The DZ Awards 07: 15 – 1

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Matt: It’s cheap, it’s roughly presented, it’s got a plot that noone cares about. But get couple of pads and a friend and you’re in for an absolute blast… A co-op bullet dodger/fighter hybrid with RPG elements combined with a tough learning curve, The Red Star is practically a team building exercise in a box. Despite being hard as nails at times, it’s difficult to break the cycle of compulsively having just one more go- if only to see the next brilliantly designed boss or try out an upgrade you’ve been saving up for. The bullet dodging is nail-bitingly intense, and the melee has a weighty, visceral feel. Tricky to master, but the thrill of flicking between flawless bullet evasion and a brutal onslaught of shots and slashes is its own reward.

Thomas: I was waiting for this game since I played the Xbox demo many years ago back when Acclaim still mattered, and it did not disappoint when I finally got my hands on it all that time later. Good things certainly do come to those who wait. You should pick it up cheap when you can, get a mate around and enjoy some of the best co-op gameplay available on the PS2.

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Dominic: There have been a lot of Robotron style gameplay clones released over time, but one that stood out a lot was Geometry Wars. It was the standard set for the genre and now a new guy is on the block. Super Stardust HD doesn’t just try to be a Geometry War clone; oh no it goes beyond that bringing sphere based hectic shooting that is just plainly addictive. Get buying it and waste away hours blowing away those rocks and alien scum.

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Tom: For anyone who used this for more than “teh Haloz Beta” there was some great fun to be had with Crackdown, yes it’s repetitive and yes it should have this that and the other but for when you just want to mess about you can have a great time, it gets even better when you bring a friend which more games need to learn from.

David: A lot of people wrote this off as just another GTA clone, but there’s so much more to it than that. Throwing super powers in to the mix has been done before with the Spiderman games, but Crackdown does it so much better. There’s no real story as such, just go out and take down the bad guys, but long after you’ve done all that there’s still the simple enjoyment of climbing the towering buildings and leaping across the rooftops to find every last hidden orb. A seriously under rated game here that a lot of people bought just for the Halo 3 beta, but hopefully the starting point for a great new franchise.

Thomas: I remember when I first started play this game – driving my little car out of the tunnel – I starting thinking GTAIV is going to blow this out of the water come the end of the year. However, as I kept playing I quickly stopped thinking about GTA and starting loving the game in it’s own right. Then for about 2 months after than I had great fun with the game, continually going back to it almost every day over than time. Hell, I still go back to it time after time looking for those final few orbs. Oh, and I am still waiting for GTAIV, but it sure has a lot to live up to after Crackdown.

Matt: Shamelessly shallow sandbox gaming at its absolute best. Drive a car that looks and handles like the Batmobile, Snipe enemies whilst leaping effortlessly between skyscrapers, blow stuff up excessively. Rinse, repeat. It’s impossible to find Crackdown anything less than captivating- providing just enough variation to keep you from ever getting bored, but no more than you need. Mindless gaming of the gods.

Ben: Sometimes the simplest of games prove to be the most addictive and entertaining, and in the short term at least this is true of Desktop Tower Defence. Bad guys appear from the top and left of the screen and try to make it across to the other side. Your job is to do all you can to kill them before they manage this by placing defensive turrets in the arena. There’s a range of weapons to deploy from pellet guns to anti-air, each of which can be upgraded using the points you collect from killing the monsters. The depth comes in when you realise you need to construct a maze of defences in order to inflect maximum damage, and at the very least most will feel compelled to spend a few hours testing out different strategies. Brilliant for a free flash game.

Thomas: It’s not something you are going to play every day, although that is something no game cam claim to be. However, I do find myself going back to this gem every week for one more go. Ut’s even bookmarked on my browser for god sake. I personally think this should have rated much higher!

