Thursday, January 8, 2009

2008 in video games: A Top Ten Adventure

2008 was a great year for gamers, with enough A-list games to leave even casual gamers penniless and friendless. Here is my incredibly opinionated and biased cream of the crop.

10. Prince of Persia

It was a fight between "PoP" and "Gears of War 2" for this spot. While "GoW2" is a stellar game, it suffers from "Halo 3"-itis, offering little more than the features offered in the original game.

"Prince of Persia," on the other hand, offers gameplay completely different than previous entries in the series, and a visual design like none seen before. The gameplay, though overly forgiving, is engaging and exciting, the story and characters are compelling, and the visuals are ethereal and beautiful to watch in motion.

In this house, artistry and innovation win over name-power.

9. Fable II

Still rather simplistic for the "Life simulator" designer Peter Molyneux touted the first game to be, it was a fantastically detailed adventure-RPG that was worth the hours and hours of gameplay. A messed up economy system couldn't keep the main gameplay of adventure and combat in a world that reacts to your decisions from being tons of fun.

8. Dead Space

Ironically, the year that fresh breath is given to survival-horror games is the year that there is not a new "Resident Evil." The story is stellar, the environment is eerie and invokes a space-version of "Bioshock" at times. The sound design is also extremely commendable, and all-around the production values of this game are absolutely top-tier.

7. Left 4 Dead

Squad-based, first-person zombie-killin' action adds an exciting breath of fresh air to the over-a-decade-old survival-horror genre. Either online or with live friends, multiplayer is this game's golden goose. The dynamic between the players is fantastic, as the four survivors quite literally live or die by each other.

6. Far Cry 2

A first-person sandbox adventure in a nondescript warring country, where your character can affect the outcome of the conflict, while trying to survive his affliction of malaria.

A few strange choices keep this from being an absolutely amazing game, and travel time can be killer, but the gorgeous environments, fun run-and-gun gameplay and first-person sandbox dynamic makes this game worth the hours of driving a jeep through the gorgeously rendered jungle while popping malaria pills.

5. Super Smash Bros. Brawl

The best fighting game of the year wasn't Soul Calibur 4, and most certainly wasn't Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. That honor goes to Smash Bros., which, like those other games, had some very strange guest stars. Whoever thought putting Sonic and Solid Snake in a balls-crazy party-friendly fighting game with Mario and Pikachu should get a medal.

4. Fallout 3

This game blurs the lines between FPS and RPG the way only Bethesda can.

Following up a ten-year-old classic game is a daunting task, but this game passed all expectations. Sprawling, complex, engaging and fun, "Fallout 3" will suck up hours and hours of time.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4

This game is absolutely bugf*ck insane. It's overblown, over-indulgent, and you'll spend as much time watching the game as playing the game.

Still, it's an absolutely fascinating experience like no other game can provide. The Big Crazy lends to the Magical Moments that will stick in your gamer-brain for the rest of eternity. The Metal Gear vs. Metal Gear fight, the honest-to-God espionage section in Eastern Europe, where you are required to be stealthy in a way you never have in a MGS game. It's absolutely insane, but it's also insanely satisfying, and is probably the number-two killer app to have on the Playstation 3.

2. LittleBigPlanet

...And this would be the number one killer app for the PS3.

This absolutely brilliantly platformer blends the line between gamer and game designer. Infinitely replayable by downloading levels others have made, the level designer to create your own is one of the most robust and flexible tools released to the public for making games. You can make your own platforming levels, but you can also use it to turn the game into something else: You can make your own storylines, turn it into a murder mystery, a trivia contest, a role-playing game. There probably are technical limits to LittleBigPlanet's creation system, but it's more likely to reach the limits of the imagination first.

1. Grand Theft Auto IV

The GTA games have become such huge productions, it's always shocking that they are some of the most coherent games, with stories that aren't only gigantic, sprawling, and interactive, but also incredibly well-written.

The tale of Niko Bellic is one of hope, heartbreak, and disillusionment of the American Dream. It's also a bloody, insane tale of theft, murder, car chases, shootouts, and explosions that takes place in a gorgeous, gigantic city that seems to live and breathe around Niko. Not only is this the Game of the Year, but one could spend an ENTIRE year playing nothing but this game and never be tired.

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