Top 5… Games of 2008

2 Jan

Everyone’s doing it, so I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon and put together a few end-of-the-year top five lists.  For the first one, it has been suggested that, since I had a chance to play a lot of games this past year, I might make a list of my favorite games from 2008.  I’m certainly not saying that these are objectively “the best” or anything, but they’re the five that I had the most fun playing, and that I think will stick with me the most in over the year(s) to come.  After the break…

braid

5. Braid

Jonathan Blow’s indie puzzle platformer Braid was a mini masterpiece, an artistic triumph that merged artistic conceit, story, and gameplay in a way that I’ve never experienced before.  Within what to the casual observer would appear to be an impressionistic take on the Mario universe is a game that uses the game’s time-bending mechanics to help tell a truly affecting story about love, loss, and the passage of time.

gta_iv_npd

4. Grand Theft Auto IV

This one made everyone’s list, that’s for sure, but it’s with good reason.  GTA IV was, quite simply, the most impressive game world ever created, and the most simultaneously vast, diverse, and polished gaming experience anyone had ever seen.  By, like, a country mile.  It was somewhere in the middle of an accurately-physics-modeled game of pool in a rasta pool hall, Iggy Pop ranting away on the radio in the background, a whole city outside of the bar to explore, that I realized that this was sort of the best game I’d ever played.

rock_band2

3. Rock Band 2

I loved the first Rock Band – there’s actually a whole post in there, as I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this sort of group musical interactivity is a big part of the future of gaming, and, to a lesser extent, of music itself.  Suffice it to say, Rock Band 2 is just more, bigger, better Rock Band, with a ton of awesome tunes, a harder difficulty level, and better DLC.  But the best thing?  The new drums.  It seems like everyone who reviewed this game said “there’s no appreciable difference” between the new drums and the drums from Rock Band 1.  I couldn’t disagree more. After the pedal on my RB1 set broke, I was forced to run out and get the new kit for a RB2 shindig that was happening that night, and I never looked back.  The bounceback on the heads is a gift for faster tunes, the dynamic response is incredible for fills, and my playing is about 15% better across the board.  Considering how much I rule at Rock Band drumming, that’s saying something. What’s more, I actually enjoy myself 15% more – which is no small thing for a peripheral to achieve. RB2 is the most fun local multiplayer game I’ve ever played.

left4dead-mar1st

2. Left 4 Dead

Which brings us to the most fun online multiplayer game I’ve ever played.  I’ve posted at length about this game in the past, so I’ll keep it brief. L4D just never gets old – in fact, the better one gets at it, the more fun it becomes, and between Valve announcing upcoming DLC for PC and 360, the temptation and possibilities of versus multiplayer, and the two difficulty levels that I have yet to even attempt, this game will have plenty more to offer in 2009.  Reloading!

far-cry-2-03-l

1. Far Cry 2

Of all the great games that came out this year, (and I really don’t agree with the critical concensus that something was somehow off about 2008 just because, like, Bioshock didn’t come out again), none of them captivated my attention in the way that Far Cry 2 did.

It’s not a perfect game by any stretch, and in terms of gameplay design, it actually comes in behind every game before it on this list. But all the same, Far Cry 2 gave me more unique moments than any other game this year, and sucked me in with a unique, spellbinding experience that stuck with me hours after I stopped playing.  It is the first game to hit on what feels like truly emergent gameplay – it really does feel as though, for 90% of the game, this world is reacting to you depending on how you inhabit it, and every single thing you do is done how you want to do it.

The feeling you get when sneaking through a jungle ravine, low on ammo, with your ears (yes, your ears) wide open for the sounds of a patrol jeep or two guards chatting, this feeling of really and truly hunting, with that undulating music building tension, hoping you don’t have a malaria flare-up… it’s the sort of thing that happens in Far Cry 2 as often as you want it to, and it never gets old.  Couple that with the most visually impressive outdoor open world ever created and a morally uncompromising (if you make it to the end, that is) story that presents a cold, darkly cynical take on modern-day Africa and war in the third world, and you’ve got my favorite game from 2008.

One-Hit Miscellaneous Categories:

Coolest New Toy: Nintendo DS

Most Overrated Game: Fable 2

Game I Wish I Had The Right Console For: Metal Gear Solid 4

Best New Gameplay Mechanic: 2-screen combat in The World Ends With You

Game Which, Based on the Demo, Sucked Hardest: Mercenaries 2

Best Game I Never Played: Dead Space

Worst Delay: GTA IV DLC

Best-Looking Game: Prince of Persia

Worst Trend: Broken Shit for Sale (GTA on PC, Fable 2 co-op, The XBox 360 in general)

Most Excited For in 2009: Metal Gear Solid 4 on 360 (please?)

Next up, I’ll try to do something TV-related, because strike or no strike, there was plenty of good stuff on the tube (and on Hulu).

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