2007 in review: Games

Just like films, I didn’t actually play many games in 2007. I watched plenty, and assisted Alex on a good many difficult levels and challenges; but games that I actually sat down and dedicated time to because I wanted to…not so much.

Let’s see, there was Pokémon Pearl in July, which was fun, although I haven’t finished it, and doubt if I ever will. My natural play style is slow and methodical, and I like to spend lots of time battling and upgrading my core team of Pokémon before moving on to the next area. Alex, on the other hand, wants to blast straight through as quickly as possible, and wants me to keep up. This is why my Turtwig is still only at level 40-odd, while his Empoleon has reached about a zillion. We experienced a certain amount of tension because of this.

Halo 3? Can’t see what all the fuss is about. I played it mostly out of obligation: after having played the first two, it would be rude not to complete the trilogy. I did the first two levels on Heroic difficulty, but quickly dropped back to Normal, because I just wanted to get it over with. And then was disappointed by the weak ending. Come to think of it, that’s almost exactly how I felt about Halo 2, too.

Bioshock was excellent. The underwater city of Rapture is one of the best video game environments ever: I spent the first hour or so just wandering around in awe. It’s beautiful, mysterious, full of detail, and meticulously dilapidated. As you make your way through abandoned walkways and crumbling buildings, you uncover reminders of the inhabitants’ high hopes of a better world and a better life. The story is deliberately constructed to give you a large amount of moral freedom, and the choices you make genuinely affect the way the game plays out. Some of the plot twists are a bit obvious, but overall it was a thrilling experience.

Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction is lovely, although I haven’t finished it yet. Alex and Abi are both on their second run-throughs, on challenge mode. We’ve all been big fans of the series from its beginning, and this was the first must-have game for the PS3. (In fact, we don’t even have any other games for the PS3 yet. How sad are we.) However, as many commentators have pointed out, in terms of gameplay, it doesn’t offer anything substantially different from its predecessors. But that’s okay. Sometimes you just want to cuddle up with the familiar. And it’s still really good.

Super Mario Galaxy is, of course, gorgeous and amazing. Just as with Ratchet and Clank, I haven’t finished it yet, but with the amount that Alex has played it, I feel like I have. It’s a much more forgiving game than Super Mario Sunshine. The worlds offer generous helpings of extra lives (although, annoyingly, you can’t carry them over between saves), and there are few challenges that took more than a handful of attempts. It’s a brilliant and fun game.

But without any doubt, the game of the year for me was Portal. I started playing it at about 21:30 on New Year’s Eve, and had to stop because of exhaustion at about 02:00, about three-quarters through the final level. The next day, as soon as the kids were in bed, I finished it, and immediately started back at the beginnig again–partly to hear the developers’ commentary track, and partly because it was so much damn fun.

On one level, it presents a fresh and innovative game mechanic, and exploits this with beautifully designed puzzles. This alone would make it a great game. But the script turns it into a true work of genius. It is hysterically funny, but also sinister, menacing, and melancholy. The environments you move through are simple, but the world they are set in–of which you only receive hints–is rich. It is fully connected to the Half-Life universe, but you don’t need any prior knowledge of those games to enjoy Portal. If you do know what is happening in the outside world (“when I look out there it makes me I’m glad I’m not you”), you can let your imagination run wild about how the events here hook up there.

It’s also a rare game that spawns actual catchphrases. Cake, anyone?