December 27, 2005

~ PART 1 ~

2006 has been a mixed year for many gamers. The Playstation 2 and Playstation Portable had a bit of a mixed year with fewer stunning titles then in 2005 - but that's not saying there weren't several highlights. Sales of the PSP continue to pick up steam, while the Playstation 2 is obviously in its twilight with the next-generation here (for Japanese and American gamers at least). Having said all that Sony's two systems have received hundreds of titles this year and these awards highlight the best, and worst, of 2006.

There are a couple of rules for games to be entered into consideration. Firstly, the games must have been released in Australia during the 2006 calendar year, so no 2005 or 2007 titles are in consideration (even if they were already released in Japan or America). Also, all these awards have been considered by those here at Future Gamez, and not the public. While we give scores for reviews throughout the year, the highest score may not be the winner in these awards, as long term appeal and a lot of hindsight is also considered. Finally all categories are for PS2 and PSP titles, except for graphics and sound where they were considered separately. So let's get to it...

Biggest Disappointments of 2006
3. Sony's Presentations for PS3/Loss of Rumble in Sixaxis
The Playstation 3 is a system which has been hyped beyond belief by Sony, the media and the public alike. With such high expectations it was always going to be hard for Sony to create a lot of positive press from any presentations, but it was almost like they didn't try. The E3 show was passable, but Sony dropped the bombshell by announcing that there wouldn't be any rumble in the Sixaxis controller - apparently it isn't possible, according to patent holder Immersion it is - so Sony looked like right royal asses. They then tried to justify it as a cost cutting measure (more like a "we're not paying the $US100 million odd we owe Immersion"). The company reached new lows though at the Tokyo Game Show where their presentation rolled out some old E3 trailers, announced no new titles, but did show another clip of Afrika while giving nothing away, and finally put everyone to sleep with connectivity talk. Sony's marketing department really needs to look at how to generate - not even exciting - but interesting presentations.

2. Electronic Arts treat gamers like Shit
Electronic Arts have had an absolutely dismal year. NBA Live 07 received absolutely dismal reviews and is one of the biggest backward steps for a series of all time. Hell, the company didn't send out review code until after the game hit shelves - no doubt to delay negative buzz. So bad was the game that the company (in probably their only wise move of the year) scrapped the Playstation 3 version citing a lack of development time (funny how 2K Sports managed to release the stunning NBA2K7 for launch) - whereas the real reason probably has a lot to do with the reviews of other versions. The company also endlessly delayed Superman Returns - but it probably should be returned to stores rather promptly too. EA's sports games on current generation systems are going nowhere fast. Admittedly EA did have some good games this year, but let's look at them. Black (developed by Criterion), Me and My Katamari (developed by Namco), and We Love Katamari (developed by Namco) - notice the developers - not EA. This was a horrendous year for a company which has seen 2K Sports dominate over EA Sports' titles, seen delays to titles like Crysis on PC (and rumoured PS3), and seen snooze-infested rehashes (The Sims Expansion Pack #2206). Oh, we could then look at the absolute fucking rip-off that sees gamers paying for hints and content for their next-gen XBox 360 games - when more, and better - is free either online or in other versions! How about in-game forced e-mail registration and advertising spam? Electronic Arts may be a mega corporation, but 2006 has seen them reach new lows.

1. Playstation 3 fails to hit store shelves in Europe and Australia
How could this not be number one disappointment of 2006? Sony promised the PS3 would see a "Worldwide Launch" including Australia during the 2006 E3 Show in May, but only months later speculation was mounting that the news wasn't going to be good, and in early September, just over two months from launch, the company informed us that Europe and Australia would be waiting until March 2007.

Sony have been blaming shortages of Blue Laser Diodes, a vital component to the Blu-Ray Drive. Their philosophy is that a bit of short term pain won't hurt their long term plans. We can't say we disagree, the potential benefits to the higher capacity storage, and HD video output will be a telling factor. Still, it's non-appearance is disappointing.

Biggest Surprise of 2006
3. Resistance: Fall of Man supports 40-player online games
There's little doubt that this was the launch title for the Playstation 3 in America and Japan, but the real surprise was the announcement that the game wouldn't support 8, or 16, or even 32 players online but rather 40-players online. That's an impressive number as not even many PC titles support that massive number of players in a single match.

2. Downloadable Content a bigger focus then online gaming?!
It's funny. As the Playstation 3 launches the focus for many news reports isn't about the number of players in online game modes, or indeed the unique modes of play that could be offered. What has been a focus is the ability download content onto the consoles. Microsoft has set up the XBox 360 version very well, but Sony isn't sitting by the wayside. In fact while Microsoft are restricting the download sizes to 50MB or so, Sony are allowing developers to go well over 500Mb, and includes PSOne titles so far. 2007 should see the downloadable music and movies through the Playstation Store - for a price.

1. Microsoft and Nintendo dropping support for just-replaced systems
Have a look at the XBox, or the Gamecube. Tell me which games have been released in the last six months - you'll be lucky to pick more then a handful. In fact that would be impossible too. Only 14 games have been released for the Gamecube since July 1st this year – only 1 from Nintendo. For the Xbox, 29 titles have been released - with a whopping 0, yes ZERO published by Microsoft themselves. For systems which have only been replaced less then 9 months - or in the case of Gamecube one month - ago it's absolutely dismal. Sony have always promised to push support for the PS2 for a couple more years at least - their Christmas lineup in America was solid even with the PS3's launch, and we know there are dozens of titles lined up for PAL territories after the PS3 launches next March.

