Category Archives: Best of 2008

2008’s Honourable Mentions

Not every game can be as good as Fallout, and indeed there are many excellent games from last year that I didn’t like as much as Mirror’s Edge at number ten but still deserve a mention, so here are a few more games from 2008, in no particular order, that fell short of making the main list but still deserve a mention.

  • Lost Odyssey – It was going to be between this and the game below for tenth spot on the list until Mirror’s Edge stormed in on Christmas Day and pipped them both. As one of the few JRPGs not to have disappointed this gen – I won’t play the well-received Tales of Vesperia until its PAL release – I found this to have likeable characters, an interesting story, and yes: some nice towns too.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village – When this became the surprise hit of the end of the year, it was well-deserved. It’s teasingly close to being a point-and-click adventure, it has a charming art style that looks like French animation, and Level-5 even managed to cram FMV cut-scenes in there to further the story. It helps, of course, that the puzzles and brainteasers are uniformly excellent and just the kind of thing to play on a handheld. Wait until the price has normalised and then give it a look.
  • Dead Space – It may be hard to describe this game in any terms other than its plainly obvious inspirations – Alien’s Nostromo with a dash of Doom 3 and a liberal sprinkling of Event Horizon, all topped with Resident Evil 4’s controls – but it’s still a highly satisfying and actually quite scary horror game. The companion animated movie is worth a rental as well.
  • Rock Band 2 – As I hadn’t bought a music game since Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 was my attempt to see how far things had come in the intervening generation of plastic instrument-based room-clutterers. Not all that far from the perspective of someone who only plays the guitar, but the boom in à la carte downloadable songs and the sheer amount of music that’s now on my hard drive to choose from makes it pretty irresistible. It makes you feel like a rock star and fulfils all similar clichéd review quotes, and I’d imagine it’s even better with the room for a set of drums.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Pretenders be damned, this is the only twin-stick shooter to play. Take the successful gameplay of the first one and give it six more modes and some brilliant music and you won’t find many deals that are as obviously worth getting as that. Played on a big 1080p TV with surround sound, it may well give you a seizure, but you’ll have to agree that it’s worth it.
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – The degree to which I still love Street Fighter II has already inspired its own post, and this has made the other versions irrelevant. Looks great, plays well online, the balance tweaks are enough to actually improve things while not being sweeping enough to rile the hardcore, and if you disagree with any of those comments you can turn off whatever it might be that’s offending you. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and it only didn’t make the final list because… well… no matter how good the game is, it’s still Street Fighter II again. Roll on February.
  • Persona 3 FES – This would have been in with a shout if I hadn’t played and preferred its sequel in the same year, but it’s still worth a look for its sufficiently different setting and tone. It’s also available for a pretty good price by now, so it could be one to bear in mind for when you’ve finished all your Christmas goodies.
  • Rolando – ‘An iPhone game!?’ you say? Yep. I liked LocoRoco a lot when that came out, and this is pretty blatantly ‘inspired by’ that game but with the benefit of what the PSP game lacked: tilt controls. It’s unfair to call it a clone, though, as it has a lot more gameplay variety and more creative level design, all designed from the ground up to take advantage of the iPhone’s particular gifts, and I might well end up making a case for it with its own post before too long. In the meantime, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch and are looking for a game with some meat to it, it’s only £5.99 and bodes well for the future of dedicated iPhone development.

I think that’s enough looking back for another year. See you in 12 months for more complaining about the state of [insert genre here].

Best of 2008 #1: Fallout 3

Fallout 3

I may have put Fallout 3 off to finish some of 2008’s other big games, but as we move into 2009 there’s only one of those games that I’m still playing.

Fallout 3 is a slow starter, taking a good hour of talking and being taught the basics before you even hit the Capital Wasteland. It’s far longer than the equivalent opening dungeon of Oblivion – that’s Fallout 3 without guns, or so I’ve heard – and when you eventually get kicked out of the relative safety and into the big wide world, it’s even more overwhelming. It was a good few hours before I even had sufficient money and ammo to even consider taking on human enemies.

But even during this crawl, I found myself intrigued by what I was finding, being tempted to explore beyond the safety of Megaton at the risk of running into mercenaries who could burn me into a pile of ash with weapons that I wouldn’t find for hours of play and giant scorpions that I’d have to dance around and hit with a baseball bat for five minutes each.

At the risk of going over the same stuff that I said about Fable II, I just fell in love with the world that Fallout 3 presents, albeit for different reasons. It’s bleak and depressing, but it’s also liberating and exciting, and I like playing an RPG where a new town might offer great loot but equally might lead to a massive gunfight. I like the implied stories, like the charred skeletons huddled on the bed in a bombed-out house, left over from when the bombs fell. I like the exhibits in the pre-war technology museum, showing off the utopian vision of life in a Vault that’s a bit more like the brochure than the reality.

But most of all, I just love playing this game. It’s buggy as hell and, being a Bethesda game, most characters are like talking to slightly creepy mannequins, but I found the story and setting – let’s face it: those are the things that keeps anyone going through the monotony of even the best RPGs – as interesting as it was in the original games. Oblivion with guns? Maybe, but Oblivion with slow-motion decapitations and a teddy bear launcher is more than good enough for me.

So now that Bethesda has two big hitters and a successful formula, here’s to an even better Elder Scrolls V in 2010. But let’s get to the DLC for this one first, eh?