Sean: The sort-of sequel to much-loved ‘ambient exploration’ game Knytt, Knytt Stories was more or less the same but with one marked difference – it allowed people to create their own levels and share them with one another. Of course, the quality of said levels varies wildly – many people seem to think it’s fine to just take all the images and music from the level that comes with the game, and re-arrange them. But some people have put a considerable amount of work in, and it shows. Plus it’s free and will run on most PCs made in the last seven years.

Sean: Alright, so most of you probably won’t like it. But if you’re into your shoot-em-ups, this is hands-down the best one released this year. Sure, the tutorial is rubbish and leaves you to figure out most of the game for yourself, and the visual style certainly takes some getting used to, but once you’re used to it, the game reveals itself to be incredibly well designed and a hell of a lot of fun. Furthermore, the use of audio cues is far more sophisticated than in most games – at first, the game seems like a bunch of stupid noises, but you come to realise that every single event in the game is marked by a unique sound. And once you learn what the sounds mean, you start to rely on your eyes less and less, and ‘hear’ you way through the game. Come on, boys. It’s only 400 MS points.

David: A definite high point of the year for me, it’s so good to see Jeff Minter making games again, and it’s even better to see he’s still got the goods. In todays world of super realistic graphics and physics and what not a lot of people just won’t see it’s charm, but Minter is a god when it comes to creating arcade shooters, and at about £3.50 you can’t really go wrong, lets just hope we don’t have to wait so long for his next creation.

Andi: Oh yes! This breaks my top 5, easilly. At first it seems like a brute force survival shooter, like Geometry Wars and it’s many clones, but once you realize there is a depth and subtlety to the Giraffe, it’s charms really start to work on you. It all works around a brilliant risk/reward system. A simple question – do I risk letting enemies build up for an all destroying “bull run”, or do I wipe them out now for a lesser score but an easier life?

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Sean: I wanted to hate this. I was never a fan of Halo or Halo 2, and I really didn’t see how this could be any different. But it is different. In short, it’s the perfect refinement of everything Halo was trying to be all along. There are no bad weapons in this game – they just call for different tactics. The online mode isn’t without its problems (namely, the other people you play against being utter arseholes), and the ‘forge’ mode doesn’t give quite as much freedom as people had hoped, but there’s no faulting the game’s balancing and online infrastructure – never before has it been this easy to get a team of your mates together and take on the world. As opposed to the likes of Team Fortress 2 which, despite being an excellent game, feels like it’s still in the dark ages with its absolute lack of a party system. If nothing else, Halo 3’s sheer versatility and willingness to turn its hand to a number of different game styles, combined with a steady flow of new maps to play on, means we’ll all be playing it for months to come.

Ben: Halo 3 has set a new benchmark from which other FPS games will be judged. The multiplayer is near perfectly balanced, the level design much improved compared to Halo 2, and the forge and user-generated content significantly add to the game’s lifespan. Bungie should consider themselves unlucky for Halo 3 not to feature higher on the list; it only loses out as it’s basically a perfected version of the original Halo. For me it’s the best FPS since N64 classic GoldenEye.

Andi: Shut up about the multiplayer. That’s not what I’m here to talk about. Halo 3’s single player was the best FPS game of 2007. Remember that bit in Call of Duty 4 where the tank blew a hole in the wall to hit the other tank? Or the really cool bit where the boat sinks at the start? Now, can you remember how they were a bit rubbish when you knew they were going to happen like clockwork each time? Think about Halo. Think about the time you out-thought that Brute around the bubble shield, or the bit where you sniped some guards before you stormed a base in a warthog, or even the bit where you went up on two wheels during the big final run. Then remember that most of those were genuine moments, rather than scripted events, and Halo 3 seems the much sweeter option. Apparently it is popular online too.

