2008: The Year in Review

Another year older, another year wiser, right? If I look back to the 2007 Year in Review, this little snippet catches my eye:

There’s far more games than time, and my records show that I’ve still got 63 games incomplete. Maybe I should consider making a New Year’s Resolution regarding the “incomplete” list? Something along the lines of reducing it to around 50? Hah – I’m nowhere near that naïve… a more realistic resolution would be to not let it blow out much further.

I think I used up all my wisdom right where I said “a more realistic resolution would be to not let it blow out much further” – because, at the time of writing, The List only shows 65 games incomplete – hardly a blowout at all! (Of course, this is largely due to a ridiculously productive December, which saw no less than five games get knocked off).

But let’s not focus on the numbers too much (however much they rule my life); let’s have a look at a number of pithy categories in which I can toss the names of the games that have touched me (oo-er) this year. Forgive me for recycling several topics from earlier compilations…

Disappointment of the Year: That Wii Fit hasn’t magically halved my weight. Bastard!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Easy – Mutant Storm Empire‘s Black Belt Grandmaster. There’s a little bit of ninja in all of us, and World 4 Level 2 made me dig deep and harness that little bugger up good. An honourable mention should be made of No More Heroes and its deliciously difficult Bitter Mode.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Everyone slated Microsoft’s choice of Undertow as compensation for a spotty Xbox LIVE service last Christmas, which is a shame – it was a thoroughly enjoyable shooter that really came into its own when played with online co-op on the hardest difficulty level. But, hands down, No More Heroes takes this award for being the game that everyone seems to be sneakily sliding into their Top Ten lists to appear edgy and cool, but which no-one bought. You bastards.

I’m-Still-Waiting Award: The PS3. Come on, tempt me with a game that I actually want to play! The closest it’s come so far is with PomPom’s Astro Tripper (which, given I’ve played Space Tripper to death, isn’t even that compelling).

Pulling Teeth Award: Bullet Witch‘s Hell Mode. All that effort for One. Fucking. Point? I guess that’s why I call myself O/C. Or maybe I’m just a beggar for punishment.

2008 Blast From The Past Award: Let’s give an award a game prior to this generation, purely because I have been – and will always be – catching up on my gaming history. Psychonauts? Killer7? Let’s go with the former; barely a single criticism can be levelled at Tim Schafer’s previous game, and my appetite is well-and-truly whetted for Brütal Legend.

Where Have You Been All My Life Award: Killer7. Because I can’t bear to let it go unrewarded (see above), and because it’s absolutely, completely, stonkingly brilliant.

Funnest Gaming Moment of the Year: Seven cars sitting at the bottom of the quarry in Burnout Paradise, side by side as at a drive-in movie, waiting for our online compadre to finally nail his barrel-rolls. A cheer goes up – he’s done it! – followed by a yell of “Car Cuddles!” as everyone proceeds to smash into each other, laughs and merriment a-plenty. Ten minutes later, the next Challenge starts :)

Multiplayer of the Year Award: Burnout Paradise – see above. Challenges, or simply smashing the shit out of each other, there was nothing that came close to the online experience of cruising Paradise with seven friends.

Bringing Indy To The Party Award: Braid, or World of Goo? Both displayed impossibly impeccable production values; tiny teams easily upstaged the bigger names. Goo gets this award, since it’s a shining example of what two people can do with a gorgeous demo; having said that, Jonathon Blow‘s contribution to the indy gaming community is far from overlooked.

Gaming Payback of the Year: No More Heroes, Bitter skill level, the third boss encountered – Shinobu. I’ve written about this previously, but this fight turned my gaming world on its head – previously, boss battles had been automatically deemed abhorrent in my little mind. Shinobu changed all that.

Earnest Navel-Gazing Award: Braid, for slipping a story of weight and depth into a brilliant game… even if most of it is hidden from those who brand Braid a “Mario rip-off”.

Best Game Writing of the Year: No More Heroes, hands down. It’s got no plot, and yet the paper-thin characters still manage to feel convincing, and the fast-forward exposition prior to the final boss fight is deliriously good. Proof that a good page trumps bad volumes.

Worst Game Writing of the Year: Mercenaries 2. Because, playing as the hot chick merc, you can pimp yourself as follows:

Chinese Contact: “Ah, welcome back mercenary. I have need of you.”
HCM: “Well you can afford me, let’s not waste time.”

And, as cool as that may seem on paper, it actually leaves you feeling a little icky. So you dress up in a chicken suit, drop a MOAB on a building, then sky-dive out a helicopter. It’s all good, right?

The Gasping Grin Award: World of Goo, end of World 3. I’ve no idea why, but the laughter and evolution of that level left me wrung out, in much the same way that Braid conjured emotion.

The Gasping Gasp Award: Braid, the final level. I’ve never felt a greater cognitive click.

