Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bossfight Game of The Decade : 40 to 31

40.Indigo Prophecy
Though the adventure genre is reported dead ever so periodically, there's always that one title that comes along to make everyone sit up and take notice of how wonderful adventure games really are. Indigo Prophecy was an important experiment in 'the game as interactive movie' - featuring a great, mature storyline, multiple endings, and interesting use of split-screens for storytelling. It had a bushel of new ideas for interface, conversations, and action sequences. Not all of them worked, and the game had some technical issues, but it remains one of the finest adventure games ever made. Let's hope next year's 'Heavy Rain' from the same developer does takes the promise of 'Indigo Prophecy' to the next level.

Even by Japanese standards, Okami is an unusual game. It looks like a Japanese painting. You play as a wolf-god. And you defeat enemies and solve puzzles by using . . er . . calligraphy. So better not run out of ink. The best tribute to Okami is that it's not a game that is easily described to anyone who hasn't played it. But those who have had the pleasure of playing it will never forget the experience.

38.Legend of Zelda : The Twilight Princess
The Wii's first Zelda game was the best looking Zelda yet. It was a darker, more mature Zelda than usual (making it the first Zelda game to receive a T rating from the ESRB). As always, it had its share of cool features - context sensitive controls, chicken-gliding, and - wait for it - Link turning into a vicious wolf! Yay! That's two wolf-based games in a row in the top 50!

37. Farmville
What's a facebook game doing in a Game of The Decade list, I hear you ask? Well, 70 million users don't care about what you ask. Farmville pulled off the staggering achievement of bringing fairly hardcore tile-improvement gameplay (think Civilization) within the scope of casual gamers, who would otherwise play word-games or match-3 puzzles. For this alone, it makes the cut. But don't forget - Farmville featured some imaginative and beautifully implemented real-time and multiplayer aspects that make it more addictive than today's average hardcore games. Don't believe us? Give it a shot.

36. Gran Turismo 3 : A-Spec
In the days when the Ps2 was the world's most powerful console, Gran Turismo 3 was the definitive racing game. The self proclaimed 'Driving Simulator' was precisely that -  featuring realistic handling that hasn't been surpassed even today, a slew of tracks, cars and game modes, it set the standards for simulation based racers that are being followed almost a decade later. GT 3 was also the first console racer where the developers worked with hardware manufacturer Logitech to create a force-feedback enabled racing wheel just for the game.

35. Diablo 2
Blizzard's sequel to their all-time classic Diablo took the whole addictive click-fest thing to another planet. The skill trees and multiple unique character classes added a whole new dimension of fun to Diablo's I-can't-stop-playing gameplay, and made Diablo 2 a game that most people were addicted to twice, or even thrice over. It also fine-tuned the multiplayer gameplay. Anyone else remember those long, dangerous treks to retrieve your equipment after dying?

34.Dr.Kawashima's Brain Training
This was the title that propelled the initial sales of Nintendo's now ubiquitous DS handheld - with the promise of reducing your 'Brain Age' through a daily dose of puzzle solving. It had some great, imaginative puzzle design, a great hook, and showcased the best of the DS' features such as the touch screen and microphone. 'Rock beats Scissors' FTW!

33. No One Lives Forever
Of all the shooters that immediately followed Half-Life, The Operative : No ONe Lives Forever is perhaps the game that took the genre truly forward. Featuring a great protagonist (Cate Archer was the hottest videogame babe before Chloe Frazier. Yes, including Ms.Croft), laugh-out-loud writing, and splendid level design, this Austin-Powers of videogames takes its rightful place among the decade's best games. The level where you have to leap from a plane and wrest a parachute from one of the falling bad guys remains one of the most exciting set-pieces from any game we remember.

32. Braid
Jonathan Blow's classic platformer from last year reminded us of so many wonderful things - chiefly that it was possible for intelligent, top quality independent games to be commercially successful. Its ingenious puzzles, breathtaking art, and heartbreaking twist-at-the-end were triumphs of game design. So never mind the pretentious hot air that surrounded the game's supposed 'inner meaning' - give Braid a cookie for being simply one of the best games we've ever played.

