Posts Tagged "games of 2008"

Games of 2008: Wrap-Up

Every year I realize I don’t really like writing lists or articles which end up sounding more like game reviews than critical analyses. So, to close out my list of 2008’s best games, I offer the best of the rest:

Valkyria Chronicles
Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles uses its pseudo-World War II setting to the best of its abilities, presenting everything from the blitzkrieg of an “evil empire” to the concentration camps of a group of humans who are discriminated against for inciting a war thousands of years before the events of the game. The game attempts to encourage players to treat the units in the game as individuals each with their own positives and negatives and, as such, character development is handled through one of five character classes and upgrades to these classes affects every character of that class type. This behavior does diminish the goals of most strategy RPGs but, at the same time, the inventive combination of real-time character movement/action and turn-based unit management makes for a superb tactical experience.

Luminous Arc 2
Unlike Valkyria Chronicles which handles its strategy/RPG gameplay in a very new and innovative way for the genre, Luminous Arc 2 is an SRPG which makes no attempts to hide its Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre-inspired gameplay mechanics. Unlike the sea of other games inspired by this very specific type of character development, Luminous Arc 2 offers an incredibly well-balanced difficulty curve over the course of the game. And through the use of Luminous Arc 2’s “engagement” system, the game forces players to treat unnecessarily well-defined witches as a type of battlefield resource for the continued stat progression of the game’s protagonist. Gameplay aside, the game has one of the best scripts I have ever seen from a Japanese RPG.

Boom Blox
Boom Blox is the kind of game everyone dreamed of when the Nintendo Wii remote was first announced. It’s Jenga, it’s throwing baseballs and bowling balls at complex structures to make them fall down, it’s a party game, and it’s a game where you toss heavy objects at a group of invading bear blox in order to safe a bunch of sheep blox. Yeah.

It’s a game where you race through tracks that are procedurally generated based on the music that you choose. So you race your music. You race your music.

Games of 2008: Ninja Gaiden 2

It’s easy to be disgusted by a game like Ninja Gaiden 2. Team Ninja’s (now former) director, Tomonobu Itagaki, makes no pretense for a fair display of gender differences. The game makes no attempt to convey an intelligent and thought-provoking story through its occasional and concise cut scenes. And the game makes no attempt to further the integrity of video gaming as a medium. Within the first five minutes of the game a player is treated to pints of blood being splattered across the entirety of a given level and inhumanly large and buoyant breasts are barely stuffed behind a skimpy leather top attached to a CIA agent in an equally revealing miniskirt.

Unlike Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes, no aspect of Ninja Gaiden 2 is designed to subvert and exploit the expectations of the medium or the desires of young teenage males. Ninja Gaiden 2 is what it is and, really, not much more. It is, through and through, an action-focused video game.

And as an action game, Ninja Gaiden 2 is the absolute best in its class for one primary reason: the game places the entirety of Ryu Hayabusa’s behavior into the hands of the player. There are no quick-time events, there are no platforming segments where a player solely has to keep the joystick pressed forward to successfully progress, and at no point is there an AI-controlled ally character who exists to help the player along. The closest the game comes to taking away direct control from the player is when Ryu is “obliterating” an enemy foe who is in a state of near-death and operating in a kamikaze fighter. During these segments a five-to-ten second animation players where Ryu will absolutely decimate an enemy’s body, thus preventing this enemy from ever troubling the player again throughout a combat encounter. These segments, as automated as they are, serve as the only moments of respite in combat and, on harder difficulties, are used as a strategic period of invulnerability against, say, a group of enemies volleying rockets into the air through their rapid-fire launchers.

