The Best and Worst in Games & Gadgets of 2009

December 25, 2009

Right now is a great time for gamers and tech addicts alike. This year saw the next-gen consoles really hitting their stride, operating systems that actually do what they’re supposed to, and smartphones that pack more power than the beige box PCs we grew up with. But of course, no amount of technology can overcome a bad concept or a half-assed effort, so this year wasn’t without its share of duds as well.

The Best

 

Uncharted 2

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The first Uncharted was a widely acclaimed game amongst the PS3’s somewhat barren library of top-tier exclusive titles when it was released, yet it still somehow managed to fly under many gamers’ radars. But it still remained a favorite for many PS3 loyalists, and by the time Uncharted 2 neared release this October, hype around the sequel hit a fever pitch. Turned out there was a reason for all that hype – Uncharted 2 became the most critically acclaimed video game of 2009.

Naughty Dog, the developer of the action-adventure shooter, said they wanted to create a video game which could capture the intensity and immersion of the greatest Hollywood summer blockbusters, and after playing the game, it’s obvious they’ve achieved that goal. With tense pacing, massive areas to explore, and gameplay that’s a mixture of the best elements from various titles in the genre, Uncharted 2 is the kind of game that simply refuses to let you put the controller down.

Motorola Droid/Android 2.0

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Source: George Frey/Stringer/Getty Images

After two-and-a-half years on the market, someone finally stepped up to give Steve Jobs’ untouchable iPhone a run for its money. Amongst the first phones to come with the highly touted Android 2.0 OS, the Motorola Droid comes jam-packed with functionality – a lot of which trumps even the best of what Apple has to offer.

Motorola’s newest smartphone comes correct: Droid sports a very high resolution touchscreen display and a slide-out physical keyboard, free turn-by-turn navigation courtesy of the new Google Maps Navigation app found on Android 2.0, a removable battery, multitasking support, a 5 megapixel camera and, most importantly, a vastly superior 3G network in comparison to AT&T’s. Regardless of the Droid's ultimate popularity, it’s nice to finally see Apple’s infallible device finally getting some real competition.
 
Modern Warfare 2

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Source: Activision

Bigger than any album. Bigger than any book. Bigger than any movie. The latest incarnation in the Call of Duty series sold over 6 million copies in November, making it the biggest release across all forms of entertainment in history.

Modern Warfare 2 generated over $300,000,000 in sales within just the first 24 hours of going on sale. And for good reason – with a Metacritic rating of 94 and over a dozen perfect score reviews, the addictive formula of intense FPS combat, engaging storyline, insanely fun gameplay, and an unmatched online multiplayer experience essentially created digital crack.

PlayStation 3 Slim

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Source: Sony

Like the girl in high school who returned from summer break with her braces off and thirty pounds lighter, when Sony released the 120GB PS3 Slim with a $299 price tag, attitudes towards Sony’s console made a paradigm shift almost overnight.

Considering that Blu-ray is the only game in town for HD media, and top-notch exclusives are starting to consistently roll out for the platform, the PS3 is really starting to become an appealing alternative for gamers who’re sick of sending their Xbox 360s back to Microsoft for repairs.

Windows 7

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Source: Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Whoever thought the day would come when Microsoft would release an operating system that tech geeks actually loved? Well, that’s exactly what the folks in Redmond did earlier this year.

Windows 7 has gotten nearly unanimous praise across the tech community for its clever interface improvements, speed, rock solid stability, and lack of “bloat.” More of an evolution than a revolution, many critics consider Windows 7 to be what Vista should have been. Regardless, it’s here now, and it’s definitely a new day for PC operating systems when you have Apple fanboys questioning their loyalty.


The Worst

 

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra - The Video Game

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Traditionally, expectations are low for movie tie-in video games. These games are often hastily created in hopes of duping die-hard fans of a movie franchise into thinking more quality content can be found within the confines of the associated video game title.

