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The games of 2002
Another year has passend - time, therefore, to take a look back at last year's most interesting games and at a (hopefully) resplendent future in computer gaming. For a more comprehensive overview, Alexander Wilke (AW) from the Xbox magazine AreaXbox.de helps me (CE) with this quite personal look at the games (industry). He can also give you some insight into the upcoming Xbox games. However, given the dimension of the special, we didn't want it to turn into a full-blown novel, so we decided to leave out the events of the previous year (e.g. the end of three renowned gaming mags: Power Play, PC Joker and PC Player). Have fun!
 
The games of 2001:
Black & WhiteAW: Unfortunately, the year 2001 was a year of disappointments for me. Highly praised titles such as Black & White, Halo (Xbox) or Civ 3 turned out to be far less fun than expected. That's a great pity, but the array of disappointments permeated almost any genre. Take the action sector, for example, that had only a couple of successful titles and even more uninspired mass-produced games. No matter how great the graphics of Return to Castle Wolfenstein might be, the weak story stole quite some atmosphere of the 3D legends' successor. But even worse weighs the game's grotesque occult touch that makes me wonder why the developers had to integrate such nasty monsters into the game. I would have preferred a realistic shooter set in dimly-lit dungeons to that sort of game. But also Giants - Citizen Kabuto, Operation Flashpoint, Alien Vs. Predator 2 or Red Faction couldn't capture my gamer's heart. For some reason, the ultimate fun never really surfaced. As one of AreaXbox's editors, I also had the chance to to test Halo on Microsoft's woundrous black cube - which left me slightly disappointed as well. Admittedly, my expectations were running (too) high so that Halo could never come up to them. But despite the gorgeous graphics of the outdoor levels, the design of the indoor missions is far from perfect. It seems as if Microsoft has willingly accepted design flaws for the sake of an early Xbox release in the US. But to retrieve Halo's honor, I have to add that I could only test the action title for three days and therefore saw only half of it. But enough of that, since there was also one ray of light at the end of the dark shooter tunnel, namely the brilliant Max Payne. Rarely have I seen a game with such tight-packed atmosphere and cool graphics. There's no denying that Max Payne was also the object of an adventurous hype, but contrary to many other games Max surpassed even my greatest expectations. The game that revolves around a New York cop gone undercover is almost without flaw and already a landmark in computer gaming. Even the much-cited John Woo movies pale in the light of Remedy's and 3D Realms's masterpiece. And if that's no compliment...

Civ 3As to the strategy genre, the situation was in my eyes similar to that of the action genre - many hyped titles and only a handful of top-notch games. What made me suffer the most was Civilization 3. It puzzles me how a Sid Meier game can feature such a bad AI - it's the fourth incarnation of Civilization after all (Alpha Centauri included). No public beta test was held, the system requirements are outrageous and the gamer has to cope with numerous bugs. However, another patch might still be able to deliver the hoped-for fun; Civ 2 was one of my favourite games after all. Apart from Civ 3, there was a number of well-enough strategy games, such as The Settlers 4, Battle Realms, Emperor - Battle for Dune, or Empire Earth, although even these titles didn't show the amount of potential they would have been capable of. At the top of its class, the king of strategy gaming dominated all alone: Commandos 2. Though the highly confusing controls were an inexcusable disadvantage, the game's strengths in the fields of gameplay, atmosphere, and interactivity prevailed nonetheless.
 
SeveranceCE: Also in my opinion, the games of 2001 weren't as good as those in the previous year. Right at the beginning of the year, the adventure Monkey Island 4 didn't come up to my expectations, even though it wasn't really bad. But that development had already started with the third installment that lagged behind the original game's fun and gameplay. Entertaining enough was the PS conversion of Metal Gear Solid that featured great action and a nice scenario but suffered from its console-style graphics. The German software house Piranhya Bytes won quite some laurels with its epic Gothic, perhaps delivering the best RPG of the year. The best action adventure of the year was produced in Spain but was eventually banned in Germany. But once you had seen the stunning graphics and the unparalelled sword fights as shown in Severance: Blade of Darkness, you were unable to tear yourself away from the screen. By the end of the year, EA published the well-enough Harry Potter, showing that popular books can be adequately brought to life on the PC.

Commandos 2In the strategy genre, The Settlers entered the virtual stage for the fourth time, basically looking the same as in the third installment and lacking any novelties apart from the Dark People. Contrary to that, Stronghold gave the genre some new impetus by masterly mixing elements from Age of Empires and Castles. Although not revolutionary but well-designed was Emperor: Battle for Dune - nice graphics, great cutscenes we're used to from Westwood, and an ageless game concept guaranteed that the father of real-time strategy gaming was still up to date in 2001. My favourite game of the genre was Pyro's Commandos 2. The incredibly authentic-looking World War II scenario and the almost palpable tension made me forget my repeatedly knotted fingers due to the complex keyboard controls. And although the difficulty level (and therefore the frustration) is at times pretty high, I will return more than once into the detailed world of Commandos 2.

Comanche 4With a likewise level of detail but with weaknesses showing through in the mission design debuted Peter Molyneux's greatly hyped Black & White, which couldn't hold my attention for too long. The same applied for me to Operation Flashpoint, whose blocky close-up graphics resulted in an increased number of deaths of your alter ego. As it was the case with Delta Force, I don't see any fun in constantly searching the screen for pixel alterations that are your enemies. What did convince me, though I'm definitely no fan of simulations, was Novalogic's Comanche 4 - beautiful graphics, gripping missions and an easy-to-handle helicopter were the ingredients of this fast-paced simulation. Also recommendable for multiplayer sessions. As to action games: one New York cop showed the entire genre how action gaming in the 21st century might look like. Although Max Payne was pretty much straightforward and not overly complex, the graphically impressive Bullet Time mode was unrivaled, making the Finnish developers of Remedy known throughout the industry.
 
