testosterone packed, spectacular action fun. It was also immensely predictable, bogged down with poorly told story points, riddled with a few too many moments that were overly frustrating, and set damn near entirely in drab underground environments.

Left 4 Dead, on the other hand, is a game that is brilliantly simple. There’s no unnecessary story. Just four people, a few guns, and a whole hell of a lot of zombies. The environments themselves tell all the story you need to know (and do a great job of it). It is one of the best cooperative experiences I have ever played in a game. While there are perhaps fewer levels than I might like, you can go back to them countless times without getting bored thanks to the AI Director.

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This artificial puppeteer keeps things so consistently intense that you’ll never once be bored, changing things up every single run through a level just enough to keep you on your toes and avoid too much predictability, but at the same time rarely lets things feel frustrating or needlessly difficult (unless you happen to be playing on Expert of course, but the entire point of that difficulty level is to be stupidly hard, so I can’t really fault the game for delivering there).

I even enjoyed the online play and the versus mode, which are things I normally don’t even touch in shooters. Now that’s an impressive feat.

Left 4 Dead is one of the most intense and consistently fun games I have played in a long time. It nails the aesthetic, the difficulty, the co-op mechanics, the online play, the versus mode, and pretty much everything else (hell, even the achievements are pretty well done), making it clearly my favorite shooter of 2008.

Now come on, Valve, just give me a few more levels.

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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Racing Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Racing Game

  • Burnout Paradise
  • Mario Kart Wii

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As much as I love Mario Kart and as great as I thought last year’s particular rendition of the game was, let’s face it, it’s not really in the running here.  Mario Kart is fun but this iteration was probably even less innovative than the GameCube installment.  There’s nothing wrong with that mind you, and I had plenty of fun with it, but come on, it’s up against Burnout Paradise.

Mario Kart Wii’s biggest new feature was probably its motion controlled steering, which nobody who actually cared about winning every once in a while actually used.  On the other hand, Burnout Paradise took an already awesome racing series, took a rather spectacular leap into an open-world setting, and made it significantly more awesome in the process.  Seeing your Miis cheering from the sidelines of the race courses, while awesome and much-appreciated, just can’t compare.

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Rarely does an open world game truly feel like it needs to be open world to me.  Most of the time all it means it that you have to walk farther to get to where you need to go instead of being able to select it from a far more convenient menu.  Sure Burnout Paradise should have given up some of its realism for a restart option, but it used its open world setting to its fullest.  Just driving around randomly at top speed for no reason was immensely entertaining.  Every street had its own records to set.  Every stretch of road contained its own challenges.  Showtime mode is addictive in its simplicity and can be played at any time the player desires.  The game is filled to the brim with fun stuff to do and is one of the most refreshingly fun racing games to appear in quite some time.

On top of all that, the developers have produced what has to be one of the more impressive efforts of post-release support for a game seen outside of the Rock Band platform.  The sheer amount of cool free stuff they have released for the game combined with the paid content that is quickly forthcoming has kept this game relevant and continually fun and fresh for far longer than it would have otherwise.  The motorcycle content alone could have been its own $10 download and few probably would have complained.

Plus, we’re getting our restart option now too.  And for free.  It’s nice when a developer listens to its fans.

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Press X to Not Die

All right, that’s it, timed button pressing minigames have got to stop invading my videogames.

I know it’s some sort of shiny fad or obsession or fetish or in-thing, but they’re not fun.

You hear me developers? Not bloody fun! Unfun. Anti-entertainment. Enjoyability factor zero. Stupendously unentertaining. Spectacular fun-fail of the highest order.

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The only reason these stupid things even exist is because developers get on their cinematic high-horse and want to have the spiffy-ultra-cool protagonist do some insane, needlessly showy, bring-in-the-stunt-double move and can’t figure out a way to make it actually, you know, interactive or enjoyable or fun or involving for the player.

