Top 10 Video Games of 2008
Now that 2008 is coming to an end, everybody wants to make top ten lists, honoring the best the year had to offer. This, my first such list, is not as comprehensive as most, as it only includes the games I have actually played this year (big omissions for me are games like Wii Fit, Fable II, and Gears of War 2). It is impossible for one man to play enough of all the big and important games that come out in a single year to have anything meaningful to say about each. However, know that I have done my best, sacrificing weeks of my life to play a lot of friggin games this year, and this has probably been one of the best years for video games.
Video games, despite the vehement denials of some, are a modern art form. Video games carry messages and themes, and they can act as a commentary on the world we live in. Video games can be wildly entertaining and addictive. Video games can spark emotion, from the nervous fear of a zombie-filled mansion to the blissful mirth of a summer camp that trains psychonauts. Anybody who witnessed the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy VII knows that video games can even make you cry. Therefore, let's put an end to the tiresome assertions that these games are a pointless passtime, and let's celebrate the best games of 2008.
While Too Human isn't everything it could have been, it is still a very good game. It's also unique, in that it combines a personalizable action RPG game with Norse mythology and an insanely deep loot drop system. It's a mouthful, but that's what makes developer Silicon Knights so damn good at what they do. They are innovators. Even if they are unable to complete their planned trilogy of Too Human games, gamers should pay very close attention to whatever these guys make in the future, because one thing is for sure: it'll be original.
Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People
2008 wasn't the best year for "hardcore gamers" who happen to be Nintendo fanboys. When NOA president Reggie Fils-Aime got on stage at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and pointed to a pathetically glorified port of the sacchrine-cute Animal Crossing as the holiday Wii game geared for the hardcore, many gamers felt that Nintendo had abandoned them. Luckily, the Wii's hardcore audience, while apparently forsaken by the Big N, have WiiWare to explore. WiiWare has some of the coolest games out there for the system (including the awesome World of Goo, which just barely failed to make this list), and none is cooler than Strong Bad's. Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (or SBCGFAP, as Strong Bad himself has helpfully explained) is not for everybody. If you don't know who Strong Bad is, you shouldn't even think about playing this game. If you didn't grow up on PC adventure games, or if you just hate them, you probably shouldn't buy this game. If all you're interested in is online multiplayer battles, insane graphics, blood-soaked aliens, and all that typical stuff, you probably don't even own a Wii. For the rest of us, however, SBCGFAP is probably the most hilarious and downright amusing game of the year, and what's even better is that it is actually five separate games, each one getting better than the one before it!
Grand Theft Auto IV
The GTA franchise is one of the most well-known in the industry, partly because of douchebags who insist that video games promote violence in children. Mostly, though, I think GTA games are well-known because they are so amazingly well-made. Grand Theft Auto IV feels like the perfection of the series--indeed the perfection of the sandbox genre that GTA helped create--because it is ludicrously deep and full of stunning detail. There is so much to do in Liberty City that you'd be hard-pressed to stop wandering around, looking for fun things to do, crimes to commit, easter eggs to find, or police to outrun. But what delineates Grand Theft Auto IV from its predecessors is the story. No longer a knock-off of Goodfellas, this version tells the intriguing and provocative tale of Niko Bellic, a guy who just got off the boat to find a new life in America, only to find himself entrenched in a seedy underworld of violence and death. This is the only GTA game I've actually played to the end, and I did it mostly because I wanted to know how Niko's story ends (that and I wanted the achievement points).
Bionic Commando Rearmed
Then again, sometimes originality isn't all that important. The original Bionic Commando for the original NES is a bonafide classic, and it was one of my favorite video games back in the days when it was still socially acceptable for me to sit on the floor in my underwear. Therefore, when plans were put in place to update the original game for XBox Live Arcade, my interest was piqued. Sure enough, Bionic Commando Rearmed is a worthy restoration of the classic. The makers didn't toy much with the game; all they did was update the graphics, add some more content, and fix the bitchy final boss fight. It's still just as difficult as the original (back then, video games made men out of you, not like these pussy games we play today), and it's still just as awesome.
