Co-operative multiplayer has been an increasingly common feature in shooters, allowing teams of players to experience the main campaign or even whole new ones as a team and bringing in better moments of both teamwork and, more often than not, betrayal than any scripted NPC could possibly do.
Left 4 Dead is one of the few that makes this the whole point of the game, to the point that it’s barely worth playing if you’re a completely solo player. Assuming you have the requisite network connection, though, I can’t recommend it enough. As both a loving pastiche of zombie movie stereotypes, even down to the deliberately cheesy taglines of each ‘movie’, and a game that few can touch in terms of the threat level presented. You may always have your buddy for comfort, but hearing the wails of a nearby Witch never fails to frighten.
Yes, there’s not a lot of raw content here, as all of the campaigns can be burned through in under ten hours, but it’s as close as you’re ever going to get to that hyperbolic statement that it’s different every time actually being true. The mechanics of how you pass through the level’s challenges never change, but you genuinely won’t know what’s coming next thanks to the genuinely evil AI Director.
It’s happened to me where we’ve had a generally easy passage through the level, and we’re on the home straight. The location of our last stand is in sight, but then we hear the telltale sobs of a Witch and spot her, right in the middle of the only safe route through the oblivious zombies around us. We back up and prepare to sneak past one at a time, until we hear the roar of a Tank approaching us from behind. No healing items, limited weapons, and stuck between a big fucking rock and and a hard place with claws.
The game may hate me, but I can’t help but love it. That’s why this year’s biggest surprise hit comfortably makes the list.
While I may not have thought LittleBigPlanet to be the revolution that certain circles had been hyping it as, that’s not to say that it wasn’t a great game and a step towards popularising what still has the potential to almost be a genre in its own right.
I have to say that, at least back when I played it, creating my own levels and playing what was out there was the least appealing part. Unsurprisingly, most of the user-created levels were complete tosh, and when it took me a couple of hours to make what I thought was a fairly basic element to an even passable standard, I decided that a controller just isn’t the interface to use when getting creative.
I’ll go back at some point and see what people have made when given the time to work around the limitations of the tools, but I had a good enough time with the story levels to let this game into my top ten. Knowing that Media Molecule’s levels were created with the same pieces that anyone else can use, it bodes well for the future of LBP because I thought it was one of the best traditional platformers that I’ve played in ages.
Yes, the controls are floaty and can feel imprecise. But as a whole those levels were so creative and made such good use of what the game had going for it – namely a great physics engine and a wonderful handmade visual style – that it was impossible not to love them.
To say that this one came out of nowhere is an understatement. I’d barely heard of it before I showed up on Live Arcade, a trail of impressive reviews in its wake and podcasts and blogs across the land erupting in praise and talk of ‘symbolism’, again bringing up that godforsaken ‘are games art?’ debate.
I may not know art, but I know that I like this. While it may be short, it’s a completely ingenious game, with such incredibly well-designed puzzles that there’s nothing in there that a day or two off and a return with a fresh mind won’t cure. If you’re trying to collect a piece with great feats of complicated dexterity and precision jumping prowess, chances are you’re doing it wrong.
Every world had its own gimmick that was completely different from every other and could turn the gameplay on its head, and yet it all seemed to fit together into a cohesive hole.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the much-lauded art style, but I loved the choices of music and, most of all, the story. Tim’s quest for his princess made no sense at all for five of the six worlds, and even in the final one an explanation remained elusive until the final sequence, which is still one of gaming’s few great rug pulls. I encourage you to experience it for yourself, but failing that check it out here.
Considering how long the game had spent showing off its ability to warp time around you in creative ways, seeing it do it one last time remained the most shocking of all.
Considering that this was the second Persona game that I played in 2008 and that it had to live up to the high standards of its predecessor, the standard that Persona 4 manages to hit is all the more remarkable.
I was pretty much guaranteed to like this one as soon as I saw the small-town Japan setting – I like another game with a similar setting, in case you didn’t know – and although I do indeed like that better than the more anonymous city of Persona 3, there are other reasons why I like this one better. There’s no more shooting oneself in the head to summon demons, but you can’t have everything.
It’s not far removed from P3 in terms of gameplay and structure, but all of its changes are for the better. As well as finally letting me see what a spell does from the menu, finally removing the need to memorise the functions of moves with such descriptive names as Pulinpa or Marakukaja to avoid the potentially harsh punishments for using the wrong one, there’s more variety to the dungeons, better characters, and a fantastic translation.
I mean, somehow the translation team managed to take a cute bear-thing called Teddie, who’s with you throughout and talks in frequent bear puns, and not make the whole thing un-bear-able. Sorry… but it’s still an impressive feat of translation in an already genuinely funny script.
So a round of applause for Atlus, sending out the PS2 with one of its best RPGs and what will surely be – I’m sure that I said this about God of War II and Persona 3, but I actually think it’s true this time – the console’s last truly great game.
As the most risky of EA’s two big new IPs, the other being Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge already looks to have been a bit of a commercial disappointment. If that means that it doesn’t get a sequel, I think that will be a tragedy, because the thing that this fledgling series really needs is a second game to iron out the handful of flaws that this one has.
I’m reluctant to criticise it too much for its short length, both because it’s already cheap and because, as I’ve always said, I’d much rather have a brilliant six-hour game than a padded-out 20-hour one that outstays its welcome. As Sonic Team has no doubt discovered with its next-gen Sonic games, it gets expensive to model all these carefully balanced environments that players aim to blast through as quickly as possible. Would this have been a better game with a lengthening gimmick? That’s a definite no.
The combat is the other weak point and really all that keeps it from placing higher on the list. The game is at its best when you’re leaping across the rooftops and pulling off these leaps and vaults without breaking stride, and some slightly dodgy disarming and shooting – not that you should be doing that here – against increasingly tough enemies only takes away from it and really hurts the pacing. The time attacks could well be what justifies spending the money on this game, because seeing that a friend can get through a level a full minute faster than you is all the encouragement you’ll need to have another run.
Those issues aside, Mirror’s Edge is a fabulous game. It’s one of those where you’ll just feel in tune with your character and know instinctively whether or not you can make a jump; the best at that since the almighty Crackdown. By the end, when you’re doing time attack runs, you’ll spot routes that you simply wouldn’t have seen the first time through because you’ve just become that much better at it.
And that’s why this needs a sequel. It’s a great game marred by some poor design decisions, and I hope that it made enough money to warrant another one with those kinks ironed out. It has the potential to be phenomenal.
Believe it or not, there are only ten days remaining in 2008, which can mean only… oh.
No, unlike the last three years, I won’t be counting down the last few days of the year with my favourite games that this trip around the sun has brought. It was always fun to knock it together while infused with ‘Christmas spirit’, but the fact that the timing precluded the great games that I got for Christmas – probable inclusions like Final Fantasy XII and Mass Effect among them over the last couple of years – means that I’m instead going to do it during the first ten days of 2009.
In the meantime, look over my picks from 2005, 2006, and 2007. Some of them I’d change in retrospect, but at least you can get a reminder of how this year stacks up.