“Hey, I know! Let’s throw in some parts where the player will have to randomly press a button that flashes on the screen during the scene suddenly and without any warning whatsoever! That’ll be great! That’ll solve all of our problems! That won’t be distracting or repetitive or annoying or cliched or old or not actually all that interactive at all! It’ll be like a miniature rhythm game slapped in the middle of our super-ultra-shiny-superfluous cutscene. Only without the music. Or the fun. That’ll totally draw the player into the experience and make them forget that our canned movie scene is having all of the fun instead of the player. I’m a freakin’ genius.”

Yeah, right along with the fifty gazillion other people who have now done the same thing.

You know, the idea was acceptably unique when Dragon’s Lair tried it in 1983. It added a small dose of interest to Shenmue. It provided for a few cool moments in God of War. It allowed a couple of tense actions scenes in Resident Evil 4.

But the concept is dead. Done. Overcooked. Destroyed. Played-out.

Take Prince of Persia, for instance. Clearly this was a team that had no earthly idea how to make an enjoyable combat system. I mean, I don’t think these poor guys even knew where to start.

First of all, the whole “combo memorization” thing got old just shortly after Mortal Kombat II. I prefer something slightly less putridly archaic in my action-packed battles, thank you very much.

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Secondly, there’s nothing quite as jarring as having the fighting system randomly determine that it’s time to take control completely out of your hands and test your reflexes instead of your skill.

“All right, Prince! Yeah! Show that enemy who’s boss with your sword-slinging prowess. You’ve got him right where you want him. Now, use your skills to — HOLY CRAP PRESS THE SQUARE BUTTON RIGHT NOW!”

“Oops, too late. You fail.”

Now that’s my definition of fun combat, let me tell you.

For some reason, more and more of these aggravating twitchy tests appear in the combat sequences the further you get into the game. As if that’s the way I want my progress to be rewarded. As if that’s the way I’m going to be able to tell that my skill is growing and the challenge is rising.

But of course! I’m failing more of these distracting button-matching sequences. I haven’t matched this many shapes since I was in kindergarten. I must be getting better at the game! Or something.

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This has to stop.

I’m all for interaction in games. As you might be able to tell from my cleverly subtle wording, I’m decidedly more a fan of games that let you play them as opposed to games that decide to show you crap while you sit back and twiddle your thumbs.

But half-assed, needless, mindless sequences like these “Quick Time Events” aren’t the way to go about it. If you seriously can’t think of any better way to involve me in your sequence, just show me what you have to show me and get on with it. Don’t shove these reflex testers in my face and then smile smugly in the corner thinking you’ve solved the problem of interactivity in cutscenes and created the ultimate involving story sequence.

You haven’t. You’ve created another in a long string of glorified movies that require you to press a button within a half-second time frame to continue watching them.

Would watching movies be more fun this way? Would you finish the ending credits with a smile on your face if you had to press the “2” button on your remote in 3/4 of a second before Neo’s punch landed on Agent Smith’s ugly mug or else it would kick you back to the beginning of the scene?

No, of course not. That would suck. Just like it does in movie sequences within games.

Would Metal Gear Solid have been more fun if, during the interminably long codec sequences, Meryll would have randomly burst out with, “Press the triangle button, Snake!” every few minutes and you would have had to react before the anti-triangle-button explosive charge went off in your head and blew your slimy brain to bits?

Well, maybe, but that’s just because I don’t like Metal Gear Solid anyway.

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The point is, if you can figure out a clever way to bring interactivity into your games, then great. More power to you. Go for it. Even if this happens to involve timed button presses.

For instance, look at Indigo Prophecy. It was flawed, but the buttons you had to randomly match on screen at least occasionally matched up with what was going on behind the prompts. Mind you even then you couldn’t actually see what was going on because you were too busy looking for the damn prompts so your eyes couldn’t actually focus on the action, but it was still better than some other implementations.

Or look at Heavy Rain by the same developers. It’s much the same idea only the buttons to press are floating over the in-game items and actions they correspond to.

Now that’s more like it.

But having Prince’s sarcastic little ass blown across the screen every time I don’t press the square button quickly enough?

Well, you can take your Quick Time Event and shove it down your circle button.