Best Australian Distributor of 2006
Winner: THQ
For the second year in a row THQ wins best distributor in Australia. Their range of titles is impressive, but yet again it's not the mainstream product's they're bringing out from Capcom, Sega, Koei and their own studios, but rather the smaller titles which won't sell in vast numbers, but are highly anticipated from many hardcore gamers. Titles such as Shin Megami Tensei Digital Devil Saga, Guitaroo Man Lives!, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories were all superb titles deserving many more sales then they could ever achieve, but that never stopped THQ bringing them out here.

Best Publisher of 2006
Winner: Rockstar
Publishers do just that, they publish titles for release onto the market. Rockstar has had a fantastic year, but it wasn't just the titles they released (Which were nearly all brilliant), but the way in which they turn controversy (That being for Bully) into massive sales and hype for a game. Bully (aka Canis Canem Edit), Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PS2), and Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition Remix were all stunning titles, and given the publishing support they deserve.

Best Developer of 2006
Winner: Capcom
The developer is the company which actually sits down and programs the games. There are literally hundreds around the world, and picking a winner for this category can be pretty tough. Do you take a developer which came from nowhere with a single stunning title, or a larger company with a wide range of impressive games. Well this year we took the latter - due primarily to a stunning range of titles covering a wide range of genres - many of which were among the best games this year. Capcom is that company and has a wonderful software library including titles such as Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition, Onimusha Dawn of Dreams, Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, and Ultimate Ghosts N' Goblins.

Best Peripheral
Winner: Guitar Hero Guitar (Activision)
It was a long wait for the first game to come to Australia, but when it did it blew our socks off, and the sequel was even better. Where this game really earns bonus points is the superb guitar based controller. It's well built, and feels fantastic in your hands. Easily the best peripheral of the year and while the game has a RRP of $AU149 - if you shop around you will be able to pick up the game and controller for just over $AU100.

Worst Game of 2006
Winner (or is that loser?): Tenchu: Time of the Assassins (PSP, K2)
Tenchu: Shinobi Taizen (as it is called in Japan) was released over there in July 2005 – an entire generation of software prior to today’s PSP efforts. That still doesn’t mean it was good back then either, and the end result is a game much better left on the shelves. Tenchu Time of the Assassins is step backwards for the series and in all honestly a dismal title that failed to live up to any potential.
Runners Up: Talkman (PSP, Sony), Final Fight Streetwise (PS2, Capcom).

Best Game Based On Pre-Existing Property (Print or Film)
Winner: Scarface: The World is Yours (PS2, Radical Entertainment)
I had high expectations for this game, but when Vivendi announced a delay from late 2006 until 2006 I started to get concerned. I shouldn’t have. This is a kick-ass title which has much more realism then GTA, as well as several gameplay innovations bringing with it a fresh feel to the genre. While it's certainly worth a purchase, you may want to do it quick just in case the OFLC makes one of those stupid re-classification decisions and bans the game - there's a shitload of violence and swearing in this one. Fantastic.
Runners Up: Kingdom Hearts II (PS2, Square-Enix), Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PS2, Raven Software).

Most Original Title
Winner: Guitar Hero II (PSP) (PS2, Harmonix)
While music games aren't too original, this game wins due to the controller which gives the game an entirely new feel. Ranging from easy to pretty tough this is a game for all ages and experiences. With the sequel improving multi-player no end, and including a tutorial this is a game to keep you hooked. This is a game that is well worth the price tag and is one to keep the party going.
Runners Up: Shadow of the Colossus (PS2, Sony), World Tour Soccer 2 (PSP, Sony).

Best Arcade Conversion
Winner: Tekken: Dark Resurrection (PSP, Namco)
This was a tough category to pick this year, not because there were many outstanding releases, but moreover because of a lack of releases of 'new' arcade games. In fact, with the arcade business virtually dead these days it's not inconceivable that this category will be scrapped next year! Having said that this title wins easily due to Namco bringing a brilliant arcade title to Sony's handheld. It really is a showcase for Sony's system. So impressive is this game that Namco have just (today) brought it out on the Playstation 3 - with some obvious graphical enhancements. An essential purchase for those that love Namco's Tekken series.
Runners Up: PowerStone Collection (PSP, Capcom), Street Fighter Alpha Anthology (PSP, Capcom).

Best Offline Multiplayer Game
Winner: Guitar Hero II (PS2, Harmonix)
So it's a bit of an expensive prospect to play this game in 2-player mode, but since when is a winner determined by price? The experience of two good players jamming together on Sweet Child 'O Mine is sensational, and will keep you up well into the night. One for the party animals out there even if, like me, you've never picked up a guitar in your life.
Runners Up: SingStar Legends (PS2, SCEE), Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (PS2, Konami).

Best Online Multiplayer Game
Winner: Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (PS2, Kojima Productions)
We have to be honest here, this has been a pretty weak year for online gaming in Australia. Yes we saw another SOCOM title with massive maps, but one title which pipped it at the post was Konami's game, which in the Subsistence version includes plenty of online goodies to keep you hooked. Let's hope that next year we see not just a couple of great online titles, but a swag of them.
Runners Up: SOCOM III (PS2, Zipper Interactive), Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror (PSP, Sony).

Continue to Part 2 of the 2006 FutureGamez Awards
Continue to Part 3 of the 2006 FutureGamez Awards

I hope you enjoyed reading the 2006 FutureGamez Awards. If you have any comments feel free to e-mail me at the usual address: