The beginning of the year started out fairly slow for me, mostly because I was in a very key transitional period of my life.
At the beginning of the year, I was still the assistant news editor of the Pacific Daily News, Gannett's Guam branch. I often worked late hours, getting off at around midnight and partying well past closing time, more than likely into early-morning rush hour traffic.
But I met a girl who eventually was able to tame this party monster, and I was able to quietly make a stand against the evil forces of temptation and indulgence, and sit on my ass to play videogames.
When I returned to the hobby, I didn't find much. I hadn't hopped on the Xbox 360 bandwagon, and the last generation games were in a real lull. For much of the year, I found myself catching up with a lot of games I hadn't played when I was too busy working and partying. Those games included the phenomenal Rez and the ambitious but pretentious Indigo Prophecy.
Then I realized that it truly was the end of a generation. It took me a while to accept this, and when I did, I finally stood in line in the early morning hours in front of a Best Buy to purchase a Wii.
My initial disappointment with the Wii has been assuaged by the eventual success of the DS and DS Lite. But it still led me to purchase an Xbox 360, which has a library of more than a 100 games and a number of established intellectual properties and developers. No Spongebob Squarepants in this platform.
Really the 360 yielded the highlights of 2006's gaming. There were some disappointments, Splinter Cell: Double Agent being the most notable among them. But here are the highlights of my gaming year:
Classic gaming: Last year brought a deeper appreciation of the industry's roots, for me and for most of the audience. A number of great compilations were released, especially Sega Genesis Collections, Metal Slug Anthology, and Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. But not only that, all three of the new systems allow players to download their favorite games of yesteryear. Thanks to the Wii, I have developed a deeper appreciation of what made Super Mario 64 so special. The Xbox 360 and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved showed the perfect marriage of next-gen stylings and old school sensibilities. And the PlayStation 3 already offers classics like Tekken 2 online.
Xbox Live: The Marketplace has become a great place for me to visit almost every day. I love the fact that all of the South Park season 10 episodes are available online, and they've eaten up most of my Microsoft points. But I also downloaded several additions to The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, at least those that adequately expanded on the vast geography and history of that world. Finally, Achievements were able to give me a new way to pimp my Myspace profile.
Wii: I know I said I was disappointed, but my imagination is tickled with the possibilities that remain, and most of that stems from WarioWare. The game is chaotic, but in each of its three-second minigames lie untapped potential for dozens of genres, and some very sharp lessons to be learned for other developers, especially those who have misstepped with games like Red Steel.
Guitar Hero 2: The vivid, empowering thrill of making music is imitated in this game. As a guitar player, I was shocked at how accurately they were able to convey it in a rhythm action videogame. The game also yielded many "see how games have pierced the mainstream" claims, after the Wall Street Journal published a front page story on how rock stars pretend to be rock stars with the game. I think the only next logical step for the series is to add the ability to improvise. Improvisation is what guitar players live for, and it would be a crime to deprive the rest of the world of that feeling.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Without a doubt my personal game of the year. I can't remember the last time I was so wrapped up in a virtual world, and this game reminded me why I played videogames and why I used to love role-playing games. This game enabled me to tell my own stories thanks to its liberating structure and massive world with things there just for the sake of being there. It doesn't hurt that the stories that are already there are engrossing, especially the Dark Brotherhood storyline, a tale of intrigue, blood, deception, deceit and dementia.
Splinter Cell: Double Agent: No, not the horrendous 360 version. The regular version, for PS2 and the Xbox. Not only is the story better told (using the flashback method) but the overall structure remained the same as the seminal Chaos Theory installment. Usually more of the same is something I would frown upon, but compared to the 360 version's misguided attempts at gameplay diversity, returning to the simple stealthy commando in Chaos Theory was a breath of fresh air. It also is the most shining example of how gameplay can ultimately triumph over processing power.
I really think 2007 will be something special. Already I see great potential in a fascinating new IP—Assassin's Creed. The Wii and the PS3 are also looking to fatten their lineups, while Halo 3 will more than likely become Microsoft's ace up its sleeve that everyone saw coming but will love and be shocked at anyway. If you haven't hopped on the next-generation bandwagon, you more than likely will this year.