Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Mid-Year State of the Games: Now Appearing Three Weeks Early

This should be coming out at the end of June, theoretically, but it's not.

It's surprising, what with three next-gen consoles now released, but for me, this has probably been the weakest first half of a year for gaming that I can ever remember.

I didn't try fewer games--I just liked fewer of them.

If you don't include Guitar Hero II for the 360, which is more of a lifestyle than a game, here are my top three for the first half of 2007:
1. Crackdown (360)
2. Puzzle Quest (DS)
3. Total Pro Golf 2 (PC)

I haven't written about Total Pro Golf 2 yet, but I will next week.

There were a few other games I put some time into, but none of them wound up holding my interest. I actually finished Wario Ware: Smooth Moves, and played quite a bit of multi-player with Eli 5.10, but I wouldn't put it in the same class as the three games I listed because I never felt a compulsion to play.

A good game really forces you to play it, and when you're not playing, you're thinking about it. The three games I listed all fall into that category.

If I was going to pick out a theme for the first six months, it would be that everyone is finally noticing the decline of the PC as a gaming platform. I first wrote about this after E3 in 2005:
Theme number three: The decline of the PC as a gaming platform. Last year, the gaming press was falling all over itself at E3 about the “triumphant return of the PC” because of Half-Life 2 and Doom 3. Those games, though, had been in development for years, and behind them the pipeline was running dry.

Well, it's drier now--for AAA titles, at least. Maybe the Games for Windows initiative will actually be something someday. But it's increasingly looking like a console has become almost a mandatory purchase for gamers.

I know. That hurt.

The other problem with the PC as a gaming platform is that the AAA releases that are developed with the PC as the primary platform usually require an absolute beast of a system. Low-end systems, generally, need not apply for the high-profile releases.

But I digress. Constantly, I might add.

In spite of the first six months, I'm still very optimistic about the rest of the year. Let's take a look at the absolute metric ton of games coming out that have promise.

I'm going to look at theree platforms: PC, 360, and Wii. I don't have a PS3--oh, and take a look at this excerpt from my E3 2005 wrap-up:
I’ll tell you one other thing about the PS3: it can’t come out at $449, which is allegedly the currently planned street price. No matter how powerful that console is, no matter how many features it packs, it will puke all over itself in the U.S. at $449.

Boy, talk about a price optimist. That was also back when Microsoft had announced that the 360 would be $299 without letting us know that the real version would be $399.

Back to something resembling the topic: I'm also not going to cover handhelds, because the DS has a game released for it every twelve minutes.

But even just covering three platforms, there's a massive list of potentially-excellent games. Let's look at PC exclusives first. Release dates (in parentheses) are from EB Games.
--Crysis (9/11)
--World in Conflict (9/18)
--Hellgate: London (10/30)
--Unreal Tournament 2007 (11/01)
--Sim City Societies (11/13)

I think the most interesting game on that list, surprisingly, is Sim City Societies. Not for the subject matter, necessarily (which seems to be divergent enough from the Sim City canon that it really shouldn't even be using the name), but because the developers are Tilted Mill. I believe those guys, at some point, are going to have a breakout game, and maybe this is the one.

Don't panic--there's quite a bit more coming out for the PC that looks interesting. They're just not exclusives. Let's take a look at the multi-platform releases next.
--DIRT (PC, 360, PS3, 6/19 for PC/360 versions, 9/03 for PS3)
--NCAA Football 08 (all consoles, 7/16)
--All-Pro Football 2k8 (360, PS3, 7/16)
--Stranglehold (PC, 360, PS, 8/6)
--Bioshock (PC, 360, 8/21)
--GTA IV (360, PS3, 10/16)
--Mercenaries 2 (360, PS3, 10/22)
--Rock Band (360, PS3, 11/1)
--Guitar Hero III (no release date yet)
--Assassin's Creed (360,PS3, November)

A few notes:
--I thought the 360 demo of DIRT was more fun than Forza 2, so I'm looking forward to the release next week.
--The NCAA videos have tormented me again--yes, I'm Charlie Brown and the football will get pulled away before I can kick it.
--The videos of All-Pro Football have uniformly been less impressive than I expected, but until they show us extended gameplay videos, I'm not going to panic. Much.
--The buzz on Bioshock (from off the record sources) is off the charts.
--I'm looking forward to Mercenaries 2 more than GTA IV. The Rockstar North guys are incredibly talented, though.
--Two months ago, I would have said that Guitar Hero looked far more promising than Rock Band, but I've had a reversal recently. I don't really like the GH III videos, and I found out that Harmonix took the Guitar Hero code with them. Peripherals for Rock Band, though, are an open question in terms of quality.
--Seriously, who isn't excited about Assassin's Creed?

Moving on to the 360 exclusives.
--Blue Dragon (8/28)
--Mass Effect (9/03)
--Project Gotham Racing 4 (9/03)
--Eternal Sonata (9/17)
--Halo 3 (9/25)
--Lost Odyssey (10/1--but I expect this to slip)

If you add the multi-platform releases to the 360's list, it may be the strongest three month release schedule in console history. A diverse, tremendously high quality selection of games. If Microsoft figures it out and drops the price of the Premium system to $299, they are going to have huge buzz and momentum through the holidays.

In a regular year, about half of these games would be expected to slip, but that doesn't seem to be the case this year. At least 80% of these games are locked and loaded for a fall release, so the number of games that slip into 2008 is going to be surprisingly small.

Okay, last up is the Wii. The Wii looks like it's going to pass the 10 million by the end of August.

That's what you call momentum.

And if you were worried about the software, don't be. Everyone's figured out now that the Wii is this generation's DS. The games are coming. This fall will be good. Next fall, though, will be great.
--Resident Evil 4 (6/19--Famitsu gave the Wii version a 10)
--Mario Strikers Charged (7/30)
--Boogie (8/08)
--Metroid Prime 3 (8/20)
--Dewey's Adventure (9/04)
--Looney Tunes ACME Arsenal (Wii, PS2, 9/18)
--Mario and Sonic's Olympic Games (11/01)
--NIGHTS: Journey of Dreams (11/13)

I think the sleeper on this entire list (and I don't mean just the Wii--I mean all the games) is Looney Tunes ACME Arsenal. What a perfect subject for a game.

Sony is a big question mark at this point, at least in terms of what they're releasing for the fall. I think Lair, Warhawk, and Heavenly Sword are locks. Some of the other exclusives look interesting, but there's very little information on what they're actually shipping before year's end.

All in all, though, we have a giant list of interesting games coming this fall. After somewhat of a drought for the first half of the year, anyone should be able to burn up their wallet in the next few months.

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