The 2008 Top Ten
2008 has been another vintage year for videogames, the last 12 months throwing up plenty of new titles to rival the groundbreaking leaps forward represented by 2007's roster of hits. Sorting the good from the exceptional has been difficult, and a few of the choices may prove controversial, but what now follows are what we believe are the ten very best games of 2008.
10. LittleBigPlanet (93% PS3)
Physics, style and outlandish environments are the star in Media Molecule's disruptive platformer, which also introduces the world to the potentially iconic Sackboy. However, beyond what amounts to a polished and unusual platform title is taken to the next level by a comprehensive level creation utility, and online features for sharing user-generated creations. Already, LittleBigPlanet's downloadable offerings are off the chart, and with Sony backing Sackboy to the hilt this looks like just the beginning.
Here's something from our full review:
So... where does it all end? Well, this is the nice part - and something of a journalistic get-out-clause - we just don't know. LittleBigPlanet is one of the most inviting game world's ever imagined, the concept is a masterstroke, the implementation slick. Media Molecule are also promising enhancements still to come, and alongside epic amounts of user-generated content (assuming players do invest the time the game banks on them investing) the sky really could be the limit for the diminutive sackboy. Beyond a few control niggles and the obvious challenge of the content creation tools (which are perhaps not as approachable as the sandbox, power-to-the-people theme struck might imply), this is a game that can take you to new and exciting places like few others before it. We're buying into the LittleBigPlanet phenomenon; we're buying in big. So should you.
9. Braid (94% Xbox 360)
If you'd have told us at the start of the year that an Xbox Live Arcade release would make it into our top ten games of the year list then we'd probably have laughed and offered you another pint of gin. Jonathan Blow, however, has achieved something remarkable in Braid; offering up a cheaply developed, cheaply sold platform game of remarkable depth. To have created all this as an independent developer is quite feat, Braid offering narrative depth of philosophical proportions, wrapped up in gameplay that is a part of the question Blow poses of the player. This is art.
Here's a snapshot from our full review:
Braid is the most gorgeous slice of chocolate cake you can possible imagine wrapped in a silk cloth and tied with a pink ribbon. It's a paradoxical experience of simplistic charm and over-bearing sensory and logical complexity. No one in the gaming world should miss out on playing this game, to do so would be a tragedy.
8. Boom Blox (95% Wii)
Wii releases have been a sadly infrequent feature in this list, so it's suprising that the console's second high-scoring title isn't a first-party offering, but rather a puzzle game from EA. Although this premise may sound rather unambitious, it is perhaps a sign of the game's hidden quality that movie legend Steven Spielberg gave his name upon release; imbuing the title with lashings of personality and character. In Boom Blox the unique Wii controls are put to expert use in a meaningful context, with consumingly addictive gameplay, held together by lavish visuals.
Our review summarised EA's opus thusly:
Simply put, Boom Blox put a smile on my face. A smile I haven't had since I first played Wii Sports. A smile that looks like this - oh wait a minute that's not going to work unless you can see me. Well, needless to say Boom Blox gets my highest praise not because of its masterly delivery, clever controls or intriguing levels but because it makes me and my family genuinely enjoy playing it together.
7. Fallout 3 (96% PS3 Xbox 360 PC)
A long time in the making, Bethesda's rediscovery of the wonderful Fallout world not only lived up to lofty expectations, but gave the entire action RPG genre a veritable shot in the arm. Introducing a first or third person perspective, a masterful combat system that blends genres superbly, and a cracking Fallout plot that blends in Hollywood performances with multiple story branches, the title is a landmark in many, many ways. Some may feel that number seven is indeed too low...
Here's a slice from our full review:
Every now and again a game comes along that absolutely refuses to be tied down by preconceived notions of what it should or shouldn't be, instead rising mightily above the gamut of gaming mediocrity and unashamedly embarrassing other, supposedly top-tier titles in the process. In that sense, Bethesda's apocalyptical Fallout 3 belies its own jaw-dropping desolation by delivering a near-faultless action RPG that manages to not only execute compelling first-person gameplay but also provides an influential and in-depth character evolution system that's supported by an intriguing storyline and a mind-boggling game world that screams "Game of the Year" at every turn.
6. Gears of War 2 (96% Xbox 360)
Epic's third-person shooter sequel initially failed to capture the imagination, but as the game's Xbox 360 release neared the anticipation mounted. Epic have honed Gears of War's hit gameplay to a fine glisten, adding in stronger characters and a newly intriguing plot. The combat is rock-solid, then, and this coupled with the developer's attention to detail makes this smash one of the Christmas season's most important releases. The future of Gears of War has never looked so bright.
