Behold the subjective musings of one man! This is the definitive list of what was cool or horrible this year, as written by someone who probably missed half of what mattered.
Game of the Year
Runner-Up: Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead rejuvenated multiplayer shooters in ’08. It nails cooperative play, putting a heavy emphasis on teamwork without a huge learning curve. Playing as the infected in versus is the most unique multiplayer experience since Splinter Cell’s Spies vs. Mercs mode.
Winner: Dead Space
Dead Space is one of the most polished games ever made. There are no signs of paper-thin polygons here. Everything from the main character and monsters to the ship where the game takes place carries an undeniable heft. Combine that with amazing sound design and it’s guaranteed to draw you in. Fault it for a lack of difficulty and horror, or dim the lights, play on hard and experience one of the most intense and visceral horror games of all time.
Downloadable Game of the Year
Runner-Up: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
The two entries for this category bring classic game design into the modern world, yet their approaches are wildly different. As thoughtful, story-driven adventures like Braid become the norm, Geometry Wars: RE2 is evidence that high scores and lives still have a home. Not everything has to be art, and sometimes fast-paced action and hundreds of enemies is all you need. Geometry Wars delivers that and more, as the most refined and addictive installment in the series to date.
Braid gets a lot of attention for its cryptic epilogue and outspoken creator. It’s one of the most expensive games on Xbox Live Arcade. It’s only about three hours long. Soulja Boy doesn’t think there’s any point to it. But all of that is static masking Braid’s most important quality: a collection of the most deviously clever puzzles to ever grace a video game.
Developer of the Year
While 2009 is looking like the year of Capcom with Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil 5, they were no slouch in 2008. Classic remakes like Bionic Commando Rearmed and painfully old school sequels like Megaman 9 gave them success in the mainstream and cred among hardcore gamers.
Rare had a bit of a renaissance this year. Sequels to Viva Pinata on 360 and DS were both winners, but it’s Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts that truly puts them back on the map. This sequel to the beloved N64 games mixes adventure with a robust vehicle creation tool. User generated content and gameplay are not mutually exclusive here, making it a game that demands creativity. Combine that with some truly hilarious, innuendo-laced, esoteric dialogue, and you have one of the most unique games of 2008.
Game I Wish I Played More
Winner: Fallout 3
The moment that you step out into the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Fallout 3 is as memorable as the Half-Life train ride or journey to Rapture in Bioshock. The game is full of these moments, but it’s up to you to find them. It’s typical Bethesda game design without the tired fantasy trappings of Oblivion. Or at least I think it is, because I only got through about 10 hours of it.
Best Game No One Else Liked
Winner: Too Human
There are a lot of things wrong with Silicon Knights’ attempt to reinvigorate the dungeon crawl genre. Glitches, poor animation, and maddening boss fights turned most people away and probably blew any chance of getting a sequel. Too Human was the game everyone wanted to fail and they got their wish. But for some, including myself, the issues and backlash were not enough to distract from the explosive combat and addictive loot gathering.
Award for Being so Close but Missing the Point Completely
Runner-Up: Prince of Persia
Whether it’s fair to compare or not, Prince of Persia simply doesn’t live up to The Sands of Time. The characters have their moments, but spend too much time selling the fantastical story of gods and collapsed cities. While it earns points for elegant controls, a unique death mechanic, and painterly graphics, the repetition and weak narrative keep this prince one step away from royalty.
Winner: Mirror’s Edge
The first trek through Mirror’s Edge is rife with frustration. Armed police riddle you with bullets at every turn. Inscrutable level design leaves you relying on GPS for dummies, holding the B button to look towards your next objective. Long elevator rides and a laughable storyline top off a list of flaws that bring the game to a grinding halt. Skip all that in the time trial mode and you’ll find that rewarding, nuanced controls save the day. It’s just too bad that’s not the game’s focus.
Worst Game of the Year
Winner: LOST: Via Domus
Years of horrible TV show games should have been enough to seal this title’s fate. Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple, LOST: Via Domus looked good. It was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, whose pedigree includes Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Splinter Cell, Assassin’s Creed, and Rainbow Six 3. It was billed as a missing episode to LOST, one of the best and most popular shows on television. On top of that, the trailers were pretty impressive, providing some hard evidence that Via Domus could have been a solid title. None of that mattered, though, as this game barely qualified as such. A Crash Bandicoot-esque smoke monster chase was about as playable as it ever got. Even the creators of the TV series caught on quickly, deeming the plot points of the game invalid and unconnected to the real series.