Still Kickin’ Award: Rez HD. Into its eighth year and Rez is still as glorious as ever.

AAA-Title I Missed Award: Ummm, that goes to pretty much all the triple-A and mega-hyped titles released in 2008; pretty much the closest game I got to AAA was Burnout Paradise.

So there you have it, kids. My 2008 in a nutshell. Big props to Braid, Burnout Paradise, No More Heroes, Rez HD, and World of Goo, with belated kisses and cuddles to last-gen’s Killer7 and Psychonauts. These are the games that made the biggest mark on me this year, though honourable mentions should go to a couple of older current-gen games, Excite Truck and Mutant Storm Empire, for continuing to bring the fun.

“That’s a nice capsule summary up there, Pete,” I hear you say. “But I need something more concise. Come on then, you crapulent wordsmith: what was your Game Of The Year?”

I think you know ;)

Oh Bugger…

So I’m still playing Mercenaries 2 a bit this moment, hammering my way through the game again using the “other two” characters. My OCD target for this game is to unlock all the unlockables (duh), fully explore the dialog trees – different for each of the characters – and check out all the FMVs in all scenarios, finishing up with three 100% character saves. Easy enough, I think – my first 100% play-through was about eighty(!) hours, but that included much faffing about capturing – rather than killing – key bad guys to garner a big fat 50-point Achievement.

This task is made particularly difficult by the fact that the enemy AI is so blinkered and trigger-happy that a careless assault can see enemy minions fill the very chap they’re supposed to be protecting – and who you want to claim alive – full of lead. Or explodey stuff.

Which is bad. And forces you to reload. And play that bit again. And, most likely, again.

Anyway, I was happy in that I’d performed that onerous task (there’s 50-ish of these High Value Targets to capture alive, rather than photograph dead) already, and subsequent playthroughs would be a doddle – I’d just airstrike them to oblivion, then stroll in and take a verifying photo when the area was scorched earth and bereft of life. But then I learned that the penultimate FMV is different depending on whether you’ve captured all the HVTs or not.

Shit. Shitting shit.

My estimate for completion for this game has just bumped out by another forty or fifty hours. And I have to chuck away a three-quarters complete playthrough with the American mercenary – by far the least fun of the three to play with. But such is life… *sigh*


Another 360-bound week has passed – I seem to have completely forgotten about Jet Set Radio for the moment (apart from the obvious comment in passing) – but at least I haven’t bought anything new. The release of Suda51’s Flower, Sun, and Rain is pretty much a must-buy, and I might as well snaffle Soul Bubbles while I’m at it. More DS goodness that, unfortunately, is going to push The List dangerously close to 70 – SEVENTY! – unfinished games.

I used to think that completing – that’s PeteComplete, of course – one game a month was a pretty reasonable goal. After all, my normal “working” week permits a lazy twenty-odd hours of gaming, so that’s eighty hours a month – surely enough for most games, save longer RPGs. But then there’s games that actually require skill and skill (in my case) requires practise… so what am I to do? Even at a game a month, there’s nearly six years worth of gaming on The List!

Case in point: two of the games I played this week I’ve had since the Australian launch of the Xbox 360 (March 23, 2006). Geometry Wars still kicks my arse and, despite my commitment to improve my skills through regular practise late last year, has remained obstinate in giving me a fair go. That’s what I reckon, anyway. Likewise, my skill level in Robotron hasn’t got much better in two-and-a-half years, although I did manage to score a surprise Achievement whilst searching for Ranked matches during the week – the lag associated with my adversary’s host across the Pacific allowed me to jerk my way to Wave 11. Up popped the Achievement, surprising me so much I died thrice in quick succession. Yes, I’ll blame the Achievement Toast… yes ;)

Finally, though, Mercenaries 2 continues to delight with its co-op multiplayer goodness. My co-op buddy in Perth joined me to tackle the PMC challenges (which must be literally impossible in single player mode) and we managed to unlock all the additional costumes for all three characters… Mattias’ suit is a chuckle, and Jennifer’s catsuit is delicious, but nothing – and I mean nothing – can top the Chicken Suit.

Cluck On
No, ma’am, I’m a chicken

Two men, firmly ensconced in middle age, separated by thousands of kilometres, controlling characters running around Venezuela in chicken suits, raining heavy ordinance all over the country and punching army chaps in the head. Seriously, if this is as good as it gets, then I’m pretty bloody happy with the state of gaming :)

Cluck Off
I don’t know who was more surprised, really.


In yet another OC-unremarkable week, not much was achieved; Marble Blast Ultra received some DLC on Wednesday, luring me into playing it online for all of two matches to net the one new Achievement on offer… on The List and off again in the same day. Another look at Wii Fit ruptured any credibility in the product, as it awarded my creaking lardy body “Yoga Trainer” status on multiple mini-games. And something lured me back to Gears Of War: perhaps a curious mind that was wondering whether the online multiplayer was really that unpalatable. A whole bunch of matches for all of three kills with a bitchily uncommunicative crowd reminded me that yes, there are better things to be doing with my gaming time… and yet, those multiplayer Achievements still gnaw away at me, goading me with their “Locked” status.