The Games of 2002:
Duke NukemAW: What will the upcoming year look like? Quite glorious, if you ask me ;-). The headline for 2002 will most likely read "greater, more fun and more spectacular". Many a mega production should satiate your hunger for gaming. Ranking first in my personal hit list is Duke Nukem Forever. Rarely has an action game been anticipated more eagerly. Everyone hopes that 3D Realms manages to revolutionize the genre in the same way as their extremely interactive predecessor Duke Nukem 3D. And if the trailer shown at E3 really keeps what it promised, I'll go and fetch my sun glasses and hope that the release date is approaching real fast. I'm also looking forward to some soldiers' smug one-liners such as "Hey pal, what are you gonnna do? Save the world all by yourself?" Yeah, that's action to my liking.

Unreal 2Also John Carmack might re-emerge in 2002. His technology demo of Doom 3 left almost every action and horror fan with watering mouths. But let's wait and see, at what point in the future his graphical landmark reaches gold status. Beforehand we are heaped with several top games that all have blockbuster potential: e.g. Unreal 2, Hidden and Dangerous 2, Mafia, Jedi Knight 2 and Medal of Honor. Unreal 2, for example, looks absolutely fabulous and shows off with elegant particle effects like realistic smoke and flames. Provided that the developers neither neglect the story line nor the multiplayer mode, Unreal 2 will be a sure candidate for the title "best action game 2002". Being an old fan of Coppola's "The Godfather", I'm particularly looking forward to Mafia. If they succeed in capturing the atmosphere of the 1930s, there's nothing that could possibly go wrong. Last but not least, two different software houses are using the Quake 3 engine for their own ends: on the one hand there's EA's Medal of Honor that was pure fun in the single player demo. And on the other hand there's Raven Software and their ambitious Jedi Knight 2. "Started has the fight for the action crown", as Master Yoda would pointedly comment. ;-)

But also the strategy sector is likely to see some heavy fighting. Warcraft 3 is said to finally hit the shelves this year, and it (hopefully) excels in the fields of perfectly balanced units and ingeniously rendered cutscenes. But Bruce Shelley's entourage with their epic Age of Mythology are already waiting in line to usurp the throne. If Ensemble Studios manage to adequately link the missions with a reasonable story line, we will have some rough time choosing between these two real-time strategy hits.

XBoxFinally some advertisement on my own account: the year 2002 will undoubtedly become the year of the Xbox. Although the console will be sold for the handsome price of 479 Euro, most Xbox games are simply looking fantastic. And I can assuage everyone who fears for his PC. The Xbox will be a genuine console with genuine console games. Everyone who has played Halo or Dead or Alive 3 with a rumblepad in front of a big TV screen knows what I'm talking about. Mark my words: if Wreckless will really turn out to be as good as it looks like, the spring will hold the best and most entertaining action racing game of all times in store for us. (BTW: only allround gamers are happy gamers. Every system has its right of existence - be it console or PC. Therefore, let the games commence! ;-))
See also:
The games of 2000
Anno 1503CE: Rest assured that 2002 will have more than one surprise up its sleeve. The most important question to me is whether Anno 1503 will be able to top its great predecessor. The game's detailed graphics, reasonable improvements in the fields of economic system and warfare, and the considerably enhanced playing time raise my hopes for another classic from Max Design. Settling is likely to start in March, so you'd better plan to take some days off when the game is released. The same is true for Warcraft 3, which is close to bursting with new ideas and revives once more the old animosities between Humans and Orcs in a graphically impressive way. In Q2 2002, we hopefully learn why the two old arch enemies finally have to band together to face a new, ominous enemy.

Medal of HonorThe hottest genre in 2002 will be the action genre. Apart from almost programmed hits like the fabulous Unreal 2 or the cool Duke Nukem Forever, I'm mainly interested in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. If the developers succeed in converting the morally delicate World War II scenario into a nail-biting action game, the game could have the potential to become the new benchmark in action gaming. The section "Let's wait and see" includes the titles Hitman 2, Soldiers of Fortune 2 as well as Loose Cannon. While the prequels of the first two games caused some fuss because of their unfounded display of violence, it remains to be seen whether the prequels have learned from their errors in the past and concentrate on the game itself. As to Loose Cannon, question is whether it will be released at all after Digital Anvil had to close down last year.

Neverwinter NightsAlso role-playing fans will see their share of games coming their way. Ambitious projects are going to be shipped this year: Dungeon Siege has a striking resemblance with Diablo at first glance, but comes along with more contemporary graphics and innovative ideas like fighting with a party. Bioware's Neverwinter Nights will be more action-filled than Baldur's Gate, while Morrowind finally nears completion after several years of development. Morrowind is the third installment of the Eldar Scrolls series and has the well-known strengths such as huge gaming area and nice graphics. An improved story line shall prevent, however, that you get lost in the gaming world too easily. Also Ultima fans have the chance to return to familiar locations in 2002 - the remakes of Ultima 1, 4 and 5 have further proceeded in development and should at the very least feature nice graphics.
© 01-20-2002 by CE

 
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