Hey folks, friendly neighbourhood moderator Hamz here with my top ten games of 2008 and end of year review. Before we get into the actual top ten list I think it should be said that 2008 was another cracking year for the video games industry. We all said in 2007 that nothing could beat that year for the number of great games released, but this year seems to have done just that. We've seen new big hit titles for existing franchises such as Metal Gear Solid 4 and Grand Theft Auto IV. While new and innovative titles were also released such as Mirror's Edge, Braid and World of Goo.
2008 has definitely been a year that had a lot of interesting things happen in it for the video game enthusiasts around the world and the most interesting of all was seeing this website, GiantBomb, launch and flourish into something extraordinary. It has been a pleasure to be a part of the community here and even more so to have been here from the start and see it grow into the positive place that it is now.
So without further ado, here are my top ten games of 2008!
10. Mass Effect (PC)
A space opera RPG by the acclaimed developer Bioware that was released on the PC in 2008. Mass Effect was a pleasant change to the RPG genre that has become saturated with games that follow the fantasy setting. The futuristic space setting allowed for more vast exploration between planets and locations which for a person like me who often gets feelings of wanderlust was a joy to experience in a game. The vast number of planets and systems you can visit and explore made the atmosphere of the game feel very grand, or for lack of a better word, epic in combination with the plot. Mass Effect's story is one that branches out across a wide area and one that allowed you to encounter multiple unique personalities and races of alien beings. In short I found the game a great experience due to its strong setting and story combined with the real time combat that still kept those core RPG elements. And I don't think I even need to mention the ability to romance and seduce hot alien chicks either.
9. Spore (PC)
A fantastic example of a game that basically lets you run wild with your imagination. If you ever had dreams as a child and wondered what an elephant crossed with a pigeon and perhaps a shark would look like, then Spore can help you achieve that. Both a financial success and one of the few games that actually achieves the goal it aimed for in the first place I found Spore to be a quirky, fun and utterly unique game to play. Sure some people will say it wasn't that great and is similar to other creations by Will Wright, but I disagree. I say if a game can allow you to make phallus shaped life forms then clearly it’s a winner and one to definitely play.
8. Bionic Commando Rearmed (PC)
I never had the pleasure of playing the original NES version of the Bionic Commando game. But when I got my hands on Rearmed I noticed two things. The first being that the soundtrack for this game is just so damn great, and I am a big fan of games with good soundtracks. The second being that there needs to be more 2-D side scrolling shooters released. Honestly I can admit that I haven't played many 2-D side scrolling games but Rearmed was just a fantastic experience and one I am happy to say I paid extra for to play on the PC.
7. Crysis: Warhead (PC)
The game Crysis should have been in my opinion. Warhead seemed to improve on the areas that were weakest with Crysis such as the multiplayer, the overall performance of the game and the general gameplay itself. It just felt a lot more focused and the protagonist Sergeant Michael 'Psycho' Sykes was a far more entertaining character than the somewhat boring and dull Nomad from Crysis. That and Psycho has a strong resemblance to the British actor Jason Statham of Transporter 1, 2, 3 fame in both visual design and general badass attitude. Overall I just really enjoyed this game a lot more than its predecessor it felt a lot more action packed and focused in its progression of both narrative and gameplay.
6. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 1 & 2 (PC)
So I’ve sort of cheated here and included two separate games into the one choice but as a passionate Penny Arcade fan I’m sure you understand I just couldn't pick one without the other. The big draw for me to these games and the main reason I picked them to be on my list is that when I played them it felt like I was actually inside a strip for the popular webcomic, it didn't feel like a game at all. This is in large part due to the art design and visual style that at every moment oozes a comic strip feel to it and when you include the writing style and narrative it becomes even more apparent this is definitely a Penny Arcade game. For those unfamiliar with the popular webcomic the game still appeals as a fun, quirky adventure game set in a steam punk era that has a combat system that’s both simple yet challenging. There is also the fact no other game uses swearing in such an elegant style either. The humour is crude and in some cases infantile but that’s why it’s so damn fun to play this game. If there is anything I have learnt from this game it’s that the study of urine should seriously be considered and that monkey fights are both cool and awesome no matter the circumstances. Oh and hobos are nasty people!
