I should note that by "underrated," I mean under-appreciated or overlooked by the media and public. These are games I feel deserve just a spot more attention than they initially received, or sold very poorly relative to their quality. Similarly, my selections for "overrated" games are not necessarily massive hits or top-tier critical choices, but I do feel each one undeservedly dominated a specific part of the gaming conversation at some point or another this year. They're not bad games; just not as good as they could have been.
In my opinion. If I've learned anything from countless flames and attacks by trolls during my time on the Internet, it's that prefacing highly subjective statements like "Most so-and-so" with "In my opinion" usually dampens some of the aggression. In the next few posts, I will be going over what I feel are the most disappointing, overrated, underrated, and downright best games of the year. Naturally, this is just one humble blogger's take on a rather eventful year, and I will be more than happy to receive any disagreements, diatribes, words of encouragement, non-sequitors, and excoriating rumors regarding my manhood in the comments section. Just please remember to keep it somewhat civil.
I've already posted my take on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's now-(in)famous "No Russian" chapter. I was not content to simply post my own thoughts on the matter, however. Given the uproar and truly interesting commentary that has sprung up around the game sequence, I wanted to survey a few of my fellow bloggers regarding their own opinions and experiences. I received a handful of responses to my request for commentary: Some authors had played the sequence in question, some had not. Some felt quite strongly in the positive, others in the negative. Some responses were longer pieces, others were short remarks or pointed me towards an existing blog post.
As first-person shooter campaigns go, it's definitely in the 95th percentile of enjoyable shooting galleries. But it's also a campaign that worries me. While playing through the brief solo mode (roughly five hours), I couldn't help but be reminded of the stereotypical Bay film: Things blow up, uber-macho soldiers shout, the player performs wild stunts (like jumping into a helicopter for the umpteenth time), and loud orchestral music plays. It doesn't seem to matter that the plot is poorly paced, makes very little sense, and no characters are developed. If I'm a typical M-rated gamer, all I'm supposed to care about is that I shot people and stuff blew up real purty.
Stephen Totilo of Kotaku provided a fascinating look at Zach Gage's Lose/Lose, a curious statement-game (I would call it an "art game," but that label comes with its own baggage and may obfuscate the analysis below) that posits players in a pretty lousy situation: Get "killed" in the game, and the application running the program is deleted from the computer. Destroy "enemies," however, and a file on your computer—represented graphically in the game as a blurry mess of pixels scrolling down the screen in true Galaga fashion—gets deleted. That's right. The game deletes your files. Of course, that's only if you choose to play the game as a game... and not experience it as a question of will and complicity.
The Brainy Gamer blog featured a terrific post today directed at Infinity Ward's questionable "FAGS" advertising campaign, in which Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels decries grenade spam. It's covert advertising for Modern Warfare 2, of course, although the acronym with which said message is provided is obviously the source of the most worry.
MadWorld comes closer to the kind of inherently "ethical" gameplay that Miguel Sicart (The Ethics of Computer Games) associates with the voyeuristic gorefest Manhunt. Sicart calls Manhunt an exemplary ethical title in the sense that it offers a "closed, mirroring" ethical system of gameplay that compels the player-subject to adhere to rules that become increasingly ghastly and, if fully utilized, so depraved that it causes the "virtuous" player to be self-reflective. This realization, though tied to unethical gameplay, is itself an ethical end-product of the design and the experience of the player.
My favorite game to play on travel recently has been Chessmaster: The Art of Learning for the PlayStation Portable. It's not a great chess game by any means, but it was a digital download for my favorite portable system, and it's good for playing quick sessions just about anywhere.
The odd thing is, I've been playing chess almost rabidly as of late, and not just on the go or in the bathroom. I've enjoyed playing Chessmaster again so much—just sitting around on the couch or playing at my desk for hours on end—that I've encouraged my girlfriend to take part in a few real games of chess now and then, and it's quickly become one of the little joys of our living together.
Many video games are escapist in one sense or another and have to deal with the maximum agency afforded to the player, and in most cases we're talking about agency in the idealized, physical sense. If the protagonist is not physically attractive or physically "able" (and this is to say nothing of the marginalizing of the physically handicapped or disabled in video games... perhaps a topic for future discussion), at the very least he/she is youthful... iconic of the kind of template for change and dynamic narrative-based character shifts we all look for in the classic bildungsroman that forms the basis for games ranging from Braid to Fable 2.
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