For well-documented reasons, I'm completely ready for 2008 to be OVER. However, that doesn't change the fact that there were some very good video games released this year. Let's look at my favorites (platform-exclusives are noted in the titles):
TOP TEN CONSOLE GAMES OF 2008
10: PRINCE OF PERSIA. When I heard they were going the 'cel-shaded' route with the first next-gen game in the franchise, I was skeptical. However, the art style in this game is probably the best I've seen this year, and the character animations are spectacular. It has some problems with the combat, and a lot of it feels unnecessary. However, the level design and platforming more than make up for it. The writers are obviously big fans of Team Ico, right down to the ending, but it's pretty hard to fault them for that. While the game is repetitive, it's a good kind of repetitive, and definitely worth a playthrough.
9: METAL GEAR SOLID IV: GUNS OF THE PATRIOTS (PS3). I'm gonna get flamed by some fanboys for not having this game higher on my list, but I'm not as big of a fan of the series as I used to be. The first game (on the PS1) was simply brilliant, and I think they've had some trouble living up to the gold standard of that one. Plus, I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the second half of Metal Gear Solid 2. Having said all that, you can't deny the craft at work here. Some of the best graphics on any console system, ever. A labyrinthine story. Fascinating boss battles. It might get docked some points for being little more than an interactive movie, but it still deserves a spot on this list. One of these days, I might even get around to finishing it. :)
8: DEAD SPACE. Let's get the nitpicks out of the way first. It has a lot of 'fetch and carry' missions. It's an obvious Aliens / Resident Evil rip-off. It doesn't break any new gaming ground. Okay, now let's get to the good stuff. It has fantastic graphics. It has intuitive controls. It has tons of great scary moments. It's gory as hell. It has the best surround sound of any game I've played this year. It has one of the best user interfaces I've seen (all of the HUDs are in-game, helping with the immersion). I'm about half-way through the story, and while I hear the ending is a little flat, it's still been a great showing for a new IP. And there's still plenty of time left in 2008, so I may finish it before the year is up.
7: GOD OF WAR: CHAINS OF OLYMPUS (PSP). Finally! A reason to play your PSP besides Puzzle Quest and Lumines! Seriously though, if you're a fan of the first two God of War games on PS2, you owe it to yourself to play this. It's nearly as good as either of those, and portable to boot. It has a new weapon (the Gauntlet) that is actually fun to use, unlike most other secondary weapons in the first two games, and I found myself debating at times which weapon I should be using, which is a first for the series. And the scale of the levels? On a PSP? The first time I played the demo, I thought, 'No WAY this is running on a PSP.' That's about the highest compliment I can give a handheld game.
6: ROCK BAND 2. I'm not sure what else needs to be said about this one. Last year, when Guitar Hero 3 decided to go the harder route (for the YouTube savants), along came Rock Band, stealing my attention away from the GH series. Guitar Hero: World Tour is a fine game, and their guitar and drum kit is better than Rock Band's, but it's still not as much fun as either Rock Band game. It's the best party game available right now, and non-gamers are finding themselves converted every day. It's also a good thing that the game doesn't track how many hours I've spent playing it, because it would be an embarrassing amount. But my girlfriend plays with me, so that's not so bad, right?
5: BURNOUT PARADISE. Finally, a 'next-gen' Burnout. Burnout Revenge was more of a port of Burnout 3 than anything else. Paradise was the first 'true' next-gen offering in the franchise, both graphically and in terms of gameplay. I spent almost 40 hours playing this, and it's an open-world arcade racer ... not exactly my favorite genre of game. My only complaint is that you can't automatically restart a failed mission. You have to drive back to the starting line to restart. However, it became less of an annoyance due to the level of exploration in the game (can you find all the smash gates?). They basically took the best parts of Test Drive Unlimited (huge open world, drop-in / drop-out online) and improved upon it. And Criterion Games continues to add downloadable content to this game, almost a year after release. They've added vehicles, motorcycles, and soon they'll release a whole new island. Not too shabby.
4: LITTLE BIG PLANET (PS3). I heard all the hype last year, and was skeptical. 'It looks like a co-op Super Mario Brothers! Some innovation,' I thought. Yeah, well, I hadn't seen the online aspect in play yet. The level creator is the deepest of any console game ever, and the ability to share and play them online, and rate and comment on them, is addictive. And on top of it all, the game has charm to spare. I'm a cynical, cold, heartless bastard, but after 15 minutes with Little Big Planet, I had a huge grin on my face. Watching people play it is one thing, but you need to get in and try it to see what I mean.