31. Rock Band Series
We're actually wondering why Rock Band isn't higher up on the list - but it's probably because the Guitar Hero series was more influential in breaking music games out into the mainstream. But Rock Band fine tuned and took the whole concept of 'band play' forward - causing millions of 'air' rock stars (and, to be fair, actual singers) to form virtual bands and rock out to their favourite tunes, both offline and online. The Guitar Hero series took a while to catch up. And then Rock Band signed up The Beatles. Unless there's a Guitar Hero : Keith Richards in the works, we don't see how that's going to be topped.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Zeitgeist GOTY 2009

As a prelude to Bossfight's final GOTY awards, here's our annual Zeitgeist Game of The Year, the only GOTY feature in India's mainstream press (it appeared in the New Indian Express). We're so proud, we're going to eat cookies, and strangle the ox Megan Fox wanted to murder.

Edit : Our bad on the 'only mainstream GOTY' claim - Krish Raghav points to his GoTD piece in Mint. Go, mainstream press! In ten years, there will be ONLY a gaming press - and politics, business and sports news will be BEGGING to be let in.

Click on the image for a larger size :

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bossfight Game of the Decade : 50 to 41

by Anand Ramachandran and Videep Vijay Kumar

50. Soul Calibur 2 (and series)
We hate games that reward button-mashers. That's why we absolutely love Soul Calibur. The finely tuned weapons based fighting system focussed more on careful timing, maneouvering and outwitting your opponent, as opposed to memorizing senseless uber-combos and super-moves. Soul Calibur 2 raised the bar for console fighters, and looked every bit as good as it played. Plus, the XBOX version featured Spawn, who is so badass, his body is made of necroplasm. Ring Out! Um . . I have no idea why I said that.

49. Far Cry / Crysis
Far Cry and Crysis showed than open-ended shooters could be made, and if you had a high-end ATI graphics card in 2004 and an 8-way Nvidia SLI setup in 2007, they could look really, really, really good. But flexible loyalties and gear-whoring aside, both were solid shooters with great replay value and modding potential. Crysis had some brilliant lag-free multiplayer (an achievement for such a graphics-heavy game) that supported 32 players. These games belong on the list, if for nothing else, their technical excellence

48. Portal
What can we really say about Portal? Other than that it was the creepiest, funniest first-person puzzler of all time? That it featured a crazed AI antagonist, GladOS, who made SHODAN seem like she was going to bake you some cookies and give you a blanket? That it had the most emotionally resonant six-sided solid object ever (move over, Rubik's cube) ? Short, sweet and completely mad, Portal is one of the most original videogames ever made, and one of those you play with a continuous silly grin on your face.

47. Pro Evolution Soccer 4 & 5
PES 4 & 5 are still the highest rated football/soccer games on Metacritic, and rightly so. PES 5 is a favourite at Bossfight (although 4 has been played the crap out of as well) for it's sheer superiority over other football games designed by chose cheeky Canadians in Vancouver. Konami showed the world that there, in fact, was alternative to FIFA and that it was probably better. So credit is due to these games for turning a one-horse race into a TWO-horse race. Note: PES was also responsible for the hiring of several Britons (including current lead designer, David Rutter) and other non-Canadian/American staff (you know, the guys who have actually seen an international sport) at EA Canada.

46. Unreal Tournament
This is the game that dethroned the global church of Quake as the world's premier multiplayer shooter. It featured some of the most iconic weapons, maps and game modes seen in the genre – gamers' eyes still mist over when mentioning Morpheus, the Redeemer, the Flak Cannon and the Ripper. It showed that multiplayer could be more than just deathmatch, featured the first actually useful bots in an FPS, and is still played at LAN parties today. It also spawned the Unreal Engine, the present version of which powers many of today's best looking titles. Respect.

45. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (2  & 3)
THPS did something unprecedented – it brought extreme sports into the spotlight like few other things, and made Tony Hawk a household name in . . .er . . households all over the world. THPS 2 was pretty much gaming perfection – a superbly designed learning curve, great, responsive controls, and hours and hours of addictive gameplay. It's a rare game that can appeal to people who aren't really interested in its rather esoteric subject matter, and THPS 2 and 3 did precisely that – actually contributing to the real sport the games were based on. Too bad the series went all downhill and underground after that. Pun unintended, of course. What? What?

44. Super Smash Bros. (Brawl & Melee)
There's a Tamil world – 'galatta' – for absolute mayhem. Which is what the Super Smash Bros. Series is all about. There is no better party game. If you dispute this, then you obviously have never used Wario to fart on an opponent, and then pull a motorcycle out of your pocket and run over him when he's down, overwhelmed by the stink. Word. Plus, it features the best roster ever in a fighting game. Which other title would present Waluigi, Kirby and Solid Snake as equals? We're all for that sort of insanity.

43. GTA Chinatown Wars
Chinatown Wars is arguably the best 'hardcore' game on the Nintendo DS. For starters, it's got 'Grand Theft Auto' written (literally, one could argue) all over it, plus there are tons of innovative DS-specific ideas and mini-games, and most significantly, a true technical achievement on Nintendo's handheld. Chinatown also reminded us that Rockstar (like Bioware, Blizzard and one other company – can't remember which) can do no wrong. The game would subsequently find its way to the PSP, but it's the DS version that stands tall at er... number 43 on this list.

42. Company of Heroes
There is no game that captures the essence of World War II the way Company of Heroes does. The destructible environments, physics effects, cover system (we kid you not) and historically-accurate-yet-cinematic presentation of the campaign make CoH awesome. The multiplayer makes it phenomenal. Trust us, if you've not played a 4 versus 4 skirmish in Route N13, King of the Hill or Montargis Region, then you've not experienced PC strategy gaming at its finest. However, we must admit that the real reason why we dig CoH so much (and think it worthy to be featured on this list) is the near-preposterous attention to detail. Oh, and bundled grenades. We love bundled grenades!

41. Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Every Zelda game is a classic in its own right, but the DS' first Zelda game assumes great significance, since it came carrying a boatload of expectations. Thankfully, Phantom Hourglass didn't disappoint. Featuring a stylus-only input system, ingenious puzzles, and clever use of the DS touch screen and microphone, it showed that the Nintendo DS was not going to be deprived of Ninty's second-greatest franchise. While features like this have become gimmicky now, when we first called out to NPCs to summon them, or actually blew into the DS to blow out burning torches, we were delighted. Like kids with new cookies. What? Kids don't dig cookies anymore? Blame videogames.

Bossfight Game of The Decade : Kickoff

Putting together a '50 best games of the decade' feature isn't easy. Even in the process of drawing up our final lists, we've had to deal with heated arguments, diverse opinions, and suggestions that games such as 'Zeus' and 'Football Manager' should be in the top 10. Like we said, it isn't easy. So, before we begin, a few things to note :

  1. This is OUR list of what WE think are the 50 finest games of the last ten years. It's also limited to games WE have played - and obviously we haven't played every single game to have been released in the period.We can't rank games we haven't experienced. Your opinion of what constitutes the best games could of course differ completely. If you think 'Extreme PaintBrawl' is the game of the decade, it's cool. Have a beer. And pay for it yourself.
  2. In some cases, such as Halo and Grand Theft Auto, to avoid the futile exercise of repeat entries into the list, we have evaluated their quality as a franchise. In such cases, we've included what we believe is the game that was most crucial in qualification, and grouped the others together into one single entry. However, if the games are competely different games on different platforms, such as Zelda on the Wii and DS, they count as separate entries.
  3. There is no 'item 3'.
Oh - and some of this applies to the GoTY as well.

All right. Here we go. The fun begins in a bit.

Bossfight Game of the Year 2009 : Special Awards part Two

KVLT-est easter egg award : Dragon Age Origins
The 'If all else fails, go for the eyes' message that appears during loading screens in Dragon Age : Origins. If we have to explain this to you, you probably won't get it.

