Gaming Steve

Wii Archives - Page 1

April 22, 2008

Gaming Steve Review: Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Price: $49.99
Platform: Wii
Category: Racing Action
Rating: E for Everyone
Release Date: April 27, 2008 (US), April 10, 2008 (Japan), April 11, 2008 (Europe), April 24, 2008 (Australia)

Out in Europe for a fair few weeks now – and uncharacteristically late reaching US shores – I thought it only fair to spill a few beans on Mario Kart Wii, thus letting our American siblings know just what they're in for regarding the mustached one's latest at the end of the month.

There's both good and bad to report, so buckle in and take note.

First, let's talk single player. 32 courses – 16 of which are new – 25 characters, and a good gazillion vehicles round-off the features list, most of which require unlocking as you progress through its four different classes of increasingly (and surprisingly) punishing difficulty. Sure, the setup's undeniably familiar to vets of the series, but make no mistake, Mario Kart Wii boasts some neat new additions to this now-aging formula well worth bearing in mind.

Bikes would be the biggest of which, and it's all done a bit of a PGR4 in that regard. A little nippier, easier to knock around, and capable of some fab tricks, they're a blast to wield I'm pleased to say, and prove my personal weapon of choice 90% of the time.

Then there's the wheel; the freebie add-on contraption that Nintendo throw into the box as a bonus. While you play with the standard "hands out in front" Wii-mote pose seen in previous racing games on this system, clipping on this optional plastic shell gives it a far more tactile feel, not to mention one immeasurably more fun to boot. It certainly works in that regard, yet I couldn't help but notice that in terms of raw performance, my lap times shrunk the second I ditched the waggle controls entirely and opted for something more traditional.

Mario Kart WiiGamecube and Classic Controllers are fully supported here you see, as is a "half-way" choice that still involves some minor waggle, yet uses the nun-chuck for steering. While the casual gamer'll enjoy the wheel to no end then, no doubt these additional options will prove more ideal for the hardcore.

I call the formula aging, yet 16 years on there's still something undeniably brilliant about Mario Kart as a concept. Blazing around brightly colored cartoony worlds, blowing away pursuers with green shells while knocking friends to their death in fiery lava pits proves just as much a blast as it did back on the SNES, and will certainly see you smiling through this latest installment's opening hours as those timeless memories come flooding back.

It's a looker too, right up there with Super Mario Galaxy as one of the Wii's finest. New tracks like Mushroom Gorge and Maple Treeway – with their glowy underground caverns and beautiful orange foliage – stand out in particular, as do the pleasing wealth of more sinister Bowser-themed circuits in the latter cups of the game. It'll blaze along at 60fps just fine too, until you start splitting the screen up 3 or 4 ways, while fab lighting and pleasing bloom effects round the game off with a sensual smoothness that hides many of the jaggies. The retro tracks are noticeably worse off compared to the newcomers, that said – lacking their width and gigantic scope in particular – but never the less inspire a nostalgic grin as they always do.

Mario Kart WiiIn terms of pure gameplay, I should mention that MK Wii has swung drastically away from simple racing, and somewhat bizarrely off into the realms of performing tricks and boosts this time around. Pulling off any kinda stunt in this game – from drifts, to wheelies, to half-pipe jumps – endows the player with a jolt of speed you see, so races in turn become less about figuring out the perfect racing line and handling corners tightly, and instead about stringing together as rapid a series of boosts as humanly possible. It'll sure take some adjusting to for the long-time fan, but does add a nice new dimension to the proceedings that you'll certainly grow to appreciate. And for those Mario Kart DS fans with worry lines plastered across their faces at the mere mention of all this; "snaking" is all but a thing of a past I'm pleased to say.

Of course, amidst all this chaos are the various power-ups that you love to hate, helping out those lesser skilled, while forever hindering those up front. Additions to the age old favorites vary in quality – from the super cool new Mega Mushroom that doubles your size while you go flattening your way across the course, to the frustrating albatross around your neck that is the Thunder Cloud (which speeds you up temporarily, then annoyingly shrinks you) – and on the whole the sheer power of these items may prove a point of contention for some.

Which in turn leads us onto the fundamental, yet arguably only real flaw with Mario Kart Wii. For some, it's a minor niggle, but for many it'll prove a deal breaker. And that would be the fact that ... due to the sheer brutality of these power-ups, you really don't have much influence over whether you win or lose in this game. It's sad, but boy is it true. Items have such a ridiculous impact on race outcomes, you can easily go from placing first in one, to 12th in the next, based solely on the luck of the draw. And there's literally nothing you can do about it.

Mario Kart WiiOn the plus side, I really didn't care much. There are two types of Mario Kart players you see; those who can simply laugh it off and smile their way through such sadistic twists of fate, content in the fact that it's still flat-out fun, regardless of the star-wielding NPC who just clipped 'em off a bend on Rainbow Road while they were patiently minding their own business. But there are also those who'll kick up a tantrum, throw toys outta their pram, and swear at every red shell cast their way. They'll fling that Wii-wheel against the wall quicker than a Frisbee each and every time they hear stupid frakkin' Toad's pathetic yelp of victory as he banana skins them into last place on the home straight yet AGAIN.

Breathe ... slowly....

If you frustrate easily then, hate to lose, and can't stand a huge dollop o' randomness in your games, quite simply, this isn't for you. These are traits that have haunted Mario Kart since the dawn of time in varying amounts, but it's most definitely far more pronounced this time around than ever before. It makes 150cc and Mirror Cup modes a serious pain in particular, and is something you should most definitely know going in.

Regardless of the single player's serious balancing, uh, "issues", online multiplayer alone propels this latest addition up into the realms of must-have status however. Zero lag? A whopping great 12 players? Team games? The ability to race as your Mii!? All present and correct, sir! In fact, the online functionality is so well done here, that it's set a new standard for Wii titles as a whole in my opinion, not to mention shattered Nintendo's spotty track-record in that department almost completely.

That's not to say it's perfect, of course. While you can race strangers at random, full-on Grand Prix cups are limited to private games amidst those on your friend's list, which is a serious downer in particular. The Battle Mode is mildly rubbish too, due to the enforcement of teams and no lone-wolf option. Plus after all this time? We're still stuck with those good old ruddy friend codes as well.

Mario Kart WiiThe first time you witness the fabulous lobby system though, that introduces each of your rivals one by one in Mii form – while a spinning globe showcases where they're all from – you'll appreciate the time and sheer love poured into this thing. I almost don't wanna ruin the surprise by detailing its every fantastic feature and nuance, as it's oh so wondrous discovering it all for yourself, but sending ghosts to your friends, comparing times on the truly inspired graphical leader boards, not to mention the ace new dashboard features that MK Wii installs all prove fab, much appreciated upgrades that are about as good as anything seen on fellow console racing games in recent times. Friends lists accessible from the main Wii menu for example!? Holy hell!

Then there are the races themselves. So much fun. So much laughter. You've never flat-out creased up in fact, as much as you will the first time you sucker-punch a buddy on the home straight to secure your first win. For all the randomness of the power-ups, and the teeth-grinding inability to just disable the suckers when playing over the net, the sheer underlying stubbornness of how bloody brilliant this game is with a group of pals renders pretty much all your whinings invisible. So share them annoying friend codes. Type those endless streams of numbers in. 'Cos I'm telling ya; with a jam packed buddy list and a race full o' Miis? Mario Kart Wii reaches just about the pinnacle of online fun. I exaggerate not.

Say what you will about the Wii's software line-up thus far, but Nintendo's first party titles have been just as good as ever, and here's yet another to chuck on that pile. Now how about F-Zero and Starfox sequels to round it off in style?

PLUSES: Hints back to earlier Mario Karts, while adding neat new features like stunts and gesture control to (mostly) fantastic effect. Gorgeous graphics rank up there among the system's finest. Boasts an online mode to die for, that'll keep you coming back for many, many months, and sets a new standard for this system as a whole.

MINUSES: Single player mode proves endlessly frustrating in later levels. Item imbalances make you wish the damn things were stripped out completely. Music is uncharacteristically forgettable. Online Grand Prix cups disappointingly limited to just those on your friends list.


Posted by Matt Robinson at 5:00 PM | Comments (4) | Posted to Review | Wii |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

March 17, 2008

Solid Snake Secret Super Smash Bros. Brawl Taunts

Never thought you lived to see the day Otacon explains Donkey Kong to Snake tries to wrap his head around a 2D Mr. Game-and-Watch? In what I'm now labeling the most hilarious video game crossover ever (though Star Wars characters in Soul Caliber is pretty ridiculous) Solid Snake has a special, classic "codec" conversation about every single character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Voiced by none other than David Hayter himself, Solid Snake is given the histories or tactical tips about all of fighters in the game. Full of fantastic in jokes, especially for fans of the Metal Gear Solid series, this shouldn't be missed even if you don't partake in the game.

There's a gorilla with a tie here! He's Huge!

Ton of taunt videos after the jump.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 4:15 PM | Comments (5) | Posted to Wii |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

March 3, 2008

Region Free Freeloader Emerges for the Wii


Datel has recently unveiled their hotly anticipated Freeloader for the Wii, allowing you to run games on your Wii from any world region.

Nintendo hasn't released an official comment on the device yet, but one can imagine they will not be too pleased about it, especially as they blocked the GameCube version of the Freeloader from running on the Wii. Datel has the ability to prod and poke the big N enough to make them focus on blocking their software, something Nintendo hasn't even done with DS flash cartridges yet.

Those lucky enough to be living in Japan and North America haven't had to face the huge delay Nintendo-published games generally have before they reach their shores, but Europe has suffered from this greatly. For example, Metroid Prime 3 was released in August 2007 in North America, but didn't arrive in Europe until two months later. This substantial delay was enough to convince some fans to import US Wii's so they could play further Nintendo-published Wii games at the same time as the rest of the world.

So who's to blame for the Freeloader? Is it Nintendo for not allowing the system to be open to different regions like the PS3 or DS? (The 360's region coding is decided on a game-per-game basis, controlled by publishers.) Or is Datel simply cashing in on a subset of gamers who wish to play the same things as people in other parts of the world at the same time? Well the truth is a blend between the two.