An extract from our review for you:
Gears 2 is a game of plenty, dishing up a bountiful supply of endearing content and asking relatively little from the player in return. And that's how it feels to play it. You can dash straight past the scenic moments. You can even skip the bits where Marcus walks and talks into his earpiece, if you want. There's a lot of content inside the box, and you're left to see and do as much of it as you can be bothered with. And I haven't even touched upon the multiplayer modes. It's consistent, well paced and tactfully executed. Gears of War is basically a product of itself now, a property everyone who has so much as seen a 360 controller is aware of. Even if they haven't, its formula has been extracted and replanted into such a voluminous amount of its fellow contemporaries that its cover-to-cover gameplay now feels commonplace.
5. FIFA 09 (96% Xbox 360 PS3)
Who would have thought we would ever see a FIFA release in a list of the top games of the year, let alone as high as fifth? A far cry from the sterile yearly updates for which FIFA had become famous, the controls, and the way the gameplay interacts with the game's visuals de-mark EA Sports' opus as the most convincing football title ever created. 'Nuff said?
Here's an extract from our review of EA's opus:
FIFA 09 is more than just an update; its another huge leap forward for EA. It is the marzipan on a Battenberg, and the designer dress on a super model. How they're going to top this I don't know, so enjoy this near-perfection while you can. Yes, this is simply the best football game ever made.
4. Mass Effect (PC 96%)
BioWare know how to make good RPGs, and for the Canadian veterans - now part of EA - the release of Mass Effect was an absolutely crucial title. Story and characterisation shine through in this hugely ambitious undertaking, and there are decisions to be made en masse as players work their way through the game's vast space-based environment. The control scheme on the PC is razor sharp, and all in all this outing left the world itching for the second Mass Effect release.
This from our full review:
Choose to explore everything and this game will last you weeks. Focus on the main story and you can whizz through in around ten hours. Mass Effect has oodles of replayability too, not only in the form of different party members and the attitude of your central character to the universe, but also in the bonuses to your stats that you get from achieving certain goals. I've played every single Bioware game out there and while a number of compromises do stand out the central storyline and its related gameplay is some of their finest work. Did I mention the last two hours are pure gaming and storytelling nirvana?
3. Okami (97% Wii)
A summer 2008 release, Okami for the Wii remains the best reviewed game of the year on Nintendo's platform, despite festive releases like Wii Music and Animal Crossing, neither of which pose a threat to Capcom's snapshot of epic RPG perfection. A stunningly unique art style combines with a Japanese mythology-inspired plot in a sprawling and rich world to create what is likely to be a benchmark for years to come. The Wii control scheme actually works better than the PS2 original, hence once again we see a 2007 release hitting this list again in 2008.
Here's an extract from our review for you:
Combat, story, characterisation, puzzles, exploration, open-world elements, closed-world elements, an imaginative control system and wholly original visual flair combine in Okami with near-perfect results. The Wii's best game to-date, if you'll just give it a chance to shine.
2. BioShock (98% PS3)
If games really are the future of storytelling, then BioShock is a vision of that future, 2K's seminal first-person action RPG expertly blending in a compelling and original narrative in a manner never bettered by any game before or since. The Xbox 360/PC original may have arrived in 2007, but so good is the immersive world of underwater-eutopia gone wrong Rapture that the PS3 outing still makes it to the lofty number two spot.
Here's an extract from our review:
It feels almost unfair that BioShock should now re-emerge just as another raft of hopeful contenders make their way to stores, but emerge it does, and in case I haven't put it bluntly enough already, this is still the Big Daddy of action games, the benchmark by which stories and environments will be measured. An essential purchase.
1. GTA IV (98% PS3 Xbox 360)
There was always a chance it wouldn't be number one, honestly there was, but looking back through this list I think it is fairly apparent that this the most easy to defend as a number one choice. Quite simply, Rockstar's seminal open-world action title set new benchmarks for story, genre-mixing gameplay, and realistic freedom.
This from our full review:
As games close an ever-tightening circle around the mass market, it seems entirely appropriate that a new Grand Theft Auto now takes to the stage; Nintendo has softened up those non-hardcore gamers with a little Wii Fit, and now its time to invite those players into the back room to find out what we've all known for years. Namely, that games like GTA IV can offer all the story, all the immersion and all the witty, post-modernistic commentary you could ever wish for, wrapped-up in grin-inducing gameplay that never lets up or becomes repetitive. This is indeed a vital game.