When Uncharted 2: Among Thieves arrived on PlayStation 3 in October 2009, there was no question that it had multiple game-of-the-year awards locked down.
Fast forward two years, and its brand-new sequel, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, seems less likely to stand out from the crowd of blockbuster games competing for the coveted title — and for your holiday dollars.
That's not because it isn't a nearly flawless game — Uncharted 3 plays every bit as well or better than its predecessor. It's just that the competition is much stiffer this year.
About a dozen hotly anticipated games have launched or will launch within a three-month window of Uncharted 3, which hit shelves Nov. 1.
You've seen them on your kids' or favorite gamers' wish lists — Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Forza 4, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and, well, the list goes on.
Never in my 20 or so years as a gamer can I remember a glut of holiday games that had me frothing at the mouth like this year's lineup.
The abundance of great games to choose from might be bad for the Uncharted series' status as top dog, but it's a good thing for serious gamers who like choices. That goes double for gamers like me who remember generations past, when the holiday season saw the release of hundreds of terrible games.
In the eras of the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, developers rushed to bring their games to market for the holiday season, which, in game-developer time, lasts from October through January. That's because the holidays are the time of year people have budgeted strictly for frivolities and impulse buys.
The rush to market meant many developers cut crucial corners, such as bug testing or quality assurance, leading to half-finished games winding up in the hands of unwitting consumers just looking for "a fun game" for their children or spouses.
But these days, developers just looking to score a quick buck seem to have migrated to newer casual gaming devices, like cell phones, tablet computers or, arguably, the Nintendo Wii — devices that usually end up in the hands of a less picky gaming audience that is much more likely to drop a few bucks on a game they've never heard of, much less read reviews of.
That seems to have cleared a path for game developer heavy hitters Bungie, Infinity Ward, Naughty Dog and Bethesda to hone their craft, because instead of trying to stand out among a glut of "garbageware," they are competing for holiday dollars against other A-listers.
And the results speak for themselves — never have I seen a higher percentage of holiday releases scoring in the 90 percent to 100 percent range in the gaming press.
This is a great thing for people whose non-gamer loved ones are doing their gift shopping. When those relatives ask the store clerk for "a fun game," there is a good chance that whatever title the clerk grabs will be fun.
There is plenty of discussion to be had about whether casual gaming is good or bad for the industry, but from where I'm standing — OK, sitting, with my eyes fixed on my high-def TV — there has never been a better time to be a hard-core gamer who appreciates story, gameplay and production value. This holiday season's lineup proves it.