Nintendo is giving their consumers mixed messages. They allowed the DS to be region free, and haven't tried to clamp down on importing (like Sony and the infamous Lik-Sang lawsuit), but must've seen this as a big issue for the Wii to clamp down on it so tenaciously.

Datel is charging £9.99 for the Freeloader disk, which is not much for what it is, but given the low-cost materials involved and development time, it would be fair to say that they are turning a nice profit from the device.

Personally, I am waiting to see the Freeloader disc thoroughly tested by early adopters before pouncing on it, but this kind of technology is invaluable to gamers, especially when Europeans are forced to wait a long while for an anticipated game to come out. Smash Bros. Brawl is rumored to be released in Autumn in Europe, but will see US shores just next week. Datel couldn't have timed the release of the Freeloader any sweeter, as people in Europe will just import the US version now and circumvent the long wait, and I have no shame in admitting I will be one of them.

Posted by Chris Holmes at 10:00 PM | Comments (5) | Posted to Wii |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 24, 2008

Puzzle Quest Sequel Unveiled (Again): Galactrix


The sequel to last years surprise hit "puzzle RPG hardcore casual game", Puzzle Quest, was revealed last week as the Sci-Fi themed hexagonal puzzle RPG, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix.

The game was actually announced last year in April, but was today re-branded as part of the Puzzle Quest series. The game's basic puzzle combat has been tweaked beyond the implementation of the hexagonal shapes. Gravity will now play a part, meaning when orbit around a planet pieces will fall down, but in empty space pieces follow their momentum and will move wherever you send them.

Players can also look forward to building space ships and traversing solar systems (and perhaps entire galaxies) as well as another ... deeply involving plot. The game will be released later this year for Xbox 360, PC, and DS, but strangely has not confirmed for the PSP.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 12:00 PM | Comments (1) | Posted to DS | PC | PSP | Wii | Xbox |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 21, 2008

Commodore 64 Coming To Virtual Console


Nintendo today confirmed that it will be expanding its Virtual Console selection to include the legendary Commodore 64 in Europe. American Commodore fans are currently being snubbed, with no confirmation of them appearing on the Virtual Console service over the pond. Moreover, each game will cost you 500 Wii Points, which is actually more expensive than most of the new C64 games back in their day. The first few games that will be available on the service will be International Karate and Uridium, with more titles to follow.

"The massive impact the Commodore 64 had on video-gaming is still evident today with many gamers remembering the computer and its games with great fondness," Bala Keilman, CEO of Commodore Gaming stated. "By working with Nintendo of Europe, we are ensuring that future generations of gamers can play some of the best and most popular titles that kick-started the computer games revolution and so keep the C64 legacy in gamers hearts."

Laurent Fischer, Managing Director of European Marketing & PR of Nintendo Europe continued: "We are extremely pleased to be working with Commodore Gaming to provide even more retro hits for Wii owners to choose from on Virtual Console. With over 184 classic titles now available to enjoy, Virtual Console on Wii is a great way for users to access a breadth of classic retro games. We hope that this great choice of games will bring nostalgia to our gaming fans, while an entirely new generation of video game players can experience a host of classic games for the very first time."

Personally, I am quite looking forward to revisiting old Commodore 64 classics, but that price point is nearly enough to make me get up and climb into my attic to try and find my original C64 console. Moreover, I'm skeptical of how some of the games will handle on the Wii, and the reception they will get on VC will definitely be something to look out for.

Posted by Chris Holmes at 11:50 PM | Comments (3) | Posted to Wii |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

February 20, 2008

Nintendo Dates Wii Fit and Mario Kart Wii for Europe


Today, Nintendo has revealed the dates for two of their most anticipated Wii games in Europe. Mario Kart Wii will be released on April 11th, with Wii Fit slated to be released later on April 25th.

That Mario Kart Wii European release date is good, as it’s a day after the Japanese release, and a US release date hasn’t been confirmed yet. Perhaps Nintendo is feeling guilty about the Smash wait and wants to make amends to their loyal European fans. This could also be a tactic they are adopting that stops fans from importing consoles, as people are so fed up of the delays that they are just simply getting a US Wii and a small power transformer, and reaping the rewards.

The fact that Wii Fit is coming out a month before the US release in Europe is also a very good move by Nintendo, as it allows them to test what the US reaction to the game will be in a “lesser” territory, and thus prepare accordingly. Such an obscure title could go either way in terms of sales, so this idea of a “first-run” will help them in pitching to the right market.

Nintendo is showing Europe that it can have some games before or around the same time as the US, and this is extremely encouraging for the foreseeable future. If this trend can continue, then perhaps there is hope for this unfortunately unlucky region.

Posted by Chris Holmes at 5:00 PM | Comments (3) | Posted to Wii |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 16, 2008

Clayton's Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of the Next 3 Months

2007 was a fantastic year of gaming, one filled with games I still have yet to play. But 2008 is already looking like a another great year for gaming, one filled with many potential triple-A titles. I was prepared to write up a list of my 10 most anticipated games of the whole year but I quickly found 10 coming out before April that I'm dying to play.

10. Bully: Scholarship Edition (Xbox 360, Wii)
Bully: Scholarship EditionI have always appreciated Rockstar's ability to make interesting characters, witty dialog, and deep stories more than anything else they do. The Grand Theft Auto games always had an entertaining, well written story beneath all the prostitute killing and car jacking, so I'm really looking forward seeing what Rockstar did with Bully.

I missed Bully back on the PS2, so I'm happy for its re-release on the Xbox 360 and Wii, with added content and updated graphics. Mostly known for its media backlash before even being released, the original game focused on tough kid Jimmy Hopkins, who's been sent to Bullsworth Academy after being expelled from seven other schools.

Consisting of the sandbox style gameplay known from the GTA games, Bully takes you through high school culture using a wide variety of gameplay including schoolyard combat, bicycle riding, childhood crushes, and school pranks to name just a few. Jimmy interacts with five groups at the school, ranging from preps to jocks to nerds, while teachers and adults outside the school also give Jimmy missions to complete. While the gameplay looks varied, what I'm really looking forward too is the excellent voice acting, story, and interesting characters, something I wish more developers would spend time on.

Release Date: March 4, 2008

9. Devil May Cry 4 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Devil May Cry 4I'll have to admit right up front: I have yet to play any games in the Devil May Cry series. From what I have seen an heard about Devil May Cry 4, I know it's going to be my first. The game will let player use both the series star demon slayer Dante and new comer Nero, whom players will use for the majority of the game. Using his “demonically enhanced” right arm, Nero will be able use enemies as shields, tear them in half, or use it as a grappling hook in between combat.

Devil May Cry 4 promises to continue the story of the series (Devil May Cry 3 was a prequel), and at least on the PS3, the game allow players to watch a summary of the series story so far, while the game installs a cache onto the hard drive to eliminate all loading during game. Perhaps my favorite new feature is the addition of both a more balanced difficulty level and an actual tutorial to teach you the combat. With this and Ninja Gaiden 2, 2008 looks like a good year for action games.

Release Date: February 5, 2008

8. Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath (PC, Xbox 360)
Command & Conquer 3: Kane's WrathAnyone remember the previous Command & Conquer game, Generals? While an interesting diversion for the series, it didn't really find its place until the excellent expansion pack, Zero Hour. By dividing up each faction into three sub-factions led by specific generals with specific concentrations, the game really found its footing. This is what Kane's Wrath intends to do, by dividing up the three factions of Command & Conquer 3 into specialized sub-factions which will have unique special units, upgrades and support powers designed to cater to more distinct styles of play. Find yourself using NODs stealth abilities often? Then maybe you'll enjoy "The Marked of Kane" sub-division. Love GDI's incredible fire power? Then "The Steel Talons" are just for you!

In addition to their new regular units, each side will be getting unique hero-type “Epic Units”. The idea of hulking monstrosities that can single handedly “turn the tide of a battle”, from the Scrin's Eradicator to NOD's Redeemer, just fills me with joy. Of course, it also helps that the original Command & Conquer 3 was a fantastic game in it's own right, but with new units, abilities, and a Risk style “Conquer the World” campaign, where can you go wrong? And don't worry, there will be plenty more of the fantastic cut-scenes featuring Joseph Kucan as NODs messiah, Kane.

Release Date: March 13, 2008

7. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (DS)
Advance Wars: Days of RuinPerhaps my favorite DS game of all time, Advanced Wars: Dual Strike was a fantastic turn based strategy game with cartoony graphics and larger than life characters. Days of Ruin bucks the previous games style (and the annoying DS naming acronym Nintendo apparently forced on developers for the DS's first couple of years) in favor a darker and more serious tone.

An entire new cast of characters and therefore new CO powers means a fresh new set of strategies to try. CO powers have also been toned down and tag team powers eliminated so that the game can't be won in a single turn, something that greatly annoyed me during Dual Strike's campaign. The units have been rebalanced and some new ones have been added, but the biggest improvement is the Wi-Fi multiplayer. Players will be able to play games over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service, complete with voice chat and map sharing. Another added multiplayer feature that is conversely low tech is the ability to simply pass the DS each turn for local multiplayer, something every turn based game on a portable should have.

Release Date: January 21, 2008

6. Rez HD (Xbox 360 Live Arcade)
Rez HDI'll have to admit I never got the chance to play the original Rez, but hearing it on so many peoples top ten games of all time lists, I feel I need to at least give it a try. In the simplest terms, the game is an on rails shooter where your “weaponry” adds to the pulsing soundtrack. The game is said to put you in a trance and even give you a mild sense of synesthesia, meaning you “hear colors” and “see sounds”.

Perhaps I am looking at this game too pretentiously, but since I loved Lumines, a game also created by Rez's creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, I know that there is some real creative talent behind the game. Whether I like it or not, it's one of those games I feel I need to play for myself. Updated HD graphics and an 800 MS Point (10$) price tag only sweetens the deal. You'll also be able to use your extra Xbox 360 controllers as “Trance Vibrators” to... well... “enhance the experience”.

