Have you ever fixed yourself a parachute while free-falling from a plane? Defended a man you thought was guilty of murder? Eaten the perfect row of "Pac-Man" dots?
For the third year running, we're picking the 10 great — perhaps 10 greatest — moments in games for 2007. This is not a list of the 10 best video games of the year. We did that already. Some great games, like "Super Mario Galaxy," don't even have a moment on this list.
A Change of Clothes: "BioShock" (Xbox 360)
Late in the much-praised first-person shooter "BioShock," the player is required to don the outfit of another character in the game. Saying much more about this moment would ruin the effect. But rest assured, this transformative sequence changes the way every character in the world reacts to the player's presence. Plus, it might just give a "BioShock" player some pause about what they had been doing for the dozen hours that preceded the moment. Saying anything more would be a spoiler.
Defense for the Wicked?: "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All" (Nintendo DS)
Phoenix Wright is a video game hero who practices law, defending people accused of murder. In his first DS game, released in 2005, it was clear that the people he defended were innocent. In his second game, 2007's "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All," that same assumption is safe — until the game's final case. That's when Phoenix, and therefore the player, is given reason to think his client is actually a killer, but Phoenix still needs to get him off the hook. The jury starts jeering. But Phoenix can't abandon his client. He has rules to follow — and a possible hostage situation — in the way. So, for once, a video game explicitly makes the player feel like they are doing the wrong thing, that they are not on the path of the righteous. Does it last? Is the client really guilty? That would be telling. The moment when it all goes haywire is worth experiencing, regardless of how it turns out.
Eating the Perfect Pellets: "Pac-Man Championship Edition" (Xbox 360's Xbox Live Arcade)
Expert "Pac-Man" players look at a dot-filled board in that game and see a single line of pellets, twisted and tangled into what the rest of us see as a maze. Amateurs eat the pellets here and there. Pros gobble one continuous line. "Pac-Man: Championship Edition" made perfect "Pac-Man" players of us all by doling out just one or two groups of dots at a time on an otherwise empty board. This encouraged players to munch through those patterns of dots as if they were laid out in a one-way path. And if they did, then when the game sped up and more dots appeared, they'd keep on munching in that unbroken line, finally threading the maze like a master, never doubling back, never leaving stray dots in the corner alone.
Freefall Problem-Solving: "Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure" (Nintendo Wii)
Some games start out with a big problem. Maybe the princess is kidnapped. Maybe an evil force is encroaching on an innocent kingdom. As "Zack & Wiki," a cute puzzle-based adventure game for the Wii, begins, hero Zack has a more immediate problem. He is falling out of a plane without a functional parachute. How to get out of that bind? Few games have offered such a compelling reason to learn their controls than the threat of an impending splat in "Z&W." Thankfully, some handy items plummet from the sky alongside Zack, and they can be configured to slow his descent and keep his life.
A New Way of Jumping: "Portal" (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
What goes down must go up, out or somewhere, according to the wacky-but-logical physics of "Portal." The first-person game grants players the ability to shoot an entry and an exit portal on many — but not all — of the flat surfaces in a series of laboratory test chambers. That's the only ability, and that's pretty much the whole game. But that simple idea is remixed level after level, challenging players to create portals to get themselves past barriers, redirect beams of energy and fight. The most extraordinary use of the power may well be the "flinging" move, in which the player reaches a distant ledge by placing a portal beneath their feet, another one high on the wall behind them, and then starts falling through the portals in a rapid loop, through the one underfoot, out of the one on the wall, back into the one on the floor, and so on in a cycle until the momentum flings them across the room to that distant ledge. Even Mario can't do that.
The Slow-Mo Arrow: "Heavenly Sword" (PlayStation 3)
Draw back the bow. Let loose the arrow. And then ... be the arrow. The PS3-exclusive "Heavenly Sword" drew comparisons to "God of War," but the game's most innovative moment sounds an echo of "Wii Sports." That is, if "Wii Sports" had archery. Players take control of the nimble archer Kai in missions that require pinpoint-accurate archery skills. Other games have given players the ability to zoom in or slow things down into "Matrix"-style bullet time. "Heavenly Sword" does it one better, hitching the player's viewpoint onto the shaft of a shot arrow, letting the player steer that arrow using the motion-sensitive controller and smacking those arrows right into sensitive places.
Stumbling Through Not-Really-Iraq: "Call of Duty 4" (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
About a third of the way into "Call of Duty 4" a large explosion occurs. It rips through the game's Middle Eastern country that isn't called Iraq but is certainly designed to make players feel like it is. It's where they've been fighting a violent insurgency at a heart-stopping Bruckheimer pace. After this explosion — you'll know which one when you experience it — the player is left stumbling, not capable of shooting, of running, of anything other than just bearing witness to carnage. Looking for a rare moment of a game that won't be accused of glamorizing war? This is it.
The Tide of the Flood: "Halo 3" (Xbox 360)
The Flood are an alien race that has appeared in all three "Halo" games. Members of the Flood have never been terribly helpful. Mutated versions of former friends and foes, they tend to be good at swarming the player, attacking them relentlessly, and maybe even padding the length of the "Halo" games. On a single catwalk in "Halo 3," after they finally proved helpful for once in the trilogy, the Flood start possessing fallen troops. And with the power of the Xbox 360's graphics, this reanimation comes to vivid, distressing life, more memorably than it had in the earlier games. Here are the zombies of gaming doing what they do worst. Does the player blast the corpses first to exhaust the body supply? It's grisly and unforgettable.
The Undoing of a Contract Killer: "The Darkness" (PS3, Xbox 360)
This one's a bug, but it might be repeatable. "The Darkness" is a violent first-person shooter in which the player controls Jackie, a hit man who gains demonic, heart-eating snakes for extra limbs. The game is gory, and, no, really, it's not for kids. Jackie has a girlfriend who doesn't know any of this, and he can go see her in her apartment. The two can sit down on her couch and watch a movie on TV, all viewed by the player from Jackie's first-person view. In a game full of rough actions, this quiet moment is shocking and interesting enough. When she falls asleep on his shoulder while the TV squawks on, that's a moment for the gaming history books. When a bug in the game makes Jackie powerless to get up, finally inoculated from his violent ways by the lady snoring on his shoulder, it's a magical, ironic twist. When it doesn't happen on the second try, it at least proves not to be a game-breaker.
Wonder of the World: "God of War 2" (PlayStation 2)
There's a reason middle school history students are taught about the Seven Wonders of the World. And that reason is so they better appreciate the opening level of "God of War 2," which features an assault on the ancient city of Rhodes by the brought-to-life massive statue that stood astride the city's harbor. The player's character, Kratos, is shorter than the colossus' fingers, but he must battle with the giant in an intense opening level. The game strikes a mighty first note, and little Kratos does some extraordinary things to fell the giant. Of all the moments on this list, this is the easiest to access. It's the game's first level, one that raises a bar for all the first levels of games to come.
Those are 2007's great moments. Will next year's come from "Spore," "Grand Theft Auto IV" or some mystery games? Check back in a year.
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