5. World of Goo (PC)
- A small independent developer, 2D Boy, created this epic masterpiece of a game. A simple yet highly addictive game that I think a lot of people looked at and passed on playing but a game they really should have played. World of Goo is that sort of addictive puzzle game that you both love and hate because it’s easy to lose hours of your life while playing it when you probably should be doing other more important things yet at the same time it’s just such a good game you can't stop playing it. Cartoony visuals, great physics system and well thought out level design make this a brilliant yet somewhat underrated game in my opinion. I don't often find myself attracted to puzzle games but I'm glad I decided to pick this one up; it’s just been such a great amount of fun to play. World of Good proved that you don't need a massive team of developers to create a fun game, and that’s what I think gaming is all about, fun.
4. Assassin's Creed (PC)
- An unusual choice as a lot of people don't seem to regard Assassin's Creed as that good of a game. But I however do because it had such a great feel and scope to it that not many games have achieved before. It has such a huge beautiful world that feels wholly alive with each individual person in the varied locations you visit seemingly unique and there are hundreds of NPC citizens within the cities all acting independently. That brings me to another reason I enjoyed this game so much, the sheer scale of each of the major cities you visit such as Acre and Jerusalem is astounding. The amount of detail put into the level design is amazing and the draw distances are so good that when standing on the top of a cathedral looking out over the city you can see everything and beyond, it’s just amazing. Another great aspect of Assassin's Creed is the platforming and free roaming available to you. Each city is quite literally a playground for you to explore and adventure in, whether it is climbing up buildings and running along rooftops or carrying out a stealthy kill on an unsuspecting guard only to run into the shocked crowd, that gather around, to make your escape. Assassin's Creed has a great combination of action packed combat, stealth and platforming coupled with the great way it captures the atmosphere of the Holy Land in the 12th century. Overall I think I just really loved pretending to be a medieval Spiderman jumping around buildings before sticking sharp pointy things into unsuspecting guards before tossing their body off a rooftop into the oblivious streets below, who doesn't enjoy doing that in games?
3. The Witcher Enhanced Edition (PC)
- The Witcher originally was released in 2007 and suffered a number of technical issues such as long load times and performance problems as well as many errors in the English dialogue throughout the game. Thankfully though the Enhanced Edition was released this year as a large free download for those who already owned a copy of the game or as an entirely new retail edition that came with a lot of material found in the Special / Collector's Edition of the original game. The improved and revised script for the dialogue in the game really fixed some of the issues regarding the plot and made the story easier to understand and less of a guessing game. As well as this the graphics were improved upon making visual quality in the game more detailed and all round better looking. And the two greatest improvements granted by the Enhanced Edition were the reduced load times which in the original version were absolutely unbearable taking up to as long as twenty minutes in some cases just to go from the street of a town into a tavern. Thankfully that massive amount of time was reduced making the gameplay more fluid which is great as there are also two extra adventures to play through that are separate to the main campaign. This added content really makes the Enhanced Edition feel worth looking into instead of coming across as a fancy name for a big patch to fix various issues the original released version suffered with. Overall I loved playing through the Witcher in 2007 but the Enhanced Edition made playing through the Witcher feel like a new experience turning what I considered a great RPG into a masterpiece of the genre.
2. Dead Space (PC)
Ok so the big horror hit of the year and game that gets praise for turning me into a complete pansy when I played it goes to Dead Space. There were moments where I really did not want to go into the next room or hallway for fear more monsters would try and impale me. And that is why Dead Space is so high on my list, because it had a genuinely terrifying atmosphere to it that kept me on the edge of my seat, with all the lights in the house turned on, in the middle of the day. An engrossing story that always left me with more questions than answers for the most part is also a positive aspect of the game. The feeling of being alone on a spaceship full of creatures with the sole intention of smearing your insides all over the walls along with the somewhat cliché video logs that end abruptly before you get any real information really hit home the phrase "In space, no one can hear you scream" from the popular Alien film series. One feature I really liked about the game was the lack of a traditional HUD. Instead the pertinent information is integrated into your space suit allowing you to see at things like health by just looking at the glowing lights running up the spine of the suit. It really felt more immersive for me to not have the lower half or corners of my screen full of numbers and information. An adrenaline fuelled and truly terrifying experience, but that’s why I loved this game. It made me feel genuine emotions of fear and that’s something hard to find in a game.