Release Date: January 2008

5. Burnout: Paradise (Xbox 360, PS3)
Burnout: ParadiseI'm not a big fan of racing games. Any time I play Gran Turismo I just end up turning my car around and trying to run head on into the competition. However, the Burnout series tapped into my inner need to smash cars together, making Burnout 3: Takedown one of my favorite PS2 games of all time. Burnout: Paradise looks to take the frenetic car crashing gameplay the series is known for into the current generation, while adding in an improved free roaming city in the style of Need for Speed: Underground 2.

What do I mean by an improved “free roaming city”? How about absolutely no front end. As in no menu screens or server lobbies to navigate through in order to find races or jump online. Just pull up to any stop light in the game and press accelerate and reverse at the same time to start an event. The game also allows players to join their friends in their own version of Paradise City to crash and compete all without stopping their driving, an impressive technical achievement in its own right. Gorgeous graphics and an extensive collection of super destructible cars will make this the racing game to beat in 2008. A demo is available on both consoles, and I highly recommend playing it online to see what makes that game so great.

Release Date: January 22, 2008

4. Condemned 2: Blood Shot (Xbox 360, PS3)
Condemned 2: Blood ShotThe sequel to the Xbox 360's best launch title, Condemned 2: Blood Shot will probably be the scariest game of the year. The original was a creepy, atmospheric First Person Shooter ... although "First Person Shooter" doesn't fully describe its gameplay. Using melee weapons found in the environment such as wrenches, locker doors, and fire axes, you used timing-based combat to attack and counter enemy attacks. Gunplay was extremely limited as you couldn't reload your guns, so it was literally "fire and forget". The close combat gameplay, limited ammo, and a deviously small flashlight beam combined to created an overwhelmingly tense feeling throughout the entire game – where a crazed hobo or junkie could jump out and attack you at any time.

Bloodshot looks to add to the melee combat with defensive and offensive moves, as well as extensive combo chains. More than 40 brutal finishing moves, and “upgrades” including brass knuckles and steel tipped boots (I can only imagine the carnage those will cause) have also been added. An interesting multiplayer option has also new the the sequel, with a “Hobo Fighting Arena” and traditional Death Match where you unlock more weapons after finding them in the single player game. The game will also continue the story of detective Ethan Thomas, one year after the mysterious events of the first game. Cool forensic investigations and paranormal occurrences from the original created one of the more interesting stories in an FPS in a while, one I look forward to continuing soon.

Release Date: March 11, 2008

3. Culdcept: Saga (Xbox 360)
Culdcept: SagaXbox Live demos are perhaps the best feature the service has to offer besides multiplayer gaming. Without them, I would never have found the inexplicable joy of the Monopoly and Collectible Card Game concoction that is Culdcept: Saga. With dice rolls, property upgrades, magic, and monsters, Culdcept: Saga is definitely not what you expect to be released on the Xbox 360.

Consisting of a game board made up of four distinct elements where you summon monsters to protect you territory, and a deck of magic, monster, and weapon cards you get to build, the gameplay is unlike anything else you might have seen on the console. You win the game by obtaining a set amount of gold, which you have to gain by moving around the board, capturing territory, and forcing your opponents to pay a toll when they land on your territory. However, instead of hotels and motels you collect rent using demons and dragons.

When one player lands on another's territory, battle commences where you use monsters and additional armor, weapon, and magic cards to avoid paying the toll (and steal their territory). With the added randomness of dice rolls, the gameplay takes on a very unique feel, where a game can be completely turned around by a lucky roll. And nothing is more satisfying that having you opponent land on your thrice upgraded territory and beaten down by your ax-wielding minotaur. Always wished you could do that in Monopoly, don't you?

Release Date: February 5, 2008

2. Sins of a Solar Empire (PC)
Sins of a Solar EmpireLove Homeworld 2? Also love Galactic Civilizations 2? Then have I found the dream game for your! Featuring epic real time space battles with extensive 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) style strategy, this game should be high up on any strategy gamers list. Being published by Stardock, makers of the excellent Galactic Civilizations series (think Sid Meier's Civilization series, only in space), and developed by new studio Ironclad Games, the game aims to let players control massive galactic civilizations spanning multiple planets and controlling numerous spaceship fleets.

With research trees, colony improvements, and diplomacy, everything you expect from turn based strategy games is to be found here, but lets not forget the giant spaceships are so awesome: the epic, cinematic, and explosive battles. Combat takes a page out of Homeworld 2's book and presents some interesting ideas, including Capitol ships that gain experience, battles taking place within the gravity wells of planets, and helpful AI that knows which ship to attack and which it has no chance against. This game has the chance to replace Homeworld 2 on my laptop hard drive.

Release date: February 4, 2008

1. Beyond the Red Line (PC, Mac)
Beyond the Red LineBeing the huge Battlestar Galactica fan that I am, I couldn't help but to list this one here, even if the release date is technically “when it's done”. And even if you aren't a fan of Battlestar Galactica, here's another reason to be on the lookout for this game: it's completely free. A stand alone total conversion for the PC space flight sim Freespace 2, Beyond the Red Line puts you right in the cockpit of the Viper Mk II, Viper Mk VII, Raider, and possibly more as the game nears release. Weaving in and in between the events of the excellent show, you'll be hunting down Scar, defending the Galactica from Cylons Basestars, and securing Tillium ore for the fleet.

While it doesn't have the exacting Newtonian physics from the show, it does have a pretty good alternative that allows you conserve your inertia for some tricky maneuvers. Oozing quality, from its excellent graphics, spoken dialog, and a soundtrack both from the show and originally composed, it's amazing that this game is just being given away. A demo is available with three single player missions and multiplayer mode and I've found it works really well with an Xbox 360 controller plugged into your PC.

Release Date: Pray to the Gods it is soon!

Honorable Mentions

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – I never got into the previous games as much as my friends, and their being so much better than me makes it a pretty unfair (and unfun) fight. Maybe with Brawl I can concentrate my time into one character (Solid Snake!) and at least have a fighting chance.

Left 4 Dead (PC, Xbox 360, PS3) – I originally had this game in the list at number 3, since it had a tenuous Q1 2008 release date. I thought it was funny to point out how notorious Valve is for delaying games and I guess I just tempted fate: the game was pushed back to the summer before I finished my article.

Castle Crashers (Xbox Live Arcade) – A beautiful looking arcade games that has been delayed multiple times now, I just hope we can play it before the end of the year. Awesome looking multiplayer action from the people that brought you Alien Hominid, Rez HD faces stiff competition for my Microsoft Points.

Posted by Clayton Ashley at 10:30 AM | Comments (21) | Posted to DS | Feature | PC | PlayStation 3 | Preview | Wii | Xbox |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

January 3, 2008

Download Complete DS Games onto Your Wii?

DS Wii

With the Nintendo Wii outselling every console in existence at the moment and the Nintendo DS selling every handheld in existence, why not make the two a little more integrated with each other? Eric A. Taub of the New York Times recently caught up with Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America's President and Chief Operating Officer, who certainly had good news for the future of the DS.

It would appear that Nintendo is going to release yet another DS model which will allow both complete as well as demo DS games to be downloaded to the Wii and then played on the DS via the built-in wireless service. Not only will this sort of service allow you to get the latest DS games without leaving your house, but popular games will (of course) become much easier to get.

Does anyone else hope this feature is actually utilized as opposed to announced and then hardly used? I'd like to see new titles as well as popular ones thrown up on the Wii Network, not just old and third-party games that are fun to play for about five minutes ... until you remembered how boring most older games used to be.

I know Mario Party DS was hard to come by this holiday season and this service would have made getting this game a lot easier. Of course, what do you actually "give" as the gift? A picture of the Mario Party DS and a little Wi-Fi antenna? Heh, I'm sure Nintendo will come up with something to alleviate this "problem".

Posted by Steven Mills at 1:00 PM | Comments (1) | Posted to DS | Rumor | Wii |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

December 31, 2007

Letdown Central: The Most Disappointing Games of 2007

In just about the best year for gaming ever, there were far more disappointments than one would expect. The following are by no means the worst games of the year – those I know well enough to avoid – but these still left quite the perturbing taste in my mouth.

Heavenly Sword (PS3)
Heavenly Sword - Supple, slender curves aside, not even Nariko can save this turkey. Check out these 2D sprite style background dudes for massive laughs.While the PS3 saw its share of top quality titles throughout the year, unfortunately for Sony fans, it felt the brunt of the disappointments too. Unlike the godforsaken Lair – which I won't even waste another word on – Heavenly Sword wasn't completely awful, merely underwhelming and average when held against promises of being The One. It's an incredibly bland and run-of-the-mill button basher in practice – one not done any favours by coming out so soon after Ninja Gaiden Sigma – and a game that'll only be remembered in the years to come for the quality of its graphics and detail of its cut-scenes. Still, pretty damn amazing weren't they?

Lost Planet (Xbox 360/PC)
Planet – like Heavenly Sword – was hardly awful either, but far from the genre defining Jap-o-rific shooting classic many were expecting. In fact, it kicked the year off on a bit of a downer really, rendering January a black sheep of sorts among the bountiful months to follow. My biggest gripe with the game was merely the controls though. After some extensive tweaking in the stupidly hard to find options on offer, it grows infinitely cooler, with far tighter responsiveness and a much better layout; do so, and you'll find a reasonably solid offering in fact. Played on default though? It's pretty bloody rubbish really.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (PC)
Much like the PS3, the PC saw its own share of humbling disappointments too, with Quake Wars leading that pack with worrying eagerness. The concept of Strogg versus Human in an epic, online multi-vehicular war game sounds ace in theory, and even in practice there's plenty the game does right. Its emphasis on objectives for one, forming a "front-line" for the action, not to mention of course, the Quake-verse itself, ever spectacular as it always is. Unfortunately, it's all held back by the dreadfully dated Doom 3 engine, truly unsuited for large scale outdoor environments like these, not to mention a conspicuous lack of full-blown alien levels, resulting in intergalactic warfare instead being waged across...New Jersey. Hmmm. Worst of all is the gun handling however, no doubt the poorest combat model seen since...well, the next game on our list. Surprisingly awful art direction and lazy player models don't help either, nor does the capped framerate and general lack of satisfaction to the firefights. Next.

