As a child, August was the month of dread – unbearably high temperatures combined with the inexorable return to school, a day that hovered like an ominous cloud on the horizon on an otherwise peaceful afternoon. As a gamer in the 256-bit generation, however, the month has transformed into something else entirely: the prelude to the big torrent of gaming goodness that the holidays always unleash, thereby making the dog days of summer into an overture to one of the most melodic operas known to (gaming) man.
That August would become the gateway to the fourth quarter of the year is, in retrospect, a no-brainer. September, after all, became the first refugee of Q4 spillover – it’s certainly not feasible, and probably also not possible, to contain all of the big titles in just the three-month window starting on October 1st and ending, for all intents and purposes, on December 23rd – and with that month alone becoming the traditional home to games like Silent Hill, Halo, and Rock Band, it was only a matter of time before the four-month quarter would get expanded to five. (It also doesn’t hurt this historical process that Resident Evil 4, released in the dreary and then-quite unusual month of January, opened up the floodgates to all “non-seasonal” launches over five[!] years ago.) And yet it took publishers an incomprehensibly long time to fill August’s long slough with anything other than Madden.
But fill it they did, and not just with the routine, prosaic fare. In 2007, Irrational Games treated its audience with one of the most-polished and best-written titles in the history of the medium with BioShock. The following summer saw the release of Silicon Knights’s Too Human, a title severely, perhaps even intrinsically, flawed in execution but elegant and seldom-rivaled in conception. 2009, finally, delivered Batman: Arkham Asylum, a delicate and heady synthesis not only of narrative and gameplay, but also of quality and licensing, a feat rarely accomplished since the likes of 1997’s GoldenEye 007. (While, yes, Capcom’s Dead Rising technically started this particular trend back in August of 2006, the breadth and depth of its limitations, even when compared against Too Human’s shortcomings, are sufficient to render it a footnote rather than a full-blown entry on this prestigious list.)
The one common element amongst all these entries, besides their sterling compositions (and, of course, month of release)? They are all original titles, not franchise continuations or extensions of any sort or stripe. It’s amazing enough that a tradition of big, (would-be) triple-A releases hitting every August would start, even if by accident as opposed to by design; it’s made all the more spectacular by its being composed of some of the most innovative design approaches seen this generation.
Which makes August 2010 so… disappointing. Where is this year’s continuation of one of the best things to happen to gaming in recent memory? Where is this year’s seminal release that not only is supposed to get the hardcore faithful ready for the fall’s seasonal orgy, but is also meant to be a worthwhile game-of-the-year contender in its own right? The only halfway possible candidate is Team Ninja’s Metroid: Other M (shipping on the 31st), but it is a short-lived one; while seeming to combine 2D and 3D in a rather novel way, the game is, ultimately, the tried-and-true eleventh entry in a 24-year-old series – a far cry from Dead Rising or, even, Arkham Asylum (a point which the Nintendo faithful would more than likely contest, all logic to the contrary be damned).
After a refreshing and reinvigorating four-year respite, Augusts have finished their topsy-turvy arc, ending where they started: boring and restless affairs ripe for utilization at some distant point down the road.
Here’s to hoping that distant future is summer 2011.