Top 10OK, a few ground rules: I don’t own a Nintendo DS. I haven’t played Mass Effect or The Witcher. And I probably didn’t play your favorite game, or I didn’t like it. So there.

Notable games that didn’t make the cut: Crysis and Call of Duty 4. The former made the latter’s linearity and heavily scripted gameplay feel very, very tired, and I’ve already documented how much Crysis ultimately disappointed me.

So, here’s the list.
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Call of Duty 4

It’s hard for me to gauge my feelings on this game because I played it in its entirety after I’d started Crysis (but hadn’t reached its sucking bits). Its linear, heavily scripted gameplay—even when implemented with as much skill as Infinity Ward delivers here—feels tired and dull compared to the open-endedness of Crysis. Yeah, all of those in-engine scripted scenes are amazing. But we all get the same amazing scenes, and we all play it the same way. (I didn’t try multiplayer, and I’m told it’s fantastic. I also played it on the 360 instead of the PC, only because I borrowed it rather than bought it.)

Still, a few segments stood out. The sniper mission is brilliant, beautifully capturing a feeling of dread and panic that you’ll be detected. (The fact that you and your companion look like Treebeard is a bonus.) The only goofy part is crawling under a parade of cars in the open; in a “real” scenario, you’d probably just go around the soldiers.

The second is an airborne attack, where sit in a plane high above the action coldly launching bombs, rockets, and various other implements of death at little white dots that scurry about. That those dots are people—and the fact your fellow soldiers in the plane are constantly offering accolades when you score a good hit—probably says more about modern war than any Hollywood polemic. And it was so obvious that there’d be collateral damage, though that’s never discussed.

Whether or not Infinity Ward designed it to be unsettling or not (and in the context of a game that’s mostly “rah rah, soldiers are fucking badass!” I’m going to go with “no”), it disturbed me. While the game makes it clear you’re fighting against “very bad people,” it made modern war seem horribly unfair, particularly when contrasted against most games being forced to “balance” the US versus its enemies for gameplay purposes.

With a week off, I figured I’d catch up on my backlog of games. Some old, some new. Some borrowed, some… blah

First up, Crysis.

Oh dear.

I wanted to love it, I really did.

My most anticipated game of the year turns out to be my biggest disappointment. The people that gave it such high reviews must either dig the multiplayer or have stopped playing about mid-way through the game. Because for its first half, it’s the greatest sandbox combat simulator ever, 100% worthy of its 98s and 5-stars, and 10/10 cups of drool.

You can create these amazing stories, like the time I was being chased by a helicopter, cloaked, ran into a building… and then the helicopter started launching rockets into all the buildings, eventually hitting mine, causing it to collapse on my head and kill me. That’s not a scripted scene like you find in Call of Duty 4. (More on that one later.) Another favorite was driving my Hummer into a village, hop out, let it roll into the middle, then shoot out its rather conveniently placed above-bumper-placed gas can and have the vehicle explode into a fiery ball, taking out half the soldiers. I did that twice.

But once it hits the “zero-g” segment, crikey. That entire stretch is a total momentum killer. (And to think I’d signed up a cover story just to reveal this segment; it would have been our June issue, I believe.) Poor controls, vague objectives, confusing and boring layouts. There’s even a stretch where you get to sit around for a few minutes waiting.

And once you emerge from this boring stretch, you’re hit with chaos. And not the good kind of chaos, like you get in a firefight. It’s the kind where you die and have no idea how or why. You also get stretches where your framerate dips into the single digits. You get boss fights that are comically bad. You get a horrible flying segment. You get… oh, forget it. It’s just terrible from start to finish. Some of the gameplay segments appear to be engine showcases more than good design decisions. (“Look, see? We can do that! Sign up our engine today!”)

Why doesn’t Crytek trust the brilliance of its core gameplay? This game could have been escalating military action from start to finish and been “Game of the Year” material. Instead, it’s just another shooter too obsessed with throwing “new stuff” at the player every hour.