2007 Calvin Awards: Best Videogame

February 13, 2007

Go ahead. Buy a PS3, I dare you.

Last year saw the introduction of several new categories including one dear to our hearts, Best Videogame. Like most North American consumers, the BOP staff finds a good portion of our time being spent on videogames. With two new consoles out this year, we expected the category to be much more competitive than last year's awards. Given the strong support for four different games, this proved to be the case. 2006 was a brilliant year for videogames, and the overall strength of the top ten reflects this.

Gears of War is the staff's choice for Videogame of the Year. In 2006, the best that a 360 title could manage in our voting was a tenth place finish for Perfect Dark Zero and, in hindsight, even that wasn't particularly justified. Gears of War is different, though. From the moment the atmospheric Mad World commercial aired, we expected this game to be something special. To our pleasant surprise, this anticipation was rewarded with a gripping action shooter that not only met but exceeded our hopes for the game. Our escapades with the gang from Delta Squad as they attempt to stave off the Locust Horde proved satisfying not only in solo play but also in co-op mode...and XBox Live competitions are the best we have experienced since Halo 2's launch. If you ever wonder why the site has been lacking in content for a given week, the underlying answer is probably Gears of War.

Finishing a close second is Final Fantasy XII, the latest Square-Enix masterpiece. This adventure takes place in Ivalice, familiar territory for our staff's long time fans of the series. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance players were thrilled to hear that the Judges would be making their return while fans of the main RPG franchise were simply thankful that for the first time in five years, a new world with a full cast of original characters would be introduced. When the game was released, the staff was impressed. Final Fantasy XII "how far along are you?" discussions became daily occurrences. We were all captivated not just by the robust main quest but also by the sublime implementation of side quests. Without performing many of them, players found their characters woefully underpowered in some key boss fights. But quality players were not under any onus to finish any tasks they found unsatisfactory. The game's impeccable structure achieves a wonderful balance between storyline advancement and satisfying gameplay. The well-documented Gambit system takes all of the heavy lifting out of combat, freeing up the player to enjoy the graphics wizardry. Penny Arcade might mock the game for masturbating, but as less diehard players, we relished the opportunity to see a videogame do some of the heavy lifting for us. This has allowed several staff members to invest over 100 hours of game play into the main quest as well as the side adventures. Frankly, the highest praise we can give Gears of War is that we liked it more than Final Fantasy XII, a near perfect game.

Last year, our staff chose Guitar Hero as the second best videogame of the year. This time out, the sequel will have to settle for third. Guitar Hero II picks up right where the original left off, allowing players to mimic the power chords of long-haired rock stars of yore. The new version is clearly improved with tons more songs and unlockables available. The real upgrade, however, comes in the form of co-operative play. A second guitar allows for friends to get the garage band back together again with one player taking lead guitar and the other handing rhythm chords. It's just like playing the real thing save for the fact that your fingers don't get rubbed raw from the rough strings. This is all about well-timed button mashing while strumming along to your favorite tunes. And the good news for Guitar Hero fanatics is that further improvements are on the way. An Xbox 360 version that will allow online play is almost here, while a planned Nintendo Wii version will take advantage of the unique controller capabilities of that system. The fact that Guitar Hero II is great earns it a spot in third but the tantalizing prospect of better versions down the road kept it from winning again this year.

How can you tell that 2006 was a great year for videogames? Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is only the fourth best game on our list and only the second best RPG. We are talking about a game immediately hailed as one of the greatest RPGs of all time yet it was surpassed before the year was even finished. Oblivion's popularity is easy to understand. It's the single player, unconnected equivalent of an MMORPG. The player is enveloped in an existing world that moves along independent of his/her actions. Also, while there is no joint online play, there are great Xbox Live add-ons available ranging from frivolities such as horse armor to entire new quests. My wife and I have spent roughly 25 hours playing this game and we haven't even scratched the surface. At least two other members of the staff have already invested over 100 hours in the game. It's just that engrossing, one of the most engaging of all-time...yet only the fourth best of the year.

Fifth, sixth and seventh place are an eclectic mix of videogame genres. Fifth place belongs to Tom Clancy's Rainbox Six: Vegas, the latest stomp out the terrorist cell game based on Clancy's writing. This outing offers new features including health regeneration, brutal upgrades in A.I.., and a new style of headset-relayed team instructions. BOP hates faceless, vaguely defined terrorists just as much as any diehard American should, so we eat up the latest Rainbow Six. Sixth is Wii Sports, the included game for people lucky enough to buy a Wii. The new controller has blown away our staff, and we relish the opportunity to gyrate when appropriate in order to facilitate the action. Golf, bowling and boxing in particular are popular with our players. Even better, we have (thus far) managed to avoid breaking anything due to flying remotes. Judging from wiihaveaproblem.com's frequent updates, we appear to be in the minority in this regard. Frankly, we suspect this one would have done better if more staff members had managed to get a Wii prior to the voting deadline. It's irresistible...and it's free! Our seventh place selection, Okami, is the passion of a couple of BOP staff members, particularly Chris Hyde and Kim Hollis. As anime aficionados, they are mesmerized by the stunning graphics that are arguably the best the PS2 has ever produced.

Rounding out the top ten are Dead Rising, New Super Mario Bros. and Final Fantasy III. Starting in reverse order, it should be obvious by now why the latest Final Fantasy RPG earns a spot in our top 10. We are Square-Enix people, and this is the last game in the series to see North American release. We can finally lay hands on every title that has ever born claim to the Final Fantasy name and yes, we are plenty nerdy enough to want to do so. As for New Super Mario Bros., the rationale is much the same. Many of our voters are old enough to have owned the original Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo, so a chance to re-live a happy time from our past is a magical opportunity. As for Dead Rising, well, you hang out in a mall and kill zombies. Long time readers of the site realize what huge fans we are of George A. Romero's works. This 360 title is the living embodiment of such movies. Frankly, the only surprise is that this one didn't finish any higher than seventh. In a year with fewer quality releases, it easily could have been a top three performer.

Just missing the top ten are several noteworthy titles. Perhaps the most surprising is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. This stems from the fact that not enough members of our staff had played it by the time the voting deadline was reached. Other near misses are Viva Pinata, Final Fantasy V, Company of Heroes, Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Elite Beat Agents and Summon Knight: Swordcraft Story.

Top 10
Position Title Total Points
1 Gears of War 60
2 Final Fantasy XII 52
3 Guitar Hero II 50
4 Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion 40
5 Tom Clancy's Rainbox Six Vegas 36
6 Wii Sports 34
7 Okami 32
8 Dead Rising 30
9(tie) New Super Mario Bros. 24
9(tie) Final Fantasy III 24

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