Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
We are taking a new approach for GR's 2008 Awards. The 10 Best Games of 2007 were awarded by the people in the office not drunk at the time a select group of people. But since we forgot about Uncharted there were an insane collection of highly-marked titles in 2008, so much so that we - nay, the entire gaming press - have been accused of going soft, we have expanded our judging panel. And we have opted to use an intricate, no-fail system of ranked votes, ordinals, some Boomer zombies, and a dartboard with a picture of Belgium on it.
[Judges: Jesse Costantino, Greg Damiano, Duke Ferris, Chris Hudak, Blake Morse, and Nick Tan (that's me)]
Before we get onto the awards, though, let's take a breather and recap my opinions the unexpected greatness of 2008. If I were to point at anything as the highlight, it would be the high quality of downloadable titles. Not just Braid, but a host of titles available on the Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and Wii's Virtual Console ascended to the top of the heap: Castle Crashers, Geometry Wars 2, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, PixelJunk Monsters and PixelJunk Eden, World of Goo, Art Style: ORBIENT, Rez HD, Bionic Commando Rearmed, N+, Wipeout HD, and the list goes on and on. It was enough that we actually decided to review them. 'Nuff said.
This rebirth of downloadable titles has as much to do about small developers trying to prove that low-budget games can be as enjoyable as high-profile blockbusters, as it does with the saturation of said blockbusters, developers realizing that casual market is just as lucrative as the hardcore market, and the government "bail out", Madoff-stricken economy. The closing of Free Radical Design and the soon-to-be-closed Ensemble Studios as well as the well-publicized financial struggles of Midway were mere bellwethers in the storm of corporate restructuring and layoffs (press included...).
But let's not be too sullen. What this has meant to players is the time to appreciate the rich cornucopia (and please imagine a horn of plenty with controllers and rectangular cases pouring out of it) of gaming. Where 2007 was the year of the first-person shooter and 2008's lineup has no shortage of them with Gears of War 2 and Resistance 2, 2008's list has no one-sided love to any genre.
Still, even with the balanced representation of each game type, 10 spaces are not enough. (Not even 20 spaces would be enough, really.) That we all came to a consensus is a miracle. Thus, the judges have picked an Editor's Choice from the litter of great games that unfortunately did not make the Top 10. So with that, let's begin!...
Blake's Pick - Far Cry 2– You know that it would be untrue, you know that I would be a liar, if I were to say this game didn’t set my world on fire. The flames might have looked awesome, but what keeps me coming back for more Far Cry 2 is the open-ended story mode and the solid multiplayer. I love this game. It is by a wide margin the FPS I have spent the most time with in the last year, and it didn’t even come out until the 4th quarter. Play this game if you love blowing stuff up and setting things on fire, and so by that I mean, all of you. ~ Blake
Nick's Pick - Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4– I'm not one to like falling into a routine, but the Shin Megami Tensei series is one routine I'm happy to go through, dive through, and eat through every year. If you find people who say that games aren't art or that that games have no meaning, throw this game at their empty skulls for a critical hit and then hit them again with Almighty damage. Or if there's a TV nearby, knock them into it so that they can be slaughtered by their suppressed desire for having fun. And of course, by that, I mean, save them.
Duke's Pick - Fable II– Fable II is an amazing, ambitious, innovative, beautiful, and broken game. It tries to be so many things at the same time, it really defies categorization, breaking taboos across both genres and sexes. It's less of a game and more of a playground - a delightfully funny world to explore, straight from the mind of Peter Molyneux. He's a modern day Walt Disney who has built a virtual theme park that easily gets my Editor's Choice for 2008.
Jesse's Pick - Mirror's Edge– A beautiful, innovative, and unapologetically challenging title that
divided as many critics in 2008 as did Assassin’s Creed in 2007. Yes, you
will have your ass handed to you in enough ways to put the Kama Sutra to
shame, but for those with patience, Mirror’s Edge pays off in spades.
Its first-person approach to parkour revitalizes old platforming
conventions, and its time trials are the single-most rewarding (and
singularly difficult) gaming experience I’ve had all year.
Greg's Pick - Spore– It was a flash in the pop-culture pan. Within weeks, Spore creatures outnumbered humans. (That's just accounting for all the hot dog-shaped monsters alone.) The gameplay is too shallow, but the simple fun and technical accomplishments are grossly underrated. ~ Greg
Special: Swanson's Pick - World of Goo – Building shit with goo bubbles? Sounds like a winner to me. This
delightful dowloadable game from developer 2D Boy drops you into an
animated world where your goal is to build, swing, and puzzle your way
through various obstacles. With an entertaining storyline and a
clever physics system, my only complaint with this game is that it
ended too quickly. This is a great game that I would recommend to
anyone. ~ Nick Swanson, GR's Secret Intern