The endless combat encounters are the lifeblood of Ninja Gaiden 2 and are composed with a caliber of depth more like a fighting game than a third-person action romp — no surprise given Team Ninja’s work on the Dead or Alive games. Combat is fast and relentless, requiring a player to make snap decisions about whether to guard, counter, evade, attack, obliterate, switch weapons, use magic, or run away to a safer location (long-range rapid-fire rocket launching ninjas are frequent, especially on the hardest difficulty modes) in order to continue fighting. What’s more, there is a great deal of complexity attached to the functionality of every single one of the game’s nine melee weapons. As expected, each weapon has its own “move list” that is unlocked as a player’s upgrades a given weapon as he/she progresses through the game. What’s remarkable is how profoundly different combat becomes when switching from weapon to weapon. With the Dragon Blade (Ryu Hayabusa’s initial weapon, a single sword) combat is fast and frantic with a variety of employable strategies from short to long range to an entire arsenal of in-air maneuvers. A set of boots/claws will make combat even more fast-paced as a player is required to engage solely in close-range and execute combos quickly, evading, and then targeting another opponent. And so on.

It’s on the harder difficulties, the ones where a player is required to beat the game on the hardest-available difficulty before unlocking, that Ninja Gaiden 2 becomes an effort in tightly-controlled action. The button-mashing, lucky counters, and accidental evasions will no longer suffice on these unlocked difficulties. Nor, really, can a player simply choose his favorite weapon and eventually overcome all foes. On these difficulty levels, Ninja Gaiden 2 becomes the kind of success-through-repetition/mastery/memorization that Bizarre Creation’s The Club was attempting to achieve: a racing game-like dedication to figuring out enemy patterns and the kinds of actions which don’t work in certain enemy group configurations. And it’s Ninja Gaiden 2’s decision to make this type of gameplay strategy a requirement for the unlockable difficulty modes which allows it to work well.

Ninja Gaiden 2 wasn’t released to the same kind of critical fanfare that its predecessor was which strikes me as unfortunate. It doesn’t take any radical chances as a sequel but, rather, it simply fixes some of the game-ruining issues and adds in more of “what worked.” The level design is streamlined to both prevent confusion over how to progress and to limit the number of times a player is forced to backtrack and explore, both of which were ill-fitting aspects of the original game which ruined its pacing. Ninja Gaiden 2 also focuses far more on humanoid enemies and uses the “fiends” sparingly and befitting in-game situations.

Most of all, Ninja Gaiden 2 embraces its status as a video game, and a linear one at that. It eschews the common trends of the medium in a year where “games as art” is a popular topic and grit and seriousness are the preferred tone. Instead, Ninja Gaiden 2 goes the route of the lone ninja of gaming’s past killing thousands of other ninjas and mutants in the most absurd ways possible. And, sometimes, that’s all a great action-focused game needs to be.

But, seriously, stop with absurd breasts and the inane physics calculations being applied to them.

Games of 2008: Metal Gear Solid 4

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a strange game to discuss. As a long-time fan of the series it is both a superb gaming experience and an absolutely infuriating one. The game presents itself to players as being almost two separate entities: the one the player is engaged in and the one that Hideo Kojima wants the player to watch.

For a game like Metal Gear Solid 4, franchise history is of paramount importance to any discourse regarding the game. Metal Gear Solid is a franchise that got its North American start back in 1998. The Playstation game was released to pretty wide critical acclaim and commercial success (shipping “six million units worldwide. The game made good on its tag line of “Tactical Espionage Action” by merging its action and stealth gameplay better than any game that preceded it — a feat that went unmatched until the release of Splinter Cell four years later. Metal Gear Solid was, above all else, a game with sublime pacing throughout its duration; the gameplay was the focus, the cut scenes were lengthy for the time, but rarely excessive. The game’s sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, was released two and a half year later and, despite critical and commercial success exceeding the original game, is considered a misstep in the series due to the change in protagonist, a pronounced increase in tangential storylines (especially the romance of two main characters), and more and longer cinematics.

When Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released in 2004, the gameplay, characters, overarching story, and level design were all better than they ever were before. And it was with Metal Gear Solid 3 that the franchise’s penchant for unnecessarily lengthy storytelling through non-interactive cut scenes was most pronounced. The increased length of the cut scenes (along with an increased number of them) seemed to also go hand-in-hand with a poorly-crafted script that seemed to rely on a pure bulk of dialogue to present information and storylines. The franchise was always fond of its own verbosity, but each game in the series took it one step further.