3: LEFT 4 DEAD (Xbox 360). Four-player co-op zombie survival shooter. Just those words alone got me salivating. Then I played it. Awww yeah. Blasting away at thousands of zombies with some close friends is exactly as good as you could've hoped. And there's even a competitive mode, where you can actually BE a zombie, and attack the humans on the other team. I just wish the game had more than four campaigns. The PC version has tons of regular people working on mods (the Dawn of the Dead shopping mall is already looking impressive), and knowing we probably won't see any of them on the Xbox 360 is a little depressing. However, if Valve supports this with downloadable content of any kind, it will still have a LONG shelf life.
2: GRAND THEFT AUTO IV. My love for this game has already been well-documented on this site, but it doesn't hurt to talk about it again. I spent 70 hours playing this game, which is WAY more than I'd ever spent with any previous game in the series. I even played it to 100% completion, which is insane, now that I think about it. The story was solid (although a little overrated ... the reviewer who compared it to the finest works of Scorsese and Coppola should be dragged into Times Square and flogged), the graphics were stunning, and the level of detail in every inch of the city was ground-breaking. Rockstar definitely showed the 'GTA Clones' how it SHOULD be done.
AND NUMBER 1: FALLOUT 3. If you'd have told me back in June that Grand Theft Auto IV would end up number 2 on my Top Ten list for the year, I would've asked, 'Is there going to be a Call of Duty 4 expansion pack shipping this year?' Well, we did get four new maps for CoD4, but that's not quite it. Fallout 3 showed up at the end of October and blew me away. Epic story. Complete immersion. Fantastic voice acting. Enormous world to explore. An overwhelming sense of freedom. It's simply one of the greatest games I've ever played.
I really liked the last game from Bethesda. I don't get into swords-and-sorcery games, so for me to spend as much time playing Oblivion as I did was a testament to their abilities as a developer. The 'Dark Brotherhood' questline was by far the best-written in that game, so they had that writer come up with most of the story for Fallout 3, and it was a brilliant move. This game was jam-packed with memorable moments. For example, do you save the city of Megaton by defusing the undetonated nuclear warhead in the middle of town? You would be a hero to most of the city, but doing so would upset the cult of bomb worshipers. Do you leave well enough alone? Sure, you can. Or do you collect a reward from an evil old man by detonating the warhead, blowing the entire town (and everyone in it) sky-high? Oh, I think you KNOW what I did:
That's just one decision you can make in a game FULL of them. And I haven't even mentioned things like weapons. There's the railway rifle, which fires railroad spikes which can decapitate people. There's the Fat Man, which fires mini-nukes. There's the Rock-It Launcher, which is like a rocket launcher, but uses any object from the environment as ammo. I loaded it with teddy bears, ashtrays, coffee mugs, packs of cigarettes, you name it. And there's companions who you can hire to follow you around. I hired a guy named Jericho, who only follows you if your karma is low enough (killing people tends to do that). Some of the things he says when he's shooting at people had me laughing out loud. And then there are all the random areas you can stumble across that are memorable in their own way. I once came across a crashed UFO, and found an alien with a ray gun (that ended up being the most powerful pistol in the game, but had limited ammo). I found a small town that was occupied with squeaky-clean 50's poster-type families, but harbored a dark and disturbing secret. I actually got a chill when I was going down into one of their basements. Or maybe you want to save children from slavers? Help yourself. Or maybe you want to SELL children to slavers? Be my guest.
I could go on and on about this fantastic game, but I don't want to spoil it for you. If you have a PS3, Xbox 360, or a decent PC, buy it. You don't have to be great at shooters or role-playing games to play it. You just have to be willing to put some time into it. I lost track of time many a night just roaming around the wasteland, exploring and looting. For me, there was no question. Fallout 3 was the best game of 2008, hands down.
Here are some games that were really good, but not quite 'Top Ten list' good. In no particular order:
BRAID (Xbox Live Arcade). At first glance, it's another Super Mario Brothers clone, but boy does it get complicated FAST. You have to solve puzzles by rewinding time, and that's just the beginning. I still haven't beaten it yet, because it hurts my brain. Most of the solutions are actually quite simple, but take a LOT of thinking to get through. Not much replay value, but for $15, you'll get your money's worth out of it.
