Sorry for the delay on my review of the year, partly due to being busy and partly due to being lazy!
Game of the Year and Single player gaming experience of the year:Fable 2
I have to admit this first of all. I never played the first Fable much. I bought it at launch and played it a bit but in the end, it just got left by the wayside in favour of so many other games. But when I started hearing bits and pieces about its sequel, I realised I had to have it. In fact, I needed it so much that it was a huge deciding factor in my decision to buy a 360.
Eventually, a mere two years after buying the console, I had the chance to play Fable 2. Was I disappointed? Hell no! Sure it was far from perfect and it was missing a few promised features, such as the much mooted ‘Plant an acorn as a child, come back as an adult to see a fully grown tree’ feature but for me, it was an amazing experience with my only real complaint being that it ended a little too soon for my liking. The game starts out very slow (don’t all RPGs?), but the start still shows off the impressive graphics and made me stop and stare for a few moments. Sure they don’t look photo realistic (and the character models are a bit lacking), but the cinematography is great if you ask me. It makes the opening city, Bowerstone, seem huge when actually it isn’t really.
There are a few simple quests set up to give you a taste of the moral quandaries you’ll be facing in the future once you’ve reached adulthood. Some nice comedic moments abound such as an arrest warrant stating: ‘assault with a weapon we can’t believe could possibly be deadly but unfortunately was’. The sort of thing that makes you smile at the thought put into the writing. The narrator of the game is voiced by Zoe Wannamaker which is nice casting, I’ve also noticed a cameo by James Corden (of Gavin and Stacey fame) and I’m sure I recognise other voices from somewhere too. After childhood has passed, the game opens up much more. It doesn’t open up to the levels of Oblivion but to the sort of level I’m most happy with. This might sound strange but I don’t strictly want an entirely open ended and non linear game, I like the interactive fiction part of games, having a story unfold around me.
It gave me a certain amount of freedom without feeling overwhelming, with often funny consequences (try walking into a city naked, yet another nice touch), but not so much that it detracts from a good narrative structure. In Fable 2 you can do various jobs, buy property and rent it out (and earn money while not actually playing), get married etc. All a bit Sims like, and it is in places, certainly when it comes to keeping your husband or wife happy, but it’s nice to have the option. The game feels full of options even if they’re not quite as open ended as they appear to be. The jobs, such as bartending, blacksmithing and woodcutting, are all a little samey (basic press the button at the right time games) but they’re still strangely addictive. Of course as I said earlier, Fable 2 isn’t perfect. Many people reported game ending bugs and glitches, but somehow I was lucky. Despite playing through it twice from start to finish, not once did I have a problem.
The only downside I could really find in it is it’s just not very challenging, instead it feels like it’s aimed at those who want to simply enjoy the experience rather than those wanting a challenge on their hand. In summary I really can’t recommend Fable 2 enough. It may not be the longest game in the world but it truly is one of the most memorable gaming experiences I’ve had in years, certainly compared to anything else on the Xbox 360. The game is now available for under £20 and with new DLC coming soon, there really is no excuse to not give this game a shot. I hope you will be as pleasantly surprised as I was. I’m really glad it lived up to my expectations as far too many games don’t, most notably Mass Effect last year.
Multiplayer game of the year: Gears of War 2 Horde mode
This is a tricky one for me to award as, at time of writing, I haven’t yet played Call of Duty: World at War online and I’ve only played the single player segments of Left 4 Dead, both games that I suspect rightfully deserve this title. However Gears of War 2 Horde mode is brilliant fun and certainly the most fun I’ve had in multiplayer since Call of Duty 4. It is such a simple concept, 5 players versus an array of enemies in one small enclosed area. Of course this is a concept that Left 4 Dead improves upon hugely but as I’ve not played it with friends yet, it’d be wrong to vote for it.
Original IP of the year:Mirror’s Edge
Such an unique premise for a game and from EA of all places! I didn’t really pay much attention to this until friends started playing it and raving about it. I still wasn’t too sure but rented it from work as I figured, I might as well while it was free. I only had it for a night but instantly loved it. Much like Left 4 Dead and Gears 2 Horde, it was a simple concept that I couldn’t help but marvel that no one had thought of it before, but it worked so well. Then of course, I was extremely fortunate that Nokkonwud got me it for Christmas so now I can play it to my heart’s delight! If you’ve not played it and you love the concept of freerunning, you need to get this.
Story of the Year:Lost Odyssey
The only game to make me cry this year. The Thousand Years of Dreams segments were always touching and really evoked such emotions that I’m sure non game players would be astonished by.
Biggest Letdown of the Year:Spiderman: Web of Shadows
I haven’t really been let down by a game this year so it was a bit tricky to decide. It was between Sonic Chronicles and Spiderman: Web of Shadows. When I was sent Sonic Chronicles to review, I was really looking forward to trying it as I figured Bioware + Sonic must equal excellent. It was just too kiddy and basic, seems like a terrible waste of a game. However Spiderman was such a waste. The first half of the game was brilliant fun and Treyarch completely blew it for the second half I didn’t actually have high expectations of this till I played the first half and if the whole game had been like it, it would have been in my top 10 games of the year. Instead, it became merely average and deeply flawed. I’ve still yet to complete it.
Surprise of the Year:Fifa 09/Quantum of Solace
Joint winners here as I couldn’t decide between the two. Fifa 09 might seem an odd choice to some but I haven’t played a football game in a couple of years. The last ones were Pro Evo 6 and Fifa 07 and Pro Evo ruled entirely but was a little limited in options. I didn’t really pay attention to the 08 varieties. So when I heard such good reviews about Fifa 09, I risked it as Tesco had it quite cheap. Really glad I did. It is great fun and feels like the full package to me. I especially love the Be a Pro mode, something I’ve wanted for years in a football game! Really glad I bought it.
Quantum of Solace was the first Bond game since Goldeneye that was actually good fun to play, so it deserves to win something. It’s unfortunate that it arrived in between so many huge games such as Gears 2, CoD:WaW and Fallout 3 because it really did deserve more attention. At only around £20 if you look around, it really is worth a go.
Game or gaming innovation you’re most excited about for 2009: Apple iPhone
This might seem an odd one too, but have you seen some of the games on offer? Sim City, Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid Touch, Guitar Hero Rock Tour along with many attractive independent releases such as Rolando and Doctor Awesome. Mark my words, 2009 could be a big one for the iPhone. I’ll write more at a later date as I’m currently writing up an article on this for play.tm
Stay tuned for the Personal Review of the Year!