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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Puzzle Game

Zestful Contemplations Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Contender:

  • Braid

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Few puzzle games have ever been able to grip me, for whatever reason, so in 2008 there was really only one puzzle game that mattered to me. That is to say, it is the only puzzle game I can remember playing. Luckily it was a really, really good one, so even if I am fairly ignorant of the genre, I can be halfway confident in stating that this would be a strong contender even on a list that came from slightly more experience than this one happens to.

Braid is a game that could almost be called pretentious, in a sense. I would argue this is not a bad thing. It is almost the very definition of the type of game the snooty games-as-art people bring up when they say that a game can be more than just mere entertainment; that a game can be considered, rightfully and truly, as something with a deeper meaning, purpose, and connection to the viewer.

For the record, I am one of these snooty games-as-art people and that is why I love Braid so much.

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It demonstrates with wonderful enthusiasm that games can do so much more than just provide the next summer blockbuster where your fingers happen to be pressing buttons to make things happen every once in a while instead of munching on popcorn.

It has a gorgeous and totally unique art style fit for framing and hanging on the wall. Its story is brilliantly told in a minimalistic fashion that doesn’t get in the way, but is still emotionally meaningful and impactful when the big twist comes your way. It uses its level designs to enhance the story.

Perhaps best of all, it shows how a small development team can create an absolute masterpiece to rival some of the best productions of the big studios (in its own little way) and almost singlehandedly shoves downloadable games into the realm of relevance.

Oh, and it has some pretty good puzzle elements in there somewhere too, now that I think about it.

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Rest in Peace, as My Fond Memories Shall Remain

I cannot even begin to fathom the twisted thought process that would lead to a company believing that it was a sound investment to purchase a company and then immediately dump every single valuable asset it contained. It is a truly pristine example of the proverbial flushing of money down the toilet.

A catastrophic misjudgment? A nefarious alternate motive? Idiotic corporate politics as usual? A sad inevitability that is a product of our rapidly changing times?

Ultimately it matters not. One of the last bastions of print gaming journalism at its best is no more.

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The question of why I even have any sort of emotional connection to such a fossilized medium as a print-based magazine that covers a subject as modern and constantly shifting as video games is certainly a valid one.

Electronic Gaming Monthly was the first gaming publication I ever subscribed to. I have been a loyal subscriber since issue 95. Yet there is more than loyalty at play here.

EGM marked the beginning of an era for me. It was the first place I turned to when I decided that this video game thing was something I wanted to stick with. The cheesy graphics work and decidedly less sophisticated writing of those early issues of mine mark a distinct turning point in my gaming career.

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I’ve been following the magazine ever since and have read just about every issue. I was chastising myself recently for being behind a couple of issues, but now I’m glad my busy schedule got in my way. Now I can read every word of these last precious few issues and cherish these remaining memories with a group of writers I hold dear to my heart in a publication I’ve been reading for damn near as long as I’ve considered video games an actual hobby.

EGM also signifies something greater, grander, and more important than my own memories. In its dying days it struggled to be more than your average gaming magazine. Sure there were reviews and previews and coverage of major releases, but there was more than that. It dialed down the focus on the inevitably outdated sections such as news and instead focused on content of the likes that I’ve yet to find an equal for on this much-hyped “Internet” thingamajig.

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The Internet has brought great things to gaming coverage and there can be no doubt that it has thoroughly outclassed the poor magazine in many areas. But one thing it has seemingly yet to match is the dedication, passion, and depth I have found recently in the pages of the newest EGMs. The terrific exclusive interviews, the in-depth feature articles, magazines thematically devoted to entire issues, special features and sections that the highly categorized and news-focused web sites just don’t have the time or space for, are all things I am going to miss dearly.

EGM was spearheading a new, tougher direction for gaming journalism that I was proud to be a supporter of through my readership and subscription. Their writing didn’t feel like glorified PR, a fate an alarming number of other publications have fallen victim to. They weren’t afraid to ask tough questions, even if their inboxes were flooded with fanboy rage soon after. They were trying to do something different with their publication that everyone else seemed to afraid to do. Their writers were not just fans of games who gushed or raged about them in their articles. They were more than that. They were journalists. They sought the truth above all else, even in this seemingly frivolous medium. That’s something sadly rare in the all too infantile realm of gaming coverage.