And in 2008 Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was released.

The core gameplay of a Metal Gear Solid game has always involved a conscious choice on the player’s part: does he/she want to kill a lot of people or does he want to never kill a single enemy (or set off a single alarm)? Metal Gear Solid 4 features the finest implementation of these series axioms to date. The stealth mechanics haven’t been drastically redesigned, but the iterative improvements in Metal Gear Solid 4 go a long way. Solid Snake’s camouflage that was introduced in MGS 3 required players to spend a few painful seconds of menu navigation to choose the best pattern for his current environment, in Metal Gear Solid 4 Snake has an active camouflage suit that seamlessly blends with his current environment if the player remains motionless for a few seconds. This process will give Snake a base camouflage value that is at its lowest when he is running and highest/best when he is stationary and prone. It’s a simple change to an old system, but the way it works now makes an already-fun/tactical mechanic from an old game less of a hassle.

My other favorite stealth-related introduction was the new “threat ring.” If a player crouched to the ground and remained stationary for a few seconds, a ring would appear around Snake’s mid-section that would indicate enemy positions/movement around him. If there was no enemy present in a given direction then that segment would be flat, if there was then the size of the hill/wave that was formed would depend on the distance of the enemy from Snake. The threat ring will also be colored based on an enemy’s state of awareness. I think this is an absolutely brilliant interface mechanic for representing the kind of locational and audio information a player would have in the same in-game situation (or out-of-game with a good speaker setup).

While the stealth gameplay was relegated to some iterative changes on the existing framework, the combat and shooting mechanics seemed to have been almost entirely redesigned. Metal Gear Solid 4 allows over-the-shoulder aiming with weapons and a first-person perspective that allows the user to move while aiming. In the original Metal Gear Solid, the only method of shooting guns was by aiming from an isometric-esque viewpoint while using a laser attached to the gun to give the player an idea of the bullet direction. It wasn’t until MGS2 that players were allowed to also shoot from a first-person perspective and, even then, movement was prohibited (the same is true of the non-Subsistence releases of MGS3). Most importantly, the gunplay of Metal Gear Solid 4 felt good. The weaponry all had proper heft, shooting from both the over-the-shoulder and the first-person perspective were both viable and enjoyable, and the controls were, ahem, solid. Also introduced was a weapon dealer that was accessible from anywhere and a fairly simplistic weapon customization system that allowed players to add scopes, grips, grenade launchers, laser sights, silencers and other basic features to the weaponry that supported them.

It’s, actually, the new found strength of the gunplay in Metal Gear Solid 4 that ruins the balance between stealth and action. While the stealth aspects of Snake’s repertoire received minor iterative improvements, it was still a bit archaic compared to the redesigned nature of the combat. There is no proper cover system which has a slight impact on the combat encounters but, primarily, prevents a stealth player from easily jumping from cover-to-cover amidst enemy patrols.

The gameplay of Metal Gear Solid 4 is, without a doubt in my mind, fantastic. It’s actually a shame it had to arrive as a Metal Gear Solid game as the series reaches the peak of its own self-infatuation. The cinematics are so prolific and so unnecessarily lengthy that even I, as a long-time fan of the series, started getting a bit weary of them from time-to-time. This particular game had the lofty task of wrapping up over twenty years worth of storylines (the Metal Gear games and the Metal Gear Solid ones) but, in some ways, so many of those storylines never needed more attention given to them; namely, the romance of Raiden and Rose (two protagonists from Metal Gear Solid 2) and a seemingly-random romance between two characters in Metal Gear Solid 4. The end-game cinematics alone take up the kind of time you’d expect from a feature-length film. As long-winded as Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 got at times, Metal Gear Solid 4 is still worse.