Hellgate: London (PC)
Hellgate: London - For some bizarre reason this screen looks infinitely cooler than the actual game does...To be fair, I only played this for a handful of hours back in beta, but honestly? That was more than enough for me. I can overlook the pitiful job of bringing my home city to life in video game form, but awful combat, laggy controls and randomly generated levels of sheer boredom, I can't. With RPGs like The Witcher and Mass Effect currently doing the rounds, comparisons are flat-out hysterical, and if you truly need yours to be of the online variety, look up Tabula Rasa instead. Insert raspberry noise here.

Two Worlds (Xbox 360/PC)
I don't think this needs justifying.

Armed Assault (PC)
As an Operation Flashpoint die-hard, I had high hopes for its follow-up, unofficial or not. It delivers on the one hand, providing more of that same Flashpoint simming, brutality and realism...but it's all a little too similar, wouldn't you say? Convoluted controls, laughable graphics, awful presentation...why is this stuff not fixed? It's been seven bleeding years, yet Armed looks just as bad as its predecessor did. When played the same year as Crysis, that's sorta giggly I'm afraid. Even as a serious fan of this series, I felt a little embarrassed to show Armed to my mates, and its dated handling failed to keep me engrossed while flying solo too. All hope instead shifts to the real Op Flash sequel, hopefully touching down in 2008.

The Darkness (PS3/Xbox 360)
There's lots to like about The Darkness; the amazing atmosphere, superb voice-overs, and immersive world for one. There's also some stunning use of physics in the ever enjoyable super powers at your disposal too. Ultimately though, it fails as an FPS, with horrid gun control, stale combat and repetition aplenty. The storyline, characters and plot are kinda cool – and almost worth persevering for alone – but after Starbreeze's work on Riddick, I guess I expected more. Shame.

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men - I actually dug the night club level. 'Til it made me go back and replay the whole bloody thing twice in a rowThe need to rush Kane out for Christmas – scrapping online co-op along the way – essentially killed this game for good, sending him out to war without a metaphorical gun. For what amounts to a buddy game/crime caper, the resulting split-screen mode simply wasn't enough, and the single player campaign left in its wake was pure and utter dreck. That this game has since taken on such a larger than life infamy in light of Gerstmann-Gate renders it even more abhorrent though, and I find its subsequent presence on my hard drive mildly disgusting. Kane and Lynch themselves are what really killed it for me above all else however; murdering cops, beating on women, then muttering the F word literally every single sentence, the guys come off as complete A-holes whom you grow to loathe almost immediately. Rather than save the mongrel’s family as the game kept enforcing, I regularly pondered merely guiding Kane off a ledge and thus making the world a better place instead. Until the fabled Heat game rolls around – courtesy of worryingly quiet Gearbox Software – this'll remain the go-to game for us Michael Mann fans I guess (Lynch might as well be Waingro, after all), but in all honesty? That's quite the depressing fact. This game's Frame City Killer-bad, and like that punch-line of a title, should have been canned a long time ago.

Calling All Cars (PS3)
Conclusive proof that the PS Network reeeally needs demos of all its games by now. After the immense hype from big mouth Jaffe, and how bite-size mini-games hold the future to world peace while providing an endless source of renewable oil, Cars turned out to be a let-down of epic proportions to rival the very best. As a top down Micro-Machines style driving game, with a multiplayer fast-paced tag twist, it's a random, frantic, agitating experience, that wouldn't have garnered a hint of attention as a no-name Live Arcade game. Do not waste your time. Nor money. Its acronym seems suitably apt.

SSX Blur (Wii)
If I had to pinpoint the exact moment I turned on the Wii – dropping wand waggling launch system mania in favour of frown-driven jaded cynicism – it would be the morning Blur arrived on my doorstep. SSX is one of my favest franchises to be found in all of console-ville, and steering a dude around with that ‘mote of white sounded like a match made in heaven to the long-time obsessive within. The absolute worst implementation of waggle controls ever start Blur off on the wrong foot though, while jaggy visuals, redressed levels and humungous frustration seal the soul crushing deal. I've since started to warm to her slightly, but the damage this game did to the franchise took some serious time for me to get over. Make me love her once more, EA.

Stranglehold (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Stranglehold - Tequila Time! No thanks.A dumb, skill-less and repetitive game with zero interesting features, only die Hard Boiled fans alone need apply here (like that?). I didn't have the highest expectations for Stranglehold going in, but on the slo-mo third person blow 'em up tip, hoped it'd at least stack up to the Max Payne games of old. In reality, it doesn't hold a candle. It's annoyingly linear, boasts awful dialogue, and for one so explosive and balls to the wall in premise, is almost impressively boring to play or watch. Where's Max 3?

Medal of Honor: Airborne (Xbox 360/PC)
It looked like the one, didn’t it? The true Allied Assault successor. The one to put right all that went in each of the subsequent sequels. Matching its predecessor's brilliance while adding a smattering of originality on top. Airborne was very pretty indeed – no doubts there – but gameplay-wise, was a frustrating, similarly repetitive and even down-right annoying experience at times. Many complained about the game’s pitiful length back on release, but in hindsight I guess we’re all glad in a way; three hours of this was more than enough.

Battlestar Galactica (Xbox 360/PC)
Play Beyond the Red Line instead. Seriously.

And there we are for 2007. Quite the ride, no? What were your picks of the year in video game-ville?

Posted by Matt Robinson at 4:00 PM | Comments (15) | Posted to Feature | PC | PlayStation 3 | Wii | Xbox |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!

December 31, 2007

Matt's Massive List of the Top 25 Games of 2007

Every Christmas I like to ponder my fave 20 odd games of the past 12 months, but with 2007 turning out so utterly insane on the release schedule front, I had to up that number to 25 in the end. I'm almost all gamed out at this point, still unsure where I found the hours to plough into all these darn things, but truth be told? It was worth it, as this past year has been just about the best 12 months for video gaming ever. Seriously. So many highs. So many classics. Let's take a look at 'em, in fact...

25. Folklore (PS3)
Folklore - It may not push the polys, but Folk's one of the sexiest looking games of the year, and by sheer artistry alone.While Folklore has its issues – stilted storytelling and some repetition to be precise – its sheer originality shines through like nothing else. Playing young blonde Irish chick Ellen, the intro of this bizarre and quirky fantasy gem sees you heading to a deserted "Oirish" town to find your missing mother, only to get sucked into a colourful, crazy Elf land known as the Netherworld along the way.

Describing Folklore from here on out's kinda tricky however, as there are precious few like it. Only one springs to mind in fact. I could ramble on about its adventure gamey premise, which has you solving an overarching mystery by collecting items and chatting to NPCs. I could touch upon its RPG influences, earning experience points along the way while pursuing side-quests on the down low. I could even describe its beat 'em up combat, and the barmy manner in which you steal enemies’ souls by yanking the controller around like some kinda child abusing step parent.

Far more accurate though, would be to simply call it the "Japanese Kameo" - a 360 launch game I was somewhat fond of back at the time. That same imagination, emphasis on creature powers, and the bashing your way through a vibrant fantasy land all comes through present and correct. But now with added style.

Inventive use of the Sixaxis' tilt function in its brawler combat keeps Folklore interesting for the duration, and the bizarre plot'll keep you reasonably entertained for much of that time too. It's the universe itself which stands out above all else though, with chapter 1's blue-tinged forest world standing out as one of the most purely memorable virtual environments I visited all year.

Far more accurate though, would be to simply call it the "Japanese Kameo" - a 360 launch game I was somewhat fond of back at the time. That same imagination, emphasis on creature powers, and the bashing your way through a vibrant fantasy land all comes through present and correct. But now with added style.

Inventive use of the Sixaxis' tilt function in its brawler combat keeps Folklore interesting for the duration, and the bizarre plot'll keep you reasonably entertained for much of that time too. It's the universe itself which stands out above all else though, with chapter 1's blue-tinged forest world standing out as one of the most purely memorable virtual environments I visited all year.

Some actual voice-acting, more variation and the inclusion of a two player mode would have gone a long way – plus I'd be lying if I said I'd finished it – but there's no denying Folklore's a pleasingly original and incredibly imaginative title that all PS3 owners should at least sample.

24. Hotel Dusk (DS)
Hotel Dusk - Remember that old A-Ha vid? The one which swallowed Chris Griffin? Imagine a whole game of that.With all the high-profile blockbuster releases hitting consoles recently – not to mention a surprising stream of PC exclusives – it's been easy to forget what a damn good year the handhelds had too. Along with Syphon Filter, Lumines and Zelda sequels hitting the PSP and DS respectively, this little touch pad wonder stole my heart like nothing else.

I hated it at first, mind you. The concept of a Raymond Chandler, film-noire style murder mystery transported to handheld form – courtesy of some good old point 'n' click stylus action and a brilliant new paper book visual style – sounded hot in theory, but the opening hour's so god damn deathly slow, it made me wanna flip the DS shut and flush her down the bog.

Sticking with Dusk through initial hardships reveals a marvellous game however; a living, breathing detective novel in the palm of your sweaty hands, oozing with unique style and gorgeous hand-drawn artwork. It's truly gripping stuff once you get into it, even if the sucker almost plays itself to a certain extent, and you forever find yourself anxious to unlock that next chapter and see where the hell it'll head next. I guess it really is a book in many ways...right down to how you hold the darn thing.

23. Virtua Fighter 5 (PS3/Xbox 360)
Virtua Fighter 5 - VF5 can be an ugly looking game at times, at least by DOA standards. Got it where it counts, though.I never got around to hammering Fighter quite as much as I would have liked to these past 12 months, yet make no mistake, it's undoubtedly the finest 1v1 beat 'em up the genre's ever seen.

The latest update to the 3D fighting originator doesn't disappoint in its depth, range of moves, nor sheer brutality, with so much to see, learn and keep in mind at any one time that merely playing it alone becomes a martial art in and of itself. It's no wonder the Japanese treat it like its own sport at this point, dedicating entire arcades to it and it alone.

