As 2007 draws to a close, we say our goodbyes to what has arguably been one of the greatest years for videogames ever. With so many amazing releases, this year has been absolutely stunning, and we can now definitely say that the new generation of games has finally arrived.
Looking for a cynical, hateful game reviewer online is like looking for racists in a Passion of the Christ midnight screening. Finding one that is actually entertaining and intelligent, however, is a mighty task indeed. Fortunately, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw of The Escapist rose from obscurity to become one of the most beloved of our cynical kind, callously dumping over every title to fall under his gaze in the now famous Zero Punctuation videos.
Following in the tradition of The Angry Videogame Nerd, except even more venomous, Yahtzee's fast talking and subdued irritation at everything he speaks about makes for compelling viewing. His words are accompanied by illustrations that have to keep up with his mouth while his English accent helps add to the hilarity of his indignance. Croshaw isn't afraid to highlight the errors of the most beloved new releases, either -- BioShock, Mass Effect and Halo 3 have all had to take their lumps from him, and whether you love or hate the titles he trashes, you'd have to be some kind of monster not to be amused.
For becoming such a hit this year and showing all of us exactly how you tear a videogame apart, Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw has earned his place as an industry icon.
It doesn't matter what you think of the game itself. What matters is that the release of Halo 3, its hype and the sheer scale of the release truly made it stand out from the crowd this year. While many people like to hate the Halo series, it shouldn't be denied that the franchise is incredibly important to this industry. No title has come closer to legitimising gaming in the eyes of the mainstream, and the huge marketing campaign for Halo 3's release, big enough to rival any Hollywood blockbuster, is evidence enough that games have arrived and cannot be stopped.
In the weeks leading up to the game's release, you could find Master Chief just about anywhere, especially if you were a drinker of Mountain Dew. It can be confirmed that the Halo 3-themed "Gamer Fuel" flavor of Mountain Dew was both delicious and very orange. Halo 3 had the honor of a midnight launch, something usually reserved for consoles or Harry Potter books. It was a launch that some stores in England even had to opt out of for fear of rioting. Before the launch, pre-sales of the game were enormous. It's said that over 50% of 360 owners now own the third installment of the chief's adventures.
This is why Halo 3 is an icon of 2007. Not because it's a good or a bad game -- that's irrelevant. Like it or not, Halo 3 is important, perhaps even crucial to the games industry. It's a right hook to the face of mass media, and proof that videogames can be just as big as any other artform. If that's not iconic, then who knows what is?
One of the great things about the Internet is that it can latch onto the stupidest of things and refuse to let go. It doesn't come much stupider than UR MR GAY, the supposed message behind the box art for Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy. The story goes that several letters on the game's logo are differentiated from the others by little stars that single them out. If you take the starred letters out of the title and arrange them in order, your get URMRGAY, or UR MR GAY. You can imagine what happened.
It was immature, it was incredibly asinine and it wasn't gaming news in the slightest, but that's what made covering it so much fun. People who deem themselves above stupidity are the biggest fools of all, and those not above it got a good laugh out of the whole thing, so they were the real winners. Like all good crazes, the UR MR GAY meme inspired photoshops and became one of the millions of online catchphrases spouted by gamers. Yes, it's pure childishness, but it's certainly iconic.
The phrase "build it and they will come," may very well have been referring to sex and videogames, since any mention of titties will draw gamers like moths to a flame, without fail, every single time. BioWare's Mass Effect went one step further -- promising blue alien lesbian sex. Far be it from we gamers to let something like that pass by without totally buying into the hype and building it up into something huge.
Of course, the "sex scene" itself is about as steamy as a wet piece of cauliflower floating in a sea of cold rice pudding, but it goes without saying that it quickly became one of the biggest talking points of the game's release. It was promised that you could get your mack on with either a human female or an asexual alien from a species that was completely feminine. If you chose a woman, you could only score with the alien, but it was close enough for fans of lesbianism to get excited. Up until the game's release, this was a hot talking point, and even now we still get to talk about it -- by complaining how lame it actually turned out to be.
The Lair affair was proof positive that the idea of "damage control" seems to be out of the reach of most videogame companies. In the past, attempts by PR to limit an embarrassing situation have had a habit of amusingly blowing up in people's faces, but nothing was more embarrassing this year than watching Julian Eggebrecht trying to fight back against the bad reviews that followed the release of his company's game, Lair.
Factor 5's Lair was an important title for the PlayStation 3. An exclusive game that used the Sixaxis controls to fly a dragon in a graphically beautiful world, it looked like the kind of killer software that Sony needed. When the reviews hit, however, so did disaster. While a few kind words were said, a few reviewers tore it a new one, most famously Gamespot, who declared it "a beautiful disaster." Usually when this happens to games, the developers keep quiet and wait for it to all blow over before they make their money back from parents who don't know any better. Factor 5, however, did the stupidest thing you could do. It tried damage control.
Director Julian Eggebrecht was intent on blaming everything but the game for poor review scores and complaints. His absolution campaign was mostly based around claiming that reviewers didn't know how to review his game and that's why they said it sucked. He believed that the Sixaxis controls alienated hardcore gamers who hated "all things motion." These would be the same hardcore gamers that loved Wii Sports and are currently creaming over Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii -- a system that was doing motion controls before Lair came along. Julian wouldn't keep his mouth shut, and went so far as to pen an arrogant foreword in an over-the-top review guide that was sent out to publications -- a guide aimed at telling people how to review the thing by "opening their hands and minds to something different."
At his most extreme, Eggebrecht even claimed that the game's production was haunted. Thanks to him, the game has now been immortalized as piece of crap, when it might have been merely snickered at and forgotten about by now. Had Factor 5 kept their heads down following a few bad reviews, this would have been over and done with and Lair would not have been remembered with such derision and jeering. Because of failed PR attempts, however, the game was elevated to the status of laughing stock. It's also made its way here, as an icon of 2007.
That's also where we leave off for now. With thanks to reader Paul for nominating Ben Croshaw, we leave you to think about this chapter's inductees and invite you to comment should you like to agree/disagree with the choices. In the final installment, due out before the new year, we return both to Rapture and Aperture Science, as well as revisit one of the biggest controversies of not only 2007, but all of gaming history.
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