The casualty of the cut scenes is pacing. Throughout my young adulthood I played through the original Metal Gear Solid about five or six times. I may have watched all of the cinematics during two of those play-throughs. The gameplay still held up through almost the entire game with the cutscenes and story removed entirely. The same simply cannot be said for Guns of the Patriots. In my attempt to play through the game recently the number of cut scenes ruined whatever groove I got into so often that, eventually, I gave up shortly before the third act. I gave up around that specific point because after the end of the first two acts, the amount of gameplay decreases rapidly in favor of more cut scenes. Act four, for instance, is probably going to be one of my greatest memories as a gamer but that is due entirely due to how well the levels and cut scenes touch upon my nostalgia for the franchise. The amount and quality of the playable segments throughout that act is nowhere near that of the first two acts; players are no longer in the middle of a war between two factions but, rather, avoiding annoying little robots. Or big robots. Neither of which are enjoyable to face off against.

It is amazing how Metal Gear Solid 4 manages to wrap up those twenty years of plot lines, though. When I finished the game, it was impressive to see such a complete end to one of my beloved series. I could not think of a single plot line that I felt was unresolved (or resolved poorly). But what I enjoy about games is rarely the storylines as they are dictated to me. As the foremost interactive form of media in the world, a game has the ability to make players the story in their predetermined premise (like one of my other games of 2008). Cutscenes as rewards for completing a gameplay segment successfully or particularly well are one thing, but what Metal Gear Solid 4 does is make the gameplay a reward for finishing a cut scene.

Solid Snake’s story comes to a close in Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s been ten years since I was first introduced to the Metal Gear Solid series (I was too young to enjoy the Metal Gear games) and for my first time through the game, MGS4 did an adequate, and necessary, job of closing the narrative threads that got their start back way back when. In that decade, games have advanced in an uncountable number of ways. Metal Gear Solid 4’s gameplay has managed to not only meet modern expectations, but in some ways it surpassed them. But with MGS4, Kojima Productions has alienated anyone not in their immediate fan base (and those like me who want to play through a game more than once) by not keeping the gameplay/narrative pacing tight and consistently relevant to player actions.

Games of 2008: Far Cry 2

Shortly after I started my first game of Far Cry 2, I was treated to an on-rails taxi ride where my driver pointed out some of the unique sites of Africa. There are groups of civilians wandering in hope of escape from their country, varied wildlife, the spreading of a flash fire spreading from a patch of dry grass to a nearby tree, and more than a few angry-looking mercenaries. Functionally, this segment did nothing for me that Half-Life’s tram ride didn’t do back in 1998. Though, the tour did allow me time to take in the harrowing beauty intrinsic to Far Cry 2. The game’s microcosm of Africa is beautifully realized and serves the game as an entity unto itself; a living, breathing pseudo-ecosystem. More than that, Far Cry 2 provides the player with a robust toolset of destruction that makes each of the game’s bountiful combat encounters play out different every time.

When the segment ends, my character blacks out as a result of what I soon discover to be a latent case of malaria finally manifesting itself at the worst imaginable time. Upon waking, I see that I’m recumbent in a shanty hotel room and there is an unfamiliar figure standing at the foot of my bed, reading my confidential mission documents aloud. He quickly makes himself known as The Jackal, the infamous arms dealer that I have been sent to assassinate. This first scene represents the sole objective of Far Cry 2’s premise in its entirety: it introduces the player to The Jackal, gives some basic background on who he is, and what his relation to the player is. The scene ends when my character’s malaria flares up again and he blacks out.

Next time I wake up it’s to the sound of explosions and fire all around me as my hotel (and likely the rest of the village it’s in) is being ravaged from a battle outside. I grab a nearby pistol and then learn the basic game maneuvers as I crawl through debris and jump over broken walls until I eventually make it outside the village and, once again, black out.

Far Cry 2 actually begins after another hour or so of pedestrian tutorial quests. My primary enemy in the country knows who I am and that my only mission is to kill him, I’m stuck in the middle of a violent civil conflict between two warring factions (each of which are filled with higher-ups willing to do whatever it takes to beat the other), and the weapons I grabbed early on in the tutorial are jamming up in the middle of a battle. My pistol basically disintegrated at one point near the end of the tutorial segment. What’s worse is that my character is suffering the full extent of his malaria — short of death, I suppose — I get violent attacks that can only be held back by medicine given to me by members of an African Underground movement and I can only run about fifteen yards before I almost pass out.

It’s not uncommon for a game to start a player off in an altered state; a number of games have a player start off exceptionally strong and then strip away all of the upgrades after an introductory segment. Some games start a player off weak and the player will slowly become more and more powerful. Far Cry 2 starts a player off with weak weapons that are prone to rapid degradation and a deadly incurable illness. The only way to move forward is to work closely with one of the two factions who are at war with one another and tearing about the African culture and people in the process.

What I have going for me are my friends. I rescued a woman named Michelle, a fellow freelance killer, who was being held captive by a group of mercenaries in a slaughterhouse and since then she has become a sidekick who will intervene in the heat of battle. She introduced me to another mercenary when I went to meet up with her in a nearby bar. Together, these two people will end up forming their own unique narratives with and for the player. One of them will serve as a means of subverting a number of the missions given to the player by one of the two factions by offering optional “sub-quests” that will both hurt one of the factions while making the eventual completion of the base mission easier. The other buddy is a player’s parachute: when he/she is “rescue-ready” then he will come to the aid of a player who was killed in battle by offering a resuscitation and brief fire support. The game’s buddy system forms part of Far Cry 2’s story; the optional sub-quests flesh out the details between a given buddy and the player and form a narrative that is, in part, unique to a given player.

More importantly that the subversive sub-quests are the rescue buddies that will end up forming a sort of emergent narrative that will enhance a player’s view of a combat encounter — these are the stories that gamers will take away from Far Cry 2 and talk about with their friends. Stories about how their friend Michelle, Nasreen, Marty, Hakim, or some other character game in just when a player got an unexpected shotgun blast to the chest and died. And then that rescue buddy came in and brought the player out of his near-death state by coming to the scene with his AK-47 or Desert Eagle blazing and then dragging the player to safety and then announcing “Heal up and let’s go; there are about three guys left out there.”

Much like a Grand Theft Auto game, Far Cry 2 takes place in an open world while holding the player to a fairly strict progression system through the single-player campaign. The premise delivered through these narratives is best handled in somewhat linear manner, though, because these are the least interesting stories that are told within the game. Most of the missions (and all of the various side-quests) that a player can engage in are just an excuse to go to a specific location to battle a bunch of people.

Combat is where Far Cry 2 is at its very best. The game provides a toolkit of back-of-the-box seeming features that, surprisingly, actually add a lot to the way that a combat scenario plays out in-game. There’s the naturally-spreading fire, weapon degradation, partially destructible environments composed of materials with realistic properties, non-scripted artificial intelligence, day, night, and weather cycles, and countless other systems all working simultaneously. The material properties allow for players to employ somewhat realistic strategies mid-battle; if an enemy is standing behind a wooden fence, then a player can just shoot through it and, hopefully, kill the enemy. If a pair of guards are standing next to a series of ammo canisters the player can throw a Molotov cocktail at the area and the ammo containers will explode and violently shoot a huge number of ammo rounds in its vicinity (killing whoever is near it). And if another pair of enemies are standing right atop a large patch of dry gas? Use a flamethrower to ignite the whole area in flames and watch the fire spread to a nearby gas canister which sets off a chain reaction of explosions through a town. The number of crazy situations that I’ve had spring from these gameplay systems in my time with the game are just too limitless to recount here.