As a die-hard fan of Dead or Alive – one who maintained that game's under-rated brilliance in defiance of all detractors due to its online mode – VF5's recent re-release on the 360 with added LIVE functionality was the deal breaker that broke the fanboy’s denial. I admit it, it's the one. The grand dragon. King of the fighting castle. DOA hasn't had a go since.

Most impressive of all, is the mere fact said online mode even works at all, let alone how fun it is. One so fast-paced, tactical and fluid seems bizarrely lag-retardant, making versus battles insanely fun...even when lacking skills as I so readily do. "Winner Stays On" would have been nice, of course, along with some improved presentation. SEGA nail the hard part...but it's all a little barebones, no?

22. Super Stardust HD (PS3)
Super Stardust HD - The PS3's greatest secret, one can't shake the feeling that Stardust'd be raking in far more hype-flavoured praise had it shown up on Live ArcadeThe PS3 took quite the PR battering in 2007 – particularly in the first half – endlessly shanked by the masses for its lack of grade A system sellers and subsequent reasons to live. That's since been alleviated by some of the more recently released semi-classics on this here list, but some'll argue it still lacks that single all-encompassing killer that its rivals so readily boast.

Regardless of what's found on store shelves though, the Playstation Network's been cultivating itself quite the array of downloadable solids in the meantime. Along with the likes of Flow, Warhawk and Everyday Shooter, Super Stardust headlines that particular list for me; a pleasing take on the now done-to-death top down arcade “schmup”, taken to most ludicrous extremes as to breathe fresh and invigorating life into the genre.

With insane amounts of action, inventive boss fights and its ever enjoyable assortment of spruce-up-able guns, it houses surprising depth and variety too, blessing the PSN with its nearest equivalent to a Geo Wars in the process, and some might say even surpassing it. A must-have for PS3ers then, that pleasingly fetches for a mere 5 pounds (or 10 of your Earth dollars).

21. Crackdown (Xbox 360)
Crackdown - The one they all forgot about, but don't sell him short. My opinion of Crack's gone up in fact, thanks to the ace DLC of late.While Grand Theft 4 was expecting to dominate the year on the free-roaming, sandbox tip, its delay 'til 2008 left quite the humungous void in the genre. A void pleasingly filled by Crackdown, as it turns out; a simple, straightforward, yet relentlessly enjoyable open ended arse kicker that surprised a hell of a lot of people in '07. Me included.

Blasting around futuristic metropolises with a buddy in tow, whacking crime lords en masse, while "accidentally" slaughtering civilians by the hundreds, demonstrated a scale of conflict and sheer spectacle matched only by the upcoming Mercenaries sequel. That you could play it online was a breath-taking achievement alone, never mind the rest.

Crackdown was another 360 winner that set '07 off as it meant to go on, and although a year's gone by since and many may have moved on, orb hunting's still just as much fun as it was back on release. Brilliant stuff.

20. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3)
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction - Not exactly the most challenging game o' the year, Ratchet shines in the fun, spectacular and oh so pwetty departments.With the Playstation franchises of old starting to show up on PS3 at last – arguably those that made the past systems what they were in the first place – the brand's return to form seems far more inevitable at this point. If recent sales bumps are to be believed, it could even happen sooner rather than later, and a large part of that's down to this particular game.

Ratchet & Clank's hardly a huge re-imagining for the series, true. Returning the boys to futuristic city-scapes to bash enemies, collect moola and tweak themselves out in the most bat-s**t weaponry seen this side of Professor Farnsworth's lab, it's pretty much business as usual. As someone who rarely touched a Ratchet before though, it proved nigh on impossible to drop.

It'll blow your mind technically, too, showcasing the most epic of views at all times, with a rock solid 60 FPS that refuses to falter. If the PS3's cranking out this kinda stuff just one year in, one can't help but crack a grin at the mere thought of what lies in store. That said, as far as Insomniac games go, I'm probably more of a Resistance guy myself. For all Ratchet's beauty, humour and unbridled chaos, it's all a little easy. Hard to die. Baby-like.

19. Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Super Mario Galaxy - Perhaps it's time to snag Mario 64 on the Virtual Console to give 'er another bash. Galaxy has me in the mood.In hardcore circles, it's become somewhat cool to mock the more mainstream Wii at this point, kicking the poor money-spewer in the privates while he sits in the corner crying. Counting his cash. Despite a tumbleweed-tinged wasteland of an opening year though, the sleek white VHS box actually enjoyed one heck of a run from September onwards. From the five games adorning this page alone, you'd be hard pressed to play-down its exclusives at this point, and when coupled with launch beauties Zelda and Sports of '06? There's plenty to enjoy on the system right now.

Many cite this to be the flat-out best game of the year in fact. The greatest platformer of them all, so they say. Unfortunately for me – as blasphemous as it sounds – when it comes to Mario games, I ain't a big 3D guy. As much as I loved the original 2D titles of old – the ones, might I add, that I credit for my even playing games – when the series hit that extra dimension, it kinda left me behind. I missed the sensation of holding down B then hammering A. The smoothness of it all. The simplicity.

That's why you see Galaxy struggling down here at #19 then, because beyond that, it's about as perfect as a video game's ever been. Taking Mario back to the purer platform action of 64, minus the ominous fluids of Sunshine, it's a love letter to Nintendo fans who've stuck with 'em through thick and thin. Conclusive proof, if detractors required it, that they still possess the skill to pump out utterly amazing, truly inspired video game masterpieces centered around nothing but pure, unbridled fun.

With a return to Mario antics of old – the inventive suits, the bopping Goombas, and the lobbing of red shells – the added emphasis on planets and screwed-up gravity then bless it with pleasing originality, constantly reinventing the wheel while maintaining the feel of yester-generations. How one can dream up demented 3D levels like these boggles the mind, but you forever feel in the company of possessed geniuses regardless.

Don't be put off by its child-like exterior either. Think you're too old for Mario? Think again. The game's tough as hell. It remains incredibly addictive in spite of this though, with brief blasts often turning into multi hour-long marathons, and you forever anxious to see just what lurks round that very next bend. There are so many little avenues to explore and additional worlds forever popping up, it's damn hard to tear yourself away. I also appreciate the return to a slightly more sinister Mario vibe too, one encompassing battle ships, ghost houses and the epic lava fortresses of old. Ah, memories.

Not really my genre then, but a fantastic game regardless. If you own a Wii, it's sorta un-missable.

18. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - Uncharted. Hella gorgeous, no doubts there, but often at the expense of PDZ-esque slime. I wish it wasn't laminated in glue.This however, is a little more my platforming pace. Drake's the unholy melding of Tomb Raider's platforming and Gears' combat, with a little Indiana Jones thrown in for personality's sake. Playing Sir Francis Drake's ancestor – Nate – hot on the trail of Pirate Dad's buried treasure, the game's a swashbuckling ride through Amazonian jungles and Goonies-style caverns with a healthy dose o' humour packed in on top. That old skool adventure movie vibe one hasn't felt since the '80s returns in full force as a result, in an effortlessly loveable tale that's just what the PS3 ordered.

It handles well, given Sixaxis holdbacks, plays tight, and many call it the best looking console game of the year too (not me, of course). Cooler than all that combined is simply the storytelling though; Drake's a funny guy, and his facial expressions, voice acting and stream of expletives prove forever entertaining. Courtesy of Jak & Daxter developers Naughty Dog – another of the Playstation alumni helping re-forge the shards of Sony – their trademark wit and storytelling prowess shines through in droves.

Much like Ratchet, Drake's another most definitely worth a ganders on that front, even if it's still, perhaps, not quite that Halo killer Sony require. Now where's our new Jak game, Dog?

17. Pacman: Championship Edition (Xbox 360)
Pacman: Championship Edition - Trust me. Amazing-ness contained within.In the genre of budget-ware arcade titles that have since become all the rage, Pac goes down as downloader of the year for me. This was Matt crack in '07 in fact; I'd often finish work, collapse on the sofa, then play the damn thing 'til bedtime. I never came close to topping out my friends' leaderboard mind you, a worrying sign of old age. Or perhaps their superhuman, freakish skills.

Pacman as a franchise, means nada to me, but Champ's beautiful neon upgrade turned a previously dull and dated concept into ever scrumptious candy. It was the five minute time limit, enforcing addictive quick-fire replays like never before. It was the gorgeous new face-lift, beautifully bright yet lovingly respectful to those that cared. And it was the unbridled skill required, as lunatic ghosts ramp up to ludicrous speed, a mere motion blur of eyes in those final dying seconds.

Pacman did the impossible, by not only updating one of gaming's flagship titles for the new millennium with 100% success, but also knocking Geo Wars off as the be-all, end-all of downloadable Arcade games. Now if only the 360 had a D-pad worth a poop, we'd be in business...

16. Project Gotham Racing 4 (Xbox 360)
Project Gotham Racing 4 - I took this myself, of course, thanks to Gotham's vital photo mode and pleasing web integration.I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting the world outta PGR4. Even as a Gotham mega-fan, this felt like one too many. After an initial hour of mild boredom though, it ramped up into one of the year's finest, a pleasant surprise, and a modern racing classic.

With tight handling meeting fab courses and a perfectly pitched selection of modes, it's the racing game that keeps on giving. Blazing around a snow-capped Nürburgring in a 1950's rocket car – Covenant's "The Men" blaring out of the speakers to particularly haunting effect – is a major highlight of recent times, as are the numerous online battles and cat 'n' mouse shenanigans since enjoyed over Live. That PGR4's a visual step above its already utterly gorgeous predecessor doesn't hurt either, rounding this off as a series high point right up there with #2.

15. MotorStorm (PS3)
MotorStorm - Heart-warming to see so many PS3 games among the list, no? Or should I say...a relief.As much as I love me some good old Gotham though – Geometry Wars Waves in particular – MotorStorm's the one that beat it to the finishing line I'm afraid. The game may have lacked modes, a wealth of courses, and even the ability to play on worldwide servers, but in terms of pure, undiluted fun alone? It's the pick of an extremely packed pack for me.

