Itís undeniable that this year has been one of the best for the console gaming industry. Many blockbusters were released, many were delayed much to the chagrin of developers and the bemoaning of gamers, and the competitive arena flourished. The year 2007 was a fantastic year but all the while, quite the ugly one as well. Here with a review of 2007, hindsight truly is 20/20 and Evan ďremarK-Ē Markert is here to give presents and lumps of coal alike to the 3 major consoles and the competitive arena.
Probably the star of the three consoles this year (at least, for those of you with short-term memories) because of the star-studded 3rd and 4th quarters, Microsoft had an astounding year with its Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 was coming off of one its better years last year with the last release of Gears of War, Epicís gore filled romp through a dystopian world of subterranean invaders marauding the planet, and Rainbow Six: Vegas, another Clancy title that actually delivered on the tactical action that served it so well in the past. Really, itís hard to even remember the beginning of the year, but if we can all stretch back to the glorious springtime, we will remember a sandbox title by the name of Crackdown. An overlooked title mostly due to the fact its main selling point wasnít even a part of the actual game itself, rather, a beta-key to what was then the most coveted beta in gaming, Halo 3.
Crackdown was a magnificent game that combined the sandbox environment that gamers had come to love in games such as Grand Theft Auto and combined it with a slick gameplay development that dates back to the first video games such as Mario Bros. It challenged gamers to run around the city to collect power ups to garner superhuman strengths and abilities. Eventually, leaping from building to building became to the best aspect of the game and driving was a thing of the past. This unique game brought something different to the table as far as the Xbox was concerned and especially a sort of individuality to sandbox gaming, as Grand Theft Auto, even in all its glory, was becoming too pigeonholed to a sort of ďrun here, drive here, kill this guy, drive back, do it againĒ.
While the Halo 3 Beta was able to assuage the incessant whining and the all-too-familiar shaking of withdrawal for a brief while, it wasnít until the final release of Halo 3 in September that they were finally cured permanently. The final installment in the trilogy capped the story of Master Chief and the Covenant invasion of Earth (where we were so brutally left hanging after the penultimate Halo 2) and helped to ignite what would be the biggest few months in Microsoft history. Halo garnered a massive launch and as such, what can only be described as monstrous profits. Deservedly so, Halo 3 was not only the bread and butter from Halo 2 with its revolutionary matchmaking system and brilliant multiplayer gameplay, rather, the additions of community downloadable content and the ability to create the wildest custom games using the innovative Forge tool, Bungie really delivered with Halo 3.
Near the end of this year, who can argue with a line-up that includes Halo 3, Bioshock, The Orange Box, Call of Duty 4, and Mass Effect. While some other games are surely worthy of mention, they were also launched on multiple platforms or these games had their most significant launches on the Xbox platform. Call of Duty 4 is slowly becoming the FPS of choice given its striking graphics and addictive gameplay. Multiplayer options in so much as weapons, map design, and stunning gameplay additions such as airstrikes and helicopter support in multiplayer are really beginning to win the hearts of the coveted, and fickle, first-person shooter demographic. Bioshock also entered the realm of premier gaming with the stunning graphics and exhaustive and breathtaking story. The underwater Rapture was surely a haunting environment that gamers could spend hours and hours in due to the massive amount of detail put into the game and the eerie sounds and visuals that awaited the player around every turn. Mass Effect rounded out the year for the Xbox 360 with its expansive story and captivating RPG gameplay. Finally a worthy RPG had been developed for the Microsoft machine and it had been done beautifully by the BioWare Corp. team.
But the year was not without its disappointments for the 360. Franchise games were delayed unexpectedly and unexpectedly often. Grand Theft Auto IV was delayed out of the 2007 calendar and is bordering on a 2nd quarter release in 2008, a true letdown for any gamer. However, the biggest disappointment of the year was the dreaded Red Ring of Death. Many a gamer met this unfortunate fate and often at the most inopportune times. Yours truly met this terrible fate the moment he placed the Halo 3 disc into the drive. If there is a silver lining to this tragedy, it is the extension of the warranty of the Xbox 360 from 1 year to a 3 years should it produce the flashing three red lights of terror. Even with this appeasement, however, Microsoft should have foreseen these terrible happenings upon stress testing the Xbox or even testing the subpar equipment used to build the machines.
