It's Game Over for 2007, and what a year it was!
Gamers experienced both exhilaration and disappointment in the last 12 months. Great new titles thrilled us as the current crop of game consoles began to come into their own. But there were problems as well - big problems.
Massive hardware failures dogged the Xbox 360 until mid-year. Even game reviewers were not immune as my 360 succumbed to the so-called "Red Ring of Death" in early June. Fortunately, Microsoft got a handle on the problem and powered-up its warranty to keep consumers happy.
For much of 2007, the PlayStation 3 resembled nothing so much as a ship without a rudder. With no clear marketing strategy, no killer exclusive games, and a comparatively hefty price tag, there was little reason to buy a PS3. Sony, finally waking up to the problem, cut prices late in the year in a bid to win back its flagging market share. Despite the problems, the future isn't necessarily bleak for Sony. There are those who believe the PS3's Blu-Ray drive will make it the system to have as future titles based on that data-intensive format provide a richer gaming experience. Moreover, mass market penetration of Blu-Ray movies will make the PS3 more attractive to buyers going forward.
Nintendo's Wii, of course, was the story of the year. The system was sold out everywhere and proved popular with a surprising new demographic. Senior citizens discovered that the Wii provided a fun way to get a bit of exercise. Of course, kids love it, too.
Among handhelds, the Nintendo DS remained dominant, but Sony's PSP mounted a strong challenge with a thinner, lighter design released in September. And the PC, often declared to be on life support as a gaming platform, proved once again that it's here to stay with a strong lineup of games.
The biggest no-show of 2007 was Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto IV, which was bumped from a scheduled October release into early 2008. Another Rockstar title, Manhunt 2, became better known for its legal battles with censors than for its lackluster game play.
Online play continued to gather momentum with all three consoles pushing hard in that direction. Extra downloadable content, interactivity between players as well as the opportunity to earn online recognition for in-game achievements became increasingly important considerations for game designers.
Without further ado, here are my Game of the Year selections:
Best use of a game: Will Wright's classic SimCity was donated by publisher Electronic Arts to the One Laptop Per Child program (laptop.org), a charitable initiative designed to change the world for the better by getting Web-connected computers into the hands of kids who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them. All OLPC systems will have SimCity pre-installed, along with productivity software.
Most Innovative: Portal (PC, Xbox 360, PS3) - part of Valve's amazing Orange Box collection, Portal will change the way you think about the environment you're playing in. Runner-up: The Eye of Judgment (PS3) - while certainly not a huge seller, collectible card game The Eye of Judgment makes clever use of the PlayStation Eye, a camera attachment for the PS3. The camera scans creature cards as they are played, generating an onscreen animation. Even cooler, you can play against others online.
Biggest Event: September's Halo 3 launch was a national sensation.
Game of the Year: Call of Duty 4 (PC, 360, PS3, DS) - Highlighted by an amazing script, unbeatable game play, and a surprisingly compelling multiplayer component, Call of Duty 4 has raised the bar for first-person shooters. Runners-up: BioShock (PC, 360), Rock Band (PS2, PS3, 360).