At the time of this writing, we are approaching the end of the first month of 2006, a year that should mark the true start of the next generation console war. Microsoft is already on the forefront with the release of the Xbox 360, and both Sony and Nintendo should be making comments about their PlayStation3 and Revolution respectively. Still, these two are not providing us any real information right now. Sony refused to talk in great detail about the PS3, especially in terms of price and launch. At the CES keynote address, and as always, Nintendo is hiding behind their favorite Rumor Control excuse: "Nintendo does not comment on rumors or speculation."
At least the Xbox 360 is out, for those lucky or vigilant enough to get their hands on it. Since purchasing my 360, I have not seen any in stock, and I've been through Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina to find one. My number hasn't come up for the preorder I made back in August, and I ended up canceling that preorder, using the money to cover mine and my girlfriend's five year anniversary.
Still, the year 2005 provided its share of ups and downs, and while my fellow GiN staff is taking their sweet time to gather nominations for our annual Game of the Year awards, I am always taking the initiative and coming up with my awards and dubious honors for the past year.
To start off, I am always thinking of new awards, and the first one I have come up with is the "Quit whining and moaning" award. This award I am giving to all the early adopters of the PSP and Xbox 360 who complained about hardware problems.
PSP owners threw a fit over dead/stuck pixels. Now I admit that my PSP has suffered a few stuck pixels, but they are nowhere near the level that I've heard from other PSP owners. I'm not going to worry about mine. In the last month though, Xbox 360 owners added to the complaints, whining about overheating systems, lockups, even an error message (which has been posted on flickr.com) that many people will consider the 360's Blue Screen of Death.
Now since I bought my 360 on launch night, it has been run on a near constant basis, and aside from a few online coughs, I have had no trouble at all. Then again, this wasn't the first time we've heard complaints about new systems. "Disc read error" messages affected early PlayStation 2 models (and Sony has offered rebates to those who own early systems,) original PlayStations were notorious for skipping, and the original Xbox had trouble with their Thomson DVD drives (which were since replaced by Samsung drives.)
Face it, early adopters, a very small number of systems act up in the initial launch, and Sony and Microsoft have addressed these matters. Just don't go online and post exaggerations and ruin it for everyone else!
Now while I may be over the stuck pixel issues, I do have to say that the PSP should receive another dubious honor. That is for "Most Disappointing Software Lineup." Now when the PSP came out, there were some rather impressive titles, such as Lumines, Metal Gear Ac!d, and an excellent conversion of Ridge Racer that helped show the 3D capabilities of the PSP. However in later months, there weren't many software titles that I could consider "must own." In addition, with an overdose of UMD movies that are more expensive than DVDs (which actually have more features,) the software lineup still feels quite limited. Not all of the software lineup is subpar though, with impressive titles such as Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and a surprising conversion of THQ's Smackdown Vs. Raw 2006.
I should make an award for "Biggest Console Disappointment," which easily goes to Gran Turismo 4. After taking FOREVER to come out, GT4 might have more cars, and more tracks, but in the end, it feels the same as GT3 did, and that game came out 4 years ago! Nixing the promised online mode didn't help much either, and the truth is once you get a supped up car, you can have the computer AI drive it, up the game speed, and you end up with a lot of money without any effort. If GT5 comes out for the PS3, then Polyphony had better offer online play, a larger racing grid (6 cars is so PS1,) and remove the B-Spec AI mode!
The PSP also gets another dubious honor of "Where's the Wi-Fi?" I am giving this award because as of this writing, only eighteen PSP titles are available to play in infrastructure. Every other game that allows Wi-Fi connectivity is only available in ad hoc mode. I don't get it. Sony takes forever to release their 2.0 upgrade that allows an online web browser, and games still are only coming out in ad hoc mode. Nintendo is going all out with their recent DS Wi-Fi network, and I feel that Sony needs to do the same thing.
