Those who know me probably know what I'm going to pick. And you might be correct, but it's not as much of a slam-dunk as you might think. Firstly, if I'm going to do this then I have to do this right.
Before I introduce the finalists, allow me to say that I by no means have played every game that came out this year. I've given up on PC gaming and don't have a PS3 nor a Wii. So no, I didn't get to play Mario Galaxy, nor did I play Uncharted or Crysis. And for that matted I didn't play Mass Effect (hated Knights of the Old Republic) nor have I played Rock Band (I'm sick of guitar-games). But I have played a number of other games this year and several of them stick out much further than the rest in my memory.
And now, without further ado, Randomly Generated presents to you our 2007 Finalists for GOTY... naturally in random order:
Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
- Available for PC, PSP, DS, and Xbox 360 Live Arcade.
There wasn't a single game that came out this year that I played more than Puzzle Quest. The idea of taking a Bejeweled-like puzzle game and wrapping a role-playing game around it was genius. Factor it the ease of play with the Nintendo DS and the incredibly addictive style and you have a game that literally did not leave my handheld console once for nearly 8 months. Players start out picking a character class and embark on a journey across lands doing all sorts of quests and forging weapons and participating in battles just like any other RPG. The difference is that in Puzzle Quest, all of the battles and other tasks are done through the grid-based crystall-falling puzzle system.
- Available for Xbox 360 Live Arcade.
This Xbox Live Arcade game is a digital remake of the incredibly popular board game of the same name, a game I have seen in the store countless times and never bought because of the need to have at least 3 players. Bringing this game to Live Arcade was a godsend for people like me. The game consists of a hex-based board divvied up into various resources. Players must place their settlements at the intersections of the grid to lay claim to resources and gradually, through the play of resouce cards, build roads and cities to score victory points. Diplomacy and tact is essential as you must constantly barter with other players for the cards you need. You don't wat to burn a player you may later rely on for success.
- Available for PC and Xbox 360.
It's true that I wrote the strategy guide for this game this year and I might be biased or at the least, unusually high on the game because of the depth at which I had to explore it, but I've never found a game so immediately captivating before. The story, the art direction, and yes the gameplay were all above and beyond what I've seen before from the first-person shooter genre. Those who truly explored the world and allowed themselves the time to soak it all in and listen to the audio diaries and piece together some of the back-story no doubt came away with more than those who blasted their way through at warp speed. Normally I don't care about the story in a game and only find it an annoyance needing to be tolerated. But not with Bioshock. The story here, for me, was better than most of the movies and books I experienced in 2007 as well.
I can find a reason to pick each one of these three games as my GOTY, but I can also find a reason why not to pick each of them. And that's what makes this so tough. Puzzle Quest, at it's core, is just Bejeweled. Catan is ultimately just a digitization of a long-lived board game. And ultimately Bioshock's highly-touted morality system was, shall we say, a bit lacking?
But only one game made me wish to delay travel plans in order to stay home and play it and that was Catan. Catan released on Live Arcade the day I was heading off to Utah for a 10-day multi-sport trip and Kristin practically had to unplug the Xbox on me to get me out the door for our 17-hour drive. I don't believe I stopped talking about the game until the Idaho border and even then continued to think about it throughout the week. Catan is the perfect board game involving luck, strategy, and skill. Games can be played in 30 to 40 minutes. Games can be played against human opponents or against AI players of various difficulties. It's a total gem of a game and even if it is just a digital version of an already-existing game, it took this reinventing of it to get it played by people like me -- folks who don't have a couple of roommates sitting around waiting to play games with them. Never was I happier this year with a controller in my hand, then when I was playing Catan.
And because of that I choose Catan for Game of the Year.