Another Mistwalker effort, Blue Dragon is the first game from Sakaguchi following his departure from Square Enix, and it shows. A more traditional RPG than Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon speaks to the classic Final Fantasy fan, she who values FF9 and FF6 over their flashier, more modern cousins.
With the traditional overworld dungeon split, a colourful party, turn-based combat and a comfortably familiar, kid-friendly aesthetic, it looks somewhat generic at first – but what makes Blue Dragon stand out is the “shadows” system. Similar to Final Fantasy’s job system, but with more flexibility, this mechanic remains one of the most tactically satisfying character customisation systems in traditional JRPGs – and that’s saying a lot.
“A bold new fictional setting and a surprisingly robust multiplayer suite.”
Homefront was THQ’s attempt to break into the space dominated by Call of Duty, something nobody has yet really managed. As the industry has become increasingly hit-focused, the 35 million strong Call of Duty crowd has become something of a holy grail – or perhaps a holy pie, which everyone wants a slice of.
Unfortunately, the culture that supports juggernauts like Call of Duty and GTA also leaves no room for near-misses, and Homefront, despite selling respectably, has gone down in gaming consciousness as a failure. It’s far from that, and has plenty to offer besides being a pretty decent shooter – a bold new fictional setting and a surprisingly robust multiplayer suite that had a lot more going for it than many contemporary releases.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2
The middle of this last generation resulted in a great dearth of tactics and strategy titles. The genres are slowly working back into relevancy with titles like XCOM and Fire Emblem, and we’ve seen several great releases on PC over the past few years, but for a couple of years there it was pretty much StarCraft or nothing in terms of mainstream appreciation. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War 2 was an unfortunate victim of this softness in the market, and its triumphs have been only quietly celebrated.
What makes Dawn of War 2 worth checking out in the long term is its use of RPG mechanics, but it’s the immediately compelling, surprisingly fast-paced tactical combat that first captures the attention, perhaps thanks to the elimination of all that base-building nonsense – in Dawn of War 2, you invest in gear and people, not temporary places. There’s a great deal of replayability in the single-player campaign as a result.
Spec Ops: The Line
“A profoundly moving experience that foregrounds a lot of aspects of modern violent game design.”
A controversial entry here, as some of the VG247 staff feels this didn’t get enough love, and another faction feels it got too much. We definitely feel comfortable saying this one is worth a look just for its divisiveness, though.
Based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Spec Ops tells a story as dark and familiar as the armpit of the night. Don’t bother with the multiplayer, as you’re not here for the shooting; you’re here for a war story that will leave you hot and cold by turns. For some people, the classic sting in the tale’s tail is a cheap gimmick, and for others it’s a profoundly moving experience that foregrounds a lot of aspects of modern violent game design we normally sweep under the rug.
This is one of those projects that had all the right ingredients and a solid method, and yet when it came out of the oven all delicious and scented nobody wanted to eat the damn thing. Conan was an attempt to build on the success of combat-centric games like Ninja Gaiden and God of War, but with the gore and “adult” sexual themes foregrounded and turned up to 11. Add to this the rabid Conan fanbase (it’s a thing, really) and this should have been one of “the” games of 2007.
Maybe THQ fumbled the launch, or maybe back in those heady days we were so spoiled for choice on the then-new platforms that we overlooked a familiar face among the splurges of new IP. But if you can stomach the excesses of violence and nudity, which can feel a bit cynical and tacky, you’ll find a pretty solid action game that has suffered from too much comparison to Kratos and not enough appreciation of its own merits. Don’t talk to us about the Graven fight, though.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
If there’s anything to must be said for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning it’s that 38 Studios did not stint on content; this fantasy runs far beyond the play limit you expect from a modern RPG, and you can feel the cancelled MMO that was to follow, Copernicus, luring in the shadows at the edge of the game design.
But you’ve really got to praise the combat. So few RPGs manage to make gameplay feel as fluid and immediately responsive as pure action and yet allow for stats and attributes to be gratifyingly consequential. The setting, a product of collaboration between RA Salvatore and Todd McFarlane, is perhaps ultimately too generic, but the lore that pours out in great gushing spurts every time you get the game excited shows a remarkable awareness of writing with games in mind. A sequel might have had a chance at being the perfect western high fantasy action RPG; as it was, Reckoning must be among the best.
“Combines the pyrotechnic tactical choices of Rollcage with the addictive, teeth-grinding versus dynamics of Mario Kart.”
One of the last triple-A projects out of Disney before the publisher washed its hands of everything but Skylanders clones forevermore, Split/Second came along at just the wrong time. Racers sell most strongly on new hardware, because they’re perfectly suited to exploit new advances in graphics tech. By 2010, that time was already passed, we were just months ahead of the slow falls of several major racing franchises, and Black Rock’s gorgeous, dynamic worlds couldn’t get a sniff in.
If you enjoy racing at all – like, at all – Split/Second is really worth a look, because it captures the sheer joy of tearing around in very fast machines. It does this by gleefully blowing up the levels around you, often to your benefit and the frustration of your foes, in a mechanic that combines the pyrotechnic tactical choices of Psygnosis classic Rollcage with the addictive, teeth-grinding versus dynamics of Mario Kart.