Chris Mc: This was a title that perhaps had the opportunity to be one of the greatest games of all time. Now the multiplayer is possibly unmatchable within the genre, however the single player is where the game stutters. While still an entertaining adventure it felt that Bungie have been taking lessons from EA Sports in that the game feels like “this year’s upgrade”. While definitely a quality title and worthy of its place in this chart, you can pick up Halo 2 for a fraction of the price and experience a story told in far greater quality. Ultimately I felt this was a missed opportunity.

Thomas: Currently I am playing COD 4 a lot more that Halo3’s multiplayer, but I still think in the long run I will go back to Halo 3, and probably stay with it till the end of the 360 lifespan. It offers so much it hard not to fall in love with it’s offering over and over again!

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Sean: An adventure game that nicks loads of Zelda’s ideas, then cocks its leg and pisses all over them. In a good way. A lot of people couldn’t see past the somewhat lengthy unskippable dialogue and cut-scenes, but if you can live with stuff like that, Okami is one of the most amazing adventure games you’ll ever play. And it’s better than Twilight Princess.

Tom: I tried I really did, but this game takes from Zelda and then drags it out to an unbearable pace that tarnishes the game. Graphically gorgeous and if you can ignore the drawn out in between bits then it’s fun to play too. But it’s not better than Twilight Princess.

Andi: I watched Sean playing this and it looked really good, but I never got around to playing it myself. A good thing, really, as a much better suited Wii version is coming out in 2008. I suppose it is a mark of Okami’s very high quality that there is a very real chance I will be talking about it again next year.

Tom: Moving on from the done to death WW2 setting and taking a page out of Half Life’s guide to story telling COD4 is in my eyes the finest first person shooter of the year, an enthralling single player and a multiplayer mode that defecates all over Halo 3’s it’s deserves all the praise it can get.

Matt: Even if the formulaic but polished single player campaign didn’t tickle your fancy, anyone who denies Call of Duty 4’s online charms clearly has a heart of stone. Putting an end to post-mortem confusion with the excellent kill-cam followed up with a quick-respawn back into the action gives the game an immense sense of fairness, and the experience based levelling system means you never really feel like you’re losing. The end result? Fun in a box.

Andi: The single player is short but quite exciting. The multiplayer is deep but quite rewarding. An exciting and rewarding first person shooter. In a year which featured some of the best AND worst shooters ever, this is pretty high praise. Exciting AND rewarding.

Thomas: I put almost double the amount of time into this game than I put into Halo3, and lets lot forget that COD4 came out almost a month after that game. I am sure that says something about how good it is. I am not sure if it will have the lasting power though, as Activision will release COD5 later in 2008 (most likely by Treyarch) and the community will split.

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Sean: I said this at the beginning of the year, and I’ll say it again now – this game is incredible. Of course, people don’t actually buy good games any more, so it sold a few copies and then pretty much vanished. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, the presentation is pretty ropey, and the camera and controls seem rubbish at first too. But once you get your head around it, you’ll see this is one of the finest roaming beat-em-ups ever created. While it seems overly difficult at first, you come to realise that the game never, ever throws anything at you that you can’t deal with if you just pay attention. Hard, but fair. And a hell of a lot of fun.

Tom: Puritan fighting at it’s best, there is no better game than God Hand for times when you just want to fight, no power stars, no portals, no guns, no moral choices and no simon says button sequences. Just good, wholesome fighting.

Thomas: Like most I really did not care much about this game through development. The video’s and screenshot’s certainly don’t help it in anyway. Hell, even watching someone play it is not all that fun. However, once you get by all that, and get a Dualshock in your hand and start to play it all starts to click. The music, the OTT nature of the game, and it’s old school gameplay appeal all just come together to create something special. Although not many people played it (which is a damned shame) I still think it will be one of the more fondly remembered games to appear of this years list.

Andi: A real man’s game. Next time you’re sat there, trying to unlock another costume for some bird in a rubbish RPG you just imported, just think what you could be doing with your gaming life. You could be playing God Hand, which is one of those games that the geeks worldwide would have cried over should it have been denied a PAL release. It did and no one really bought it anyway. Contains punches and kicks. Brilliant.

