The Year in Review 2006 Feature - The Next Level

The Year in Review 2006

A look back at our definitive picks of last year.

Article by TNL Staff (Email)
January 10th 2007, 04:30PM
 

Chris's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. Star Trek: Legacy (360, PC)
Publisher: Mad-Doc Softare   Developer: Bethesda Softworks


This is a dream come true for MANY Trekkers. Typically I tend to stay several parsecs away from any Star Trek licensed video games because for the most part... they suck. But as you could gather from my gushing preview, Star Trek: Legacy was a game that I just HAD to pick up. From the moment I powered the game up in my system, it instantly found a place in my heart. Do I have any nitpicks? Oh, definitely. The multiplayer engine plays like it was put together by a bunch of Ferengi (see: connectivity issues) and the challenge factor seems a bit inbalanced (why is the "Revelations" mission so much harder than the final mission?) I hope the developers come through with some new content, Legacy It's minor things like this which prevented this game from being a bit higher on my list.
 

4. Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios   Developer: Epic Games


 
It seems I can't go one day without finding about half the people on my friends list playing Gears of War. Of course, some would prefer to slit their throats than to give up their allegiance to the almighty Halo, but face it kids – Gears of War is where it's at. Don't live in denial as I once was. Speaking of Trek, I'm beginning to think that this game was created by the Borg. If you own a 360, you WILL be assimilated. Not one day has gone by where I've found more than half the people on my friend's list immersed with Gears of War. I know Halo still means a lot to some of ya, but let's come clean for a sec: this is where it's at. Some of my friends will find my testimony amusing because they will recall how for several weeks, I wanted nothing to do with this game. I still haven't taken off my chicken suit to face off against them in versus mode. It's pointless for me to yammer on about graphics and gameplay because you'll be hearing about that in more ways than one over the next few pages. The bottom line: get Gears of War, all the cool kids are playing it.
 

3. Wii Sports (Wii)
Publisher: Nintendo   Developer: Nintendo


 
Ever stop to think about what aspects truly matter in a videogame? No... well what attracts you these days? Sadly, most of us are graphic whores and nothing else matters. Wii Sports is the perfect reminder that you don't need to utilize cutting edge visual techniques in order to make a good game. This shines above the rest mainly for the fact that it's totally accessible, user-friendly and very addictive. It's the perfect game to promote some of you from coach potato status to a more active state that requires significant movement. Perhaps Nintendo was onto something here?

 

2. Burnout Revenge (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Electronic Arts   Developer: Criterion Games


 
Some of us are addicted to Ridge Racer and PGR3. Me? It's Burnout Revenge. I told my fiance long ago that this would become my new "Crimson Skies" – in other words, my new addiction. Lately she's come home to find me glued in front of my HD set, mocking other players as I smash take them out. It's nothing personal, of course – takedowns are all part of the game. Criterion needs to hook us up with some new content though because I grow tired of picking the Nixon and Revenge Racer all the time. Oh, and new maps would be nice too. It's admirable to see the Burnout series still going strong and I look forward to seeing what Criterion delivers in the fifth installment. But until that time, this release remains my one and only digital crack.

 

1. Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Ubisoft   Developer: Ubisoft

 
It's one of the best installments in the series and to date, the only version that I've actually developed the patience to play fully from beginning to end. Splinter Cell has always been firmly rooted in reality (a huge contrast from Metal Gear), which gives players a true sense of espionage the way it's meant to be experienced. The duality approach was a great touch, allowing players to choose whether they want to side with the NSA or the JSA (terrorist organization). More games need to take this sort of approach. The co-op missions were an unexpected bonus for me, allowing you to pair up with two other players or even go against the A.I. on your own. Definitely a keeper. .


