By Jeff 44 Comments
I'm having a really hard time not making this a Top 11 list. But that's a slippery slope, because then you're suddenly spitting out a Top 20 list or something stupid like that. So let's keep it simple, keep it clean, and keep it pure with my top 10 games of 2008. But I actually screwed up and misnumbered it a bit, and accidentlaly posted a Top 9 list. So I get to add Audiosurf after all! It's a Christmas miracle!
10. Audiosurf - As a guy with a large music collection, I can very easily get a lot out of a game that generates levels based on music. But for me, the thrill moved beyond just playing Daft Punk or Justice levels. Instead, I started thinking about the music I was writing, and how to make it work better in the context of Audiosurf. That, my friends, is absolutely crazy.
9. Rock Band 2 - It's hard to argue with the quality of Rock Band 2. The game takes the core gameplay that made the previous one so successful, but the streamlined career progression makes everything much smoother whether you're playing alone or with a group. Stack on a regular dose of great downloadable updates and that cool Battle of the Bands online challenge system and you've got a game that probably (hopefully) won't need a direct sequel in 2009.
8. Bionic Commando Rearmed - I absolutely love the original Bionic Commando. So to hear that it was getting updated and remade as a digital download got me all kinds of hot in the pants. The amazing part is how well the final product came out. It manages to retain the feel of the old game without coming across as dated or useless.
7. Professor Layton and the Curious Village - Layton gets his, son. I used to spend hours staring blankly at books full of brain teasers and riddles, moving around mental matchsticks or figuring out the seating order at a table with very specific instructions. Layton captures all of that wonder and integrates a handy hint system and a mysterious adventure that ties all of the puzzles together with a charming, well-presented story.
6. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts - The best part about Nuts & Bolts is that all of its vehicle creation tools actively service the game. Sure, you could just hang out and create weird vehicles, but having to construct or tweak your rides to accomplish very specific tasks gives the game an interesting puzzle side that complements the action quite well. On top of that, the writing is quite funny and it looks great.
5. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe - Most fighting games stick you with the same basic combos and gameplay for, like, a decade. This is the third complete revision of the MK play style, and it skillfully invokes some of the gameplay and strategy of the arcade originals without ditching the things that have worked over the past generation of consoles. It might be divisive, but I found it to be extremely fun, and pretty inventive, too.
4. Gears of War 2 - Given the way this game seems to be selling, I probably don't need to tell you what makes Gears 2 so great. But I will, just in case. The action--the seemingly simple act of shooting--feels absolutely perfect. Tack on an interesting story to keep that action moving and you've got a great campaign. Throw in some of the smartest multiplayer design to come along in ages and you've got one of the year's greatest releases.
3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots - If you had told me that I'd be sitting here at the end of 2008, proclaiming a Metal Gear Solid game to be one of my favorites of the year, I'd say you were crazy. I've never really fallen for Kojima's cinematic trickery before, despite loving MGS2 for displaying the man's willingness to mess with his fanbase. But everything that hasn't worked out quite so well in the past lines up in MGS4 in ways that must be seen to believed. With plenty of closure, expert cinematography in its cutscenes, and a refined set of controls that let you approach the action in a decidedly modern way, Metal Gear Solid 4 is one of those rare games that both satisfies fans and manages to pull in new people along the way.
2. Burnout Paradise - I feel like this game would be in my #2 slot even if Criterion didn't spend the entire year releasing free downloadable updates that make the game even more robust. This game was all multiplayer for me. Specifically, the multiplayer challenges, which have you racing around to complete tasks as you both compete and cooperate with your partners, had me playing this game way more than any other game I played in 2008.
1. Grand Theft Auto IV - Rockstar's first GTA game for the current generation of hardware takes the open world freestyle crime genre in directions that wouldn't have seemed possible a few years ago. That's not to say that it's bigger and more insane than San Andreas... it's not. Instead, the developers threw the world a curveball and created a smaller, more personal story of a man trying to find some closure in his life, only to discover a lot of things along the way that might be worth a lot more than what he was originally searching for. Watching Niko Bellic and waiting to see if he figures that out on his own was a touching process that impacted me in ways I couldn't have possibly predicted. Watching these flawed personalities try to make their way through Liberty City as best they can was an experience that I won't soon forget.
Here's a couple of honorable mentions of games that technically don't qualify for this list of 2008 games, even if they were high on my list of things to do this year.
Trackmania United Forever - The Forever update was technically released in 2008, but this seems more like a patch than a whole new product. Trackmania is a really, really weird PC racing game that lets users build insane levels and easily share them up on online servers. Tons of players can connect to a server without any latency issues because most races are conducted as time attacks and you can't actually collide with the other vehicles. With loads of wild stunts and a great community that is constantly adding more tracks and vehicles, Trackmania United Forever is really something special.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Obviously, this is 2007's biggest game. But I spent way more time with it in 2008 than I did back in '07. Infinity Ward showed the world how to keep first-person shooter multiplayer modes exciting and deep by adding persistent rewards and a strong collection of modes to choose from. 2008 saw the release of a nice, sharp map pack for the game that kept things moving. There's a reason why COD4 is still so widely enjoyed today--it's one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time.