Before I did the requisite research for this entry, I expected I was going to have a lot of trouble coming up with enough games to fill out a top five list, especially since I have passed on a lot of the most critically acclaimed games from the year. I didn’t play Modern Warfare 2 (no interest). I didn’t play Uncharted 2 (no PS3). I didn’t like Batman: Arkham Asylum nearly as much as others did (the stealth was fun, and it did a great job realizing its world, but the rest of the game left me cold). I was pleasantly surprised to find out that, in fact, there were so many games I wanted to mention, and that I didn’t really feel like making a lot of hard choices between, that I could reasonably extend the list in to a top ten. So without any further ado:
Honourable Mention: Defense Grid: The Awakening
Technically, it came out very late in 2008, so I’m excluding it from the list proper. But this is still, for my money, the best, most fun, thoughtfully designed, well-balanced tower defense game out there.
10) Dawn of War 2
There are going to be two themes that are evident in this list. The first is the application of Diablo-style progression to other genres. In Dawn of War 2, Relic made a stripped-down, tactical, fast-paced RTS married to well-implemented character leveling and loot systems (notice how often the gear you acquire requires a level or two above where your characters are currently at, enticing you to keep playing with the prospect of getting to try out your new goodies). Co-op makes the blisteringly quick pace of the combat far more manageable, but the campaign is still plenty of fun solo.
9) The Beatles: Rock Band
It didn’t reinvent the wheel, but having a disc packed with songs that my friends knew and that weren’t overly difficult led to many a great evening in with friends. And what a great opening cinematic. That’s how you make a first impression. Even better, it was indicative of the care and attention to detail, and outright reverence, that went in to the product.
8) ‘Splosion Man
Silly, fun, and challenging. It brought a smile to my face. The co-op was maybe a little too hard and finnicky, but the solo campaign (outside of the boss fights, which annoyed me) felt just right. Better suited to consoles than N+ was, and with a style and sense of humour more suited to my sensibilities than Super Meat Boy was.
Obviously, the line from Diablo to here is straighter than in the case of Dawn of War 2. There are so many great little refinements to the formula here, but what really captured me was the audio. The sound of chests opening, of skeletons being shattered. And that music. Unique in its own right, yet so infused with a sense of nostalgia.
6) Dirt 2
Scratches the itch I have for time trials every bit as well as past favourites of mine, SSX 3 and Mirror’s Edge. Those long rally races, with nothing in sight but the beautiful scenery, feeling like I’m in control, but just barely, for minutes at a time. Learning how to take hairpin turns well, and seeing immediately how much of a difference that makes to my times. And what a great development in racing games – letting me rewind and instantly retry when I do screw up – the perfect way to let me learn from my mistakes.
Part 2 coming soon!