While the rest of my compatriots are choosing numbers prior to 2000 for their own personal greatest years in gaming, I'm drawn to a year within the last decade. My choice may not be as pivotal or historic as some of the previous choices, but a number of great games and franchises were launched during the halcyon days of 2007.
With its seventh generation in full swing, the home console market began its split. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 finally allowed for the cinematic presentation that developers had been chasing ever since the PlayStation first released, while the Wii offered a brand-new control scheme that wowed mainstream consumers. At launch, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were like most of the latter generation consoles: they featured improved versions of popular games you could find on other more-prolific platforms. Two years after the launch of the Xbox 360 and one year after the launch of the Wii and PlayStation 3, developers began showing off their expertise with the new platforms.
The year kicked off with Capcom's release of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition for Xbox 360, the first in a series that was completely unable to find solid ground during the generation. Lost Planet was a rather original action game for Capcom, developed on its multi-platform MT Framework. MT was intended to smooth over Capcom's development processes in the seventh generation, but the publisher couldn't stamp down what "Lost Planet" meant after the impressive first outing. Lost Planet 2 was closer in style to Capcom's successful Monster Hunter series, while Lost Planet 3 was an Unreal Engine 3-based shooter created by Western developer Spark Unlimited.
World of Warcraft on PC continued its reign with the release of the first expansion, The Burning Crusade. Since its launch in 2004, WoW had utterly dominated the MMORPG space and Burning Crusade built upon that success with a journey to Outland, the original homeland of the Orcs. WoW's success would continue to inspire a number of MMORPGS, including Star Wars: The Old Republic and Final Fantasy: A Realm Reborn. Despite the game's subscription numbers falling to 6-7 million these days, that's still a few million higher than most MMOs can boast.
Yet another independent developer working with a platform holder, Level-5 finally got the chance to move beyond the all-ages action experiences it created with Dark Cloud and Dark Cloud 2 for PlayStation 2. Rogue Galaxy launched in the US at the end of January and was Level-5's largest project at the time, a sprawling action RPG with a more mature story and presentation.
"As a creator, I always wanted to create a title that was as big as Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. I believe Rogue Galaxy is on the same scale. This title will be our challenge to all the RPGs in the world," Level-5 CEO Akihiro Hino said at the time.
The game was published by SCE Japan Studio on PlayStation 2, despite the fact that the PlayStation 3 had already launched. Rogue Galaxy had no sequels, even with a number of stalwart fans.
February saw the very first release of Peggle, the game that put PopCap Games on the map, and Wii Play, another successful entry in Nintendo's family-friendly Wii series of games. In Peggle's case, the game didn't do all that well during its first release on Windows PCs; it picked up steam when it was released as part of Valve's Orange Box and on Xbox Live Arcade.
Crackdown, a game nobody cared about, touched down on February 20. The game was directed by Grand Theft Auto and Lemming creator David Jones, but no one expected anything much from the unknown title. What put Crackdown on the map was the included access code for the multiplayer beta of Halo 3, not unlike a similar promotion involving Brave Fencer Musashiden and Final Fantasy VII. Thousands of Halo fans picked up the game only realize that it was rather fun. Crackdown 2 dropped the ball, but hopefully Microsoft will hit paydirt with the Xbox One revival of Crackdown coming... someday.
March kicked off in spectacular fashion with Def Jam: Icon-- Wait, no. Wrong game. March's real killer app was Santa Monica Studios' God of War II. The sequel to the surprise hit continued Kratos' habit of murdering nearly every autonomous being that he comes across. Despite being preceded by Devil May Cry by six years, a number of action-brawlers ended up being inspired by what Sony Santa Monica created with God of War and God of War II, including Konami's Castlevania reboot, Lords of Shadow. God of War II ended up being creative director David Jaffe's last game in the series.
April was light except for a pair of strong Nintendo releases. Super Paper Mario continued the side-scrolling RPG action of the original Paper Mario game and expanded the playable cast with Luigi, Bowser, and Princess Peach. The big hitter was Pokemon Diamond and Pearl for Nintendo DS, which kicked off the fourth generation of the Pokemon franchise. The pair added 107 new Pokemon, and online play via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection was a major feature for the series. Diamond and Pearl would go on to be one of the most successful Pokemon releases ever, with 17.63 million units sold. Both games are theoretically next in line for upgraded re-releases after the upcoming launch of Omega Sapphire and Alpha Ruby. Fingers crossed.
