Best Games of 2008

In order, my favorite, or the best, games of 2008.

List items

  • Masterful in every aspect, Grand Theft Auto IV marks a significant step forward for the world of interactive entertainment. Eschewing the crazy antics of the past games, GTA IV improves the series by decreasing the physical scope but opting for a livelier, dynamic world aided by the best storyline of the year. Lead by the likable but flawed character, Niko Bellic, the story is mature and gritty, showing the seedy criminal underbelly of Liberty City (a fictional representation of New York City) and the opportunity of the American Dream, or the lack thereof. Moral choices of life and death carry enormous emotional resonance, and the relatable and lifelike characters and setting hit close to home. Of course, all of this would be meaningless if the gameplay couldn’t hold up, but, thankfully, it does. Gunplay is similar to Gears of War and Rainbow Six, making for tight and cautious combat thanks to the successful cover system. In addition, driving is drastically different, but all for the better because the realistic physics further establish the serious tone the game achieves. The multiplayer is also fun, letting players run amuck around the entire city while hosting some unique online modes. However, it is really the story and singleplayer portions of the game that ultimately make it the Game of the Year, and since the story is so culturally relevant and the gameplay is so modern, it is only fitting to recognize this game as the example of excellence for 2008, and it will certainly remain so for the rest of our consoles’ generation.

  • Exploding from the seams with enormous size and aspirations, Fallout 3 is an ambitious game that, fortunately, lives up to its expectations. Set in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., Fallout 3 is the story of one man’s quest to find his lost father, and all the stumbles along the way. Moral choices are abound throughout, and the ending of the game can be drastically altered due to decisions made in the beginning. While these features are all great, it is a relief that the gameplay itself holds up to make the entire experience fun and entertaining. A brutal combat system and upgradeable skills keep motivation pointed forward, and the bleak atmosphere of decay sets the tone perfectly.

  • While many aspects of Dead Space seem familiar (the deserted spaceship, a reluctant engineer to fix a simple “problem”), it still manages to feel fresh and unique because of its incredible polish. Not one aspect of this game feels out of place, and the bloody action is entertaining as well as horrifying. The what-have-could-been-generic story is actually compelling and the game as a whole is one of the best surprises of the year.

  • The most visually impressive game of the year, Metal Gear Solid 4 is an epic of sorts, wrapping up the beloved series in near perfect form. A year-spanning story concludes the adventures of Solid Snake efficiently, satiating even the most diehard fans. Thankfully, playing the game is also a blast. Tight controls, a combat system akin to Gears of War, and stunning graphics and sound all combine to make a truly unique experience that is close to perfection.

  • Full of exhilarating moments from start to finish, Burnout Paradise is, quite literally, paradise, at least in the racing genre. The graphics and framerate operate smoothly and without a hitch, and the crashes that result from driving at speeds over 100 M.P.H. are beautifully chaotic. Online play is streamlined and accessible, and the addition of game-changing, free downloadable content, including motorcycles, day/night cycles, and various new challenges, make Burnout Paradise a game well worth sinking hours into.

  • The sole downloadable game on the list, Braid is a brilliant, independently made game that transcends normal videogame boundaries. With a deceptively simple story about a lost princess (very similar to Princess Peach), the main character, Tim, can bend and alter time to his advantage. This leads to imaginative puzzles and tricks that can be extremely frustrating to solve, but immensely rewarding once completed. The story ends in an incredible finale that can be best described as the “Keyser Söze” moment in gaming, and with a beautiful art style and soundtrack, the final result and impression is stunning.

  • A follow-up to the successful, if imperfect, original Xbox title, Fable 2 is what the first game should have been and then some. A refined combat system, an expansive world full of detail and prospects (you can buy real estate), and a story that relies on moral choices make Fable 2 a game that lives up to its hype.

  • Continuing its reign as the best party game around, Rock Band 2 only tweaks its predecessor’s formula, but still ends up feeling new and vastly improved. Format changes, an even better soundtrack, enhanced multiplayer and support for previous downloaded content as well as songs from the first game make Rock Band 2 an excellent example of how to properly make a sequel, and, as a result, it is a fantastic game.

  • Left 4 Dead takes the idea of zombie games and turns it on its head. Instead of the slow, shuffling idea of yesteryear, these reanimated corpses run and sprint, properly achieving a 28 Days Later vibe. The frenetic nature of the characters properly translates over to the multiplayer, the only mode of the game, and, as the sole survivors, cooperative teamwork is necessary to survive. The dynamic enemy placements and huge maps make this game endlessly replayable, lack of concrete content aside. All in all, Left 4 Dead is the best multiplayer game of the year, and one that any Xbox 360 or PC owner with an Internet connection should check out.

  • The relative unknown on this list, Professor Layton is an ingenious puzzle game for the DS. The puzzles have some similarities to Brain Age, but they are very imaginative and in-depth. They can range from easy to brutally difficult, but the excellent work put into them really shows no matter what. Add in beautiful art direction, full-motion cutscenes, a soothing soundtrack, and a story full of gripping twists and turns, and you have got the sleeper hit of the year.

  • The flat-out best action, shooting game of the year, Gears returns to be bigger in every way, with a vastly improved single-player mode full of many “wow” moments along with a more cohesive story. The multiplayer is also enhanced for the better, increasing the player count and adding a bunch of great new modes and weapons. The best new feature is Horde mode, an arcade game-like feature that can be tackled with up to 5 people, and the “Horde” of enemies you fight increases in difficulty and quantity over a period of time. It is a very smart addition to the series, and an excellent game overall.

  • Another title that relies heavily upon the user’s imagination, LittleBigPlanet is a PS3-exclusive and a premier game for the system. Roaming through 2-D levels with “sac-boy,” the game’s playable character, and achieving high scores is fun, but making levels is the best part. This game features a robust level creation system that allows virtually any theme or style to be tinkered with. This game is a charming title that sports a good dose of cheer compared to the rest of the titles on this list.

  • A rebirth for the Nintendo 64 platformer series, the newest Banjo Kazooie title takes the focus off of running and jumping and instead on vehicle creation and customization. An endless amount of choices in the workshop, along with witty humor and beautiful graphics, make Nuts & Bolts one of the year’s best.