Still, not all for this year was doom and gloom, as there were times when I am able to give high praise. To start off, with the launch of the Xbox 360, the standard for graphics has skyrocketed. It's no surprise that an Xbox 360 title will win the award for "Most Gorgeous Environments," and that will easily go to Project Gotham 3. I know I went gaga over PGR's graphics in the past, and it has even been subject to criticism from fellow GiN correspondents. But I stand by my opinion; PGR 3 is drop dead gorgeous, especially when seen from the cockpit of a McLaren F1. Driving through Vegas in the middle of the night is a religious experience. The scary thing is that this is the first generation of 360 titles. I've caught a glimpse of the upcoming Fight Night Round 3, and the visuals are jaw dropping. When E3 2006 comes, I'm sure the 360 lineup will catch many an eye, even against the upcoming PS3.
PGR 3 might look gorgeous, but it gets yet another award. This time for "Most Unusual Soundtrack that Actually Fits!" I once gave this award a few years ago to Grand Theft Auto 3, with its unique blend of classical, Scarface soundtrack, and hilarious talk radio. PGR 3 might not have a talk station, but its unique music blends, such as classical, alternative rock, and J-pop, go all over the spectrum. But still, whoever thought that bhangra music (a blend of Indian music with London club sounds) would fit in a gaming soundtrack? I didn't at first, but believe me, it does.
I may have retired from playing DDR type rhythm games, but one music title released this year has returned me to the genre. The winner of this year's "Innovative Rhythm Game" award is RedOctane's Guitar Hero. Taking advantage over Konami's laziness in releasing their Guitar Freaks series to the US, RedOctane released the first excellent guitar simulator on the PlayStation 2. With a soundtrack that includes some of the best guitar songs of all time from Black Sabbath, The Ramones, and Derek and the Dominoes, Guitar Hero is easy to pick up to play, yet challenging on the expert levels. Surprisingly the guitar controller packed with the game isn't cheap either.
Movie based games usually suck. Thankfully there are games out there that deviate this norm. One of these titles get my award for "Best Movie Game that Does Not Suck." That award goes to Rockstar's The Warriors. Despite being in the works for years, did anyone else ever think that a game based on a 26 year old cult movie turn into such a great game? But it did, featuring some of the best elements of fighting games, a touch of Manhunt, and elements from the GTA series. In fact, The Warriors was hailed by many critics as being the next evolution of Double Dragon (not to mention that a hidden minigame is a blatant ripoff of Double Dragon!)
The Warriors also receives my most favorite award, for "Badass of the Year."
However, I had a debate for which Warrior should get it. Originally I want to give the award to the character of Ajax: brutal, violent, and aggressive with a potty mouth to boot. However, the fact that he got busted by an undercover female officer doesn't help his chances. On the other hand, I felt that Swan would be a worthy contender as well. Taking over after Cleon is elbowed to death by the Grammercy Riffs while being hunted down by every other NYC gang and the police would be too much for anyone else to handle, but Swan does it so well. In addition, both the original actors (James Remar and Michael Beck) were able to reprise their roles, and despite being in their 50s, the voice acting is as believable as their acting in the original movie.
Of course, I also have my choices for each console (excluding the GameCube, which I have not played this year), as well as my Game of the Year choice:
PLAYSTATION 2: GUITAR HERO
XBOX: FORZA MOTORSPORT
XBOX 360: PROJECT GOTHAM RACING 3
PSP: GRAND THEFT AUTO: LIBERTY CITY STORIES
PC: CIVILIZATION 4
GAME OF THE YEAR: CIVILIZATION 4
Already the titles of 2006 are coming out, and to give a preview for next year, I can easily say that Dead or Alive 4 should get an award for "So Frustrating You'll Destroy your Wireless Controller" because the computer AI is so cheap, even on Normal Difficulty. At least playing online is a load of fun, and much easier.
CURRENTLY PLAYING: DEAD OR ALIVE 4 (X360), SMACKDOWN VS. RAW 2006 (PSP)
WAITING FOR: GEARS OF WAR (X360), FIGHT NIGHT 3 (X360), S50 HOME KIT (SIRIUS)