Game we wish was made in 2009 : Rock Band - Wilbur Sargunaraj
Surely the Beatles can't compete with the world's greatest living musical genius ? The Blog Song and Cobra Cobra should be in every single videogame. Pity we didn't see them this year. But hey, there's always 2010.

Game we totally didn't play due to retarded pricing : Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Nice going, Infinity Ward and Activision. Real smart. Price your game at a good twenty-five to thirty percent higher than every other game in India. Just what we need to promote games in the country. There may be COD loyalists / n00bs who will pay that much just to play a videogame, but we don't fall into either category. We're happy playing Halo 3, Killzone 2, and oh lookie - the first Modern Warfare! Idiots.

Happy trend of the year : Hardcoreness is back.
Street Fighter IV. Demon's Souls. Dragon Age : Origins. Forza Motorsport 3. Punch-out. Modern Warfare 2. Monster Hunter : Freedom Unite. 'Twas a great year for the tr00 h4rd023 indeed, with demanding games that rewarded true skill and didn't feel like dumbed-down fodder for casual gamers.

Game we wish we had played : Scribblenauts
This one slipped by us. Sounded extremely interesting, and the one game that could save us from the general handlheld suckage that was 2009 (except for Chinatown Wars, of course), but we never got around to it. Oh well, at least Videep Vijay Kumar got a free iPod.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Next-Gen Decade : An overview of perhaps gaming's most exciting decade yet.

by Anand Ramachandran 

For an industry which is less than forty years old, a decade represents a very large and significant slice of history. The last ten years have been arguably the most exciting decade for videogames since the heady days of the eighties – with great leaps forward in every conceivable sphere. For those of us who are old enough to remember the early ATARI 2600 days when we though 'Enduro' was hyper-realistic and 'Raiders of The Lost Ark' featured a huge gameworld, there's an inescapable sense of wonder when we look at games like Forza Motorsport 3, Oblivion or Grand Theft Auto IV. At least, there should be.


Battling dragons in videogames has come a long way indeed.

This was the decade of the superconsoles – a period when the XBOX, PS3 and Wii became household names worldwide. Microsoft boldly entered the console gaming world, and shook up things so badly that a complacent Sony and a sleeping Nintendo were forced to bring their A-games back into the arena. The result? We, the gamers, have three great console platforms to play on, and thousands of great games to play. And videogame consoles have truly broken through into mainstream consciousness – as Christmas presents, as entertainment systems, and as cultural references. It's a rare point in gaming history that none of the three major players are going through a weak period. Consoles are promising to do new and wondrous things – motion gaming, face recognition, immersive 3-D – and if the last ten years are anything to go by, we're in for a wild ride.

Of course, this was a decade when the industry realized that there were millions of people who would play games, if only game makers would bother making gamnes that appealed to them. Will Wright, that mad genius, created a most unlikely game about ordinary people doing ordinary things (baking cakes, mowing the lawn, taking dumps), which promptly went on to become the best selling PC game franchise of all time. Nintendo, with the wonderful Wii and DS, brought millions of people into gaming's fold. Zynga, with their blockbuster facebook games Farmville and Mafia Wars, showed how relatively hardcore game mechanics could appeal to casual gamers. Apple showed the way for mobile games, demonstrating that their iconic iPhone was really a great device to play games on, with resounding success.

It was a decade where people played unexpected games, in unexpected ways.

The Wii, propelled by the 'Wow' factor of how their motion controller worked with the Wii sports title had people all over the world whooping with delight as they played virtual golf, tennis, bowling and boxing, gleefully swinging their Wiimotes in frantic joy. 10 million consoles sold, and the Wii shows no signs of slowing down. Rivals Microsoft (with the much anticipated Project Natal) and Sony were forced to respond, and will introduce their own motion controllers soon enough – only time will tell if they will find the same widespread appeal.