As I was playing through a series of missions one day, I noticed something strange about the enemies that I was fighting. At this point I was about sixty or seventy percent through the game and my character had built up a bit of a reputation for himself in the game world and I had invested money in a Stealth Suit that would give my character an increased ability to hide when crouched around grass. Since I took a liking to conducting all of my dealings in chaos at night, this mission was occurring at around 3-4:00am in the game world, so the sun had yet to rise. I was able to clear most of this enemy encampment stealthily thanks to the sound suppressor on my MP5 submachine gun and was in the process of hunting down two or three more targets. I had no idea where they were but I was able to hear a few distinct voices so I was just tracking the sound of the spoken dialogue. And then I stopped to listen to what the enemies were actually saying; instead of the usual taunts and proud machismo the enemies were now scared. These few remaining souls were aware who I was and that they had no chance to make it out of the situation alive and they just wanted to hide and be left alone. As it turns out, reputation is an actual value that has corresponding effects in the game world. As a player goes through missions and eliminates various faction members and higher-up faction figures his reputation will increase. As the reputation increases, the entities that inhabit the game world will start reacting differently to the player’s presence.

The most commonly-listed flaw with Far Cry 2 is the amount of time gamers have to spend traveling to-and-fro and how that travel is constantly interrupted by enemy checkpoints filled with guards that seem to respawn all-too-quickly (whenever a player leaves a “sector”). It’s a valid enough concern as vehicular travel (and vehicular combat, to a lesser extent) is such a prominent focus of the game. The enemies do, ultimately, respawn far too quickly but this fact made checkpoints something I wanted to avoid. And, as such, it opened up an aspect of the game that I would never have discovered otherwise: the joy of intelligent navigation. Far Cry 2 does not have an automatic route navigator; if a player wants to find his place in the game world then he will need to use his in-world GPS device combined with the in-world map. It’s a cumbersome endeavor but it functions as such for good reason: it’s not something that someone should be doing in the heat of combat.

Looking at the map and plotting out a trip was a sort of mini-game unto itself. It’s a process that should be done at the beginning of any mission and retained in the player’s mind for as long as possible. Whenever I was given a mission to complete I wanted to avoid as many checkpoints as possible, so as soon as my mission briefing was done I would find a vehicle and then get out my map and plot my best course. Often, a “best course” would involve a brief trip to a bus station, pick up a car near the bus station, and then drive to the objective on a main road for as long as possible and then take a detour through a rough forest or valley path to avoid checkpoints. Sometimes just avoiding land entirely would be a good idea as the waterways in Far Cry 2 function a lot like highways. This wasn’t even a process I was fond of early in the game but, really, playing Far Cry 2 is never about rushing into action and combat from the very beginning.

I’m not even touching on the game’s subtle user interface or its clever narrative techniques for this piece. Far Cry 2 is an enormous game that is so much more than any of its individual components or features. It’s an open-world first-person shooter that truly and successfully embodies the concept of emergent gameplay. The game’s vision of Africa is never a mere backdrop for tried-and-true gunplay, it’s an actual character in itself; the represented beauty and danger serve as gameplay mechanics for the player’s exploitation at any point in the game.

To date, Far Cry 2 is the finest example of what video games can be.

Games of 2008: Introduction

It’s been a superb year for gamers. There have been such a vast number quality major releases across any number of genres that the idea of a given gamer feeling “left out” is near unthinkable. The major, well-received releases can be categorized as a 4X RTS or simply a great 4X turn-based game. There are open-world shooters in Africa and two types of open-world games in the vein of Grand Theft Auto. Superb cooperative games involving things like zombies, chainsaw-mounted assault rifles, and a throwback to the days of Golden Axe. And then there are major sequels like Grand Theft Auto 4, Fallout 3, and Metal Gear Solid 4. Oh, yes.

The deluge of gaming was good to me this year as well as, for the first time in a few years, I was actually able to play every title that I had any desire to play across all non-Wii platforms (and even then, I’m currently borrowing one of those to play No More Heroes). Not since my 2005 games of the year have I felt well-informed enough to write about some of my top picks for a given year. Granted, I can’t objectively write about games like Galactic Civilizations: Twilight of the Arnor or Sins of a Solar Empire — both of which are games that I, as a gamer, hold in remarkably high esteem.

