Sam & Max Episode 1 : Culture Shock
(PC)
I never thought I'd actually be grateful to LucasArts for assassinating their sequel to Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Now residing in the capable hands of Telltale Games, the series is setting the standard for episodic content and adventure gaming. Complete failure to laugh at Culture Shock's absolutely brilliant writing, memorable characters and off-the-wall puzzles indicates one of two things: either you're a robot, or you've recently discovered a dead kitten in your lap. (See also: My reviews of Culture Shock and Situation: Comedy.)


Okami
(PS2)
Labeling Okami as a Zelda clone, while far from being inaccurate, does the game a great disservice. Its utterly beautiful world is filled with unique characters and challenges, each of which can be affected by your celestial brush technique. True, you're just drawing specific shapes for the game to recognize, but it still feels like your being somewhat creative when finding solutions to puzzles and overcoming truly epic boss encounters. The entire human race should be punished for letting this exceptionally well presented and charming adventure become a swansong for Clover Studios.


Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
(PS2)
It's "just" an updated version of last year's Snake Eater, but I'll gladly take every opportunity to rave about this game. If Splinter Cell is the American action film of stealth, then Metal Gear Solid is the thoughtful yet slightly bizarre anime equivalent. Arguably the best in the series, Metal Gear Solid 3 tells a tremendously engaging story and deftly balances creative gameplay with riveting cutscenes. Don't like cutscenes? Oh well.


Tomb Raider: Legend
(Xbox 360)
The Tomb Raider series didn't flatline because we all got tired of Lara and her platforming shenanigans -- the latter games were simply horrifically designed attempts at mimicking the first two games. Legend sticks a defibrillator onto Lara's mountainous chest and brings her back to the days of yore. Funnily enough, those involved raiding tombs. Great puzzles (now with grappling hook!), minimal combat and a surprisingly good story all aided in Lara's return to being a truly three-dimensional character.


Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra
(PS2)
More like CUTSCENE-O-SAGA, lawl! While I'm certain that most gamers will start foaming at the mouth before they allow a game to wrestle control away from them (and rightly so), the Xenosaga series is a rarity that lets you have a good time both with and without the gamepad. I think there are loads of possibilities when mediums intersect and influence each other -- one of which is a fascinating and complex story that absolutely needed three games to tell properly. Also Sprach Zarathustra featured an enjoyable turn-based (yay!) battle system (though it wasn't as deep as the one found in Episode II), a fantastic soundtrack and successfully concluded the series with emotional aplomb. Hint: Jin is the man.


Lumines II
(PSP)
"But it's just Lumines with more skins and music!" Yes ... I'm not seeing the problem here. Mind you, I'd like to politely ask Gwen Stefani and Hoobastank (!) to stay out of my block-droppers in the future.


Half-Life 2: Episode One
(PC)
Once you get over the fact that this is one of the worst examples of episodic content (a year between 4-hour long episodes?), you can appreciate the well paced and quite thrilling first-person shooter found within this first chunk of Half-Life 3. The genre is hardly praised for its ability to create characters that trick you into thinking they're more than helpful lumps of polygons, but here you have the lovely Alyx and the strangely emotive dog (he's a robot, natch).


Disappointing:

  • Broken Sword 4: The Angel of Death (PC) -- Let me get this straight: in order to retrieve the ancient manuscript from a locked cabinet, I have to soak my handkerchief in oil from a nearby, hanging salami, which I can then apply to the wheels of the cabinet in order to push it out the window into a grinding machine down below. You know what? Let's just call this great series a trilogy and be done with it.
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360) -- My teammates magnetically attract bulllets, my night vision is worthless and my enemies seem to be the evil shapes from Geometry Wars. Oh well, at least I have these nifty cover mechanics to use in multiplayer, right? Right?
  • Final Fantasy XII (PS2) -- I haven't completed the game yet, so my opinion may yet be swayed. The story is intriguing and the overall tone is appreciated, but I can't seem to grow comfortable with the battle system. I either feel like I'm doing too much work or nothing at all. It also doesn't help that that the game's opening dungeons are a bit rubbish. Dear game designers: I really don't want to go about killing rats in sewers and/or abandoned mines.
  • Prey (PC) -- Starts out promising, but the possibilities of portals are soon jettisoned into space, leaving nothing but uninspired corridor crawling, annoying vehicle sections and an unintentionally hilarious protagonist.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Xbox 360) -- Since my expectations were set quite low, I was more disappointed by Sega's stubborn refusal to listen to any of the complaints regarding the Sonic Adventure series. Like about three other people in the world, I can tolerate the technical problems and extract some enjoyment from 3D Sonic games -- in concept, I think the gameplay's grand. But the implementation? This game is a riot of technical insufficiencies and loading excesses. Please, just give the series to Crystal Dynamics.
See also: Joystiq's Game of the Year

This article was originally published on Joystiq.

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