Wednesday 17 December 2008

The games of Christmas

I hadn't planned on writing anything anytime soon, thanks to the inevitable retail sector rush at this time of year. However, I caught an article over on the BBC's news website today about which games you should be picking up this Christmas, and it just made me so darned mad that I felt compelled. Firstly, the article didn't do enough to separate the various demographics of gamers, only catering to children and World of Warcraft players. Granted, ten million WOW players is a large demographic, and living in the Medway Towns I can fully appreciate that children are becoming a majority as well.

However, when an article about which games to buy this Christmas shows two screenshots, that of Wii Music and WOW, and one of the reviewers manages to start with a conversation about games and end in a conversation about binary watches (no, I'm not kidding - look for yourself), one would be forgiven for suspecting that the reviewer is not precisely on the pulse of gamers. To the credit of the article, the second reviewer makes a bold attempt to salvage the credibility of the article by talking about games for around 80% of his article, but by then the damage is done.

So in the spirit of not criticising unless I feel I can do better, here's a gamer-friendly list of games across all formats that you can feel justified in blowing your hard-scrounged money on this Christmas, or fine gifts for other people who fall into our very special E14 demographic.

Dead Space (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Dead Space's influences are clearer than a vegan's piss. Drawing from such cinematic influences as Alien and The Thing, players are thrown into the shows of Isaac Clarke, an engineer aboard a derelict space vessel. Quite why the ship is derelict is anyone's guess at the start of the game.

As you may guess from the screenshot above, it's not a pleasant reason, but then I suppose there's never a good reason for a spaceship to be derelict. I imagine surprise birthday parties can be handled aboard an intergalactic spacecraft without the need for the entire crew to abandon ship indefinitely.

What makes this game so impressive is that it takes existing conventions - the third person over-the-shoulder aim made famous and done so well in Resident Evil 4, being in a non-combat character's shoes like Silent Hill, and still manages to put new twists on the ideas. The player has very few weapons to speak of, and must instead rely on engineering tools to aid them in their travels. This game even does atmosphere well. If you don't carve up an enemy into small bite-sized pieces (think the size of a Kinder Egg) it can come back to life later on, travelling through air-vents rather than along the corridor so you might not even know it's coming. Even WRITING about this game is making me want to crap my pants.

Prince of Persia (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, DS)

There's something quite depressing about looking at concept art and feeling completely inadequate, but the agile *and* strong Prince of Persia manages to have that happen to me on a semi-regular basis.

Of course, Prince of Persia is a series that needs no introduction unless you've lived in a cave on Mars with your fingers in your ears. In which case, you'd be dead through the lack of breathable atmosphere, and you'd have died deaf. For shame. The series made its debut as a side-scrolling 2D platform with sword-fighting elements. Since this inception, it is one of the few franchises that has successfully translated into 3D, due largely to the fact that most of the 3D games have been bollocking awesome.

Guitar Hero World Tour (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)

First, a story. When I went down to see my sister for her birthday one year, she had Singstar for her Playstation 2. She was looking for someone to play with, as her friends weren't up for it due to being, I suspect, shit singers. However, if there's one thing I'm proud of (besides my extensive first playthrough of Fallout 3 and all the robot faces I punched off as a result) it's my singing voice, so I thought I'd give her a go. I wasn't into it for the first song, as I'd been told that you could attain a perfect score simply by matching the notes and not the pitch, and so did that.

Then she started winning, and I went all out. If anyone should ever give you cause to doubt the appeal of singing games, tell them that story.

Guitar Hero: World Tour represents everything that people have enjoyed doing since prehistoric man clubbed his first cutesy animal to death, those things being screaming, hitting things with sticks and...playing a plastic guitar along to music. Ok, I'll admit that maybe I didn't think it through all the way.

In all seriousness, this game is amazing. The track list, while not perhaps as cool as Rock Band's, is enough to keep any budding rock star satisfied, and the instruments are far more sturdily built than Harmonix's equivalents. The only stumbling block is the price, at 180 GBP the bundle is pretty pricey, but to answer this, I will simply let a picture of the guitar do the talking.

That's right, it has a touchpad. Commence becoming moist.

One last one, and I think I speak for all gamers everywhere when I say that no collection is complete without this gem.

Baby Life (Nintendo DS)

Oh, ho ho ho! Ok, I got that out of my system. I just saw this advertised on Play, and thought I'd weigh in on it. Apparently this game has a "rich and complex mood and behaviour engine that has a mental profile for each baby and each evolution". I don't even think real children are that complex. I've been around babies a lot recently (I'll rephrase, that sounds dodgy). I've got many friends with new babies, so I've spent quite a bit of time in their company, and all they seem to do is gurgle and cry initially. How does that qualify as a "rich and complex mood and behaviour engine"? Besides, since when do children "evolve"? Trust videogames to take the blessed act of childbirth and cheapen it by making it sound like Pokémon.

So there you have it, some of the games to be picking up this Christmas. Remember the inevitable truths of gaming.

1: If a game says "Online Multiplayer", it essentially is saying "prepare to be insulted by 10 year olds".
2: If a 360 game is also being released on PS3, and you own a PS3, prepare to be underwhelmed.
3: If it's on PS2, it's probably coming to Wii with enhanced controls.

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