God of War--PlayStation 2
Killing hookers on the mean streets of San Andreas is so passe. This year, if it's sex and violence you want, look no further than Sony's surprise hit, God of War. The game's focus, an ancient greek man named Kratos, won't hesitate to tear in half any minotaurs, gorgons, or demons standing in his way. Don't worry, there's spewing blood to spare.
God offers many more compelling reasons than just the grotesque and gory Greek mythology of its aesthetic. The controls are tight, and every once in awhile even fun, something all but impossible to find in a game these days. The third person action offers a combo system much like fighting games of yore but never at the expense of your freedom to roam and solve the puzzles interspersed through the land.
The well-tuned camera is also your friend as you explore the world set before you, showing off a world so rich and graphically intense, even the most hardcore PS2 fanboys would never have seen it coming. God displays what is quite probably the upper limit of the graphical capability of the system.
From the moment you put it in, God offers a host of reasons to keep playing. The tortured Kratos is the perfect access point to a wonderful story and the opening sequence, a boat being torn up by the Hydra, will have you so hooked you won't ever feel like the game has become a grind. In fact it's almost always the opposite, as the compulsion to find a weak enemy so you can test your new abilities and rend their flesh from their still-beating hearts in new and exciting ways is gigantic.
Overall, God of War turned out to be one of the most exciting and fun games in recent memory and well worth at least a rent.
Admit it, though, I had you at sex and violence.Dragon Quest
VIII: Journey of the Cursed King--PlayStation 2
Simple but sweet is the best way to describe the eighth installment of the Dragon Quest series. The game does not tread new water in the plot department, but what it lacks in story, DQV111 makes up in every other area.
The world of DQVIII isn't the most intricate but it's massive and brilliantly polished. Beautiful and bright, the world and its inhabitants have been wonderfully crafted.
Interesting combat helps to pass the monotonous random battles plaguing RPGs since their birth. The battle commands may be simplified (attack, spells, items, et cetera) but they still manage to provide more than enough variation to create a genuinely challenging experience.
The only downside is the experience is a little too challenging. Some may find the random battles frustratingly hard to begin and leveling up for a large chunk of time before being able to continue your journey is tiresome.
This one minor flaw is overshadowed by Dragon Quest VIII's solid, classic-style RPG experience, making it the best crafted game of its kind this year.
Shadow of the Colossus--PlayStation 2
The team that brought the PS2 the dastardly clever ICO finally allows players a chance to jam a pointy bit of metal into the skulls of many an unsuspecting giant with Shadow of the Colossus. Set in a surreal fantasy realm, SOTC arms its awkward protagonist with rudimen-tary supplies before unleashing him against an army of giants and offers him no more improvements throughout the game. Players are then forced to rely on their own wits to be a successful giant slayer, rather than the 'level-up grind' prevalent in so many fantasy-based games. Bless the wonderful people over at SCEA studios for providing its customers with a healthy vent for their giant killing lust, helping giant- ologists keep the precious giant population over the endangered line.
Even without its thought-provoking game play and hate-stemming contribution to the giant community, SOTC would still be an important title in the running for game of the year. Namely: It's absolutely beautiful.
Every scene, every monster and every effect is thought out with painstaking attention to detail, the picturesque world captivating the player within minutes. This grand sense of 'otherness' is punctuated by every voice in the game being spoken in a garbled tongue presumably native to the world. With its sweeping, panoramic settings and extreme style consciousness, SOTC is one of the first games ever to present itself as a work of art as much as a videogame.
It's a wonder to behold, it controls tightly and it's devilishly smart. Shadow of the Colossus is a clever, exciting game finally letting you stick it to those fucking giants.
For years geeks everywhere have waited with baited breath for news on a new project from Tim Schaffer, the creator/writer/director of transcendent LucasArts adventure games Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. When word came from Schaffer about his new game, it was a shock: Psychonauts would be a platformer about kids at a summer camp. The shock was because Schaffer's trademark characterization and plotting--deeply personal, sentimental, and informed by decades of lovingly remembered classic and cult films--seemed diametrically opposed to the run, jump and shoot fundamentals of the new game's genre.
After six years of waiting, we can finally experience Psychonauts. The game is certainly a platformer, with a heavy focus on meaningless collection mechanics like finding 100 widgets to unlock new powers, for example. The gameplay, whether running, jumping or shooting is refined to perfection but it's nothing new. The game's real strength is bringing the dramatic weight of Schaffer's other work into a completely interactive format. Unlike an adventure game, Psychonauts has a cast of characters who--with the help of utterly amazing art direction and implementation--can walk around, emote and be human just the same way the player's character can. Unlike any other platformer, the cast of characters is so much more than simple loci for the plot.
Even putting aside the immense pleasure of actually playing the game, which takes players from World War II to Freudian nightmares to kitchy Japanese monster-cinema to turn-of-the-century Latin oil painting, the combination of humanity with interaction allows Psychonauts to endure as an important step forward for the medium.