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So, perhaps more than anything else, the loss of EGM and catastrophic downsizing of 1UP means a significant setback for those who think about games more seriously; for those who want to place their gaming hobby on a pedestal of equal level with those long established dais of movies, music, and literature. I may be a writing student who has largely shunned his required journalism courses as fairly unnecessary to his own perceived destiny, but they had enough of an impact on me to give me a great respect for the art of reporting and what it could do for my revered hobby of video games.

Seeing that fresh copy of EGM arrive in the mailbox is an experience I’m going to miss dearly. It’s one of those simple pleasures in life that you can’t explain to anyone else, but that brings you great joy anyway. The pain is especially severe because it’s a feeling, albeit an admittedly small one, that I don’t expect to be able to feel again in my lifetime. It’s obvious enough that magazines are a dying breed and I genuinely doubt I’m going to hold any publication as dear to me as one that I read and cherished for so long. I loved that magazine damn it, weird as it may seem to anyone else, and I make no apologies for my heartbreak over its loss.

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To all the writers of 1UP: I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Although I know it realistically won’t be possible, I will try my best to keep track of as many of you as possible. Your writing is what made your publications such an important part of my life and those of you that continue writing elsewhere I hope to follow to wherever else you may roam. I hope you do your best to carry on EGM’s mission of making gaming journalism something to be respected, rather than slobbered over by fanboys and completely ignored by everyone else.

To UGO, and anyone else involved in the business dealings that led to this sad day: I cannot empathize with your incomprehensible actions. I cannot understand how you thought this would be a good move. But I also cannot truly be angry. Business is business and the world must move on. Maybe it was just destined to happen sooner or later. Regardless, throwing venom in your general direction wouldn’t do anyone any good and wouldn’t lessen the pain or emptiness caused by the void of displaced talent you have left in your wake.

I simply wish that, whatever you choose to do with your acquired properties, you do them justice. Either let them die a dignified death, or carry them to new heights. Just don’t let them languish in a painful limbo. They deserve better than that. Either way, I won’t be a reader of the future 1UP, nor will most others who were formerly in your camp I would imagine. What could you have dreamed would possibly be the result of this? After all, you’ve brutally slain what once made the brand so great. 1UP and EGM were the terrific institutions that they were in virtue of their writers and wonderful staff. Having now dismissed most of those valuable assets, there is little left to truly care about.

Goodbye Electronic Gaming Monthly. You will forever hold a place on my shelves and in my heart.

egmsigned

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Best of 2008: Best Fighting Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Just in time for 2008 to be a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.
Best Fighting Game

Contenders:

  • Soulcalibur IV
  • Super Smash Bros Brawl

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For a category that supposedly doesn’t see much in the way of contention these days, the fighting game genre sure turned out some pretty big hits this year.  Heck, despite every molecule of my brain being confused by the very prospect, apparently Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe isn’t actually soul-crushingly terrible.  Go figure.

There were two entries this year that rather blew me away for their own reasons.  It was damn near a double K.O.  But in the end, Soulcalibur’s spirit burned brightest.

Despite being a giant Nintendo nut, I never really got into the past couple of Smash Bros games.  I was pleasantly surprised this time around when, for whatever reason, Brawl really hooked me.  It was quite addicting.

Still, there’s no topping Soulcalibur for me when it comes to the ultimate fighting experience.  Amazing graphics, a great character creator, Star Wars guest characters who were out of place but still fun, and that classic mix of simple controls, deep gameplay, and stylish moves put this one over the top.  It’s a formula that hasn’t changed much since its inception, but that’s because it doesn’t need to.

Despite lackluster single player modes (something unfortunately common to fighting games and one area where Brawl was decidedly superior), there’s enough here to keep Calibur fans busy until the Soul begins yearning for the next installment.

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