Ryan's Top 10 Games of 2008

2008 has been a great year for video games and blah blah blah. Look, you know as well as I do that there are more top-quality games to play than there are hours in the day. I've got a teetering shame-stack of unfinished games on my coffee table to prove it, and it's my job to play video games. Of all the stuff I did play, though, these were the 10 games that left the greatest impression.

#10. Bully: Scholarship Edition

Sure, it's a remake of a Grand Theft Auto knockoff that Rockstar released on the PlayStation 2 a good year-and-a-half earlier. It's also not always a technically terrific one, being initially plagued by issues with frame rate, draw distance, load times, and general stability, but none of that stopped me from relishing its playfully sardonic take on high-school life. Everyone hates high school (or, at least, they should) but Bully serves as the ultimate fantasy of being a rowdy outsider that the ladies love and the faculty hates, and who's less concerned with being popular than breaking down the school's vicious clique system. Grand Theft Auto IV went for an unflinching journey in the tragic heart of the criminal lifestyle, but Bully: Scholarship Edition is more concerned with rascally fun. Also, it features one of my favorite soundtracks in any video game ever.

#9. Saints Row 2

Volition's cartoonish open-world gangster fantasy sequel takes the obvious comparisons to the Grand Theft Auto series that the original was subjected to and gleefully hoses them down in liquid sewage. What it lacks in emotional nuance, it makes up for with a ridiculous kitchen-sink approach to open-world game design.

#8. Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One

In the highly contentious category of downloadable role-playing games based on popular video-game-themed web comics in 2008, Penny Arcade somehow comes out on top. Even weirder than its origins is the fact that, rather than try to translate the web comic verbatim, creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik create a highly referential steampunk reality that still manages to capture the humorously profane Penny Arcade feel. One of the funniest games of the year, and the combat is way more interesting and engaging than it ought be.

#7. Braid

Don't let the arty pretense put you off, this is one of the most mechanically inventive and mentally challenging games of 2008. The simple 2D platformer appearance of Braid belies a battery of unique time-manipulation abilities that make this more of a puzzle game than a run-and-jump Mario clone. The seemingly unnecessary emotional (emphasis on the emo) undercurrents end up paying off some mind-blowing dividends in the game's last level, which features the best twist in a game since BioShock.

#6. Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Condemned: Criminal Origins laid the groundwork with some graphically brutal first-person melee combat, and Condemned 2 ups the ante with grimier environments, queasier executions, and more mental illness than that guy who gets into heated arguments with parking meters. Also, at one point, you fight an insane bear. How did everyone not love this game? Features the most emphatic cursing you'll hear in any game, ever.

#5. Left 4 Dead

The key factor that all zombie games have been missing up to this point has been the idea of a zombie team--that unlikely group of zombie-apocalypse survivors who have to rely on each other as much as they do themselves to try and make it out of this no-win situation. This is the core concept behind Left 4 Dead, making it a terrifyingly urgent cooperative experience that expertly conveys the dreadful hopelessness of the situation almost entirely through its disturbingly familiar setting. Getting to turn the tables and play as the marauding zombies is frightfully satisfying as well.

#4. Rock Band 2

Some might say that “it's just more Rock Band” as a pejorative, but considering that the original was one of the best rhythm games ever, as well as offering one of the most inclusive multiplayer experiences you could have, I have a hard time seeing why this is a bad thing. Harmonix streamlined the world tour mode, making for a better single-player experience, and introduced an online tour and online challenges, allowing you to play along with people from around the world. Add to these improvements the fact that you can import all of the songs from the first Rock Band, and the relentless stream of downloadable content that has been hitting week after week, and you've got a game that makes its superb predecessor all but obsolete.

#3. Burnout Paradise

Criterion made the jump to an open-world format with its crash-happy racing series with incredible aplomb, though the biggest surprise in Burnout Paradise for me was how engaging the multiplayer experience turned out. The crashes look incredible, the frame rate is rock-solid, and it's had the best post-release content support this side of Rock Band 2.