2006 Overview

2006 was quite an interesting year, but not nearly as exciting as I had hoped. Two system launches meant more green exiting my wallet on a somewhat frequent basis for all the games and accessories I wanted. HD entertainment on the 360 finally got kicked up another notch in the form of Gears of War, Dead Rising and Rainbow Six... to name a few, I know there are others. I'm surprised that the launch of on-demand digital entertainment seems to be something that hasn't been discussed a bit more heavily. I mean, to me – this is big. The advent of such a service offers gamers a convenient means to access their favorite shows, movies and more. When you factor the costs for just two people alone to enjoy a night on the town, imagine how much I'll be saving by grabbing a few munchies and popping in a few numbers from my plastic for MS Points? PS3 hit the market and not surprisingly... the launch was something of a flop. While it was amusing to see people camping out in front of retail locations nationwide, it's unfortunate that some consumers ended up victims of theft or even lost their lives. The real winners of this whole messy episode were those who profited with 3 to 5 times the original value of the PS3. I can't wait till we get past the first-generation launch woes because as of late, I never turn the damn thing on. Everything that I want to play can be enjoyed on the 360; which by the way, has me spoiled. It's difficult to avoid putting both systems side-by-side, but it's human nature to make comparisons and be attracted to the better selection that appeals to us. I don't have too much to say about the Wii other than, I just wish there was more time in the day to play it. Twilight Princess is an impressive game in the few occasions that I spent a few occasions that I spent with it and you already know my thoughts on Wii Sports. The Virtual Console however has left me in a state of mixed emotions. I think Nintendo is charging too much for some of these classic games, the same games that many of us could enjoy for free through emulation. But none of this irks me more than the fact the system didn't come with a composite cable, which meant that I had to settle for the traditional AV setup. Overall, 2006 will be remembered as a time where Sony fell on its face, Microsoft came out strong and Nintendo will undoubtedly proved that it's still got what it takes to be a formidable competitor.

2007 Outlook

I have to concur with Rich G on how everyone lately seems to focus on hardware when the focus really should be about games. Really, it should have always been about games... it's one of the main reasons why Wii Sports made my list. We've come to a point where the number of polygons that can be flipped, anti-aliased, bit-mapped, etc. just won't mean a damn if the game isn't fun to play. Am I right? Don't think for a second that you'd devote a whole week to Metal Gear Solid 4 if Hideo and his team dropped the ball by killing the fun factor to the point that it was unplayable. That's just an example by the way because we all know that this game is going to rock (it needs to... otherwise my PS3 is going to end up a dust magnet). I recently picked up another PSP to make up for the one that magically disappeared at the last E3 and I'll be using this year to build up my collection with some recent hits like Loco Roco and maybe even Guitar Hero (a game which my friend insists that I buy). A lot of people have been dogging the system, but I've scoped out what's on the market and you have to wonder what some of these people are smoking. PSP has a really strong library out there and it's enough to revitalize my interest in handheld gaming... which reminds me, I need to get another DS too (had to sell it pay the bills) so I can complete New Super Mario Bros. and my fiance can finish playing Animal Crossing. I can't wait to see what Nintendo has in store for the system once assumed to be a temporary fill-in for The Next GameBoy.

Overall, every member who's responsible for game development just needs to keep this one simple request in mind: make it fun. And while you're at it... give us some of the old-fashioned elements that used to thrive back in the day. Travis and I discussed this a few days ago. After giving it some thought, I was forced to agree, this is something that should not be overlooked, especially when it comes to 360 games. I love achievements to a great deal, but it sucks that they don't have any sort of redeeming value that affects the actual game. Kind of makes you think doesn't it? Well, that's a discussion for another time...
 


 

Travis' Top Five Picks of 2006

5. Elite Beat Agents (Nintendo DS)
Publisher: Inis   Developer: Nintendo


You can cry all you want about the loss of the J-Pop soundtrack of Ouendan, but personally, Mini Moni makes me wish for death, and I was more than happy to trade them in for Earth, Wind and Fire. Like every music game it's a vapid, shallow experience, but I'll be damned if tapping my way through Jumpin' Jack Flash doesn't make me giddy.
 

4. Yakuza (PS2)
Publisher: SEGA   Developer: SEGA


 
It's good to know Sega still has an ace title in them. For all their management woes and faltering output, I know they employ some of the best talented minds in the industry. So maybe it wasn't the successor to Shenmue I'd hoped it was, but it offers some damned good skull cracking. Hopefully it's the beginning of a comeback.
 

