It's been a superb year for gamers. There have been such a vast number quality major releases across any number of genres that the idea of a given gamer feeling "left out" is near unthinkable. The major, well-received releases can be categorized as a 4X RTS or simply a great 4X turn-based game. There are open-world shooters in Africa and two types of open-world games in the vein of Grand Theft Auto. Superb cooperative games involving things like zombies, chainsaw-mounted assault rifles, and a throwback to the days of Golden Axe. And then there are major sequels like Grand Theft Auto 4, Fallout 3, and Metal Gear Solid 4. Oh, yes.
The deluge of gaming was good to me this year as well as, for the first time in a few years, I was actually able to play every title that I had any desire to play across all non-Wii platforms (and even then, I'm currently borrowing one of those to play No More Heroes). Not since my 2005 games of the year have I felt well-informed enough to write about some of my top picks for a given year. Granted, I can't objectively write about games like Galactic Civilizations: Twilight of the Arnor or Sins of a Solar Empire -- both of which are games that I, as a gamer, hold in remarkably high esteem.
This year I'm doing something a little bit different. I'm not sure if I can really classify a deviation from a one-time top ten list as something "different" or not but I will continue to think my actions in this matter as such. It's no radical change, but I'm just going to write up three-four articles on games I consider to be the best of 2008's best with no regards to rank or categorization. At this point, I still have yet to figure out what I want to make two of the four games. They will be from the following list of games I'm in the process of choosing from. The following games are all superb and remain in my mind at this point in time as equally superb.
- No More Heroes -- I have only had a couple hours with Grasshopper Manufacturer's very stylized action/adventure romp. From what little I've seen, No More Heroes manages to bring legitimately enjoyable gameplay to the sharp writing and aesthetic that were present in Suda51's previous game, Killer 7.
- Grand Theft Auto 4 -- GTA4 is the slim waistline after years of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' work-out routine; it's a focused and well-done partial reinvention of Rockstar's linear-gameplay-in-a-kind-of-open-world crime game formula. The gameplay becomes rote a bit around the middle of a player's journey through the game (which is also where the quality of writing experiences a quick death) but GTA4 is, at its core, a very enjoyable game.
- The World Ends With You -- In some ways, this Nintendo DS RPG is an archetypal JRPG; after all, it has the angsty protagonist, pseudo-meaningful script, and Japan. But story and character design aside, The World Ends With You has the most daring game design of any Square-Enix title in recent years and, on top of that, as one of the most true Nintendo DS titles the system has seen.
- Midnight Club: Los Angeles -- There were essentially four racing games this year that I enjoyed: Burnout Paradise, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, GRID, and Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Midnight Club: Los Angeles comes out on top of them all; even its open-world racing counterpart Burnout Paradise. Rockstar's in-depth car customization support, the open-world presentation, and great car and motorcycle physics were all combined with one very important feature: the ability to retry races.
- Dead Space -- It's more action than horror and more Aliens than Alien, but Dead Space is one of the year's great action games. Despite the choice to portray the game from a third-person perspective, EA Redwood succeeded at immersing a player in the blood, guts, and flickering lights of an abandoned space station to a level of success that I haven't seen since System Shock 2.
- WipEout HD -- Serving as a combination of the two PSP Wipeout game releases (Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse), this Playstation Network exclusive was served up to Playstation 3 users as one of the only "true" 1080p current-generation console games and it ran at an absurdly smooth sixty frames-per-second. And though that may sound like simple praise for the game's graphical prowess, the ability to play a Wipeout game with that kind of display allows for the best execution imaginable of the series' trademark high-speed racing gameplay. WipEout HD is a bit limited in the amount of content it provides but for the asking price on PSN it's the kind of game that no Playstation 3 owner should go without.
- Battlefield: Bad Company -- Bad Company brought two very necessary gameplay changes to the Battlefield formula: destructible environments and a focused multiplayer progression. Instead of the free-reign that two teams had over a number of capture points in a large map, Bad Company funneled two teams into a more concentrated area. And the addition of destructible environments made the occupation of these areas into an uneasy and dynamic gameplay experience for all parties. Add these features to the refined multiplayer character progression and stat-tracking and Electronic Arts managed to make the first Battlefield game that actually worked for a console.
- Everyday Shooter -- As great as the Playstation Network release of Jonathan Mak's Playstation 3 synesthesia-focused shooter was, the ability to play the same game with no major sacrifices made to the visual quality or gameplay on the Playstation Portable makes it all the more sweet.
- World of Goo -- I can't recall the number of times I played around with the Tower of Goo back when it was released as part of the Experimental Gameplay Project. And seeing how 2D Boy's small team expanded that gameplay into a fully-realized game with a [Tim] Schaeferean art style and a great sense of humor it's not very difficult to recommend World of Goo to any type of gamer.
- Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 -- GW:RE2 wasn't a daring sequel by any means, but it iterated on the success of the first game in all of the right ways. And Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved already existed in my mind as the best robotron-esque arcade title in existence. That's high praise from me.
Articles on my favorite three games absent from this list are forthcoming.