#2. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

I was blown away by Solid Snake's final mission, in large part because I've never been particularly fond of the Metal Gear Solid series, yet this persisted as one of my favorite game experiences of the year. Much of my distaste for previous entries came from a style of stealth action that MGS4 makes almost entirely optional. It's pretty good as a straight-up third-person shooter, but it's less the fundamental action and more the bombastic story line, vivid graphics, and fan-pleasing set pieces that make this such a memorable experience. It's fan-service that you don't have to actually be a fan to appreciate--though, it certainly doesn't hurt if you are.

#1. Grand Theft Auto IV

The GTA series has been getting more and more ridiculous over the years, but Grand Theft Auto IV does away with the impossible criminal empires and jet packs, and opts instead for a gritty realism and emotional resonance that are unprecedented in a video game. In the year of moral choices in video-games, none were as effective in making me seriously consider the impacts of those decisions as GTA IV. While it's an oddly moralistic game, there's never really a "right" choice, and it's the closest to a Rorshach test as a video game has ever come. There are open-world games where it's more fun to try and push up against the rules of the sandbox, but none present such well-realized characters or as nuanced a world. It speaks volumes about a game when hopping into a cab and just taking in the scenery can be satisfying in itself.

42 Comments
43 Comments
Posted by Ryan

2008 has been a great year for video games and blah blah blah. Look, you know as well as I do that there are more top-quality games to play than there are hours in the day. I've got a teetering shame-stack of unfinished games on my coffee table to prove it, and it's my job to play video games. Of all the stuff I did play, though, these were the 10 games that left the greatest impression.

#10. Bully: Scholarship Edition

Sure, it's a remake of a Grand Theft Auto knockoff that Rockstar released on the PlayStation 2 a good year-and-a-half earlier. It's also not always a technically terrific one, being initially plagued by issues with frame rate, draw distance, load times, and general stability, but none of that stopped me from relishing its playfully sardonic take on high-school life. Everyone hates high school (or, at least, they should) but Bully serves as the ultimate fantasy of being a rowdy outsider that the ladies love and the faculty hates, and who's less concerned with being popular than breaking down the school's vicious clique system. Grand Theft Auto IV went for an unflinching journey in the tragic heart of the criminal lifestyle, but Bully: Scholarship Edition is more concerned with rascally fun. Also, it features one of my favorite soundtracks in any video game ever.

#9. Saints Row 2

Volition's cartoonish open-world gangster fantasy sequel takes the obvious comparisons to the Grand Theft Auto series that the original was subjected to and gleefully hoses them down in liquid sewage. What it lacks in emotional nuance, it makes up for with a ridiculous kitchen-sink approach to open-world game design.

#8. Penny Arcade: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode One

In the highly contentious category of downloadable role-playing games based on popular video-game-themed web comics in 2008, Penny Arcade somehow comes out on top. Even weirder than its origins is the fact that, rather than try to translate the web comic verbatim, creators Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik create a highly referential steampunk reality that still manages to capture the humorously profane Penny Arcade feel. One of the funniest games of the year, and the combat is way more interesting and engaging than it ought be.

#7. Braid

Don't let the arty pretense put you off, this is one of the most mechanically inventive and mentally challenging games of 2008. The simple 2D platformer appearance of Braid belies a battery of unique time-manipulation abilities that make this more of a puzzle game than a run-and-jump Mario clone. The seemingly unnecessary emotional (emphasis on the emo) undercurrents end up paying off some mind-blowing dividends in the game's last level, which features the best twist in a game since BioShock.

#6. Condemned 2: Bloodshot

Condemned: Criminal Origins laid the groundwork with some graphically brutal first-person melee combat, and Condemned 2 ups the ante with grimier environments, queasier executions, and more mental illness than that guy who gets into heated arguments with parking meters. Also, at one point, you fight an insane bear. How did everyone not love this game? Features the most emphatic cursing you'll hear in any game, ever.

#5. Left 4 Dead

The key factor that all zombie games have been missing up to this point has been the idea of a zombie team--that unlikely group of zombie-apocalypse survivors who have to rely on each other as much as they do themselves to try and make it out of this no-win situation. This is the core concept behind Left 4 Dead, making it a terrifyingly urgent cooperative experience that expertly conveys the dreadful hopelessness of the situation almost entirely through its disturbingly familiar setting. Getting to turn the tables and play as the marauding zombies is frightfully satisfying as well.