The Music genre was also responsible for taking gaming in a refreshing new direction, and to completely new audiences. What started off with Guitar Hero, the air-guitarists dream come true, has evolved into a genre that offers gamers the chance to play together as full-fledged rock bands – with guitar, bass, drums and vocals. And, in one of gaming's greatest coups, the Beatles : Rock Band featured the first time that the music of the greatest band of all time was available in a digital format. Now, everyone could vicariously experience the journey of the Fab Four, from Liverpool to world fame. The game sold millions of copies, and completely changed the landscape of the genre. For non-rock fans, DJ Hero soon followed, and 'air-DJs' could now spin their own mixes at the world's top nightclubs to their hearts' content.

The resurgence of casual gaming did not mean the end of hardcore games – in fact, it was quite the opposite. Hardcore games grew in popularity and influence – many casual games benefited from adopting design ideas from their more hardcore counterparts. The decade saw games reach a new level of achievement altogether – games like Baldur's gate 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Super mario Galay, Half life 2, Uncharted 2 and Bioshock settling the 'are games art?' debate once and for all. With narrative making a strong comeback, games continue to grow as a fantastic storytelling medium, and the smart money is one games equalling or even surpassing cinema in terms of delivering immersive narrative experiences, in the next ten years. Case in point – James Cameron's sensational Avatar used a game-engine-like system which allowed Cameron to control the camera and direct the scenes as he pleased. Imagine that control in the hands of the end-user – enabling you to experience and explore the world of Avatar however you liked. The mind boggles.

As with many other things, gaming too went social thanks to the Internet. Games like Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament, Halo and Call of Duty 4 took online multiplayer to whole new levels, with millions of players forming worldwide communities. World of Warcraft broke open the floodgates originally breached by Everquest, and changed the map for what is known today as 'massively multiplayer' gaming – where thousands of people from all over the world populate the virtual gameworld as elven wizards, dwarven warriors or human knights, interacting and adventuring together. With over 11 million active players (that's more than the population of Sweden, for instance), World of Warcaft is a phenomenon that has redefined gaming, and indeed, online social interactions. People meet on World of Warcraft, make friends, and even get married. And then they divorce, fighting over issues that are purely in the game. It's quite sensational, and rather scarily powerful. Online multiplayer has become the primary gameplay mode for shooters and sports games – still among the most profitable of genres – ensuring that players stay interested long after the single player experience has ended. Indeed, playing with and against other humans is infinitely more interesting than computer AI opponents, and is definitely the future of gaming.

The PC platform, like Mark Twain, gleefully announced that reports of its death were greatly exaggerated. Firmly establishing itself as the platform of choice for the truly hardcore and gaming's elite, modern PCs sped away like Usain Bolt with a tail-wind behind him, delivering graphics performance that made console gamers weep with envy. PC hardware continues to drive the hardware and software cutting-edge, and is taking the audio-visual aspect of gaming surely and steadily towards the holy grail of true realism. Titles like Dragon Age:Origins and Company of Heroes demonstrated why there are some things you can still do best on a PC.

Looking back, gaming has never been in better health. The market is rapidly growing. Innovation is everywhere. Gaming experiences are becoming exponentially better – more engaging, interactive, social and creative. Here's to the Knoughties, then – and let's drink to an even better decade coming up.

Bossfight plays next-gen games on Intel Core i5 .

Friday, December 18, 2009

Bossfight Game of the Year 2009 : Special Awards part One

Special Awards Part 1

1. Best contribution to video gaming: Claudia Black (Morrigan / Chloe Frazer / The only good thing about the Spike VGAs / Sexy / English). Fact: did voices for games as far back as 2005 -- in God of War, no less.

2. VGBoTY (another 'o' would be apt, methinks): Chloe Frazer, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves -- remember those 'co-op' sections where booty-watc... er... ladder climbing was involved?

3. Best/Greatest 'Best Of / Greatest Hits' compilation: Hans Zimmer, Call of Duty: MW2, for the most generic military orchestral score ever produced.Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind' album had more variety.

