Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Top Ten Games of 2008

While TGR already did its Game of the Year Awards, I felt compelled to make a list of my own personal top 10. So here goes:

10. No More Heroes
9. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
8. Professor Layton and the Curious Village
7. Bionic Commando Rearmed
6. Fable 2
5. Devil May Cry 4
4. World of Goo
3. Fallout 3
2. Metal Gear Solid 4
1. Braid

End of the year thoughts:

I'll likely pontificate upon most of these games at a later time, but the one I really want to write about right now is Devil May Cry 4, as it is easily the most controversial of my picks.

The thing about DMC4, is that the first time you play it, it's not especially good. It's not bad exactly, but it feels like a hi-def cover of a 2001 game. The camera and level design are archaic and poor, the story is utter rubbish, and the puzzles are terrible. None of that bothered me too much as it was an action game, and most of my time was spent fighting, but even that felt very last-gen. Worse yet, the game's second half, where you switch playable characters, is significantly easier than the half that proceeded it. In short, it was still a pretty fun action game, but had I stopped to write a review after my initial playthrough, I likely would have barely let it scrape by with an 8.

I was still compelled to go back and try the game again on a harder difficulty, if for no other reason than to get my money's worth and because there were no other games on the horizon for awhile, and a funny thing happened; the game really began to click.

See, on your first playthrough, you're just getting used to the level design. Where to go, what to do, etc. But the second time you play, you already know all that. You can proceed through the levels at blazing speed, skip the cutscenes, and focus far more on the game's excellent combat.

And that's where the heart of the game lies. The game's combat, which is all too easy on the default setting, really comes into its own on a second playthrough on hard. By that point, you'll have a far more expansive arsenal, but so will your enemies. By which I mean they'll do more damage, and have been remixed to raise the challenge. That's when the game really comes into its own. It's you and the enemies at the top of their game, and it's bloody brilliant. Even the game's second half as Dante, which was so easy the first time around, is at least as hard as Nero's segments on Hard. And then on Dante Must Die difficulty, the Dante segments are by far the hardest part of the game. So yeah, after the initial playthrough, the difficulty smooths out a whole lot.

Also, unlike DMC3, I felt like the regular enemies were a lot of fun to fight here. I remember loving DMC3 at first, but when I went back and played it again I felt like fighting all the regular enemies just dragged on and on, and only the bosses were that great. While the bosses are still the highlight here, each enemy type is well constructed and varied, as are the various combination of different enemy types you'll fight at once.

I ended up playing the game five times in a row after its release, clocking in nearly 70 hours. That's more than I put into Fallout 3! So yeah, while DMC4 isn't especially revolutionary in any way, I found it to be my greatest guilty pleasure of the year and would highly recommend giving it a chance if you're a fan of the genre.

Another game I'd like to write about is LittleBigPlanet, because while it didn't make my list, it made just about everybody else's.

I'm sure I would have liked LBP a lot more had I had lower expectations for it. From an audio/visual standpoint, it is truly a force to be reckoned with. So as a fan of 2D side-scrolling platformers, I was really looking forward to it. The sad truth of the matter, however, is that the controls quite simply aren't very good. And given that the game is a platformer, that's probably the single most important thing it needs to get right. So in that respect, LBP was a terrible disappointment.

There is the argument that that is missing the point entirely; that LBP is about creativity, and playfulness, and fun. On that level, I can agree that LBP is an unqualified success (well mostly unqualified. the copywrite issues that plagued it after launch brought that aspect down some). I do enjoy seeing what other people can create, and I've seen some pretty amazing levels. But I feel like even the best designed levels are still only, "pretty good" due to the awkward controls and floaty physics. The Ico level, for example, is a wonderful tribute to that game and as polished as any LBP level I've played, but lets face it; it's no Ico. I have yet to play any LBP level that I feel is clever enough to stand up as its own game, which is what I was sort of hoping for. I wanted to see some great work of art with a good story and unique presentation, and while I've seen hints of that (The Case of the Crying Sackgirl" comes to mind, except for the awful shallow, "cute" anti-climax, just when things were getting good), I've yet to see a great game transpire within the LBP engine, so it still just feels like a platformer with a level editor. Even if it is the most through, in-depth level editor we've seen.

I also didn't put GTA 4 on there. I reviewed that on an old blog and didn't care for it much. I'll upload that review here soon enough.

Anyway, that's my list. Agree? Disagree? Opinions? Thoughts?


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