Even by this standard, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is a dismal failure. Laughably bad voice acting, graphics that would’ve been subpar on a PlayStation 2, nearly unusable controls, cacophonous sound effects, and a complete lack of online play resulted in one of the worst games ever to be sold at a non-bargain bin price.

iPhone 3GS/The AT&T Network

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Source: Apple

Before its release earlier this year, endless speculation amassed over what to expect from the 3rd generation iPhone. Would it have a front-facing camera to allow for iChat-style video calls? Would it offer 64GB of internal memory, like the iPod Touch offered? Would it support HD video? Would there be a Nano version? On June 8th, we got the answer, and the answer was “No.”

Another incremental improvement of the original iPhone form factor and hardware, the 3GS was arguably less of a jump in technology than the changes found between the 1st and 2nd generation versions, which introduced both 3G and GPS capabilities. Offering a maximum of 32GBs of storage, a slightly better camera, an internal compass, and not much else, the 3GS announcement was a fairly underwhelming experience. 

To add insult to injury, AT&T, the iPhone’s sole service provider in the U.S., has had nothing but bad press this year - and for good reason. Ultimately, their network simply cannot support the data being consumed by their iPhone-using customers, and AT&T has attempted to place blame everything but on themselves, which hasn’t earned them any fans. If there was ever an ideal moment for a paradigm shift in the battle for supremacy in the smartphone game, now is that time.

Tony Hawk: Ride

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Source: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images News/Getty Images

With mounting pressure from the Skate franchise, which offered what many considered a more “natural” feeling skateboarding experience, it was obvious that the Tony Hawk series needed to do something drastic to regain some attention this time around.

While Tony Hawk: Ride could certainly be considered an ambitious venture both from a conceptual and technological standpoint, the game and its skateboard deck controller could well do down in history as the title that finally killed the game peripheral craze that has captivated gamers ever since the first Guitar Hero game.

Even if Tony Hawk: Ride was a great game that was intuitive and fun to play, releasing a skateboarding game with a price tag of $120 the same year the world suffered the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is just a bad idea. But price notwithstanding, Tony Hawk: Ride isn’t a great game. It is a terrible game with even worse controls. Not surprisingly, it bombed at retail.

Bionic Commando

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Source: Capcom

High hopes were riding on this next gen re-imagining of the classic NES franchise. Once again taking the role as the solider with a really awesome robotic arm, the new title attempted to bring the series into the 21st century with solid graphics and 3rd person, sandbox-style gameplay. And while the game succeeded in making elements such as grappling (a fundamental action in the game) fun to use, Bionic Commando’s flaws ended up making the title something of a disappointment.

Irradiated portions of the terrain are placed in what often seem like arbitrary areas, forcing the player into far more restricted movement throughout the maps in a game which emphasizes large scale and super-human mobility, and the weapons themselves left many players wanting something a little more substantial. And these flaws also don’t do the multiplayer modes any favors, either.

While Bionic Commando was far from an atrocious game, it fell short of the lofty expectations many had for the revived series, and as a result, quickly fell off most gamers’ radars.

TwitterPeek

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Source: Peek Inc.

The popularity of Twitter exploded in 2009. The term itself was dubbed the Word of the Year, besting “Obama” and “H1N1” for the title. The ease of posting 140-character micro-blogs which are instantly accessible to the world, at your convenience, became a revelation in human interaction and mass communication.

So it would make sense that the functionality of tweeting would come to a plethora devices: desktop PCs, cell phones, netbooks, etc. In fact, if your phone supports traditional SMS messaging, which accounts for just about any cell phone that is currently in use, you can use it to post tweets. Which is why the TwitterPeek fundamentally makes no sense at all.

Offered at a mind-boggling $200, the TwitterPeek posts tweets – and that is all. Unlike a cell phone, or a versatile media player like an iPod Touch, both of which offer a multitude of different capabilities based on their hardware’s functionality and the software applications available for them, the TwitterPeek is restricted merely to Twitter use. To add insult to injury, using the device also requires a $7/month subscription fee (to use Twitter, which itself is free) and using the handheld is, as described by PC Magazine’s review, “painfully slow.” So, the TwitterPeek is absurdly expensive and only performs one function. Which it sucks at.

See you in the landfill, TwitterPeek!

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