4. Best game featuring a celebrity who has a lightsaber license: Batman: Arkham Asylum featuring Mark 'Luke Skywalker' Hamill. Note: Bossfight seriously considered Afro Samurai: The Game (featuring Samuel L. Jackson) for this award because of SLJ's kvlt-ness and bad-ass-mofo image. In fact, we would have given it without hesitation to AS: TG if SLJ had threatened to go Mace Windu on our asses. He didn't.

5. Best game featuring battle tank-throwing (non-mod): Prototype. Imagine if there were physics mods for Prototype? Wait.. don't.

6. Most confused accents: Assassin's Creed II. This is only game set in renaissance-era Italy where all the people sound like Hispanics from the bronx (Golly gee, that wasn't racist, was it?).

7. Most zombies in a videogame: FIFA 10. Take that, L4D2! Take that, Resident Evil 5! EA Canada has made a game featuring 31 leagues and over 500 licesnsed teams made up entirely of real footballers' undead cousins!! Oh, and Xavi is in the game too. The only thing missing was a survival mode.

8. Best movie ever made: Uncharted 2 (even better than Slumdog Millonaaaayyyre). Of course, in an ideal world, Mario should have been the 'anti-villain' (voiced by Anil Kapoor) in Uncharted 2. Note: 'Anti-villain' archetype also made famous by Kapoor (definition: a questionable character with interesting motives) .

9. Best videogame name: Pirates v/s Ninjas Dodgeball (beating Stalin v/s Martians). We're fans of epic battles here at Bossfight. Both these games did not give us epic battles. But how can you lose if you don't participate?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Announcing the Bossfight India Game of The Year / Game of The Decade awards!

As the year 2009 (which mildly sucked) and the 'knoughties' decade (which totally pwned) come to a close, what better thing to do than celebrate the momentousness of the occasion by . . . er . . . making lists. Think that sounds lame? You're wrong - because our lists are AWESOME! There, that should clear it up.

Beginning today, Bossfight India will honour the games of the year (and the decade) with a slew of awards ranging from the conventional (game of the year, game of the decade, genre awards) to the unusual (genre of the year, platform of the year) to the downright bizarre (game that would have been most improved by the presence of Rajnikanth, game that needs to totally apologize to penguins, game that Videep Vijay Kumar quite unreasonably hates for being 'not realistic') and so on.

So keep dropping by to see what maniacal mubbery (see, the feature hasn't even begun, and already we've invented a new word. \m/ ) we've whipped up each day. We'll also be doing a bunch of polls and discussions, so do participate.

Dragon Age Special 01 - General game overview, and fanboy rant.

by Anand Ramachandran. This article first appeared, under a different headline, on my weekly Game Invader column for The New Indian Express. It is the first in a series of detailed Dragon Age based series that we will be doing in the coming weeks.

I actually carry a physical scar on my body that reminds me of Baldur's Gate 2. It was an argument at work over how I was spending too much time playing it, and needed to focus more on work, or something along those lines. I smashed my fist through a glass door in anger, found that my wrist had been slashed, and rather sheepishly rushed to hospital. The scar's still there. The game was THAT awesome.

Now, Dragon Age : Origins has finally arrived as its successor. And I've removed all glass objects from the vicinity. Just to be extra safe, I've stopped talking to people as well. This game is THAT awesome. In an earlier column, I had wondered if Bioware would finally deliver the classic their fans wanted. That question has been answered rather emphatically.

A glimpse of the battle that kicks off your journey in Dragon Age : Origins.

If, like me, you're a fan of the Infinity Engine games, then you've been disappointed by the lack of a true, next-gen sequel to those classics. The original Baldur's Gate titles, the Icewind Dale games, and Planescape : Torment were easily among the greatest CRPGs ever made, offering truly hardcore role-playing, great adventuring, and classic, addictive, tactical combat. To the true fans, no RPG that has come since then matches the supercharged chess-on-steroids like battles that the infinity Engine delivered based on the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. Only those that have carefully plotted, strategized, stocked up on equipment, spells and potions meticulously to bring down a dragon or Demilich can understand.