The Good: Brilliant 3rd and 4th quarter line-ups
The Bad: GTA IV delays
The Ugly: The RRoD
The godfather of console gaming, Nintendo, unleashed its newest entry into the console gaming world: the Wii. The highly interactive system advertised its innovative and addictive gameplay to the entire spectrum of gamers rather than the narrow demographic of those who play time-intensive games or steep learning curve IPís. Rather, the Nintendo Wii targeted the casual gamer or those who donít play video games often and would like to play for the simplicity of wasting time in front of the television. Not only this; they also advertised the ability to get up and move about while playing.
The Nintendo Wii had probably the most unexpected year of the three. The console absolutely took off and never looked back. Eventualy swallowing up the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 in sales, the Wii truly was a market Cinderella. I thought this would be Nintendoís last gasping breath into the market, however, this seems to be the fresh breath of air thatís breathed new life into the company. Maybe Iím simply short-sighted, but the captivity that the Wii exhibits through its simple interactivity and really, basically fun games such as Wii Play and Wii Sports (who doesnít like beating their father's avatar to a ragdoll pulp in Wii Boxing?) is truly startling.
The games for the Nintendo Wii are one of its best and yet, worst selling points. And with that, weíll start with the best. With IPís like Zelda, Metroid, and Mario, itís hard not to agree that the Wii has fantastic games for the console. Zelda brought the targeting of the bow and mounted combat to a whole new level and even the Zelda: Linkís Crossbow Training was great with the new controller addition that created a whole new feel. The highly adaptable controller for the Wii is sure to see many different incarnations (like the Wii Guitar Hero controller) that refresh each game they are designed for. The true gem of the year though for Nintendo is Super Mario Galaxy. Itís as if Miyamoto took everything that made every Super Mario Bros. game from the first game on the Nintendo Entertainment System to one of the best games ever made, Mario 64, and threw it into a blender, added a dash of Miyamoto charm, and created one of the best, if not the best video game ever made. Super Mario Galaxy is a wonderment to behold, much less play. The game is a true odyssey through video game development and platformer action and design.
Mario blasts off in Mario Galaxy. With each of these games wiimote innovation seems to be the most important thing for the development of the game. With Zelda, the interaction with the crosshair and the combat was integrated wonderfully into the wiimote. In Super Mario Galaxy, the star bits and moving around in the Ďpull starsí with the wiimote is a joy (even if some of the sound effects eventually sound like ball bearings in a blender). Metroid, much like Zelda, the wiimote is used for combat and HUD interaction. Not to mention that included Wii Sports and Wii play games. Even in these simple games that have almost no embellishment to them at all with the exception of wiimote interaction and gameplay development off of already existing ideas of sports, these games are just plain fun.
While these are some of the games on the positive end of the spectrum, the opposite pole is just as negative as Mario is great. The 3rd party development for the Wii seems to produce what seems to be lackadaisical games, games that mean well, yet, canít deliver on a solid gaming experience. This could be due to the fact that a lot of the games developed for the Wii tend to be experimental in their design because of the new Wiimote innovation. These games tend to revolve around on a single gimmick; they fail to really flesh the gimmick out into a full fledged game, but itís still published anyway. These games are games like Cooking Mama, where bright colors and the same, repetitive motions are done again and again with different bright colors and obnoxious sound effects. With a lack of 3rd party development (like there is for the Xbox 360) and seemingly the only capable developer being Nintendo itself, the Wii is severely lacking in the games department as far as quantity goes and outside development is concerned.
