Game of the Year [2008]: My Opinion Counts Here

01 Jan 2009

It has been a good year for video games. Not for the industry, sure. But I’ve enjoyed myself. And since it is New Year’s Eve, it is time to make a list of some of those games.

###Single Player###

Most of my game collection is single player. I don’t really play well with others. So the solo experience of a game has to enthrall me. It’s why I think the Halo games are lousy. And why I prefer Grand Theft Auto to Call of Duty.

There were a number of good ones this year. GTA4 really was a blast. But for a solo game to really be worthwhile I need to be able to pick it up a month later and still have fun. Yes, GTA4 did a lot of cool things that I enjoyed, but I’ve got no reason to pick it up again.

I will pick up Fallout 3 again. Sure, the game has buggy parts and the writing is all kinds of horrid, but F3 is fun. There is a huge world to explore. V.A.T.S. makes the combat interesting and is unique to the game. And after I beat it once, I started over again. And will do so again a few months from now.

So, Fallout 3 is my Single Player Game of 2008.

###Multi-player###

The year I spent in Engineering was a waste of my time. Fortunately, most of that time was really just spent playing Super Smash Bros on the N64. So when SSB Brawl was released this year, I thought I would get into it. Except I haven’t. It was fun with certain people, but that was where the major appeal was. Likewise with the Gears of War series or Mortal Kombat vs DC. Sure, they aren’t awful, but there isn’t anything there for me outside of the social aspect.

When thinking about that, I almost gave Rock Band 2 the top spot. And if you’ve played it, you know why. The game is a fantastic party game no matter who you’re with. But one game edged it out.

I love killing zombies. Some might say it is an unnatural love. But Valve doesn’t think so. Valve knows what I need. And Left 4 Dead is it. L4D puts everything together into a fantastic game. It manages to work on a number of different levels. Which is why Left 4 Dead is my Multi-player Game of 2008.

###Visuals###

At some point, we’re going to have the “games as art” talk. I promise I won’t be too pretentious, but it needs to happen. Fortunately for you, that is not what this category is about. We’re talking about the visual merit of games.

I don’t play games because they look pretty. Lots do, but I rarely notice it until after the fact. Story captures me first. Only two games managed to be exceptions this year.

Spore was an awful game. It tried to be five different games and didn’t succeed in any of them. Which is too bad, because Spore’s Creature Creator is fantastic. And the game almost deserves my coveted visuals award… Almost.

Braid was a little game that filled big shoes. It was a short independent title that changed my opinion on “indie” games. From the scenery to the characters to the effects, everything in the game was interesting to look at. I think I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything else David Hellman (the artist) does.

Obviously, Braid is my Visual Game of 2008.

###Audio###

This category almost went to Braid. It was as simple as a coin toss between it and Left 4 Dead.

Horror is a hard genre to score. Valve could have used a very generic soundtrack that kinda fit most scenarios. It would have been okay and nobody would have faulted them for it. Instead, Valve decided to have an Audio Director. It would be a program that acted differently for each player. And it would play certain musical cues based on various environmental factors, the presence or absence of specific creatures, and events in the game. They weren’t even focused on whether you actively listened to it. Instead, they wanted to provide something that would help give you subconscious clues as to what was occurring in the game world around you.

It seems silly typing that, but they pulled it off. The way music is done in L4D is enough for my praise alone. Fortunately, they also have four fantastic voice actors who really drive the game. They sound legitimately scared/happy/hurt or whatever the game requires them to be. The only (very minor) complaint I have is that the voice actor for Bill was also the voice talent for Father Gregori in Half-Life 2. I mean, hell. Yes. That character was awesome entirely because of the man behind his audio, but it throws me off every time I hear him. I constantly expect the crazy shepherd to start ranting about his flock…

All in all, the game is a fantastic example of how music/audio should be done. Not just in a horror game, but in a game in general. For that, Left 4 Dead is my Audio Game of 2008.

###Story###

The story isn’t the meat of a game for some. Which is fine. World of Goo doesn’t need a complex plot to be awesome. But there is also much more to story than just the general plot. The script and dialogue is vital. Shamus at Twenty Sided has already talked about how Fallout 3 failed in this regard, so I won’t harp on it any further.

Within the story category is also believability. Both in characters and in the general world. I don’t mean that everything has to take place on Earth in 2009. But it does have to take place in a way that makes sense. If you create a universe and then contradict the rules of that universe, you’ve just hurt your story. Same with characters. I will let people get away with a lot in their games, but a person who doesn’t follow any realistic pattern of behavior? That’s idiotic.

Which brings me to the game that had the best story for 2008. A game that is so filled with idiocy that it makes me laugh to put it on here. But the game established a world, made the characters, and then crafted them believably. And it did so in a way that poked fun at… well… everyone.

I’m talking about Forumwarz. They describe it as “a browser-based RPG about Internet Culture”. And they should have added “and everything that is wrong with that culture”. It is a very clever, well designed satire of a world I spent a lot of time in. From the script to the characters to the dialogue to the consistency. I wouldn’t have thought of this game if it hadn’t been on Kotaku’s Goaties nominations. But the game really is a perfect example of how story can be managed.

And that makes Forumwarz my Story Game of 2008.

###Independent###

There are those (like Jay Branson) who have been fighting the good fight for independently developed games. But indie games have it pretty tough. Without the backing of a big publisher, they don’t have the finances to get in the door and they don’t have a large team to help do the work. Yet they’re still expected to turn out polished, intelligent games that nobody has thought of.

And yes, I expect that. There are people who give indie games a free ride because they’re indie. I don’t. I have no problem spending $20 on an untried team, but if you’ve made a bad game I will tell people. I may not have a big soapbox to stand on, but at least my friends will know. Don’t feel bad, indie developers. I don’t just do this for your games. I also do it for crap like Mirror’s Edge or Spore.

Fortunately, this year had a number of awesome indie games. Glancing over the this year’s Independent Games Festival Winners and I see a lot of fantastic work. Audiosurf was, from my understanding, cool. Desktop Tower Defense is an addiction I may never be free of. World of Goo blew me away with how awesome the work of two individuals could be. Braid and Castle Crasher both made it to X-Box Live and succeeded (incredibly well, as I understand it).

World of Goo happened to with for Design Innovation this year. It also won my cold-hard cash. And I can’t think of an indie game that work as well, in every way possible, as World of Goo.

So, congratulations 2D Boy. Some random guy on some random blog just named World of Goo my Indie Game of 2008.

###Game of the Year###

2008 was a good year for my X-Box and PC. And most of the games I mentioned deserve praise for giving me something fun to do when I wasn’t work my ass off. But to name any one of them as Game of the Year would be silly. I mean, Braid was probably my game of September. GTA4 for some other month. And I went through six or seven weeks of Forumwarz awesomeness. But none of them really fit my “top spot”.

Which is fine. I have enough trouble deciding my favorite color, let alone a game that was superior to all others. Sure, it is anti-climatic to end a Game of the Year list saying “all games are awesome”. But nothing stood out so far above the ground to be definitely named the winner. Maybe 2009 will come with it some incredible gaming experiences. Maybe the latest Wii title will revolutionize the entire industry and make me reconsider gaming as I understand it.

But that’ll be 2009. And that’s too far into the future to consider.

So, thanks gaming industry, for a 2008 worthy of at least one blog post.