Thomas: The music of the first level is my ringtone. That’s how much I like it!

Sean: I’ve got a few issues with this one – namely the occasional difficulty spikes, where the game asks you to do things like push some statues to the end of a massive room while you’re constantly being blasted by fire and you’ve got a group of constantly-respawning enemies trying to kill your face off. Fortunately, more or less everything else about the game is fantastic. It takes everything about the original and turns it up a notch – the puzzles are slightly less shit, the combat is tighter, the finishing moves even more ridiculously violent, and so on. It’s not for kids, certainly, but if you’re grown-up enough to play this kind of game without wanting to kill your parents afterwards, it’s pretty much unmissable.

Tom: One of my personal favorites for the whole year, ok so it was more of the same but look at the number one! Pushing the PS2 to it’s limits in every possible way it is undoubtedly one of it’s crowning achievements and may have been better than the first had they not made a few changes to the combat system.

Andi: Featuring the best use of the circle button of the entire PS2’s lifespan (How many games let you smash a guys head in with a door? Not many, I’d bet.), God of War 2 takes the bigger, badder and better approach to sequel making. The fact the PS3 version could go EVEN bigger, badder and better is a terrifying prospect.

Thomas: I rented this game for two nights from a local store, and over that time completed it in a delusion state due to a lack of sleep. ~I remember loving it, but don’t ask me to remember any specific details as I simply can’t. One hell of a fantastic game though!

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Sean: “But it was rubbish!“, I hear you cry. “The shooting was average at best, the magic powers were a bit rubbish and it gets too hard towards the end because the developers saw fit to just keep extending the enemies’ health bars to add an artificial challenge” Yeah, but, shut up. Just play it on ‘easy’ or something. This isn’t your average shooter – it’s a virtual tour through an unbelievably well-realised underwater city, with its own characters, ideals and history, all waiting to be discovered by the player. If that sounds boring to you – fine. Go play Halo and get insulted by a load of American teens instead. The rest of us have found something better.

Tom: But the shooting WAS rubbish and the magic powers were all variations of a stun attack, it puts you through some horribly tedious treasure hunts and has little to no replay value. The moral choices that Ken Levine harps on about are the same choice over and over again, not a bad game by any means, it has a large degree of polish and genuine moments that captivate but other than that it’s a hollow experience that everyone is told they “should” love.

David: Sometimes originality and innovation just aren’t important in a game, and Bioshock shows that. There’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before in one game or another here, but when it’s all put together this well it just doesn’t matter if you’ve seen it all before. A great story doesn’t hurt either, coupled with the excellence of it’s execution it raises Bioshock to the status of great, despite the lack of originality.

Andi: Oh, sweet Bioshock. Such a victim of anti-hype you were. An excellent game in almost every way yet still – people find reasons to hate you. If you found it boring or tedious then go back to Counter Strike, as this is ABOVE YOU. A winning blend of action packed, yet cerebral gameplay and the best story of the year cement Bioshock’s position. A dumbed down System Shock 2, you say? Nah, it’s just System Shock 2 with all the boring bits taken out.

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Dominic: This is just the title the Playstation 3 was crying out for. Uncharted is certainly one of the best PS3 games to hit the system so far. It’s also the best action game to come out this year. Mixing fantastic gameplay elements from games like Gears of War, Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia, plus a main character that is so easily likeable that if he was real, every woman would be falling over for him. It’s is filled with comical moments and superb action, Naughty Dog have made a winner and all I can say is bring on the sequel, because who wants to raid tombs with Lara when you’ve got Nathan Drake?! Personality over breasts I say, oh and of course the game is better.

Andi: Despite not agreeing 100% with the 9.5 it recieved, due to it being a finite experience that cribs from a lot of games in the adventure genre, it is still a bloody wonderful game. Finite, but you will enjoy from start to finish and all the stuff it borrows it tends to do better than the original source. Number 3, but the PS3’s number 1.