This year I’m doing something a little bit different. I’m not sure if I can really classify a deviation from a one-time top ten list as something “different” or not but I will continue to think my actions in this matter as such. It’s no radical change, but I’m just going to write up three-four articles on games I consider to be the best of 2008’s best with no regards to rank or categorization. At this point, I still have yet to figure out what I want to make two of the four games. They will be from the following list of games I’m in the process of choosing from. The following games are all superb and remain in my mind at this point in time as equally superb.

  • No More Heroes — I have only had a couple hours with Grasshopper Manufacturer’s very stylized action/adventure romp. From what little I’ve seen, No More Heroes manages to bring legitimately enjoyable gameplay to the sharp writing and aesthetic that were present in Suda51’s previous game, Killer 7.
  • Grand Theft Auto 4 — GTA4 is the slim waistline after years of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas’ work-out routine; it’s a focused and well-done partial reinvention of Rockstar’s linear-gameplay-in-a-kind-of-open-world crime game formula. The gameplay becomes rote a bit around the middle of a player’s journey through the game (which is also where the quality of writing experiences a quick death) but GTA4 is, at its core, a very enjoyable game.
  • The World Ends With You — In some ways, this Nintendo DS RPG is an archetypal JRPG; after all, it has the angsty protagonist, pseudo-meaningful script, and Japan. But story and character design aside, The World Ends With You has the most daring game design of any Square-Enix title in recent years and, on top of that, as one of the most true Nintendo DS titles the system has seen.
  • Midnight Club: Los Angeles — There were essentially four racing games this year that I enjoyed: Burnout Paradise, Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, GRID, and Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Midnight Club: Los Angeles comes out on top of them all; even its open-world racing counterpart Burnout Paradise. Rockstar’s in-depth car customization support, the open-world presentation, and great car and motorcycle physics were all combined with one very important feature: the ability to retry races.
  • Dead Space — It’s more action than horror and more Aliens than Alien, but Dead Space is one of the year’s great action games. Despite the choice to portray the game from a third-person perspective, EA Redwood succeeded at immersing a player in the blood, guts, and flickering lights of an abandoned space station to a level of success that I haven’t seen since System Shock 2.
  • WipEout HD — Serving as a combination of the two PSP Wipeout game releases (Wipeout Pure and Wipeout Pulse), this Playstation Network exclusive was served up to Playstation 3 users as one of the only “true” 1080p current-generation console games and it ran at an absurdly smooth sixty frames-per-second. And though that may sound like simple praise for the game’s graphical prowess, the ability to play a Wipeout game with that kind of display allows for the best execution imaginable of the series’ trademark high-speed racing gameplay. WipEout HD is a bit limited in the amount of content it provides but for the asking price on PSN it’s the kind of game that no Playstation 3 owner should go without.
  • Battlefield: Bad Company — Bad Company brought two very necessary gameplay changes to the Battlefield formula: destructible environments and a focused multiplayer progression. Instead of the free-reign that two teams had over a number of capture points in a large map, Bad Company funneled two teams into a more concentrated area. And the addition of destructible environments made the occupation of these areas into an uneasy and dynamic gameplay experience for all parties. Add these features to the refined multiplayer character progression and stat-tracking and Electronic Arts managed to make the first Battlefield game that actually worked for a console.
  • Everyday Shooter — As great as the Playstation Network release of Jonathan Mak’s Playstation 3 synesthesia-focused shooter was, the ability to play the same game with no major sacrifices made to the visual quality or gameplay on the Playstation Portable makes it all the more sweet.
  • World of Goo — I can’t recall the number of times I played around with the Tower of Goo back when it was released as part of the Experimental Gameplay Project. And seeing how 2D Boy’s small team expanded that gameplay into a fully-realized game with a [Tim] Schaeferean art style and a great sense of humor it’s not very difficult to recommend World of Goo to any type of gamer.
  • Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 — GW:RE2 wasn’t a daring sequel by any means, but it iterated on the success of the first game in all of the right ways. And Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved already existed in my mind as the best robotron-esque arcade title in existence. That’s high praise from me.

Articles on my favorite three games absent from this list are forthcoming.