It's that rickety feeling of blazing across desert which MotorStorm nails so well. The bouncy suspension, insane jumps and ever satisfying smashes go toe to toe with Burnout on the edge-of-your-seat front, yet MotorStorm piles on a far greater sense of skill, hints of strategy and more enjoyable online mode than that ever did. Of course, it doesn't hurt that MotorStorm is – still – one of the most graphically stunning games on top. System show-off material, no doubts about it.

For those, like me, depressed at its lack of content on release, hit up the Playstation Store for some ace new DLC that decks it out nicely. Rumours are, we may even see a sequel soon too...

14. Ninja Gaiden Sigma (PS3)
Ninja Gaiden Sigma - Gaiden's without doubt a top 10 desert island Dig disc, and this right here’s the definitive version.PS3 wise, here's my pick of the lot though. A graphical upgrade to an all-time fave, Sigma doesn't feature higher for the simple reason it's a mere remake when all's said and done. But what a remake, eh? The gorgeous world, the lethal combat, those slamming decapitations...bloody hell, do fighting games get any better? Kratos and Dante fans'll claim so, but I think we all know they speak rubbish.

Much like MotorStorm, Sigma too has been further fleshed-out via the penny pinching art of downloadable content, with a wealth of new challenges, game-types and additional levels to slice your way through. Not that it needed anything of the sort of course; Sigma was already packed to the decapitating gills.

With Gaiden 2 recently announced and heading our way sooner than some might think, Siggy's release provides ample opportunity to get up to speed, reawakening those skills of old while prepping for a second Team Ninja arse kick-o-thon. If its follow-up is anywhere near as tough as this son of a gun, chances are you're gonna need it.

13. The Witcher (PC)
The Witcher - Another notch on the bedpost, eh Geralt?I’ll never get over how good this turned out. Back on release, first impressions proved poor, but sticking with The Witcher showcased one of the better RPGs the PC's seen in years. If not ever.

The load times make it borderline unplayable at times – slightly alleviated by recent patchings – and it may lack the spit, polish and more professional voice-acting of a higher profile US-backed outing, but there's no denying that this Polish developed masterpiece delivers the goods where it counts. Moral dilemmas? Inventive quests? A truly captivating world? A whopper of a yes on all fronts.

Its non-US heritage awards it with a fresh and original voice too, one far darker and more mature than we've come to expect of its genre. I talk not about the player's ability to bed every single female the game throws their way, but its pleasing use of more contemporary metaphors in its plot, themes and side-missions. And the aforementioned "casual relations".

Combat's fun, the music's great, and for all its presentational flaws, the character interactions rock. Half-way through its 50+ hours, I already dread its end.

12. Assassin's Creed (PS3/Xbox 360)
Assassin's Creed - PC version should arrive in early ‘08 by the way, console-phobes. I believe it's the same exact game.Creed's a controversial beast that suffered primarily from its time of release if you ask me. Back in the slow summer months of death, we would have been all over this, no doubt proclaiming it a much-loved masterpiece and a welcomed new franchise with which to milk via sequels. Nestled between the all-encompassing classics released towards the latter half to the year though, its flaws and repetition shone a little too brightly, subsequently meeting with alarmingly more scepticism than I think anyone expected. Along, of course, with just about the most wildly varying review scores of any game ever.

A pity really, as it's hardly a dud by any stretch of the imagination (hear me, GamesTM?). Taking the concept of parkour and melding it with a Hitman-style assassination sim, the concept sounds perfect on paper. Although the game subsequently grinds the idea into the ground by its sheer stubbornness to add any kinda variety onto such a solid base, the blueprint alone's enough to see it through to borderline brilliance.

One thing you may not be expecting from Assassin going in, is that it's also quite possibly the finest looking game ever made too. Not only does it have easily the best character model of them all in Altaïr – iconic, memorable and truly bad ass in just about every way – but the undeniable scope, the bustle of the crowds, and the sheer amount of architecture on screen at any one time is truly unparalleled...even by real-life. You can't believe what you're seeing half the time.

It's a game that rewards perseverance more than anything. Once you perfect the free-running – bounding around like a gymnast while smoking fools via the most awesomely slick "have it!" knifings – one'd be hard-pressed to say it ain't fun. Even the infamously dreary sci-fi plot starts to meander its way into the storyline with some mild success at times. Ubi's Sands of Time – one of the finest games of them all – had a similarly inspired way of working respawns and deaths into its underlying mechanics, and Assassin does so too. Quick-saves, loading screens, even menus themselves are all part of the game world, and it's pretty inspired stuff for the most part.

What was ultimately not the be-all, end-all of gaming as we know it then, was at least a diverting platform game with a difference, boding well, more than anything, for perfected sequels down the line. I'm truly curious to see which direction they offshoot for said follow-ups, as there's a wealth of potential avenues to pursue. Blade Runner style futuristic free-running, perhaps? Pretty please with sugar on top.

11. The Orange Box (Xbox 360/PC)
The Orange Box - Yeah, yeah, TF2's great too, whatever. Whine an e-mail to my 10 year old Compuserve account back when I still gave two poops. Joke.More specifically, Portal, which left such a startling impression on me in its miniscule run-time, that it's burrowed a place in my heart forever.

True, it’s not quite the revolution some’ll claim. The game's based on an indie freeware project if you weren't aware, one known as Narbacular Drop. Valve's buying up of developers Nuclear Monkey though, and subsequently reworking their concept into the Half-Life universe comes off as a stroke of genius here, bringing with it a much larger audience and a far brighter spotlight in which to sing. Much like they did with Team Fortress, in fact.

And to be honest? While the portal zapping stuff's fun as hell – blowing holes through space and time amidst brain-imploding 4D puzzles – Portal's true strengths – story telling, narrative and humour – are all Valve through and through. Those tiny hints of a plot? Its creepy presentation? That psychopathic robot? Few stack up at such things.

Breaking free of your chains in the game's final stage – then escaping through the inner workings of Aperture's labyrinthine test chamber – is a truly unique experience in particular, backed up superbly by the ever enjoyable voice-acting and oh so dark dialogue. Its monumental achievement even more impressive in light of the game's meagre 2-odd hour long run-time. I'm just crossing the old fingers for a Portal gun in Episode 3 now.

The rest of The Orange Box line-up’s fine too, don’t get me wrong, but for me, the pack's pretty much worth buying for Portal alone. Amazing stuff.

10. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption - Apologies, Wii haters. Of which I used to be one. Homie came through in style. Eventually.The game which signalled the changing of the tide for the Wii; since Metroid's release in the year's tail-end, things have most definitely looked up for lovers of Nintendo. Not just one of the better titles out for the system itself, Corruption's without doubt my fave of its series too; an epic blend of Metroid's trademark deep space alien exploration, with inventive new Wii-mote waggling FPS action and far more focused level design.

Four years on since the series' conception, it still retains such unique and distinct style of its own, in a sub-genre of the first person shooter no one else dare touch. It doesn't hurt that Corruption's also the first – and indeed only – Wii game to see my jaw so regularly drop from mere graphics alone. The detail, art design and rock solid frame-rate impress hugely, with sights like the Valhalla and the game's endless stream of boss lairs pretty darn breath-taking to behold. System specs be damned.

I could have used some extra tweaking on the aiming system, and enemies that don't take 10 zillion hits to floor, but there's no denying Corruption's one of the most satisfying single player experiences of the year, and one of the most atmospheric to boot.

9. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 - GRAW2, once again, had an exclusive PC counterpart (not pictured), a separate entity also fun in its own unique way.As with 2006’s premier instalment, many of the year's greatest online memories are housed within this game for me. GRAW2 was hardly a massive reinvention for the series – and in fact, barely indiscernible from its daddy 90% of the time – but with such a rock solid, yet finely chiselled base, who are we to complain?

The ramped up difficulty to the always-fun co-op campaign meant I only just finished that sucker recently – despite literally hundreds upon hundreds of hours ploughed into the ruddy thing – but 16-player one-life show-downs against the CPU fail to grow tiresome it seems, thanks once again to GRAW’s pleasing roster of missions and expert combat model. The promise of a second co-op pack dropping any day now means she'll see no rest any time soon either.

Call it an expansion to the first game all you will – I won't argue there – but GRAW2 did continue everything great about its ever impressive predecessor, still maintain its position as a top of the rung Xbox Live shooter, and showcase some of the best bleedin' visuals of the entire year along the way, and that deserves much kudos.

What beckons next for the franchise? Rumours speak of a return to the series' more realistic roots. Mixed thoughts on that, myself.

8. Halo 3 (Xbox 360)
Halo 3 - I call this one “The Flying Scotsman”. God bless save-able videos.I'm pretty much all Halo'd out at this point, so will try to keep this brief. Most of us have had our time with the single player mode by now though I'm sure – blazing through it in excess of five or six times in its varying modes – yet multiplayer lives on, just as fun as ever. As far as pick up 'n' play online action with a group o' buddies goes, are there any better in fact?

Perhaps not. Halo 3's easily one of the most polished, tightly crafted and well made titles of the year...but not my personal fave. Soz.

7. Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition (Wii)
Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition - Resi on the Wii’s just about the most natural a shooter's ever felt if you ask me. Next stop: Umbrella Chronicles.While I've yet to nab Umbrella Chronicles (believe it or not, I don't play 'em all), Resi gets a well-deserved look in regardless. It may speaks volumes that arguably the Wii's greatest game yet is a mere remake when all's said and done, but as I like to tell myself, it's an ever rare system where cross-platform ports have the bizarre potential to drastically improve upon themselves via that ever enjoyable remote.

Along with Zelda, Resi 4's the textbook example of that, a game that takes the previously ace Spaniard slaughtering antics from Gamecube and PS2-ville, then promptly ramps it up another twelve notches to the realms of utter brilliance.

A stunningly twisted and atmospheric outting already – now with controls to match its beauty – rediscovering it all over again in 2007 was a six month long highlight for me. Bundled bonus modes and a budget-ware price sealed the deal as a must have for all, and in my opinion, almost give sole reason to own the Wii alone, never mind the rest.

6. Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (PC)
Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar - LOTRO's player base has dropped to depressing lows lately. Ironic, given the fab-ness of recent updates.My LOTRO sessions have sadly lightened these past few months, yet blame not this game, but the stupidly busy release schedule of late. This sucker's actually one of the few MMOs to keep me enthralled for a year's solid play you see – and believe me, I've played 'em all. I can't foresee a quitting any time soon either.

Turbine played it smart really. They took the greatest license of them all, then melded it to the greatest game. You might as well be playing Rings of Warcraft for the most part, thanks to a similar range of classes, identical questing system, and barely a handful of improvements – or even alterations for that matter – but as safe as Rings feels, the results speak for themselves. One of the tightest games around. The one MMO to really go toe to toe with WoW itself...if not in numbers, then at least in quality.

If you're yet to grow bored of these fantasy MMOs – which judging by WoW subscription figures, is a China-esque number of peeps – LOTRO's a fine alternative then, and a great addition to an extremely packed genre. I had some damn good times right here in fact, and with a wealth of add-on packs in store, here's to the many more that head our way.

5. Bioshock (Xbox 360/PC)
Bioshock - What’s the bet on a sequel announcement within the next six months?.Bioshock may not have had particularly long legs, nor quite lived up to its System Shock heritage, but there's no denying Ken Levine's latest boasted one of the most truly memorable video game worlds our pastime's ever seen.

As a huge fan of the first person, RPG-slash-adventure game genre, this ticks many of those same boxes while even one-upping Shock in the atmosphere stakes to boot. Like a beautiful film or a gripping novel, it constantly draws you in, forever anxious to see what twisted designs lurk in the next hub. Not to mention, how its impeccable storyline will resolve itself.

A large part of that draw's down to the aforementioned world though, meticulously rendered from the ground up with not even a single pair of rooms ever looking the same. Rapture is an amazing achievement, with Irrational's undeniable brilliance being their ability to disguise what is ultimately pretty much just a corridor shooter by surrounding it in the most gorgeously original underwater setting ever seen. Some whine about the combat, others the repetition, but this sheer beauty alone proves more than enough to overlook both for its duration. Eye-scraping final boss aside.

Yeah, it's easy. Too easy, in fact. The inability to truly die, and the unlimited respawns that go with it, essentially turn Bioshock into more of an interactive story than a traditional video game. If nothing else though, more recent DLC has spruced up the toughness for those that demand it, while also fixing up one or two other minor niggles along the way. I'd sure love to retackle some of those Big Daddy show-downs in light of this, minus the ever reliable safety net of the god-awful Vita Chambers.

For an absorbing, deep and endlessly rewarding single player experience then, Bioshock most definitely stands out as one of the better seen in recent years.

4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadows of Chernobyl (PC)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadows of Chernobyl - Worryingly ugly on low-end rigs, and insanely buggy back on release, STALKER's still the home to many a fab memory.Proof, if ever needed, that in spite of stupidly expensive system upgrades, endless patch woes, and constant crash headaches, when gaming's at its genre-busting very best, it does indeed come from the PC. It's just a shame a game like STALKER comes round maybe once every five years at this point. If that.

With such a sordid and long-winded development history – one up there with Duke Nukem himself – I guess pondering whether it lived up to the hype's irrelevant at this point. Did any really remain? STALK's an incredible achievement in its own right however; a spooky, free-roaming scavenge 'em up, with alarming scares and immense ambition.

Yeah, it's frustrating, hard to get into, and much like The Witcher, a distinctly non-US title immensely rough around the edges. But my god. STALKER'll show you a world and an experience simply never seen before. One unique...incredibly absorbing...and absolutely terrifying. Love it.

3. Crysis (PC)
Crysis - Add two parts Far Cry to one part CoD, multiplied by some Battlefield 2 with a sprinkle of Republic Commando, then bake for way too long, et voila! Crysis ahoy.Developer Crytek's unofficial futuristic follow-up to the supreme masterpiece that was Far Cry, Crysis is the first jungle-ised FPS to stack up to the lofty leaved shoes of its predecessor. Who are we kidding? It's the only one to come close. Those same epic views, those long distance sniper duels, and the ever enjoyable skinny dipping return in force, yet Crysis throws in some pleasing new additions that send it off on a crazy original tangent on top.

I reference the bionic suit, of course. Playing a super soldier of tomorrow comes with pleasing benefits you see; super strength with which to toss enemies into the air with, super speed with which to outrun Road Runner with, and even a full-blown cloaking device, for donning your best Predator impression while going "waaaaaaaaaah" from up in the trees. One alteration which I do think would have made these abilities infinitely cooler mind you, is if you didn't have to switch between 'em all manually. Rather than charge forward at 200mph, leap across a humungous ravine, then sucker punch a grunt 10 miles into the distance in one seamless motion, it makes for a far more stop 'n' start affair instead, as you fumble with the required buttons like a two year old.

When you eventually get the hang of it though, flicking between powers subconsciously, Crysis comes alive. I worship the ability to tailor the game to your own individual play-style via said abilities, such as flipping the cloaking device on, modding all your guns with silencers, then popping off headshots in a full blown Sam Fisher style. You can just as easily whack on full armour, grab an AK, and mow dudes down like Commando though, along with everything in-between. It's just as much fun either way, and beautifully free-form in that regard.

Such freedom extends to the level design of course. There's a sandboxy feel to the combat that I've never really experienced in an FPS before, only truly limited by your insane imagination and ability to think on your feet. There's a sequence early on where you take control of a village for instance, with the Koreans rolling in two tanks to promptly take it back. You're tasked with taking 'em both out – single-handedly, of course – but told no more. Mr Matt – blind idiot that he is – neglected to search the building he was in, and thus find the stash of rocket launchers awaiting him, so instead had to improvise.

So I cased the town on the stealth tip, noticed there was a petrol station on the outskirts, and put two and two together. I peppered the tanks with fire to draw their attention, ran like a spazzo into referenced petrol station, then darted out the back exit and off to safety while cloaked. The pair of behemoths opened fire in my general direction, blew the fuel tanks up, and in a full-on Robocop style, pretty much everything within a 30 meter radius went up in flames. Minus yours truly. Don't thank me...thank The Suit!

Or how about the time a chopper caught sight of me out in the wild? I legged it for miles into the nearest building for refuge, dodging mini-gun fire the entire time, where I caught my breath, counted my ammo, and began plotting an all-important escape route. I was shortly interrupted however, when said chopper decided to bombard my hide-out with missiles, promptly sending the roof caving in, crushing my skull with beautifully deforming physics in the process. I died instantly, in fits of laughter. Only in Crysis do you see this kinda stuff. Randomly, at that.

Only a slightly schizophrenic final hour lets her down really. With the game starting out like some kinda jungle themed squad shooter, your buddies are then slaughtered one by one by some kinda extra terrestrial evilness lurking in the bushes. Where the game goes from here, I'll resist spoiling, but many highs here and the odd low there, it rounds itself off with a truly anti-climactic urine-soaked ending that feels nicked from a far inferior game. You can kinda forgive it though, considering the five or six hours that precede it are some of the best video gaming of the past ten years.

Enjoy sniping dudes? Loved that Far Cry? Think the sandbox combat of Halo 3's as good as it gets? Crysis shows 'em how it's done. It's a shame no one's able to play it, really...

2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat (PS3/Xbox 360/PC)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat - Sadly, we're hearing CoD5 is not only a return to WWII, but Treyarch are in charge...With all these games touching down in quick-fire succession, it's been interesting to compare their contrasting styles and mechanics. Take Call of Duty 4 for example; the gameplay feels archaic and even somewhat forced next to Crysis' more open-ended style – particularly the more you replay it on the harder difficulty modes – but it stubbornly refuses to care. CoD doesn't want your freedom you see. He cares not for your special abilities either. He has a job to do, and he's gonna do it. To showcase the most awe-inspiring, rollercoaster ride of your freaking life...and pretty much nothing else.

Yeah, there's no way to deviate from said rollercoaster, and expecting even a mild hint of choice results in bitter disappointment...not to mention death. But for what it does? A 100% linear FPS extravaganza conceived from day one around sod all but the set-piece and pure thrill? CoD4 might well be the greatest game the genre's ever seen.

That sensation of war feels simply unmatched here. While the loudness, the screams, and the explosions are nothing new, the culmination feels truly perfected at last. Grabbing the nearest rifle and getting stuck in'll see brilliance blossom, once you behold the beauty that is CoD's extreme arsenal of modern weaponry. Screw World War II, I say...bring on WWIII!

Surprisingly awesome amidst all this is the storytelling. Particularly – spoiler warning – the concept of playing, well, dead people. For all the zillions of times we've died then quick-loaded in shooters over the decades, there's something unnerving and flat-out eerie about unavoidable death sequences from which there's no escape. I talk partially of the presidential assassination in the game's intro sequence, sure, but more specifically the mid-game nuke scene and subsequent flopping to the ground, dead. Dark, soul destroying scenes that left me quite speechless. The gunship level's one of the other more memorable experiences of the year too, just as messed up in its own, notoriously humorous way.

Somewhat controversially, I'd also say CoD4 throttles Crysis in the visual department, simply due to how fab it runs. It's oh so detailed, animated to perfection, yet buttery smooth at all times. It doesn't hurt that CoD4's multiplayer mode is arguably the best of the year too; a fantastic array of unlocks adding a pleasing dollop of depth to an already riveting experience. If it'd boasted co-op missions and a single player mode longer than an hour, it'd most likely be game of the year.

But who am I kidding? The real reason it ain't is ‘cos of the rap.

1. Mass Effect (Xbox 360)
Mass Effect - There are a zillion tiny niggles you could whine about in Mass, but at the end of the day? It's the most fun I've had in years. Particularly playing “Renegade”.AKA the greatest sci-fi film never made.

Once in a blue moon, a rare game plops out that just feels tailor made to you, and you alone. Much like Deus Ex in its prime, Mass Effect is one such beast, tapping into my dorky sci-fi fetish, love for space exploration, appreciation for a deep RPG story, yet sheer need for real-time combat. The engaging characters and effortlessly brilliant BioWare dialogue ain't so bad either.