Another shortcoming of the Nintendo Wii is the narrow player base of of the console. While they seem to have targeted the casual gamer, they (knowingly or not) seem to have targeted another demographic within this one, the younger pre-teen to early teen gamer. Most of the games for the Wii (with the notable exception of the Manhunt titles) seem to be released for the younger crowd and one that hardly notices poor choices in game development and design. While this is fine and dandy, the older owners of the Nintendo Wii have been crying out for development of games targeted more towards the mature audience. This seems to be a recurring trend in the Nintendo consoles, most of them acquiring a sort of Ďfamily-funí demeanor early in their inceptions. The predecessor to the Wii, the Nintendo Gamecube also had this connotation and was one that severely crippled their 3rd party publishing as well.
By far the ugliest mishap of 2007 for the Nintendo Wii was the delaying of the blockbuster title, Super Smash Bros: Brawl, the third installment of the very successful series of games pitting pixilated combatants at each other from various (and sometimes obscure) video game sources for an arcade style free-for-all fighter game. The previous Smash Bros, Melee, even had a reputation for being quite the competitive title and even gave Nintendo a title that was competition worthy. The title developed its gamplay to include all sorts of tactics and techniques that were available to the hardcore player, something that other Nintendo titles were sadly missing, and provided that boost to the console that helped drive sales. The stalling of the Super Smash Bros. series was one that seemed to come as a surprise as it was announced rather late in the year and was thought to be on time. Retailers even had to post signs in stores saying that the game was not in stock contrary to pre-orders and online sale advertisements. Although the game is sure to release sometime in the 1st quarter next year, waiting for this game, one that is sure to drive sales and to appeal to the more fanatical gamer, is something really rather ugly.
The Good: Innovative and interactive gameplay
The Bad: Narrow player base (3rd party games)
The Ugly: Delay of Super Smash Bros: Brawl
The Playstation 3 was notably absent in the sales of consoles and a back-burner option for the casual player, which, as proven by the Nintendo Wii, obviously drives sales in the console market. While most are content to belittle the Playstation 3, it did see a rise in sales towards the end of the year and did have some successful advertising going for it. But even so, the Playstation 3 really has a long way to go to catch up, and as of now, the bad definitely outweighs the good of the system.
The positive aspects of the Playstation 3 include the inclusion of the Blu-Ray player into the system. This enabled retailers to move the console off shelves by advertising the sale of 5 Blu-ray DVDís with the purchase of a Playstation 3, definitely a bargain. Also, the Unreal Tournament saw its latest delicious morsel of gory goodness on the Playstation platform and was definitely a needed addition to bolster the ranks of the Playstation arsenal of games. Finally, Call of Duty 4 and Assassinís Creed played just as well as on the Xbox 360 as they did on the Playstation, showing that the hardware of the console can keep up with the more established Xbox (oddly enough, this has been a problem for the Sony console). Strangely, this would seem to be inconsistent given that the cell processor and graphics card of the Sony console from all accounts shouldíve dominated the Xbox console; however, the 3rd party development of some games has been a serious detriment to the Playstation.
Oh Snake, we missed you this year. Although Sony lacked the powerhouse lineup comparable to the Xbox, it did have a few IPís that Sony developed for the console including Ratchet and Clank and the release of Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the enjoyment of Sony fans. The worst feature of 2007 for the Playstation will in turn become the best features for the 2008 year. Blockbuster IPís such as Killzone 2 and Metal Gear are sure to be console sellers for Sony and should reveal a glimmer of hope.
Given 2007 was the first full year that Playstation was on the market, these types of inaugural bumps are to be expected. The Xbox 360 had a full year on the console to establish itself. 2008 will truly be the year to test the Playstation with many blockbusters such as the Metal Gear series and the further development of its blossoming online service and weíre sure to see the Sony console come into its own.
The Good: Blu-Ray player and blossoming online service. PRICE DROP
The Bad: 3rd party development inequality across all platforms
The Ugly: Lack of console-moving IPís