2008 Calvin Awards: Best Videogame

February 18, 2008

He's totally about to betray you.

Our staff finished the fight in 2007, but we are still a bit surprised that Halo 3 finished as the Best Videogame in this year's Calvins. After all, the game that finishes in second place was much more celebrated in our watercolor discussions throughout the year. At the end of the day, however, what matters the most to our group is that a couple of times a week, half a dozen of us wind up online together fragging each other's brains out. I would give you some of our User IDs and invite you to play with us, too, if not for the fact that we're not very good. The beauty of Halo is that a player's complete inability to make a headshot (not that I'm confessing to any such flaws in my game) is in no way debilitating to the overall enjoyment of the Bungie masterpiece. There have been a few comments that the game is overrated, but we scoff at the notion. The reality is that Halo is the gold standard in videogaming. Bungie has mastered the world with the conclusion of the first trilogy. Everything you can see in the game is accessible, a startling feat of programming that also becomes an exciting aspect of online play. You know that center structure in Guardian? A couple of frag grenade jumps will let you jump on top of it. Impress your friends with that knowledge, folks. I could go on with the heaping of superlatives on the game, but I can summarize why I love it in simpler terms. When I finish writing this column, if I play a videogame, Halo 3 is the only choice I will consider.

For all of the hype and revenue thrown Halo 3's way, it had its thunder stolen by a much darker take on the FPS. Finishing in second place but with a laudable asterisk for best non-sequel is Bioshock, arguably the most original title of the 2000s to date. If you are unaware of Bioshock, you should go out and buy it as soon as humanly possible. This is a game where you fall victim to a plane crash, but rather than getting stuck on an island with a bunch of whiny nogoodniks, you encounter an underwater culture of people who followed the wrong leader. This man, a devout follower of Ayn Rand's philosophies on life, wound up espousing some dogma that led people to start harvesting one another for plasmids. It's like Lords of the Flies: The DNA Generation. When you, the stranger, stumble upon this startlingly evolved society, your presence draws the attention of many creatures who don't like to have their daily lives disrupted. This is all fun and games until you try to take ADAM from a Little Sister. That's when the Big Daddies show up, and all bets are off. Expect a savage beating and a quick trip to the Vita-Chamber for your next re-spawning. Bioshock is simply put the most innovative, philosophical game in the history of videogames. Its not winning speaks more to this group's passion for Halo than it does about anything that Bioshock did wrong. This is a damn near perfect game, as is our choice for the third best game below. The past year saw an extraordinary amount of A-List videogame titles that delivered against even the heftiest of expectations.

"It's me, Mario!" And that nattily dressed plumber is our choice for third best videogame of the year. We were quick to praise the Wii last year, and a previous game in the Mario series, Super Mario Sunshine, was an earlier nominee. We were particularly excited for the first Wii edition of the series, and we were more than mollified with the outcome of this game. Gone were the disappointing camera issues that made SMS an occasionally nauseating experience. In its place is an intuitive control scheme that proves highly addictive. BOP staffers have been constantly comparing our star counts as we all make our way toward the inevitable 120 needed to prove our collective Super Mario supremacy.


Rounding out the top five are two very different styles of games, The Orange Box and The Simpsons Game. The former package is arguably the best available in the industry right now. It includes not just the already legendary Half Life 2 but also a couple of expansion packs. There is also an online fragger, Team Fortress 2, plus the game whose presence alone justifies the purchase of The Orange Box, Portal. This puzzler forces the player to suss out exit points in each room using the portal gun. What matters is not the style of game or its mechanics, though. What matters is cake. This is thanks to the wise-cracking presence of GLaDOS, a treacherous A.I. that constantly promises pastries it never delivers. Portal is winning Game of the Year selections on its own, making its inclusion in a set containing four other great titles an astonishing value. The Simpsons Game, on the other hand, sells one thing and one thing only: the sense of humor of the show. Players get to visit all of Springfield's fun locations plus surprising, surreal ones such as the Land of Chocolate on their journey. Written by some of the actual writing staff for the show, The Simpsons Game offers fans of the world of Springfield that rare opportunity to interact with its residents in a user-controlled manner. For obsessive Simpsonites such as ourselves, The Simpsons Game is a dream come true, making it an easy call for one of the five best videogames of the year.

Finishing in sixth and seventh place are Crackdown and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The former game's chief selling point upon release was the presence of a Halo 3 beta within the game. This made it something of a Trojan horse for Microsoft, as players who gave Crackdown a chance on its own merits were surprised to learn that the game was more than just a fun beat-em-up. It offered something no videogame ever had before: Green Orbs. A few members of our staff wasted their Spring trying to collect 500 of them plus 300 Blue Orbs. Whereas it sounds like busy work in theory, the execution of it becomes so obsessive that players begin to realize that searching for orbs is the crack in Crackdown. Call of Duty 4 is a game that shamelessly punishes noobs online, making them literal targets for higher ranked players until such a time as they earn the right to disguise their location. Like Halo 3, all of the hard work and savage beatings a player receives early in the game are made worthwhile when (s)he gets to a point where they become the hunter rather than the hunted. After years of franchise titles involving historical battles, this demonstration of modern military strategy revolutionizes Call of Duty. And our staff is gradually becoming ardent supporters of its online component as well.

Rounding out the top ten are our eighth, ninth and tenth place selections, Assassin's Creed, Puzzle Quest, and Rock Band. Assassin's Creed is a Matrix-like title that theoretically places the player in medieval times, requiring them to perform tasks and kill denizens of the era. Like Bioshock, there is a much larger canon in play, but the players have to earn their way to understanding the specifics of it. Puzzle Quest is a paradoxical mix of games such as Bejeweled and Dr. Mario alongside classic RPG elements from titles such as Final Fantasy. The result is a game where players must solve puzzles while powering up with spells, armor and swords along the way. This handheld title is very difficult to put down once a game begins. With regards to Rock Band, long time readers of the site know that we had previously hailed Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 2 in recent years of Calvins voting. By the time mainstream audiences discovered the title, we were largely bored of it. Thankfully, the price prohibitive Rock Band offered a newer, more robust version of the same experience. Nothing makes a game fun like a drum kit does. We still liked Guitar Hero III, but it certainly wasn't as novel and exciting as Rock Band.

Other titles that narrowly missed inclusion in the top ten are the aforementioned Guitar Hero III, NCAA Football 2008, Mass Effect, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, Brain Age 2, and the wonderfully titled Carcassonne. (David Mumpower/BOP)

Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Breakthrough Performance
Best Cast
Best Director
Best DVD
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Video Game
Worst Performance
Worst Picture
Top 10
Position Title Total Points
1 Halo 3 60
2 Bioshock 44
3 Super Mario Galaxy 42
4 The Orange Box 38
5 The Simpsons Game 32
6 Crackdown 30
7 Call of duty 4: Modern Warfare 28
8 Asassins Creed 20
9 Puzzle Quest 18
10 Rock Band 16



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