By Daniel Etherington
There is no denying that 2004 has been a big year for games, with the release of some of the most eagerly awaited titles from some of the best known franchises.
Half-Life 2 provided some impressive graphics
But does that mean it has also been a significant year? Does it feel like gaming has markedly progressed?
Personally, despite the hours and hours of fun I have had from games this year, there is a sense that I have not really experienced anything especially new.
Sure, the graphics of Half-Life 2 are impressive, and the Halo 2 AI is remarkable, but where is the innovation in the play dynamics?
The key disappointing factor about playing Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, say, is that it feels like a game that took a very new approach to the franchise, but two years ago.
Similarly, Halo 2 is an excellent game, but the single-player campaign mode does not really offer anything new beyond better textures.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is essentially the same but more so. And as for Doom 3, it looks great and is an example of games getting even more cinematic, but in terms of play it is the same old.
All the while, something as novel and acclaimed as Katamari Damacy fails to even get a European release.
And as for my old favourite PlanetSide, a truly innovative game, it has been poorly patched this year, which effectively compromised much of what made it so special.
Fable offered games many life choices
What worries me is that PlanetSide may put off other developers from being similarly forward-thinking.
New thinking has been filtering into gaming, but it is often haphazard or on the periphery of the culture.
Fable does highlight one area that commercial games are increasingly creeping into, offering more complete worlds with more choice, but it failed to really get beyond quest-based storytelling.
This was a problem, too, with San Andreas. The GTA games have long pointed towards a type of freedom, a sandbox play dynamic where you are not explicitly channelled.
It is ironic, then, that San Andreas is the most narrative-heavy so far.
And whether something at the opposite end of the commercial spectrum, like Second Life, a kind of uber-sim where there is no imposition of story, points to one potential future direction is moot.
Another factor, of course, is the hardware cycle.
Innovation often accompanies new kit, so there is the reassurance that the upcoming next generation of handhelds, and subsequent consoles, will offer something new.
Doom 3 brought horror to PC screens
Even though developers of the Tapwave Zodiac failed to capitalize on its touchscreen, it is assured that Nintendo and its third-party associates will not do the same with the new Nintendo DS.
Already, Wario Ware Touched!, Yoshi's Touch & Go, Mr Driller: Drill Spirits, Metroid Prime: Hunters and Pac Pix are offering some new means of play, even if it is the same old menagerie of characters.
It seems there is only so much freshness we can be dealt in one go.