3. Castlevania: Potrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS)
Publisher: Konami   Developer: Konami


 
Portrait of Ruin fixes problems I didn't even realize I had with Dawn of Sorrow. It's amazing to me how Konami can churn out a rehash that manages to be a such a genuine refinement that it totally revitalizes my enthusiasm. With more variety and the best level design the series has seen since Symphony of the Night, it's the best trek through Dracula's manor in quite some time. This is becoming one of the few series I don't mind revisiting every year.
 

2. Under Defeat (Dreamcast)
Publisher: N/A   Developer: G.Rev


 
When the dust of 2006 has settled, this one really does stick out in my mind as a classic piece of gaming. It takes some of the retro appeal of the Toaplan classics, but adds new school refinement and balance with the best pyrotechnics I've ever seen. It has kept my Dreamcast out of the closet to this day, and I'm pretty sure it will go down as the last true classic for Sega's little gray wonder.
 

1. Dark Messiah of Might & Magic (PC)
Publisher: Ubisoft   Developer: Arcane Studios

 
I know some of the more high profile sites were unkind to this game, but they were wrong. What can I say? It's the most fun I've had all year, with dynamic and flexible combat that allows my id to rampage freely through the Ashan countryside. Culling the influences of Thief, Deus Ex, and Ultima Underworld and peppered with some Half Life 2 sensibilities, you really couldn't ask for a better distillation of first person gameplay. 2006 Thoughts: On the one hand, it was great to have a year go by where there were more good games than I had time to play. On the other hand, I still haven't gotten caught up. Tales of the Abyss, Gears of War, Valkyrie Profile 2, and that's not even considering the Wii or the PS3, yet.



2006 Overview

On the one hand, it was great to have a year go by where there were more good games than I had time to play. On the other hand, I still haven't gotten caught up. Tales of the Abyss, Gears of War, Valkyrie Profile 2, and that's not even considering the Wii or the PS3, yet.

And speaking of PS3, what the hell, Sony? I was all ready to jump on the PlayStation 3 bandwagon, but Sony decided to chase me and everyone else away with a rich kid's price point, and a dearth of games that is downright depressing. I worry that if Sony loses their footing it could spell bad things for a lot of Japanese game developers as Japan continues to shun the 360 and developers are forced to choose which region to abandon. Of course it might just mean more devs go multiplatform and we all win.

2007 Outlook

This year is going to rock. There's just no way around it. As each new generation hits its stride we finally get to see those new franchises that remind us that we aren't really just playing prettier versions of the same crap. Bioshock and Crysis will help me fall in love with the FPS genre all over again, and with any luck we'll wrap up the Half Life 2 Episodes trilogy. Sam and Max will finish the rest of its season. Adventure games could have a great year with A Vampyre Story as well, and I still have a good feeling about that Nearly Departed game. Then there's that mysterious Treasure game…

But who knows? Maybe they'll all suck.
 


 

Hit the next page to read Aaron and Rich G's picks...

Aaron's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. Ibara (PS2)
Publisher: Taito   Developer: Cave


I have a personal rule about never reviewing shmups, because more than any other genre, separating the good from the bad comes down to personal taste. I've always loved the extravagant style of Raizing shooters with their great weapon options, while others bitch about how hard seeing the bullets are. Ibara is straight up Raizing in the main mode, and a Frankenstein mix of Raizing and Cave in Arrange. I love them both.
 

4. Dead Rising (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Capcom   Developer: Capcom


 
It's zombies in a mall. I was destined to enjoy it. The real time cut-scenes were fantastic, the number of enemies on screen defied belief, and the cruelty inflicted on the player was delightfully sadistic. Ranged weapon aiming was crap though, and the unlocked moves earned later in the game had terrible button combinations, making them too hard to pull off and use at will. Still a grand old time.
 

3. The King of Fighters XI (PS2)
Publisher: SNK Playmore   Developer: SNK Playmore


 
It's currently the best 2D fighter in existence, so that's got to be worth a spot in the line up, right? A big cast with two different flavors of the arcade mode, plus some grueling challenges to test the skills and unlock yet more characters. Best of all, they brought back the true random mode that lets me have a new team each round, and worst of all they decided on a cheap-o Guilty Gear style boss after the great boss of '03.