But you needn't be a fan of such things to appreciate Mass. Like all good classics, it's accessible to everyone, regardless of tastes. It may be glitchy at times, bugged to hell at others, and thus far from the most solid game of the year. It is however, easily my favourite. Commanding my own crew of memorable personas, hitting the furthest reaches of space, then saving the galaxy from an (apparent) megalomaniacal's why we play games, no? That you can then craft your own face and essentially paste yourself into the heart of this most epic of movie-like experiences bulks the gravitas up ten fold.

In fact, I'd say Mass does arguably the greatest job an RPG's done yet of actually letting you, well, role-play. Levelling up, tweaking stats, and modding your load-out is fine and dandy, but while such dated concepts have since become synonymous with the genre, let us not forget what the term actually means. Mass truly lets you get inside your character's head you see, tailoring not just his look and back-story, but his fundamental personality to your liking. Throughout my 30 odd hours of play-time, I felt as if I was genuinely crafting a character of my own – one who's actions were all of my choosing – truly different and distinct next to everyone else's. That's role playing by definition, and comparing to so-called staples of the genre, makes me milk-laugh right out my nose.

The ability to kill major characters, dictate wars, and ultimately affect the outcome of an entire galaxy is shockingly epic stuff, and the promise of being able to carry the resulting toon over to the following two games with hopeful repercussions should add appropriate depth to every such decision too. How Bioware'll pull off such a promise, remains to be seen I guess, but god damn I can't wait to see.

Sure, it's got issues. With so few city planets, and real-time conversations gone, I think it's blatantly obvious some major cutting back occurred during production. Yet you oddly care not. Mass does so much right, the glitches feel invisible. 'Cos you're there. When it touched down in fact, I locked myself away, called in sick, and barely ate for three days straight 'til I saw her through. Know the last game I did that for? The KOTOR series.

Says it all, I hope.

Honorable Mentions

Of course, there were many more where that lot came from. Including, but not limited to...

God of War II (PS2) – What one could call the game I missed out on, I've yet to plough more than one measly hour into Kratos' latest. This short play time alone solidified it as a fitting swansong for Sony's aging champ though, in the last major exclusive the PS2 seems worthy of, and I'll no doubt give him the proper bash he deserves one day down the line. So long then, ugly black grill...we sure had some fun times, didn't we?

Spider-Man 3 (PS3/Xbox 360/PC) – Undoubtedly 2007's "game they all got wrong but me", I for one dug Spidey 3. Forget the critics, ignore the haters, it was fab. The game that is. Not the film. God not the film.

Tabula Rasa (PC) – I only sampled Tabula in beta form, but had myself a surprising blast regardless. If not bogged down by stupidly large amounts of "real" games – not to mention a life-time sub to LOTRO – it might even have seen a purchase. Perhaps worth a revisit in the slow summer months then.

Super Paper Mario (Wii) – Any high-profile, well received Wii game deserves some love – not to mention an instant buy, let's be honest – and Paper Mario certainly falls into that camp. The fusing of traditional Mario platforming with a more adventure gamey, RPG twist sounds ace in theory – and the end result is indeed pretty darn swish – but for some odd reason, Paper just never sucked me in to the level I expected. I love the platforming side, and yearn for an entire game like that, but the RPG angle doesn't quite do it for me. I feel like it's forcing me through hours upon hours of child-like cut-scenes and never ending dialogue in order to reach the good stuff. A shame, 'cos it really is good too. A rainy day game, I guess.

Earth Defence Force 2017 (Xbox 360) – I dunno about you, but after the past three months, my bank manager's put a hit out on me. Too many damn games...and too many expensive ones, at that. EDF stands out like a black clansmen with that in mind, an insanely cheap value pack of a game, boasting 50 odd humungous levels, 150 weapons of insanity, and some of the most unbelievable, awe-inspiring showdowns ever seen in video gaming. For under 20 freakin' quid. It's simple, there's nowt to it, and it's utterly, stupidly cheesy, but much like the B-movies that inspire it, there's a loving sense of fun permeating throughout Earth from head to toe. So much so, you grow to love the sheer jankiness of it all almost instantly. Another budget-ware beaut then, to match Resi4, hopefully signalling a return to more simplistic, value-for-money offerings long since needed in this industry.

Endless Ocean (Wii) – Less game, more bizarre deep sea diving sim, Endless Ocean is strictly one for the hippies and stoners among gaming's more laidback. As a diver let loose in a free-roaming sea, able to take missions, explore and, er, stroke big fish (no euphemism, I promise), it's what can only be described as a twisted melding of GTA, by way of Flow. Those after action, noise and gunfire will point and laugh, but us into pretty sights, relaxing times and a general ambience of beauty will find much to suckle on here. Custom soundtrack support, surprisingly pretty underwater views, and another pleasing budget-ware price sure help the cause...although nothing makes up for the sub-Dreamcast era graphics seen up top. You gets what you pays for, I guess.

Mutant Storm Empires (Xbox 360) – A pleasing follow-up to the Live Arcade launch title we all know and love, Empires may not have quite lived up to the superb precedent set by Reloaded, but it's still – yet another – fab little top down shooter managing to keep the genre afloat another year. The ability to play online co-op for the first time in any of these games since the late, great Smash TV gives it instant reason to exist – minor lag and a serious boat of confusion aside – even if it gets frustratingly brutal in the game's dying levels.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) – Hourglass deserved a spot further up this page, but "Top 26 Games of 2007" doesn't really tongue roll does it? A lovely little game, regardless, Hourglass is up there among the DS' finest. As yet another Zelda game to chuck on the stacked pile, there's precious little newness here in terms of series reinvention, minus the initially aggravating stylus control that sees hairy palmed hands obscuring the screen 90% of the time. With a little practice and some minor patience, it starts to work though, with screen-swiping sword fighting a blast in particular (no doubt boding well for the upcoming Ninja Gaiden game touching down in 2008). Like the DS' Metroid excursion, Hourglass is very much a condensed take on its older brothers for the most part, retaining all the hallmarks of a real Zelda title, while removing much of the fat along the way. Dialogue is brief and zippy, dungeons can be rounded off in no time, and the plot propels forward pleasingly swift on top. I also love the puzzles, the sound, and the return of that old Wind Waker vibe of old. But I could go on forever so let's move on...

Warhawk (PS3) – My time with Warhawk's been limited thus far. Truth be told, I'm so utterly rubbish at it, I can seldom stay alive long enough to move. The 10 odd second clumps of action I've been witness to before owning can commence however, hint at much in the way of cheeky online fun, with the airborne Warhawks themselves standing out as a genuine treat to wield. It's hardly a Battlefield killer, of course, and the ground combat suffers from Sony Analogue Stick Syndrome, but if little else one has to award the guys immense love for stripping the original game of its lacklustre single player component and re-imagining the project as a budget-ware online game. The sorts of practices other large publishers could do well to follow suit with, eh Shadowrun?

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD (PS3/Xbox 360) – With some let down by 2006's Arcade port of Street Fighter II, it seems Capcom ain't giving up the cash-in cause just yet. Puzzle Fighter HD took the 10 year old PSone block falling classic, spruced up the presentation beautifully and added pleasingly addictive online play for good measure, resulting a bit of a perfect fit for the 360's downloadable arsenal. It's even out for the PSN for those more inclined. I'll admit, as he who never owned a PSone, this was my first real exposure to the game, but with the mechanics sussed and the lag ignored, it's housed endless fun ever since. Stand-by for a similar HD spruce-up for Turbo itself next, not to mention of course, Street Fighter IV…

Switchball (Xbox 360) – Forget about the above though, puzzle game of the year's right here, boyos. A criminally under-rated Arcade title no one dares talk about, Switchball's everything great about the Live download service quite literally rolled into one. A fantastically spruced up take on the previous year's Marble Blast Ultra, Switchball takes the ball rolling vertigo-tinged 3D shenanigans of that, adds a huge dollop of beauty on top, then works in some of the most imaginative and giggly mazes ever imagined. The use of materials and physics is pleasingly fresh, with helium balloons, metal balls and fully animated cloth used to inventive effect, while the bundled co-operate and oh so funny race modes give it tremendous shelf-life on the multiplayer tip too. Strange how it never took off really, though I'd argue the trial game does her no justice. The good stuff requires an unlock.

Forza Motorsport 2 (Xbox 360) – I was suitably into Forza back on release, and certainly had a blast tinkering with her at the lower levels. As the cars got faster, the courses more trying, and the competition more extreme, it kinda left me behind to a certain extent, and then the release of PGR4 pretty much buried it for good, but that initial month of experimentation and grease-covered fondling? Fun times, right here. Looks gash, mind you.

Everyday Shooter (PS3) – Another trippy PS3 indie, and one most certainly boasting its fair share of flaws, Shooter still stole dozens of hours of my life in the year’s dying months, thanks to its artsy twist and original spin. For a 2D shooter, its lack of online scoreboards and flaky firing can't go unpunished, yet neither stop it going down as one of the more bizarre and intriguing games of late.

Sam & Max (PC) – Episode one touched down in 2006 of course, hinting at the greatness shortly to come, but the bulk of the series saw fruition throughout '07, including – I'm sure many would agree – the best episodes of the bunch. Despite proving episodic content works wonderfully when done right, the return of Sam & Max feels all but ignored in most circles – odd, considering how rib-bone starved for non-shooting content the PC's been of late – but those who sampled Telltale's delights didn't regret it I'm sure. Sam and Max are just as funny as ever, their new cohorts are fantastic – Bosco in particular – and the pleasing new down-to-earth puzzles make 'em far more manageable games too. The point 'n' clicker's back, friends, resuming right where he left off. Now roll on Season Two...

And there we are for 2007. Quite the ride, no? What were your picks of the year in video game-ville?

Next up: The biggest disappointments of 2007!

Posted by Matt Robinson at 2:00 PM | Comments (6) | Posted to DS | Feature | PC | PlayStation 2 | PlayStation 3 | PSP | Wii | Xbox |  Add this story to  Stumble It!  Submit this story to Digg!