Gamers know from their light wallets, droopy eyes, and extremely decreased productivity that this year in gaming has been a great one. First Person Shooter fans were blessed with plenty of targets and plenty of ways to shoot them, armchair Rockers had several killer options for making virtual music, Role Players found more than one great new adventure to sink 40+ hours into, and if you were looking for an open world adventure, several comic book heroes as well as some guy named Niko were there to take you for a ride. What all this means is even if you played games nonstop for the last year, chances are you (and even I) missed something. Here’s the best of the best of 2008.
Best Xbox360 Exclusive: Gears of War 2
Microsoft secured some solid games this year to their system, but it’s hard to argue that shooters have ruled the roost on the system that Gates built. Gears of War 2 did what every sequel hopes to do: outdid its predecessor in every way. The story was, well, present, a notable difference from the first, and actually had some emotion to the constant action. The action was there in a big way in the single player campaign (which also has easy drop-in, drop-out co-operative gameplay), including taking over monstrous enemies in your quest for destruction of the Locusts. Finished the single player campaign? Well, I have one word for you: Horde. Fighting wave after wave of Locust bastards with four friends made for the best Xbox LIVE experience of the year, and getting to level 50 of the insanity is just oh so satisfying. This is a great game, and a must own for any shooter fan.
Best PS3 Exclusive: LittleBigPlanet
This one had a lot of debate, both internally and amongst my trusted advisors. “But wait,” you say, “you put Metal Gear Solid IV in the Best Of poll, not LBP!” I know, I know, but hear me out. The “Best Of” polls we’ve hosted have weighed out things like popularity, sales, and impact on the industry in addition to just being plain old good games. As far as staying power, innovation, and just plain goofy fun, LittleBigPlanet wins across the board. This unique platformer shows the world that a few things still make a good game: mostly 2D gameplay, co-op, and a bevy of creativity. The way everything interacts in this world makes sense, but works in a way most people never would have thought of. The gears, ropes, vehicles, music generators, shifting platforms, and other devices all have real world physics behind them, and that makes it that much more fun. This game is fun alone, it’s fun with a friend, it’s fun with a stranger. This game is fun to play in the campaign, and it’s fun to play when you’re playing others’ created levels. That level creation will be how this game stands the test of time, allowing gamers to literally make the game their own for months, even years to come. Some amazing examples of ingenuity have shone through, and luckily more diligent people than myself have already made lists of some of the best, which a quick google search will reveal. PS3 owners should rejoice in this game’s very existence, and everyone else should prepare for the flood of copycat games sure to start coming as early as next years.
Best Wii Exclusive: Super Smash Brothers Brawl
In my position, I play a LOT of games, and thus have a near constant rotation in each of my systems, both console and handheld. This award, in a year where more than one great multiplayer Wii game came out, was surprisingly easy for me. All I had to do was think, OK, what game stayed in my Wii the longest, and without a doubt this was the one. Yes, this is basically a pumped-up version of the previous two in the series. Yes, the level creation is severely limited. For some reason, none of these limitations matter to me at all. The game is just as fun as previous versions, with some notable improvements. The new ultra-super-moves are fun, and some of the new characters are simply smashing. It’s a great game for fans of just about any character that has been popular over the last twenty years. This game is just fun, and actually has a decent story mode for the first time in the series. Buy, buy, buy!
New I.P. of the Year: Dead Space
This game is phenomenal. Intense thrills, creepy atmosphere and phenomenal gameplay in every way (camera, controls, weapons) showed that new things could be done in Survival Horror, and that EA is more than just Sports and Sims. They crafted a fantastic game, that despite relying on sudden thrills for a lot of its initial fun, is fun to play again and again. Intelligent AI, dismemberment, and weapons that aren’t weapons, they’re all equally great. It’s hard to find a favorite thing about this game, and that’s the mark of something truly amazing. A decent comic and a fun, gory movie spawned out of it as well, to expand the enjoyment level of the franchise even with only one game. This would have absolutely been my game of the year, if not for one other pleasant surprise…
Game of the Year 2008: Fallout 3
I do have to admit upfront that I am a fan of role-playing games. However, I’ve typically enjoyed JRPGs to the “Western” variety. Well, call me a convert. This is a tremendous achievement in game making. You play from age zero, have birthdays, and interact with hundreds of people, places, and things. You can be a benevolent do-gooder or the meanest jerk this side of nuclear wasteland. Shoot, pick pocket, or trade your way to glory; treat others with kindness or be a smartass. However you want to live this virtual life, you can, and that shear amount of choice and possibility make this game amazing on its own. Throw in some truly high-level impact choices and strong (though not entirely perfect) controls, plus pretty-and-scary graphics and good voice acting and ambience, and you have the makings of a Game of the Year. That’s exactly what we got out of Fallout 3. Now, hopefully we don’t have to wait ten more years for the next one, but if we do, this one was certainly worth the wait. It’s a safe bet the next one will be as well. I would recommend all gamers try this game, including those who don’t consider themselves fans of RPGs in general and Western RPGs in specific. It’s a beautiful game in every way, and the number one game in a year of greatness.
I feel I should at least do a cursory list of games that almost made the list. I keep saying there were a ton of great ones, and these are all worth playing:
Metal Gear Solid IV, Mario Kart, Fable 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Resistance 2, Wii Fit, Left 4 Dead, PixelJunk Eden, Braid, Castle Crashers
Sound off below and tell me how wrong I am (as I know you will), and don’t forget to vote for your choice right here.