1. Left 4 Dead (PC)
And my top game of 2008 goes to the survival-horror-coop-orientated-zombie-shooter created by Valve. L4D caught my interest from the moment I heard about it and is possibly one of the few games released this year that actually lived up to my expectations. The premise of the game is very simple, you play as one of four survivors in a city full of infected zombies of varied shape, size and ability and must make make your way to each safe house before finally being rescued at the evacuation point. Sounds pretty easy until you take into account that the AI Director just loves to ruin your day by increasing or decreasing the difficulty and challenge posed by the infected as it monitors your groups progress and skill level. You can usually tell when the AI Director is going to unleash something bad on you due to the use of music as it picks up into a crescendo mere moments before hell is unleashed upon you and your suffering party. This is another amazing aspect to this game the complete focus on providing a great co-operative experience for players. It seems to me that Valve really just wanted to make a game with the sole purpose and goal of having the best co-operative multiplayer experience in a game and then decided they wanted to make it a zombie survival shooter as well.
And for the most part they succeeded at creating a game with an amazing co-op experience. No other game has such dedication to making players rely on their teammates to win as Left 4 Dead does. If you aren't playing with people you know and trust then you are at a serious disadvantage because communication and being able to predict what your fellow players are going to do is to some degree key at surviving the zombie apocalypse. Playing with random players often results in a complete meltdown in communication, organisation and fun with your party wiping out in minutes and everyone being unhappy. The other great thing about this game for me is that it’s a zombie survival shooter that cuts away the often boring and pointless back story explaining why zombies are walking the streets. Zombies are fictitious creatures, we don't need to know why they are in the game, we just need a gun some ammo and a horde of undead to cure, one bullet at a time. Left 4 Dead is for me the best game released this year; it reached my expectations and in some ways surpassed them by emphasising the fact players need to work together to survive. It also taught me that no zombie is safe from Chicago Ted!
This year has been a pretty big year for releases, but 2007 was also a big year for video games. And below are the two biggest of 2007 that I have continued to play on a religious level all throughout 2008.....
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (PC)
Without doubt one of the best FPS games of last year and one of the best online multiplayer shooters ever created. It brought a whole new level of customisation and enjoyment to the online shooter experience and managed to guarantee itself a place in many players hearts for the sheer fun it provided. Whether it was laughing at someone complaining about the Last Stand and Martyrdom perks or playing on a server with hardcore mode enabled. There was a lot of joy to be had with COD4's multiplayer which I continued to play daily from release and throughout this year as well. Also a game with a short but action packed single player that has its own merits for emotional impact, good gunplay and being able to rain death down upon some terrorists from high up inside an AC-130.
Team Fortress 2 (PC)
My Game of the Year choice for 2007 and likely would have been for 2008 had Left 4 Dead not been released. TF2 was an addiction of mine throughout this year because it is in my book the best online shooter created. From a unique visual design to well thought out and quirky classes. Valve has shown that a games success and longevity can be guaranteed if the developer is willing to put in time, effort and dedication to maintaining post release support for their game. Much like Left 4 Dead, TF2 requires players to work together in harmony by supporting one another where their chosen class is weakest. Whether that is a Medic helping heal the Heavy or a Pyro doing a Spy check on everyone passing by an Engineer's structures. Valve took the "lone wolf" mentality of most players who want the glory for themselves and changed it so they become a member of the "pack" and work together to achieve their goals. This year alone TF2 has continually gone from strength to strength with various balance issues and bugs being tweaked while new maps, class updates and game modes are released. If ever a game could be perfect I think TF2 would be my choice.
PC Gaming in 2008
As a PC gaming enthusiast 2008 has been a rough year for me and those who share a similar passion for playing games on their computers. The controversy over piracy on the platform and the negative, some say lethal, effects it is having seems to have been the biggest topic this year for the platform. And amongst all the negative attitudes, system wars arguments, bad console ports and EA's DRM fiasco one thing has been a shining beacon in the dark for anyone who considers themselves a PC gamer.
Valve's digital delivery service, Steam. Quite possibly the best thing this year has been watching this program evolve from an online store to an online hub of activity. Whether it was anticipating a new deal on a game each weekend or logging in to find a new array of big hit titles from days gone by were now available for purchase. Steam was constantly there to remind me that PC gaming has support, has success and is still a viable and effective gaming platform.
If ever there could be an icon to show the world what defines PC gaming I think Steam would be it. An online store, a form of piracy protection, a community hub and proof that digital delivery is the way forward for game releases. This year saw some, if not most, of the highest anticipated titles released on Steam with many more games for next year also announced as well. And recently it has seen a large contingent of EA's big hit titles announced for release on there as well. A subtle nod perhaps from one of the biggest publishers in the industry that the PC is not a dying platform like so many claim these days. Overall I don't think the PC got a lot of love this year, but hopefully 2009 will bring about change.