May 2007 saw the the Japanese and North American launch of Vanillaware's first title, Odin Sphere (GrimGrimoire actually launched a month earlier in Japan, but didn't release in the US until 6 months after Odin Sphere). Vanillaware was established in 2002 by former members of Atlus' Princess Crown team, notably game designer George Kamitani. Atlus picked up the game, which outperformed expectations for the publisher. Odin Sphere was Vanillaware's first delivery of its primary mission statement: to create 2D games with detailed hand-drawn artwork. Vanillaware has continued to build upon its strong fanbase with last year's release of Dragon's Crown, a game Kamitani has been trying to get made for nearly 13 years.
On June 19, Capcom improved upon the Playstation 2 and GameCube releases of Resident Evil 4 with the Wii Edition. It's largely the same great game, but with brand-new controls. While some players don't jive with the Wii Remote/Nunchuk controls of Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition, I find it to be one of the best versions of an amazing title.
Nintendo caught up to its competition in services when it announced WiiWare, a portal for downloadable original content on the Wii. At the time, Xbox Live Arcade was making a name for itself by offering smaller original games; the Wii only had the slow releases of the Virtual Console program to compete. Of course, the Wii didn't need to compete during the generation, as Nintendo's Blue Ocean strategy kept the platform far ahead of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
July 2007 was a dark time and we shall not speak its name. Ninja Gaiden Sigma for PlayStation 3 and Mario Strikers Charged for the Wii buttress a rather uneventful month.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, a grand reimagining of what "Persona" meant, finally launched in North America on August 14, 2007. Part turn-based RPG and part slice-of-life simulation, Persona 3 had our young protagonists balancing demon hunting and dungeon diving with daily school life. In turn, Persona 3 dropped the negotiation element found in previous Persona titles. While Persona 3 still mixed mythological and psychological elements like previous titles, the game ended up being more mainstream and popular than its predecessors. The odd mix of horror, anime-style designs, and the dating-sim-style Social Links made the game far more "sticky" than what came before. Atlus eventually built upon the foundation established in Persona 3 to create Persona 4, the most popular entry in the series.
But August wasn't over yet. The real surprise of the month was BioShock, a first-person shooter for Xbox 360 and PC, developed by 2K Boston (later Irrational Games, much later defunct). Launched on August 21, 2007, BioShock was the brainchild of director Ken Levine, mixing first-person shooters, RPG elements, and Ayn Rand-esque objectivism. A spiritual successor of the System Shock games, BioShock wasn't the first game with something to say, but it was one of the few that said that something particularly well. BioShock made those outside of the gaming industry have look towards us and say, "Wow."
EA's Skate attempted to bring down Activision's Tony Hawk franchise with a new analog control system that mirrored how real skaters moved, but September was absolutely owned by a single game: Halo 3. Bungie's third outing with the Master Chief made $170 million in 24 hours, making it one of the best opening days in history. Some multiplayer-centric gamers may prefer the second Halo game, but Halo 3 was bigger and better. The title finished off the Master Chief's story - though we all knew Microsoft wouldn't let the cash cow die - and the power of the Xbox 360 took the game to a whole new visual level. The biggest change was the Forge map-editor, allowing players to add weapons, vehicles, and other items to the existing multiplayer maps.
Halo 3 pushed user sharing as far as its could go with Xbox Live's infrastructure at the time. Before Twitch and Imgur, Bungie and Microsoft allowed users to share custom maps, game variants, screenshots, and gameplay films. It was the first major hint of where game culture was heading as online connections became more stable and prolific. A month later, Bungie would announce its split from Microsoft.
October was punctuated by a number of portable releases: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Mega Man ZX Advent, and Phoenix Wright: Trial and Tribulations for Nintendo DS, plus Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions for PSP. But again, the month was owned primarily by a single game, Valve's The Orange Box. The Orange Box was a compilation of Valve titles released for PC and Xbox 360. The package included Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, Half-Life 2: Episode Two, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, and a small title called Portal.