 

2. Gears of War (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Epic Games   Developer: Microsoft Games


 
Gears is already going to make a lot of lists, but hey it deserves it. Nothing else can touch it in the visual department, and not just being a warhorse of normal mapping and bloody bits of Locusts flying all over the place. There's a definite, coherent sense of style that really feels like a world only slightly removed from our own, which is a shame that there's so little back story in the actual game. Another shame for me is the lack of bots, since a friend and I love going head to head versus split screen, but it's still fun to take on in co-op, especially on insane (which isn't insane enough, btw).

 

1. God Hand (PS2)
Publisher: Capcom   Developer: Clover

 
Already reviewed and talked too much about it, but sitting here having not played it for a month or two, I can still vividly remember some pretty hairy battles that I just managed to squeeze out a win from, other times I wasn't as lucky, pretty epic scale boss fights, especially near the end, and of course, all of that spanking. It really is a work of mad genius, and it's a shame that so many panned it just because it's difficult to get started at the beginning. Easily the best videogame experience of the year. .


2006 Overview

2006 was one big metamorphosis for me as a gamer. At the start of the year, I was still regularly importing games that would never reach US shores, and burning away hours on end in semi-obscure RPGs, fighters, or shmups. Though that would pretty steadily decline as I was playing less games overall, and searching for titles not so demanding in long play sessions. With my usual perfect timing, E3 was where disinterest hit me hardest, finding myself wandering the crowded halls, not having much desire to try out anything that was on display. Not that you could get to much with the non-media people clogging the stations by the thousands. Dead Rising and Lost Planet were the only two titles that really caught my interest, leading me to spend up on an Xbox 360 when I finally returned home. It wouldn't be home for much longer, since I ended by buying a condo, and a new plasma TV to go along with it. So now firmly entrenched in next-gen HD experience, I found myself leaning more towards games with more visual flash, and avoiding 2D games in general, since they were blown up on the big screen in the most unflattering of ways. Gears of War was almost like the end of days for me, converting this hardcore gamer into something of the semi-casual variety. I still have a number of unfinished PS2 games lining the shelf. They're likely to collect dust now as I read a book while waiting for the next big 360 release.

2007 Outlook

Lost Planet, Bullet Witch, Bioshock... 2007 is when the old will finally make way for the new, as older consoles are forgotten and their replacements start working at a full head of steam. Hopefully, they won't overheat. Snazzy graphics with conole limitations and unfair deadlines will still be the order of the day, but online will have even more of an impact, while even more people change over to the HD era.

Me? I'll probably finish off the older games for the first half of '07, and pick up the newer stuff for the second half, as they drop in price even more quickly than they did in the past. I'm still pretty much taking it as it comes and not keeping my hopes too high, allowing myself to be amazed when those crafty developers come through with the next new killer franchise, before its played out to hell and back.
 


 

Rich G's Top Five Picks of 2006

5. Scarface: The World is Yours (Xbox)
Publisher: Vivendi Games   Developer: Radical Games


I had absolutely no expectations from this game, but when I started playing I was amazed at how much fun I had. Sure, it's a clear ripoff of Vice City, but wasn't that a ripoff of the original Scarface film? (In a word, yes.) Being an unabashed GTA fan, I reveled in how it unapologetically took all of that franchise's mechanics and improved each and every one of them, from the graphics (in HD, it's freakin' sweet looking), the gunplay (shooting is perfect, a far cry from Rockstar's games), to the vehicles (cars drive beautifully, and boats feel like…boats). Even though I'm no fan of the movie, I dove right in and never looked back. This game rocks – and rocks hard.
 

4. Fight Night: Round 3 (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Electronic Arts   Developer: EA Sports


 
When people use the term "next generation graphics", this is the game that should be held up as the cornerstone of that idea. Featuring a sparkling mix of drop-dead-gorgeous visuals, brutally bloody slow-motion knockout sequences, and near-perfect controls (OK, so the supercharged flash knockout punch could be abused a bit), it's the most fun boxing game I've played since the days of Mike Tyson's Super Punch Out on the SNES. There isn't a game I played against my friends on Live that featured more laughs and intensity at the same time – and it's one I still bust out these many moons after its release in March.
 