CONDEMNED 2: BLOODSHOT. The first Condemned game was a surprise cult hit around the launch of the Xbox 360. It was a survival horror game mixed with a dash of CSI police work, and had some of the best use of sound in any game to date. Plus, it was essentially about (SPOILER ALERT!) a serial killer who kills other serial killers, which is about as badass as it gets (SPOILER OVER!). The second game improved upon the combat in the first, and added in multiplayer as well. 'Crime Scene' is a great hide-and-seek kind of game mode, and will have you straining to hear movement around every corner. Shame about that cover art though.
HOT SHOTS GOLF: OUT OF BOUNDS (PS3). If you're a fan of previous games in the franchise, there's no reason why you shouldn't pick this one up. They added a new 'analog' click swing which sounded gimmicky at first, but actually works really well. You can still use the traditional three-click swing meter, but you get more distance from the new way, so it's worth getting used to. The game itself doesn't do anything too flashy, but the online mode is pretty good, and some of the downloadable content they've added (extra course, characters) is worthwhile. Kratos saying, 'I AM THE GOD OF GOLF!' after a birdie is epic. :)
FAR CRY 2. Imagine having a small African country at your disposal. Then, imagine blowing a lot of shit up in that country. That's Far Cry 2, in a nutshell. I'm not sure why they called it Far Cry 2 though, as it has nothing to do with the first game. Perhaps a new IP wouldn't help sales? Either way though, they scrapped the sci-fi bent of the first game and went for a realistic open-world full of mercenaries, and I think it was a good thing. I haven't put nearly as much time into this game as I'd like to, but there have just been too many good games out right now, and this one is gonna take about 20-30 hours to finish the single-player. However, I am looking forward to playing around with the map editor, which is robust. I just wish they'd have kept 'Predator' mode from the first game in the multiplayer, even if it didn't fit in with the story from part 2. It was the best part about the first game.
UNREAL TOURNAMENT 3 (Xbox 360). It looks great, feels great, sounds great (I went out and got the soundtrack, which almost never happens with games), and it moves FAST. It may not have the mod abilities of the PS3 version from 2007, but it has all of the extra maps. It also has the Xbox 360 controller, which has triggers built into it. I'm not trying to fan the flamewars, but seriously: The PS3 controller was not made to play shooters. Convex triggers and thumbsticks on the same axis are not shooter-friendly. This version also has Xbox Live, which is a much better service than PSN. Unreal games are only as good as the online service on which you're playing. So, yeah. I just wish it had a longer life online, as there aren't many people playing it anymore (they've all moved on to newer stuff).
N+ (PSP, NDS). One of the purest (and hardest) platformers ever made came to the PSP and NDS this year. I'd already beaten the Xbox Live Arcade version (and all of the expansion packs), so buying (and beating) both of these was a no-brainer for me. These also added the ability to create your own levels and post them online, and new levels are made available every week for free. Can't beat free. The game is simple. Throw a switch to open a door, go through the door. But boy is it HARD. But that's just it. The challenge is too hard for me to ignore. It's an addiction that you either understand, or you don't. I won't fault you if you don't, but don't knock it 'til you try it. That's really all I can say. The original Flash game is free RIGHT HERE, so now you can try it. Don't ever say I never gave you anything!
Okay, time for one more category:
MOST DISAPPOINTING GAME OF 2008
GEARS OF WAR 2 (Xbox 360). Wow. Talk about an overhyped letdown. The story mode is just as disjointed as it was in the first game (being swallowed by that beast only made me think 'extended gameplay'). The 2-player co-op online is still great, but exactly like the first. The boss at the end of the game was a complete JOKE. And don't get me started on the glitchy online. Epic didn't learn from the mistakes of the first game. There are still hosting problems. Matchmaking takes forever, even after the patch. People have found all sorts of glitches, and it's almost impossible to get into a competitive game where you don't see someone using a boomshield and a heavy weapon, or doing kung-fu flips off of the map, or running at full speed while shooting, or chainsawing with a shotgun, etc., etc., etc. I think you get the point, but if not, check THIS out:
All this, from the same company that made Unreal Tournament 3? If it weren't for Horde mode, I'd have sold Gears 2 long ago.
Alright, so this list got a little wordy. Basically, go buy Fallout 3. No, I don't work for Bethesda. :)
I also made up a top ten list for movies and hard rock / metal albums, but I'll save those for a separate post later. I do want to add one footnote though. 2008 was the year that the Angry Midget got an Xbox 360, and I got him hooked on Puzzle Quest and Call of Duty 4. Schoolwork be damned!
Happy New Year everybody.