I was reading the year-end games wrap-up at Slate, and I’m struck by the breeziness that seems to be required of a games critic: there are so many games that they can play each one only for a few days. You can see this in Yahtzee’s review of Mirror’s Edge, where he expresses glee that he got it over with in one day. I can’t really get into Penny Arcade for the same reason: the percentage of jokes that relate to games I’ve played is way too low. Many games these days are designed to be long-lasting and immersive, so this kind of treatment is a little artificial.
My level of gaming probably hasn’t changed much… only it used to be almost entirely one game, Civilization. I ended up playing quite a few games this year, and I thought I’d amuse myself ranking them in order.
- Portal – Almost an art game; this could easily have been a Flash puzzle, but unaccountably, rendering it in lush immersive first-person turns it into a classic.
- Fallout 3 – I love sandbox games, and this is the sandboxiest.
- Team Fortress 2 – First multiplayer game that’s really hooked me. Someday I hope to be good at it.
- Half-life 2 – Valve is amazing.
- Jade Empire – Very high on the fun factor; it’s just a blast living in a martial arts movie. Downgraded a bit because it’s over quickly.
- Left 4 Dead
- Second Life – considered as an RPG. It takes some effort, but you can have a really interesting RP experience here, combining the depth and unpredictability of actual human players with the immersiveness of a good graphics and physics engine. The biggest downside for RP is that the combat systems all suck. (And human players inevitably bring too much drama.)
- Mass Effect – Good, but maybe a little too serious. It’s space opera after all; the Capt. Kirk earnestness makes it drier than it has to be. Bioware also has an annoyingly restrictive idea of evil (mostly it comes down to being a blowhard). I like the romance angle though.
- Sid Meier’s Pirates – This was fun for a few evenings, but started to feel repetitive.
- Silkroad Online – I tried this in hopes of re-creating some of the Asian-flavored fun of Jade Empire. Not bad, but eventually the grind got to me: a typical quest is “kill 200 of monster X”. The trading aspect might be fun to do with friends.
- Shaiya – My first exposure to WOW style games. Interesting for awhile, but quests that don’t really change the world at all end up jarring my suspension of disbelief.
- Culpa Innata – Would I recommend this to my friends? No, because they generally prefer just shooting things. Fascinating world; clunky dialog.
- Spore – Really pretty; also really pretty shallow. It’s a lot of fun to see your friends’ creations in-game; but it all seems overbuilt for the level of gameplay supported. When a game’s idea of a quest is “move from point A to point B, as indicated on the minimap”, I just don’t feel like replaying it.