Luckily, the week in gaming was saved by a chum wanting to play a bit of Mercenaries 2 co-op. Not being an Achievement Whore (nor afflicted by OCD), he was unphased by the prospect of killing HVTs (and hence missing out on the “Aces High” Achievement)… the resultant joy as the two of us teamed up for helicopter-hopping, tank-trashing, airstrike-addled mayhem was incalculable. It really, truly is a completely new game with a partner by your side – a noticeably easier game, yes, but staggeringly good fun.

Mind you, Mercenaries 2 did show itself to be horribly bug-ridden. Sound glitches galore, mysterious hangs, and instances where my co-op partner’s 360 and mine didn’t really sync, resulting in our view of proceedings being out-of-whack. And the “…And Justice For All” Achievement – effectively a subset of the aforementioned (and previously obtained) “Aces High” Achievement, refused to unlock until I re-completed the game while physically disconnected from Xbox LIVE. Ermmm… quite.

Still, Mercenaries 2 is fiendishly good fun – especially with that co-op player. Even better, an upcoming update is supposed to include models of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. The idea of getting Obama to trigger a MOAB airstrike in the middle of the Caracas shanty-town has me cross-legged with giggling anticipation.

DukeMercenaries of GOO

…and so another week skates by, with so many lofty plans (like finishing one of the four longer game musings I’m working on) drifting by the wayside. And what did I manage to do with my week?

Well, not a whole lot.

Truth be told, it was a relatively glum start to the week. Work is going pear-shaped, the ex moved out, and anything else that could go wrong, did. For example: with the extra room in the house, I decided to create a little retro gaming shrine with the spare TV. “Aha,” I thought with a desperate gleam in my eye, “an opportunity to knock some of the Jaguar games off The List.” Alas, my video cable for the Jag has suffered one bend too many, and the only replacement I could find on eBay is now en route from England at the lazy cost of AU$40. Useless Jaguar sitting forlornly by the TV, I seek another platform, and dig out my “useful” Dreamcast (I have two Dreamcasts; one that has the GD-ROM “tuned” for Rez – and plays nothing else – and the other that plays everything except Rez). All plugged in, I fire up Jet Set Radio, keen to give it a concentrated playthrough that I neglected to afford it a few years ago. All seems good, until… it suddenly reboots. And again. And again, at a completely different point in play. So I surmise that the power supply on the “good” DC is on the fritz; looks like a transplant is in order.

There was glum news in the gaming world, too – new gaming darling Little Big Planet got delayed due to Muslim pressures over some background music. Astro Tripper (which, from this video, looks like a HD & tuned-scoring version of Space Tripper) was announced for the PS3, which I fear means that PomPom have turned their backs on the 360 & XBLA. And, despite my giddy excitement the other day, we won’t see No More Heroes 2 until 2010.

But some good stuff did happen over the last seven days; a friend finally picked up Mercenaries 2, leading to many co-op hijinks (and marvelling at the poor voice acting. Again). He managed to snaffle 260 GS inside an hour, and I managed none – but that’s OK. There’s still a lazy 150 points in the wings there that we can work on later.

Scanning The List, I noticed that Duke Nukem remained relatively untouched – if only because I find it somewhat annoying to play, and my current save-point sees me spawning with a mere 4% health, little ammo, and even less of a chance of getting out of the corner I’m stuck in. So I decided, instead, to try and eke out some online ranked kills – after all, there’s achievements all the way up to 500 kills, and my OCD won’t let that go. And – surprise surprise – it’s really good fun. Getting an eight-player duke-match going on the Stadium map is an absolute blast, and there’s a few other maps that are nearly as good. Yes, there’s the lag that seems to affect every XBLA game, but – long story short – I scored 507 kills over the weekend, netting all the online achievements… and actually enjoying Duke Nukem in the process!

There was one more Good Thing for the week… and, as Good Things go, this has lots of sweet whipped cream and a cherry on top.

World Of Goo.

It’s fantastic.

Yes, we antipodeans (and Europeans, for that matter… let’s just say “non-North-Americans”) have to jump through some hoops to get it (install the Homebrew Channel, and then work through these instructions), but the effort is more than worth it. Or just buy it on the PC (but then you’ll miss out on the delightful Wii control). It’s got all the immediate impact and cleverness and greatness of Braid, but comes from a completely different angle, tongue firmly in cheek. There’s times where I’ve completed a level and jumped up clapping; it’s just an utterly joyous experience. And building a Goo Tower, complete with little cute little flag-carrying clouds that tell me that my tower is the tallest in Australia, is like a Goo-ey form of Achievements.

Seriously, just go and get it now.