Rock Band 2
Until I played Rock Band 2 with my friends, I was never completely sold on this modern music game craze. As I see it, you can't be proud of having skill in playing fake guitar, because you're still not actually playing the guitar, something that takes much more talent. So you've mastered hitting one of five buttons; big whoop. The problem was that I was looking at it all wrong; these games are more about having fun than about being the best, and it is indeed a whole lot of fun to play a fake guitar in time with popular music. It's even more fun to play alongside other guys who are also playing fake instruments. After much toying around with the various possibilities, I find that playing bass while singing into my headset is definitely the prime set-up. Sure, it's not as good as actually being in a band, but most of us won't ever know what that's like, so there's nothing wrong with settling for this and having a good time.
Mega Man 9
While Bionic Commando Rearmed takes a vintage game and updates it, Mega Man 9 is an all-new installment in a classic franchise that just happens to run on the same engine and design aesthetic of a bygone age of video gaming. With video game nostalgia at an all-time high with the Virtual Console and XBLA, Mega Man 9 is an ingenious concept put out at the perfect time. It recaptures the feeling of those old games, and that makes it worth every penny, regardless of which system you decide to buy it on. My money went to the Nintendo Shop Channel, mostly because it just feels wrong to play a classic Mega Man game on anything but a Nintendo system.
Sure, De Blob is not a hardcore game by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, it's color-saturated and full of kiddie cuteness. And sure, my non-gamer wife enjoys playing it. But don't let any of that fool you, because De Blob might just rock your world. It's hard to say why this game is so great, but like a good pizza joint, you're simply compelled to go back for more. There are certainly things that could be improved--the jumping mechanic is wonky and I wish there were more genres of music to choose from--but all in all, this game is the best new platformer since Super Mario Galaxy. It's an original idea with a unique feel, and it has the balls (pun intended) to be simple and innovative.
Fallout is an important landmark in the history of video gaming. Bethesda is one of the best video game developers out there, unarguably the best when it comes to single-player RPGs. What do you get when you put the two together? You get the radioactive badassity that is Fallout 3. Fallout 3 is an awesome experience with a deep and engaging universe. And while I'm sure it will top many of these top ten lists in the next few weeks (not to mention the fact that I'm still horribly addicted to it), Fallout 3 isn't number one here, because it is, essentially, Oblivion with guns but without the guilds. Oblivion would be in the top five video games of all time, to be sure, but Fallout 3 doesn't quite hit that level of greatness, because Oblivion was a giant leap forward in the art of gaming, where Fallout 3 is more of a baby step. Don't get me wrong, though, because Fallout 3 is easily one of the best games of the year in a year filled with incredible games.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
The one shining beacon of light in 2008 for the hardcore Nintendo fanboy is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, though it seems like eons since it was released back in March (for those of us in the U.S.). It would be an understatement to say that Super Smash Bros. Brawl is chock-full of extras, game modes, and collectables. I played the game for months, and I'm not convinced I found even a third of it all. But beyond that, it's an impossibly fun and faced-paced game, one you could play with your friends until the end of time. It also has a huge cast of beloved game characters, including awesome newcomers Sonic, Pit, and Snake; it has decent online support on a system that's known for terrible online functionality; it has its own stage builder; it has features thrown in seemingly for the heck of it (like the coin shooter minigame); and it has a robust training mode. But the first player campaign was given some steroids too, giving even the expert solo gamer plenty of reasons to keep playing. If Nintendo released more games like this one, there'd be no grumblings from the gamer community about who is really winning this generation's console war, because Nintendo would be the undisputed king of the industry.
There have been several video games designed to scare the hell out of you, but none have been as successful as Dead Space, a game that turns fright into an artform. Nobody would call the game wholly original--the story's basically just Resident Evil in space--but there are many original ideas when it comes to gameplay and presentation, like the lack of a heads-up display, the dynamic music, and of course the whole strategic dismemberment mechanic. It's just a great game with superb graphics, a well-thought out universe, and moments that will have you pausing the game to go change your shorts. If you can handle that, you quickly learn how much fun it is to rip the limbs off of a necromorph with a plasma cutter or drop-kick a tentacle-covered undead baby. In short, it's a nearly perfect game experience, and for that reason, I hereby dub it the best game of 2008.
-e. magill, 12/22/2008