While Portal is being given its much deserved credit for the year, and Half-Life 2 has enjoyed years of acclaim, let's not forget about the other pillar of Valve's The Orange Box. It's been eight years since the release of Team Fortress Classic, and the game has undergone so many revisions and delays we half expected it to be released alongside Duke Nukem Forever sometime in 2012. As it turned out, the game not only saw the light of day but ended up being an addictive online experience.
As a console gamer enjoying this with a gamepad, I don't care much much for the sniper, soldier, demoman, or anything except medic and occasionally the engineer. There's something brutally satisfying about charging into battle behind a heavy weapons guy, dodging the occasional bullet (people still haven't learned) and injecting him with a team-killing jolt of invincibility. Hours of enjoyment and not a single bullet shot. Pure. Enjoyment.
One of my favorite articles from Scott's Off the Grid columns has always been his review of Carcassonne. Of course, I never cared go to the actual lengths of finding the game or friends who were willing to sit down with me and play it. So, when the Xbox Live version was announced, I waited for that. And it was worth the wait, with the exception of the cringe-inducing background music.
Sure, it was technically released on Nintendo 64 in 2000, but this Treasure, erm, treasure has only this year been translated and officially released in North America via a Virtual Console download. The characters are extremely androgynous (short shorts but with very manly grunts? Really?) and the music is inappropriately upbeat given the over-the-top dramatic storyline. Of course, all this adds to the atmosphere, and this on-the-rails shooter is incredibly fun. Be the first kid on your block to recognize Saki in next year's Smash Bros. Brawl.
This game is personal for many reasons: one of my first, and still favorite, interviews I've done with Joystiq (and consequently my entire career covering the games industry) was talking to flOw creator Jenova Chen in September 2006. Although still available as a free flash game created as his Masters' thesis, Chen's PlayStation 3 version displayed on 1080p television is quite the soothing experience. The game is still one of my favorite examples of using the Sixaxis controls, and the recent expansion got me caught up with the game yet again.
My favorite pastime of 2007: trying to explain what the point of flOw is. I predict my favorite pastime of 2008 will be trying to explain to myself what flOwer is.
The following items were even harder to justify as "games," but I still managed to thoroughly enjoy:
- HD Movie Menu Screens - Compelled by my love for the show Heroes and Best Buy's crazy awesome deal, I picked up the Xbox 360 HD-DVD player. Sure, I could just watch the show normally, but now you can go through menus and the video will just keep on playing. Even more exciting, when you switch in and out of the menu, the entire screen shrinks dynamically. I'm not ashamed to admit this was a thoroughly satisfying experience that I replayed over and over again until someone slapped the controller out of my hand.
- FreeRice - I didn't want to label this a game, per se, because essentially it's just a multiple choice game. However, by merit of having a steep difficulty curve, an unforgiving level system (you drop one level for every wrong answer and only raise a level by answering three correct in a row) and being linguistic-centric, I couldn't resist playing this obsessively for the last couple of months.
- My Word Coach - Make no mistake, I like My Word Coach. I think it's a fun game, but I wanted it to be amazing. After last year's Bookworm Adventures and Brain Age, I was looking for another outlet for feed my inner-English nerd. Unfortunately, I only found a few of the game modes (Word Shuffle, Split Decision, Missing Letter and perhaps Block Letters) engaging. Also, after a month of playing almost daily - that's approximately 1200 successful words - I only saw a handful of vocables that even challenged me. Maybe it gets more challenging after you unlock the harder difficulty levels, but that's taking way too much effort and I just assume get my diction-fix playing FreeRice.
- Lair - Uh, yeah.
- LittleBigPlanet's absence - Ever since my playtime E3 - no, ever since the initial unveiling at GDC - we have been clamoring to get our hands on the title in the confines of our own homes. A demo was supposed to come this year, and it never showed. I cried.