#4. Rock Band 2

Some might say that “it's just more Rock Band” as a pejorative, but considering that the original was one of the best rhythm games ever, as well as offering one of the most inclusive multiplayer experiences you could have, I have a hard time seeing why this is a bad thing. Harmonix streamlined the world tour mode, making for a better single-player experience, and introduced an online tour and online challenges, allowing you to play along with people from around the world. Add to these improvements the fact that you can import all of the songs from the first Rock Band, and the relentless stream of downloadable content that has been hitting week after week, and you've got a game that makes its superb predecessor all but obsolete.

#3. Burnout Paradise

Criterion made the jump to an open-world format with its crash-happy racing series with incredible aplomb, though the biggest surprise in Burnout Paradise for me was how engaging the multiplayer experience turned out. The crashes look incredible, the frame rate is rock-solid, and it's had the best post-release content support this side of Rock Band 2.

#2. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

I was blown away by Solid Snake's final mission, in large part because I've never been particularly fond of the Metal Gear Solid series, yet this persisted as one of my favorite game experiences of the year. Much of my distaste for previous entries came from a style of stealth action that MGS4 makes almost entirely optional. It's pretty good as a straight-up third-person shooter, but it's less the fundamental action and more the bombastic story line, vivid graphics, and fan-pleasing set pieces that make this such a memorable experience. It's fan-service that you don't have to actually be a fan to appreciate--though, it certainly doesn't hurt if you are.

#1. Grand Theft Auto IV

The GTA series has been getting more and more ridiculous over the years, but Grand Theft Auto IV does away with the impossible criminal empires and jet packs, and opts instead for a gritty realism and emotional resonance that are unprecedented in a video game. In the year of moral choices in video-games, none were as effective in making me seriously consider the impacts of those decisions as GTA IV. While it's an oddly moralistic game, there's never really a "right" choice, and it's the closest to a Rorshach test as a video game has ever come. There are open-world games where it's more fun to try and push up against the rules of the sandbox, but none present such well-realized characters or as nuanced a world. It speaks volumes about a game when hopping into a cab and just taking in the scenery can be satisfying in itself.

Staff
Posted by HelixSnake

Good to see someone on the staff can count to ten and back again.

Posted by KamasamaK

If this is in order, it looks like you changed your mind since the 1UP Yours.

Posted by daniel_beck_90

I always believed that my taste in video gaming is awfully like Ryan and awfully unlike Jeff  !!!!  (even though I like both of 'em A LOOOOOOOOOOT )
all of the aforementioned games are also my favorites 

Edited by Death_Burnout

Hmm i think im board with this list more than Jeff's, there are more games here that i would put in my top 10, Condemned 2, Saints Row 2 and Left 4 Dead in particular, and of course the no-brainers (MGS 4 and GTA IV)

Posted by Claude

I played three of your games, good list. It's been a fun year, trying still to catch up with all the great 08 releases.

Posted by Discorsi

Wow i finally see condemned 2 from somebody.  Awesome :D

Posted by RHCPfan24

Condemned 2? I thought every game critic forgot of that game? Well, nice to see someone didn't. Good job Ryan.

Posted by MattyFTM

I'm surprised to see Bully in there considering the technical difficulties, but it's your list.

Moderator
Posted by daniel_beck_90
RHCPfan24 said:
"Condemned 2? I thought every game critic forgot of that game? Well, nice to see someone didn't. Good job Ryan."
  I love Monolith Just because of Condemned 2
Posted by TheGamerGeek

Did you put GTA first because it was you guys' Game of the Year? I'm listening to the Bombcast and your saying MGS is the best game and on 1up Yours you said the same...O_o

Posted by Oni

Seems  like a pretty solid list, with some unusual - but deserved - picks, with one exception that, to me personally, stands out like a sore thumb: Condemned 2. It was alright, but I thought the first game was waaaay better. Condemned 2 had a pretty terrible endgame, dumb story and was overreliant on gunplay. All in all not really a memorable game. But hey, opinionslol. Overall though, I like the list.

Posted by Arkthemaniac

I still don't get GTA4.

Posted by CitizenKane
Arkthemaniac said:
"I still don't get GTA4."
WHAT?!?!

*bans Arkthemaniac*
Posted by TheGamerGeek

Ha! T'was mentioned on the podcast the Sir Ryan changed his top game.