Not that there weren't any great RPGs since then, indeed, there were several of the highest quality. The Elder Scrolls games such as Morrowind and Oblivion, Fallout 3, and Bioware's own Star Wars : Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect took role-playing and adventuring in exciting, fresh new directions. However, the combat didn't quite cut it. Of the games mentioned, only KOTOR came close to delivering an experience close to Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale.

Thankfully, Dragon Age scratches this very itch.

This is the game I've been waiting nine years to play. It's Baldur's Gate 2 with next-gen graphics and presentation, a great new role-playing and combat system, and quintessentially Bioware storytelling. I've been playing for a mere five or six hours, and have already been swept up into the game's world of intrigue, politics, evil, treachery, heroism, romance and high adventure. Bioware's game design and storytelling have always been top notch ( Baldur's Gate 2 is easily one of the greatest high-fantasy experiences of all time ), but now they have the technology to deliver a level of immersion that takes it to a different planet altogether. The world of Ferelden feels truly alive – grass sways as you run past, armor shines and glistens as you stride into battle, blood spatters on to your face as you hew your Darkspawn foes, your companions endlessly chatter and bicker amongst themselves. It's the perfect vehicle for the extremely solid role-playing system and the refined, brilliant tactical combat to truly shine through.

Dragon Age Origins is Baldur's Gate 2 on steroids. It's the game I've been waiting for for almost a decade now. Woo-Hoo!

And while Dragon Age : Origins is available for XBOX 360 and PS3, the PC is by far the best platform on which to experience this epic game. If you have the rig to run it, this is easily the best PC gaming experience of the year. Console owner's, don't fret, though. It's still a great game on consoles, and suffers only in comparison to its PC version.

Thank you, Bioware. After nine years, I finally can lose myself in a game for hundreds of hours, just like I did with BG2.

Bossfight plays Dragon Age on Intel Core i5 .

Classic PC games get new life at

In a great development for PC gaming veterans and newbies alike, Milestone Interactive has introduced a great new line called 'PC Essentials', which features some bona-fide PC classics at amazing prices. It pleases me no end to see games like the Fallout titles and the almost-forgotten gem MDK available in stores today for an entire new generation of gamers to enjoy.

If you're a relative newcomer to gaming, chances are that you've never played Interplay's original Fallout games that paved the way for last year's blockbuster hit Fallout 3. The first two Fallout games are widely acknowledged as being among the finest role-playing experiences of all time. They featured enormous gameworlds – arguably even more detailed and nuanced than that of Fallout 3, amazing characters, and an intricate, detailed and engaging role-playing system. The tactical combat was also extremely addictive and deep, and it was the first time gamers were introduced to the V.A.T.S. System that Bethesda reinvented so well in Fallout 3. These are absolute must-play experiences for any self-respecting role-player, and indeed for any gamer even remotely interested in the industry's roots and history.

The 'Fallout Trilogy' compilation now available includes both these games, and the excellent combat oriented spinoff Fallout Tactics : Broherhood of Steel for the incredibly low price of Rs.499/-, making it easily one of the best deals available today. I cannot emphasize this enough – these are all-time classic games, which offer experiences that will effortlessly trump much of the superficial, overpriced, overhyped rubbish that we come across all too often these days. If you're a real gamer with the intelligence to look past useless physics or gratuitous graphic overload and recognize top-notch ganmeplay, you owe it to yourself to try these games.

Another sweet deal is Shiny Entertainment's old but forgotten classic MDK, one of the funniest action adventures ever made. It's a third person shooter in which you alternate between playing as a super-hero, a mad scientist, and a robotic dog. Do I really need to say more? It was received in it's day as one of the most spectacular single-player games ever, and continues to be most entertaining, over ten years after it was made. It's available for Rs.199/-, and you'd have to be crazy not to pick it up.

The 'PC Essentials' series also features titles like the strangely haunting 'Messiah' and the vastly underrated FPS 'Kingpin : Life of Crime'. Milestone has promised to release more titles, and I personally can't wait to experience my gaming boyhood all over again.