3. Burnout Revenge (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Electronic Arts   Developer: Criterion Games


 
This one is quite simply the best racer I've played in a long time, and achieves that rarest of racer goals of being near-perfect both as a single player ladder climb and an online smashfest. The blinding sense of speed, white-knuckled just-missed-that-18-wheeler-by-a-half-inch-or-else-I-was-a-goner ethos, and variety of deliriously fun challenges combine to make Criterion's masterpiece a memorable experience even 8 months after its release – and another game that I still drop into the 360 on a regular basis.
 

2. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Xbox 360)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks   Developer: Bethesda Softworks


 
In case you ever wanted to completely drop out of your real life and into a fantasy-laden virtual one, this is the only game you'll ever need. Impossibly big, diverse, and magical, I spent at least 60 hours pursuing lengthy quests to become a master wizard and arena fighter and never bothered to embark on the "main" story missions at all. Even better, there was no reason to, as my career took me all around the world, experiencing all of the different cities and races of people. Once I had graduated from Arcane University, I felt as if I had accomplished something amazing, yet barely scratched the surface of all the game has to offer. It's simply that big, and that good – and one day, I'll get back to those darned Oblivion gates. I have a feeling there's something pretty scary on the other side.
 

1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (PSP)
Publisher: Rockstar Games   Developer: Rockstar Leeds

 
Remember when I mentioned I was a GTA fanboy? Well, unless Rockstar had totally botched this one, it was already set up to be a top five pick of mine – and considering I think it's even better than its console original, it's the winner of a hard-fought battle for my Game of the Year. For all of its faults – pretty mediocre story, ridiculously touchy car control, a city we've already spent hundreds of hours tearing up – the fact that they packed in so much gloriously depraved gameplay and amazing music blows my mind. I've been playing it since the minute I got it, and it won't leave my PSP for a long time.



2006 Overview

Clearly, this was a great year on all platforms (PSP haters be damned). The releases of the PS3 and Wii were milestone markers, officially declaring the next generation war open on all fronts. However, as with all launches, they were long on technical talk and short on good games. Other than Resistance, the PS3 offered no first-party titles of value. Nintendo's new machine served up Zelda, of course, which has almost everyone slathering all over it, yet also is currently suffering from a dearth of quality software.

The 360, on the other hand, saw a slew of great games. In many years, a lot of these would be included in my top 5, but it was too damn good of a year to get them all in. I loved Madden, Call of Duty 3, both NHL 2K7 and NHL 06, NBA 2K7, F.E.A.R., and Rainbow Six Vegas. While gobs of people flipped out over Gears of War, I found it to be pretty good - but it didn't grab me like so many others did.

People may dis the PSP regularly, but I played mine a ton – in addition to Vice City, I totally dug Burnout Legends, Madden, College Football, NBA Live, and Need for Speed Carbon. I'm not feeling the DS these days, even though that puts me squarely in the minority.

2006 will ultimately be remembered as a year of transition and jockeying for position. The history books will judge whether it will also be remembered as the year Sony fell, Nintendo won, or Microsoft spent their way to the top. Personally, I'll remember it as one of the most expensive years in history!

2007 Outlook

Finally, we can stop talking about hardware and concentrate solely on the games! For me, there's one game that I've got my eyes on – and that's likely the (second) biggest game that'll be released all year: Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV. Normally, I'm not the kind of guy that would get two copies of any game, but I just may find myself getting one each for the PS3 and Xbox 360. I'm also eagerly awaiting Motorstorm, Halo 3 (obviously the most anticipated one), Battlestations: Midway, Metal Gear Solid 4, and naturally the newest releases of Madden, NHL, and MLB.

Regardless, we'll be able to start to really get a sense of who's the leader in the gaming world while getting to play another crateful of great games. I'm expecting a lot of surprises, along with some new experiences with old friends. One more thing – I'll be adding a new little gamer to my family in July. How long ‘til he or she's got a controller in their hands?
 


 

Hit the next page to read Andrew and Alex's picks...


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