With Black Ops II in stores now, I couldn’t help but wonder of all the games I have to yet play before I even break the seal on my copy…not to mention the games that been spinning inside of my Xbox 360 for weeks now. Not that this year was full of must-play titles like Q4 of last year, but for me, the illustrious FPS series has fallen to bottom of the mountain as opposed to the summit where it once stood. I realize that I am a minority in this line of thinking, and that Call of Duty will continue to outsell every annual iteration of itself for years to come before the winds of change truly begin to blow. But the fact remains that Call Duty, the Wal-Mart of videogames, continues to boulder over the "small business" titles unfortunate enough to have shared the same release window.
Not every game released shortly before or after CoD is overshadowed however; in fact a select few have gone as far as to share the spotlight. But around this hectic time of year, I feel past games that have weathered the hail of bullets and shrapnel deserve some recognition, especially for those that haven't been fortunate enough to survive the gunfire. Many of these games remain across-the-board favorites here at Games Abyss; we only hope that the same is true for you.
Mirror’s Edge: Breaking into the gaming industry with a fresh concept is hard enough on own, but to be released alongside a Call of Duty game makes the task near impossible. While World at War wasn't quite on the level of the Modern Warfare at the time of its release, it didn't prevent the CoD title from making Mirror's Edge look like a flop of an FPS. While sales may not have been anywhere near what Electronic Arts would have hoped, Mirror's Edge somehow managed to carve out a niche audience for itself. The first-person-running aspect wasn't perfect, but Mirror's Edge certainly deserves its share of praise. Its dedication to innovate the genre turned out to be quite enjoyable, that is of course once the you got used to the controls. And let's face it: Faith is an absolute hottie.
Dragon Age: Origins: Released a week prior to Infinity Ward’s juggernaut of an FPS sequel Modern Warfare 2, BioWare’s dark heroic fantasy realm probably could have fared better if wasn't for its ill-advised release date. To its credit, DA:O performed much better than the majority of games on this list, but that may simply because there wasn't really any of game of its type go against save for Atlus' Demon's Souls. It was a year of rampant hunger for the role-playing fan, and it seemed that not even Call of Duty could distract devoted RPG and BioWare faithful alike. However, it goes without saying that an earlier release date probably would have garnered the RPG of the Year champion a much larger, general audience. Future re-releases alongside DLC and a sequel captured more attention for the game so fortunately, this gem wasn’t simply suffocated under the weight of one of the most successful Call of Duty titles ever, and that it would have shone no matter what year it graced our presence.
Assassin’s Creed Series: Rather than naming each year’s AC title individually it is just easier to state that for as long as Ubisoft’s groundbreaking tale of hidden blades and Templars being dicks have been coming out, they have been neighbors with a Call of Duty title. With arguably the best history of success in the shadow of the soldier, Assassin’s Creed has flourished so well for an otherwise ill-advised release window that it could be said this year’s venture to the American Revolution might have even been more anticipated than Black Ops II. Inspired traversal system, large open worlds, solid stories, and the ability to make history more interesting than any high school or college class could is a difficult resume to top. Of course the series was also one more “Ezio” away from falling off the grid to the point where even a Rage 2 would have been a welcomed breath of fresh air; thankfully Connor stepped in to bring AC to a new level of contention.
Rayman Origins: It's a shame that more people haven't played this visual delight that released just a week after Modern Warfare 3. Ubisoft's platforming masterpiece had a lot going for it: charm, flair, and a protagonist that was making a much needed comeback . If there was ever a 2D platformer to challenge Mario for the thrown, it would easily be Rayman Origins. In the months that followed its release, the title quickly saw its price slashed to a mere $14.99, a fact that is made even more painful considering how entertaining the game actually was. All hope is not lost however, as even though Origins may not have done so well sales-wise, Rayman is still going strong and is set appear in a follow-up title - Rayman Legends – on the Nintendo Wii U in March 2013; no pesky Call of Duty titles to worry about then.
Saints Row: The Third: THQ is holding tight to three particular franchises which define their role in today’s gaming community; the rough and creative re-telling of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse – Darksiders, the WWE games, and the GTA alternative Saints Row. None really do blockbuster numbers, but it’s difficult to argue that Saints Row probably enjoys the most varied audience out of the three. The first two were successes in their own rights, and I myself personally enjoyed Saints Row 2 more than most GTA games post-Vice City. There was really nothing holding the third game back other than its neighboring releases; the biggest of which being Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The game’s survival would have been all but assured on its own solely based on its content had it come out a little earlier in the year; especially during summer. It’s survival in the face of giants like Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and MW3 however is nothing short of miraculous. Gang warfare is never more fun than it is in Saints Row, luckily for THQ gamers seemed to be in just that kind of mood last year.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: To say that Skyrim is the most successful game to come out around the same time as a Call of Duty game would be a tremendous understatement. Bethesda’s impressively large open-world phenomena may not have outsold Modern Warfare 3, but its fanbase is arguably far more devoted. For however many future generations of Call of Duty there will be, Skyrim will remain a mainstay in many consoles until and beyond the release of the next Elder Scrolls game. This 2011 clash can very easily be considered the king of one genre versus the king of another genre; neither one faltering. With the appeal and longevity of the famed FPS series beginning to be brought into question however, it would still likely take a title with the legacy and fan-following of an Elder Scrolls game to steal the spotlight on any installments in the near future.
It’s been looking more and more possible to wrestle the spotlight away from the CoD series in most recent years; they say empires crumble overnight but the impact on history is hard forgotten. If this will become true of Activision’s current cultural staple will only be seen in time, but there seems to a growing amount of ample competition in the 4th quarters as years go on. It will be interesting to see by the end of this year how the most recent additions to this list, Halo 4 and Assassin’s Creed III affect the overall power of Black Ops II.