The Orange Box was one of the few places you could get the entire Half-Life 2 saga - Half-Life 2: Episode Three is still missing in action - and Team Fortress 2 on consoles, which was amazing at the time. Portal's critical performance was a complete shock and fans loved the game. The game was an extra in The Orange Box, a first-person puzzle platformer with an interesting mechanic and a quirky sense of humor. It began life as an indie game released by DigiPen students, got picked up by Valve, and became something more, despite being developed in just over 2 years with a team that was never larger than 10 people. Portal actually overshadowed the other major releases on the Orange Box, being a supremely satisfying game for its short running time.
The tail end of Orange Box Domination Month was shared by The Witcher, the first release from Polish developer CD Projekt RED. Based on the novels by local fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher was CD Projekt RED's first stab at creating a robust Western RPG in the style of Bioware or Black Isle; the developer even used a heavily modified version of Bioware's Aurora Engine to make the game. The experience CD Projekt RED gained in developing The Witcher allowed them to outdo themselves with The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings four years later.
November of 2007 is where the year takes off and never comes back.
The month drops the bomb with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the game that killed the World War II shooter that had dominated the previous years. Infinity Ward developed a first-person shooter taking place in the modern day, bringing players one step closer to what they imagined was real military action. Modern Warfare set the tone for an entire genre and established Infinity Ward as the premier FPS developer on consoles, until some legal troubles a few years later.
Nintendo followed grim-and-gritty shooting with Super Mario Galaxy, the first 3D Mario title on the Wii. Instead of stretching out across flat levels, Mario Galaxy placed the plumber on tiny spherical planets floating in space. It features some of the most fun and inventive levels in the series' history and introduced fans to Rosalina, who recently made her debut in Mario Kart 8 and is a playable character in the upcoming Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS.
Still not done! For a while, if you were a member of the PC gaming master race, there was one question you had to answer about your system: "Can it run Crysis?" Crysis was less of game - though there was a solid game there - and more of a very expensive benchmark for a whole group of PC enthusiasts. Crysis was engine developer Crytek pushing the PC as hard as it could go at the time. Even today, there are probably still PCs that struggle with the game at its highest settings.
Assassin's Creed followed Crysis, kicking off a franchise that would become Ubisoft's big thing for the next seven years. Started as a spin-off of the Prince of Persia games, Assassin's Creed made a big splash thanks to its photo-realistic rendering of the Holy Land and its go-anywhere parkour action. Add in at least some attempt at historical accuracy and Ubisoft had a game that didn't look like anything else on store shelves. Which is probably why they keep hammering that anvil; at this point, the series has annual releases worked on by as many as eight Ubisoft studios working in tandem. That all started here.
As gamers everywhere looked to their wallets and wept, Sony and Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Uncharted evoked the classic adventure feel of the Indiana Jones films with a charismatic lead and a fun supporting cast. Uncharted was also one of the first real reasons to buy a PlayStation 3. This was the game that dropped jaws with a gorgeous jungle setting full of moving foliage, crystal clear water, and ton of people to shoot at behind waist-high walls. It wasn't the most inventive game, building on what Crystal Dynamics had done in Tomb Raider, but it was damned fun. It also completely overshadowed Tomb Raider: Anniversary, which was released a month earlier.
Finally, Bioware launched Mass Effect, the first game in a new science-fiction RPG series from the fan-favorite publisher. Mass Effect brought together everything Bioware had learned in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, and creating a brand-new universe for gamers to play in. The most amazing thing about Mass Effect is the absolute strength of its storytelling and presentation; players completely bought into the world of Commander Shepard and his companions. At launch, Mass Effect was an Xbox 360 exclusive published by Microsoft, another gauntlet thrown down to distance the 360 from its rivals.
Look at that list! 2007 completely rocked the house from beginning to end. Especially in the first and fourth quarter, publisher and developers just unloaded with some amazing titles that kicked off a host of dynasties. By time you enter November, the industry is just coming at you with hit-after-hit. Games like Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect, The Witcher, and Uncharted are still moving forward into the eighth generation of consoles, based on their performances here. 2007 is also when we began to see that with digital downloads, AAA titles could share space with smaller games and indie titles. It was just such an exciting time, one that I'm sure we'll see again once we get farther into this generation.
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