NUM-BER ONE! NUM-BER ONE!

If you listen carefully, you can hear the chants! The day is finally here! Dave Long’s best game of 2007! What could it be? Is it something from Nintendo? If you’ve been following along, you know that’s probably not the case. I’m sure my detractors are going to eat up the true number one since I was one of the biggest pessimists about the service it appears on for a good two years or more. Jeez… was I already saying that service looks kinda shady way back when I was at Evil Avatar in the beginning of this century? That just might be!

Well, I’ve had to eat my words in 2007. Something I thought I’d never buy into is exactly what I paid good money for this past year and I’m a convert. They won me over. I might not buy all my games there because I still love those boxes and the media. Discs are just cool. CDs/DVDs are my modern equivalent to the records I was buying back in the 80’s. It’s hard to let go!

The problem is… I’m running out of space. I have no more room for console games on my racks. I have even less space for PC games. What’s a dedicated gamer supposed to do? Well, I decided that I’m going to make an effort to buy via download more often, provided the service is well run and professional. Welcome our new digital distribution overlords along with me as I cap off my Top Ten Games of 2007 with number one…

The Orange Box

1. The Orange Box

The man who used to hate on Steam has become a fan.

I’m sure if you spent enough time searching the forums at Quarter To Three, you could find some proclamations from me regarding Steam. I really didn’t dig it when it first appeared. I also didn’t like the idea of not truly owning my games. What if I want to sell them later? That really hasn’t been resolved, but I don’t think I care anymore. I’m 35 years old and I have a whole lot of crap. My house is full of it. If I can cut down on the crap a little bit by buying more games through Steam while giving up the ability to resell, that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make. I don’t really know when I came to this conclusion, but I do know that the moment I played Team Fortress 2 was when I knew it was the right one.

The Orange Box is an amazing package of five games. The three new products inside are Episode Two of Half-Life 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. You also get the original Half-Life 2 and the follow up, Episode One. On a personal level, I would’ve been happy to only get Team Fortress 2, but the rest of the package throws the value into the stratosphere for me. I played and enjoyed Half-Life in 1998. Like many others, I anticipated a sequel. When I found out the sequel required Steam, I decided I wasn’t going to buy in. As much as I wanted to play the game, my gut kept telling me that giving up the box was a bad idea. I want to own my games and do what I want with them when I’m done.

In the two years since, I’ve pretty much kept every game I bought. I’ve been slipping into this mode of part-time historian, buying lots of cheap games and building a massive collection of titles across all platforms. So if I’m keeping everything, what does it matter if I buy them through digital distribution? I still own it and don’t have to find any physical space for it other than the spot on the hard disk. The idea of Steam became a good one over time and luckily, waiting this long also means the service works way better than it did when Half-Life 2 first launched.

Enough about Steam though, this is a celebration of the best game of 2007. The Orange Box is a brilliant packaging because while the core is first-person action, there is an awesome variety to it. Half-Life 2 and its follow up episodes are very good games, but for me not the highlight of this package. Team Fortress 2 is where it’s at. There is so much brilliant game design on display that I can’t help but put it up on a pedestal this year. The level design is superb–and it should be since some of these levels are updates from the original. Level design is just a tiny part of the story though, the real brilliance is the balance in the classes, the fantastic graphic style, and the way that style is used to put the focus on the players, not the playfield.

Player characters are always highly visible in Team Fortress 2 and that makes it a stand up fight no matter where you are on the maps. Valve’s designers smartly made all the colors for the backgrounds just a little washed out so that players are always the key draw for your eye. It’s a really subtle thing that you so rarely see game developers pay attention to. The last game where it really stood out to me was Warlords Battlecry, where Steve Fawkner and friends had these superbly animated characters on top of a landscape that melted away from them. In Team Fortress 2, the devs go one step further by making each class a unique looking individual so you can identify their role immediately on sight. These simple things are what makes great games–the details that make a game look good but also make it play better.

The shooting and the interaction between classes is the meat that makes it all go, and each class plays so differently that it’s almost a different game switching around as the hours tick by. During the beta period, I played Demoman like crazy. I was bouncing grenades from Boise to Boston and everywhere in between. When they nerfed him later on (one bounce means grenades no longer explode on second impact) a little bit of the fun went away, but the game became more balanced so I didn’t mind. That also made me start to experiment with the other classes. I had a blast with the soldier, ate up every minute as Spy, fried guys like mad as Pyro. To date, I’ve gotten pretty good with every class but Sniper, mainly because I’m not very good with a sniper rifle for some reason. I think it’s because I just love to fire on the run! I’m still playing Team Fortress 2 regularly. I don’t think I’ll be stopping anytime soon.

All these words and I haven’t even said a single one about Portal. It’s as great as everyone says, and you should play it as soon as you can. Don’t listen to those who put it down because of brevity. The best games are almost always those that don’t overstay their welcome and Portal is just the right length. It’s a mind-bending screw-up of a game that only gets more insane when it ends. The influence of Old Man Murray alumni is felt the whole way through, much to its benefit. I’m not sure where you go with a portal gun in a “regular” FPS. The brain wrenching–not to mention system destroying–insanity of using a gun like that in multiplayer may never be realized, but that’s ok because if they never made another Portal or anything like it, this one is so perfect that it can stand on its own for years to come. But don’t listen to me any more, play it for yourself! The less you know about it the better. Just go and enjoy it.

With that, my list is complete. This is the number one game of ten that I got the chance to dump a lot of time into last year. I’ll have a wrap up tomorrow, and talk about the notable omissions as well as games I’ve had some time to play a bit more that might’ve made the cut if I had played them in 2007 and not 2008.

If there’s one thing I’d love people to take away from this list, it’s that you should play these and any games yourself and form your own opinions of them. Do that without reading a lot of previews or anything that might spoil them. Sometimes gamers get so caught up in anticipating the next big thing that they’ve already ruined it for themselves when the game finally arrives. One of the reasons The Orange Box, and more specifically Portal and Team Fortress 2 were such a revelation for me this year is because I knew next to nothing about them before I played them. I knew that Team Fortress 2 was a team shooter based on the original and that Portal used this unique gun, but that’s about it. When I finally got to play them, I was even more blown away by their unique style and I don’t know if I would have been quite as amazed had I seen them countless times before playing them.

Thanks for reading all these entries, and here’s to a happy, healthy 2008 for everyone. Exciting things are on the horizon for me and for gaming, so keep coming back to The Long Shot daily. I hope you’ve been entertained so far!

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