It’s been a while … time for holiday reviews.

My apologies for the long absence. With trying to move into a new house along with other things that life kicks in front of your way, updating has been put on the back burner. Until now. After having a few weeks to digest what’s been called one of the greatest months in gaming, here are some thoughts on the so-called triple-A titles that just came out.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare: I actually considered this for my personal game of the year, and this was after the single-player experience. No doubt it’s short, it’s only about 4-6 hours, but it proved to be the most intense, i’m-gonna-die FPS I’ve played in years. It gave me a little bit of Black Hawk Down with a dash of Sum of All Fears (as my brother pointed out). I thought the AI was pretty solid, though I still worried about accidentally blowing a hole into one of my teammates running across my line of fire. I don’t really need to say much about the visuals, but the best examples were the “War Pig” mission at night as well as the “All Ghillied Up” flashback mission, where you have to crawl into the grass to avoid an enemy patrol. The only thing I really found lacking? No online co-op. That could have ended the GOTY discussion.

Mass Effect: OK, this gets my nod for game of the year, but it is NOT — repeat, NOT — one of the greatest stories of our time, as some have wanted to say. It’s not even the best story I’ve seen in the past six months. I enjoyed the story a lot, but it was because it evoked memories of Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and other sci-fi story arcs. I don’t know … I don’t think the “greatest story of our time” would remind me of everything that came before it. So what if you can have sex with a blue alien girl? Captain Kirk was a pioneer of the intergalactic booty call! It’s charted territory! Leave it alone! Anyway, I enjoyed being able to create my own character. I’m actually going through the game a second time as a female Shepard — and the blue girl STILL wants some of the commander. What is WITH the asari? Are they the easiest species in the galaxy? All right, let’s move on. Graphically, the game was pretty stunning. I enjoyed marveling at the design of the Normandy (your starship) as well as exploring a lot of the different worlds, especially tackling all the side quests. The combat system wasn’t bad, as long as you don’t treat it like Gears or Call of Duty. It took me only 12-15 hours to blast through the main quest, but I’ve already put in 10 hours in my second career — and I’m not even off Feros and Noveria yet. I thought the save system could have been a little better, and I hated driving the Mako tank/space buggy. Of course, I liked the conversation system, especially when I beefed up my “Charm” and “Intimidate” attributes. I managed to talk Wrex out of getting himself killed, and I also bullied the poor clerk into surrendering the body of a soldier. I’m making this character a little more nasty, just because I think the responses are funnier. I’d put this as a must-play, if not a must-have.

Assassin’s Creed: This LOOKS like the game of the year, but it sure as hell didn’t execute like it sometimes. I had fun with this game. However, I played through it once, and I don’t think I’m going through it again. I thought the conversational dialogue and voice-acting was outstanding, the visuals were beautiful, and the free-running concept made the art of the escape come alive. The ending was confusing, but at least it made an attempt at a unique story. I can live with some confusion if it gets me wondering about the sequel. But there were a LOT of things that gave me a headache. If I hear the phrase, “You dare steal in my presence? That will cost you your life!!!” one more time, I’m assassinating someone for real. With a spring-loaded butter knife.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune: I didn’t think too highly of this title at first. I’d played it some at E3, and I thought it would be a decent Tomb Raider/Prince of Persia mix, nothing more. Then the character of Nathan Drake kind of grew on me, as well as parts of the story around the search for the treasure of El Dorado. I thought the game handles it’s scenery well — Drake wasn’t bouncing across the world like Lara or Indy, but he found himself in some pretty elaborate locations within his little island. There was an old church, some temple ruins an old U-boat. A fun time. One problem I had dealt with the extremely resilient enemies that could take several rounds to the chest and keep on trucking. Plus, the game did that Stranglehold thing where hordes of enemies seem to pour out random doors or windows. Drake even asks himself sometimes, “Where the hell are these guys coming from?!”

I’m working on Ratchet and Clank Future right now, so I’ll share some thoughts on that when I get the chance. Till we meet again.