Friday, December 21, 2007

The Year in Review: Year-End Superlatives

All this week, we've been recapping the year that was. Today: year-end superlatives.

To finish up our look back at 2007, we're handing out accolades to the games, systems, and people who made the year so interesting.

Noble Failure of the Year: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords

Every year there's at least one game that should be great, and that I still kind of like in spite of itself. This year, it was Puzzle Quest. The premise -- a fantasy role-playing game in which battles take the form of a gem-swapping puzzle game -- is truly inspired. Thoughts of what the game could have been kept me playing long after it was clear that the game mechanics weren't nearly tuned enough, and my computer opponents were plainly cheating. I never went back to this after I filed my review, but I haven't had the heart to trade it in, either.

PR Knucklehead of the Year: Jack Tretton, Sony

The fine folks at Activision made a late run for this award with their monumental pettiness regarding guitartroller interoperability, but nothing beat Jack Tretton's bizarre, continued pronouncements from Bizarro World about the earth-shattering success of the PlayStation 3. His opus came in February, when he declared: "If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." Now that's chutzpah!

The Donut Hole Award: Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

If I had played it in time, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin would have been a lock for my top-10 list of 2006. It may even have had a shot to place on this year's list if it had been eligible. So consider this my formal apology to a fantastic game, and a strong recommendation for a worthy addition to any Nintendo DS owner's library.

Game Blog of the Year: Dubious Quality

It is a cruel irony that the best video game writer I know of isn't really a video game writer at all -- which is to say that Bill Harris doesn't write about games for a living, and if he does any freelance work he doesn't mention it in his blog. He doesn't even run ads on Dubious Quality. The pearls he continually hands down are proffered free of charge, whether that means crunching the NPD numbers so we don't have to, or delving more deeply into the black heart of EA Sports than any mainstream publication would ever dare. No matter the subject, Dubious Quality is essential reading.

Publisher of the Year: 2K Games

With most publishers piling onto the mini-game bandwagon like it's the last helicopter out of Saigon, 2K Games this year was the paragon of where I'd like to see games headed. Both The Darkness and BioShock were thought-provoking, complex adventures that questioned the very nature of playing games (The Darkness did so implicitly, BioShock explicitly). Both games have stuck with me months after finishing them. Seeing that pitiful Duke Nukem Forever teaser only drove home how much more subtle and complex games have become, and nobody demonstrated that better in 2007 than 2K Games.

Developer of the Year: Valve

Valve had a shot at being the Publisher of the Year, too, but ultimately I decided to focus on their astonishing efforts on the development front (plus, I never use Steam for anything). Valve doesn't just develop games -- they develop talent. No game this year was more inventive than Portal, and Gabe Newell and his band of merry men deserve credit for identifying and nurturing the Portal team, which began as a group of ambitious students at DigiPen. Kudos to them also for taking the time to get Team Fortress 2 right, and for orchestrating one of the most thrilling battle sequences in history at the end of Half-Life 2 Episode Two.

Console of the Year: Xbox 360

Really, what other choice was there? The Wii had its moments, but many of its signature games fell short (Wario Ware, Metroid Prime 3). As for the PlayStation 3, it rebounded quite nicely toward the end of the year with price cuts and some strong first-party titles, but that wasn't enough to make up for all that had come before. No other system could boast the quantity and quality of software that graced the 360.

Publishers churned out fantastic games all year, from Crackdown in February, to Guitar Hero II in April, to The Darkness in June, to BioShock in August -- all traditionally dead times on the release schedule. Even with the apparently catastrophic hardware failure rate of the 360 (mine's still going strong -- knock on wood), it'd be hard to suggest another system to somebody who's looking to buy only one.

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