Games of 2008 in Review

In May of 2008 I finally moved to the “current generation” of gaming and bought an Xbox 360. I then proceeded to play a lot of games (particularly over the summer.) Here are my short reviews of each game I played, with my general conclusion that I don’t think I can trust reviewers anymore. Several games I thought were cool are on worst games of 2008 lists, several I thought were kinda lame received an abundance of praise.

Here they are (from oldest to most recent):

Grand Theft Auto 4: The game that finally pushed me over into buying a 360, and I was not disappointed. Though some of my friends got bored or sidetracked I played the entire story mode through with enthusiasm and enjoyed several of the multiplayer modes as well. The attention to detail in the design of Liberty City was a source of non-stop amazement for me. I’m looking forward to the downloadable content they’ve promised for 2009. Jason and Dan wrote about GTA4 here and here. 

Bioshock: This was the first of my “catch up ” games, having actually been released in 2007. People wouldn’t shut up about how awesome this game was, and that probably led me to expect too much (I think Gabe or Tycho said this was possibly “the best game ever” at PAX 2007.) It was certainly interesting and neat, but it often felt repetitive and not much different from other FPSs. The story and environment were enough to grab my attention, and the depiction of Rapture (a city that could only have been built under the sea!) was impressive, but when it came down to it, Bioshock played like every other FPS where I blew up bad guys and search levels for ammo. I played through as a “good guy” but didn’t have the motivation to play through again as a “evil guy” (I hear it is not too different.) That said I’ll probably pick up the sequel which is due out this year. Jason wrote two(!) reviews of Bioshock here and here. 

Halo 3: Anther catch-up from 2007, this seemed more or less a requirement if you were to own a 360. Single player was fun and par for the course of the Halo series, though much more fun when you could get a friend or two to drop in for co-op mode. I spent a lot of nights working my way up the ranking for the multiplayer which was fun (again particularly with friends), but haven’t felt the need to go back to it since other multiplayer games have come out.

Splinter Cell: Double Agent: (Actually came out in 2006, but as you can see I’m behind.) I’ve played all the Splinter Cell games so I enjoyed this one, though the multiplayer was disappointing compared to the previous generation. The “trust” system where you balance the NSA’s interests with those of the terrorist group you are infiltrating seemed neat, but the “errand” missions you would do around the terrorist HQ were somewhat dull and frustrating.  Jason also wrote a review. 

Assassin’s Creed: (Technically came out in 2007.) Seemed extremely cool in concept (stealthy assassin in medieval middle east!), but it got very repetitive doing the same “chores” to track down information about my targets. I got through the first 3 or 4 missions before I got bored and set this aside for the time being. In my mind I wanted this to be the new Thief, and that probably wasn’t a fair burden to put on it.  

The Orange Box: (Also 2007.) Portal was amazing and I had actually played it through in its entirety on a friends console when it came out. I played it through again when I had my own copy. Half Life 2 Episodes 1 and 2 were also fun (having played Half Life 2 on the original Xbox and old school half life on the PC back in the day.) I had high hopes for Team Fortress 2 that didn’t seem to pan out, in part not enough of my friends were interested, but also the mechanics of the game seemed geared for the PC and not so much for the console experience. 

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men: (Also 2007.) I quite liked this, which was somewhat unexpected after the controversial reviews of it that had caused so much heat on the internet when it came out. Single player was interesting enough, though I never played the multiplayer much and the lack of online co-op mode was certainly a let down. Jason wrote a review here. 

Rockband 2: Lots of fun, though I still haven’t had a chance to “invest” the time to move my guitar skills from medium to hard. In my mind this is the party game to have for the 360. Check out Dan’s anticipatory posts here and here.

Braid: My first real Xbox Live Arcade purchase, this was an extremely impressive game. What this game does to the old slide scrolling genre is amazing and poked the whole “games as art” discussion back into people’s minds and blogs. Check out Jason’s review. 

Gears of War 2: Fun single player campaign but amazing buggy and ultimately disappointing multiplayer. My friends and I had really been looking forward to this after the amount of time we’d played Gears 1 together, but this simply didn’t deliver. Jason and I wrote more about this here and here. 

Castle Crashers: My other Xbox Live Arcade purchase of the year, Castle Crashers is a throwback to the side scrolling arcade games of yore. I haven’t finished it as it is a tad dull to play alone, but was fun to play with a friend over, and I had a great time playing it for an afternoon with a group of 4. The multiplayer is apparently rather buggy so I haven’t even tried playing it online yet. Someday I will finish this.

Left 4 Dead: Critics complained this was way too short and wasn’t that replay-able.  All I can say is that I’ve put more hours into this game than anything else that came out this year. Left 4 Dead has been great fun, and as two of my friends just got it for Xmas so I expect to be playing a good deal more in the next few weeks. If I had to pick a favorite game of the year, this would be it. Jason has written more about Left 4 Dead here. 

Lego Batman: Particularly if you have a friend to play with this is a fun game. I had enjoyed Lego Start Wars back in the day, but I was little skeptical of this as there is not a specific comic/movie they are parodying. Even with that they made agood game with some mechanics that improve on the earlier Lego games. Lego Batman is fun, silly, and enjoyable, I need to finish this. 

Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway:  The third game in the series, I enjoyed this a good deal, though I recognize realistic squad based games are not everyone’s cup of tea. Plays very differently from Call of Duty (which people mention whenever I bring it up.) If you enjoyed the Band of Brothers miniseries it might be worth checking out. One of my former students worked on it which is pretty cool. 

Dead Space: Received a lot of negative reviews and was on Wired’s List of the Most Disappointing Games of 2008, but I liked it a lot. It was fun, creepy, and interesting. Read my longer review. 

Mirror’s Edge: Also on the  Wired list of disappointing game, and again I quite liked it. Read my full review here. 

Not too many of the 2009 games have caught my attention yet, but I still need to find time to play through Mass Effect and Fable 3 which are both sitting on my TV waiting to be played.

Do you mean Fable 2? So far I really like Fable 2 and even when I am “driving”. You could either play alone or with your roommate.
As for Mass Affect, I like to watch Jason play sometimes. You all know where he stands on that game. :)

whoops I meant Fallout 3, Fable 2 is further down the listin that I haven’t purchased it yet…

Like you, if I could’ve bought only five games all year, they wouldn’t have been the ones in most reviewers’ top 5. Left 4 Dead is the most essential game of the year, in my opinion. Fable 2 is great to play with one person on the controller and the other playing back seat driver (because otherwise, local co-op forces you to play split screen). And Fallout 3 has enough diverse content to keep a single-playing gamer busy for a long, long time. Well, I guess that one made it to many #1 spots, but GTA IV and Gears 2 don’t even make my top 5, thanks to Castle Crashers and Braid.

Gears 2 is actually on people top 5 lists? That seems odd…