This is a great initiative, because it keeps a generation of classic games alive and kicking –  an invaluable service to the gaming community. These games deserve to be played by today's gamers, and the gamers in turn deserve the chance to enjoy the classics of a bygone, and arguably purer era of gaming. Additionally, these are titles that will run on practically any old computer – ensuring that almost anyone can enjoy top-quality gaming experiences on a rock-bottom budget. Of course, some of them may need a bit of tweaking before you can get them to run on modern operating systems, but there is plenty of help available on the Internet.

The games are available both in stores, and on Milestone's online store The site also offers offline payment modes, including a useful cash on delivery option. Sweet.

It's nice to see distributors here bring in innovations like this to spark the gaming market in India. Cheers to Milestone Interactive, and more power to further initiatives like this.

Does Uncharted 2 herald the future of storytelling ?

by Anand Ramachandran. This article first appeared on my weekly Game Invader Column for The New Indian Express

Naughty Dog's seminal PS3 game, Uncharted 2 : Among Thieves is already being hailed as an all-time videogame classic. It's a superbly immersive eperience that effortlessly slips between storytelling and gameplay, delivering the closest thing to being in an action movie we've ever seen.

 This video provides a glimpse into Uncharted 2's cinematic gameplay experience. This is actual gameplay, not a video. Word.

The significant thing is this : gameplay-wise, Uncharted 2 offers few innovations. The platforming and acrobatics have been done in the Prince of Persia trilogy and in Assassin's Creed. The shooting and cover mechanics are clearly inspired by Gears of War. Even the settings – ancient temples, mysterious ruins and the like – could arguably be attributed to games like Tomb Raider which came many years earlier.

If it's so derivative, what makes Uncharted 2 so damn special ?

Many things, mate. Many, many things.

Firstly, Naughty Dog has taken gameplay features that have been done before, but polished and improved them to deliver a gameplay melange unlike any seen before. Ken Levine, creator of the incredible 'Bioshock', once said that he considered himself a kind of Chef, who merely mixes together existing ingredients to create a surprising, delightful dish. This is exactly what Naughty Dog has achieved with 'Among Thieves' – while you will surely find many individual components familiar, the overall experience is wholly unique and thoroughly original.

Secondly, through a combination of skilful narrative, superb dialogues and expertly crafted set-pieces, Uncharted 2 is that rare game which effortlessly flits between being a  narrative and participatory experience. Many games have tried this, with varying degrees of success. Some of them have even claimed to be 'the ultimate interactive movie' or 'the most immersive virtual world' and the like, but Uncharted 2 has taken this to a completely new level. I've played lots of games, but this is the closest thing to being in a great action movie that I've ever experienced.

The absolutely top notch writing plays a major part in this. In terms of story, 'screenplay', and dialogues, Uncharted 2 is on par with the best action adventure films of recent times, and easily better than tripe like '2012' or all those stupid films featuring Matthew McConaughey or Nicolas Cage. Sure, it's tightly scripted and completely linear, but this works in the game's favour. At every point in the game, you really want to know what's going to happen next – and the plot twists and red herrings ensure that you're never disappointed. Essentially, the gameplay exists just to move you from plot point to plot point – but it's great fun on its own, and helps develop the emergent story that the player creates. Videogaming as a narrative form at its finest.

Which really makes you think how so many games might benefit from some good, professional writing from a storytelling standpoint. Games like Assassin's Creed or Halo, which had amazingly fun core gameplay but frankly boring, irrelevant and fairly ridiculous storylines. Wouldn't they have been immensely superior games if they had storylines that actually engaged you to complement their fabulous gameplay? I certainly believe so.

Uncharted 2 is a singular achievement that shows how games can contain world class narratives without sacrificing gameplay. It answers the age old gameplay vs. story question in an unexpectedly emphatic fashion – you don't have to choose. If more games follow this lead, videogames could finally hit that sweet spot between story and gameplay that can appeal to the widest possible mainstream audience, and put gaming on an equal footing with movies and TV. . And the venerable Roger Ebert would finally shut up.