Best of 2008 #2: Fable II

Fable II

Fable II was a game that I’d almost fallen in love with from the first screenshots. I’ve always said that the first test for how much I’ll like an RPG is its towns, and Albion’s hamlets and bustling marketplaces, all distinctive and reflective of different areas of Britain, brimming with personality, are simply beautiful.

It’s the world of Fable II that I fell in love with more than anything, as I spent as much time shopping, charming the locals, and working the property market as I did adventuring and raiding ancient tombs. The story, while interesting enough and possessing a couple of really memorable set pieces, was a means to get to new places, and given that it still has you finding whole new towns right up until the very final quest, it just keeps giving in that respect.

I only wish that it could have been more cohesive rather than a collection of unconnected areas, as other games have spoilt me there, but you can’t have everything. It’s still a pleasure just to explore it.

But for a game that’s so deliberately accessible, with a combat system that’s based on rhythm as much as anything and a main character who can’t actually die, I still found it rather daring in places. There are two parts towards the end of the story that stick in my mind that act like standalone episodes, one offering a number of interesting moral choices – a theme that’s carried through to the ending, which really does present a conundrum to even the most saintly players – and one being a wonderful change of pace in the middle of the final stretch.

I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming DLC, as much as an opportunity to return to quests that I haven’t finished as a new environment to explore. But even as a standalone game, Fable II remains one of my favourites and one that certainly won’t have seen the back of me.

Best of 2008 #3: Metal Gear Solid 4

Metal Gear Solid 4

It’s hard to believe that after so much hype, so many trailers, so many years in development, Metal Gear Solid 4 actually came out last summer. It always seemed destined to be one of those epochal games, assuming it could live up to that astronomical hype, and it really did.

I had my doubts that it could come anywhere close to tying up all those loose ends that the last two games in particular had left, and while it had to utilise some insanely long cut-scenes to do it, I put it back on the shelf at the end more satisfied than I had any right to be after finishing a game with such a labyrinthine story. Some didn’t like playing a game that you could spend up to an hour not actually playing, but if you came away from the game with that as a complaint you apparently hadn’t played a Metal Gear game before.

That’s not to say that MGS4 was more of the same, because it deserves credit for being a game that wasn’t afraid to change what had always been a highly successful formula. While so many Japanese developers are struggling to make the jump to the current generation – can we stop calling it ‘next-gen’ yet? – Kojima and his team modernised what had been a bit of a dinosaur in terms of controls and movement in 3D space. Where MGS3 required three hands to perform some of the more complex techniques, this one actually felt like a proper, modern game, able to work just as well as an action game as it was the standard stealth fare.

I did have issues with it, the main one being that aside from the endgame, it peaked with the phenomenal first two acts, but overall the fact that this game even met my expectations was an achievement. That it exceeded them is testament to how big an achievement that was.

Best of 2008 #4: Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV

For some reason the online forum hive mind has turned against GTA IV since not long after its release. It’s true that it’s smaller than San Andreas; that the missions generally follow an established formula; that Niko’s transformation from never wanting to kill again to… uh… killing again is about as convincing as Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side; but I stand by every word of the praise that I heaped upon it back in the first few days of release.

It may be far from perfect, but the fact remains that I had more fun tearing around this next-gen Liberty City than I did almost any other game this year. It’s the first GTA that held my attention long enough to finish the main story – all 40 hours of it by the time the end credits rolled for me – and I had a great time almost the whole way through.

I’m obviously not expecting any revolutionary changes to the gameplay in the upcoming DLC, but there are kinks that can be worked on, such as the pressing need for mid-mission checkpoints to avoid those moments when failing a mission necessitates another drive all the way across town, and the personal relationships that could be cultivated in the game could get annoying after the first few hours, but it doesn’t change the fact that Liberty City was a joy to explore. It proved that GTA doesn’t need the increasingly outlandish missions and plot twists that typified San Andreas’s government conspiracies and cult compounds. It might have been funny, but was flying a VTOL jet over Area 51 69 really in keeping with the rest of the series?

So don’t listen to the haters: GTA IV is and always has been one of the best games of 2008. Time will prove me right on that one.

Best of 2008 #5: Gears of War 2

Gears of War 2

At the risk of making this entry sound negative, even if Gears 2 improved on the original in pretty much every way, I just didn’t like it as much. It looks staggering at times, the vehicle sections were actually far from being atrocious this time, and Horde mode is a work of genius. But the lull in the fourth act and a multiplayer mode that just didn’t do it for me after a year of Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 means it doesn’t quite hit those heights.

Like I said, though, I didn’t dislike it at all. When it’s on song and you’re playing on the right difficulty the combat in this game is second to none, as visceral and thrilling to play as you could hope for. Enemies are just intelligent enough to keep you on your toes while still being possible to take down with some clever teamwork or led into a trap, and while some of them annoy on higher difficulties, there’s enough variety to them to bring distinct tactics into the mix.

I’m sure that in two years – or maybe early on in the next Xbox’s release cycle – I’ll be wanting another Gears game to sink my teeth into, but I can’t help but hope that Cliff Bleszinski and his team can find enough new content and extend the 360 hardware enough to make the inevitable sequel worthwhile. If not, let’s see what Epic can do with Microsoft’s money and a game where the height of the dialogue is, “They’re sinking cities with a giant worm!”

There I go, sounding all negative again, but constructive criticism is what will make the next one the revelation that the first game was rather than the impressive but safe sequel that this game turned out to be. Make sure to keep Horde mode next time, though. It’s awesome.