Greatest Game of 2008: The Competition
While I would not disagree with Jim and the panel in saying that Left 4 Dead was the Greatest Game of 2008, it was still a very strong year for gaming. Here are some of my other favorites from that year. Let me know in the comments which games you enjoyed!
Grand Theft Auto 4
When Grand Theft Auto 4 was originally released it did so to reviews that called it gaming’s answer to The Godfather. While I wouldn’t say that time has allowed it to live up to that standard, the technical achievements Rockstar was able to accomplish with the title deserve high praise. The star of the game is New York City and the re-creation presented here is incredible. I spent plenty of time just driving around exploring and just “living” in the city. Of course the other stars are the main characters Nico and Roman Belic. The story isn’t exactly original (a poor foreigner trying to make it in America), but the dialogue and the story make the characters feel real. By the end of the game I cared what happened to them and that is always the test of a truly great piece of art (be it movie, game, or novel). I never personally enjoyed the previous Grand Theft Auto games as I thought there was never enough emphasis on the story; GTA 4 changed that. One other thing that GTA 4 was able to improve on was the feel of combat. I thought previous Grand Theft Auto games lacked an intuitive combat system; however, GTA 4, with the introduction of the cover system, makes shooting bad guys easy and fun. Gameplay can get a little stale at parts (a common criticism of Rockstar games) as you fulfill mission after mission of “go over here, kill a bunch of guys, come back.” The gameplay became a little repetitive toward the end, but I still wanted to see it through because of the attachment I felt for the characters. I should also mention that the downloadable content for the game, both The Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony, are exactly what I want to see from downloadable content. Although they were on the expensive side ($15), they gave you your money’s worth, as they both could have been stand-alone games.
Rock Band 2
Guitar Hero started the music game trend, but Rock Band was the first game to really take the idea and perfect it by including drums and a microphone. Although the fad has peaked and has certainly lost popularity over the last few years, it was one of the coolest ideas of this generation. Video games are all about allowing you to do something that you wouldn’t be able to do in real life, and that’s exactly what Rock Band allows you to do; become a rock star. One of the best party games of all time, Rock Band was a blast with people who were excited to play. Some of my favorite video game memories from the last five years were playing with my band mates in Foot Sunday. I should also mention that the use of downloadable songs really changed the industry. This really extends the gameplay and allows you to customize your game to your tastes. Rock Band 2 cleaned up the presentation and even allowed you to transfer all your content over from the first game. If you can get three of your closest friends together, a Rock Band night is still one of the most fun evenings you can have.
I’ve mentioned it before in passing, but PixelJunk Monsters is the best tower defense game available on any platform. The simple idea of placing towers to defend your base is done to perfection in this game. Available only on the PSN and with a terrible name, PixelJunk Monsters is often overlooked. As with most tower defense games, as you progress in the levels, the towers you are able to build become more varied and the strategy aspects become more important. A big part of tower defense games is the distance your camera sits from the action, and the one thing PixelJunk does better than its contemporaries is to nail this distance. Other great tower games such as Defense Grid (too far away) and Toy Soldiers (too close) didn’t get this right and it hurts the gameplay. In tower defense games, your ability to survey the entire map quickly is a very important component. If you like real time strategy games but haven’t tried a tower defense game before, try out PixelJunk Monsters. You will not be disappointed.
Dr. Mario Online Rx
I debated including this on the list because the game is basically the same as the NES version released 18 years ago, but in the end I felt that the Wii Ware version did enough with its social features to warrant its inclusion. Just the fact that you could hop online and play people from around the world was enough for me to get hooked back on one of my favorite puzzle games of all time. Nintendo’s online system is terrible and I can complain about it for entire articles, but at the very minimum it worked well for this particular game. I could have used online leaderboards and a more user-friendly way of connecting with my friends, but at least it worked (as opposed to Smash Bros. online, which was broken). I played this game for hours and hours online, and more hours offline against friends.
The first time I played Braid I was blown away by what a downloadable game could be. Essentially, when these services started they were a way for Microsoft to charge us all $5 to play the original arcade games like Pac Man again. While that is fun, it’s not terribly unique or original. Then along came Braid, one of the most artistic video games of all time, and it completely blew the ceiling off of what we could expect from a downloadable game. Braid is essentially a puzzle game that uses the mechanic of time in new and unique ways. The art direction and music (Jami Sieber’s cello work is amazing) provide the perfect atmosphere for the game. While the game can be “beaten” very easily by walking from one side of the screen to the other, to really experience the true ending you need to get all of the puzzle pieces in the game. Doing so can be incredibly difficult, and I spent hours just staring at the screen looking for a solution to some of the harder puzzles. In my opinion, the puzzles got too difficult toward the end, but the story made it worth fighting through. Braid is an amazing achievement and should be experienced by anyone who owns an Xbox.