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Sean: Yeah yeah, The Orange Box was excellent value and had loads of decent games and everything, but the shortest-lived experience on offer turned out to be the jewel in the crown – Portal. It’s got everything. It’s fun, it’s hard, it’s innovative, it’s got a good story with a lot of genuinely laugh-out-loud dialogue, and most people can finish it inside a few hours. Some people complained about the length, while others were just glad to have a game that they can actually finish without investing weeks of their spare time. Oh, and the ending is incredible, even if it got completely ruined by people relentlessly referencing it on internet forums.

Tom: It’s quite possible that Portal could change the way games are made. A short, sweet experience with great gameplay and a subtle story that never conflict and only serve to compliment the users experience. Worth the price of the Orange box alone.

David: I really don’t get why everybody loves this so much, on paper and in theory it looked great, but I just found that it got tedious really quickly. My choice for most over rated game of the year.

Andi: As Sean mentioned, the internet tried it’s damndest to ruin Portal for me. What is it with you people, when you see something cool you just don’t ever shut up about it? However, through sheer ingenius gameplay backed up by brilliant dialogue and an excellent story, Portal shines through like a beacon of excellence and the song at the end is STILL great. Take that, lolcats fans.

Thomas: The tip of gaming perfection in the Orange box. I loved every minute of it. It was not to long, or to short (like many complain). It ws one of thee most perfectly scripted games since in years, arguably since some of the old Lucasarts point and click adventures from years gone by. And, it is something you want to play again, and again. I think it should have been number one in all honesty!

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Sean: An obvious choice, but it can’t really be helped. Largely because it really is the best game ever made, and anyone who says otherwise is a joyless twat. Of course, anyone who’s played the game already knows this, but for those of you who haven’t – you really, really have to. There’s no other way of saying it, because we haven’t yet invented the words to explain why it’s so brilliant. Just play it. Please.

David: This really is the logical evolution from Mario 64, after going 3D what else where they going to do, they already proved with Sunshine that adding a water cannon wasn’t the right way to go. But taking the 3 dimensions, and then making them work in every direction works brilliantly. It’s not exactly innovative or original, I don’t care how long Nintendo claim to have been developing the idea, but just feels so natural. It’s not perfect, you sometimes end up running off in the wrong direction or jumping off in to space, but it’s such a joy to play you can forgive these small flaws, doesn’t hurt that they’ve dialed the difficulty down a couple of notches either. Was there ever any doubt that this would be game of the year?

Ben: Mario Sunshine was a good game but didn’t live up to the expectations left by Mario 64. Galaxy has finally set that straight with transition into space, bringing exciting new gameplay elements, all of which are well implemented. The level design and variety are key factors in making this a game you will want to fully complete, including the purple coin challenges. Galaxy is notably easier than Sunshine, making it a game everyone will enjoy; some may miss the ultra hardness of some levels but with your main enemy being the camera I feel the difficulty is just about right.

Alasdair: The sheer amount of comments we have about this should tell you just how loved it is, everyone’s jumping at the opportunity to tell you all about it. If you haven’t played this, why not? This year was a tough year for deciding GOTY but it is undeniably SMG that deserves the title the most. The wonderful levels filled with colour, crazy ideas and a little man with a moustache are a gaming treat. This is what happens when someone tries to turn pure goodness into a game, with fantastic results.

Andi: There is not much that I can say that hasn’t already been said, other than if you don’t like Super Mario Galaxy, then you’ve got into this gaming lark for all the wrong reasons and people like me hope you all get sucked into a black hole and take your Juiced’s and Assassin’s Creed’s with you. This game will be enjoyed for years to come, unlike last years GOTY – Gears of War – which is already “old news” and everyone is awaiting the sequel. Y’know, the one that will be just like the original.

Thomas: Portal was robbed!