Posted by p4ddym1607

On 1up yours ryan said his game of the year was metal gear solid 4. Strange that it isnt number 1 on this list.

Posted by Kush

Yay for some Condemned 2 love!

Posted by Vinchenzo
Ryan said:
"It speaks volumes about a game when hopping into a cab and just taking in the scenery can be satisfying in itself."
I'm going to disagree with your best pick for 2008, but that's not my point. The thing I'm getting at is how boring cab rides really are, unless you like the idiotic A.I. to just sit there crashed onto the sidewalk while you grow impatient. No thanks, I'll skip it. Nice to see Burnout Paradise and L4D up there, though.
Posted by ElectricHaggis

I could not agree with you more on Bully, its awesome.

Posted by daniel_beck_90
Oni said:
"Seems  like a pretty solid list, with some unusual - but deserved - picks, with one exception that, to me personally, stands out like a sore thumb: Condemned 2. It was alright, but I thought the first game was waaaay better. Condemned 2 had a pretty terrible endgame, dumb story and was overreliant on gunplay. All in all not really a memorable game. But hey, opinionslol. Overall though, I like the list."
  I really do not think so , everything was improved in the sequel  , also I should mention that the cliff-hanger ending was not bad by any means and I can not wait for Condemned 3  (2010 ) .

Kush said:
"Yay for some Condemned 2 love!"
exactly 
Posted by LausDomini

Ryan said: While it's an oddly moralistic game, there's never really a "right" choice

Hmm...perhaps the moral choice is not to play it at all?

Posted by GamerGeek360

FINALLY! Someone who doesn't have MGS4 as their #1!!

Posted by SoulEdgeSlayer

Wow, Bully is on there!  Pretty awesome. 

Also, I need to get me some Braid.

Posted by Media_Master

cool

Posted by Qorious

Impressive, MGS4 is number 2.

Posted by tec3297

Great list Ryan, I'm glad Burnout Paradise was so high on your list!

Edited by Pizawle

Props for the Bloodshot inclusion.

Posted by chronicsmoke

condemned 2? very pleased to see that on the list,one of my fav games of the year

Posted by Jared

Excellent list Ryan, I really should pick up Saints Row 2. Darn it! I just remember I have yet to beat the first game! I really need to buckle down and beat more games this year.

Posted by Chris

What's with the flip-flop?

Posted by Stanford

Bully was okay.  It was fun, but not nearly as good as GTA IV

Posted by chapman12

wheres cod:waw and gow 2??? they may have thier downs but there better than baird and bully

Posted by guthwulf

Out of your top ten games I have only played Bully (not counting the demo of Penny Arcade) and I have to agree on that one. Lucky me bought it after the patch came out, and it's running rather smoothly now. I like it. Also, I'm very late to comment.

Edited by Aaox

In your opinion, my good man. But whatever, old news now.

Posted by Zombie_Killer_Nikki

left 4 dead is epic :D:D great list ^_^

Posted by barbacious

In my opinion rockband should be higher on the list, but it is a good list.where are the sport games? =]

Posted by jomacha

good job with putting bully in there. unfortunetly i feel like most people forgot about that game

Posted by OlDrtyBstrd

Glad to see Codemned 2 on your list. One of the most unappreciated franchises if you ask me.

Posted by Mgsfreak

Mabey I will check out bully...I was put off by every review basically calling it a mess. Liking the condemend 2 love also:D
Good list ryan!

Posted by AgentJ

Fallout 3 came out in 2008 right? It's too bad you didnt get a chance to play it. (if it didnt make your list, wth?)

Edited by Zachariahus

Holy Shit Yes. The Bully Soundtrack is also one of my favorite game soundtracks evar, just reminds me of relaxing on a Sunday afternoon and playing the game while it snowed in-game and outside... Gotta love it man.

Posted by interactiveTodd

I stiiiill haven't played Bully, for some reason.  I need to get to that at some point, even though it's like three years old.  Keep seeing it on the "on demand" list for the 360.

Posted by TheChaos
@interactiveTodd said:
" I stiiiill haven't played Bully, for some reason.  I need to get to that at some point, even though it's like three years old.  Keep seeing it on the "on demand" list for the 360. "
Blog necromancy is cool.