We will bring you our Game of the Year Awards feature in a few weeks time, but for now, we'd like to provide you with a list of our favorite titles of 2008. We're calling them the "Essentials" for all true gamers out there; those who absolutely must play the best of the best; those who refuse to be left behind. So – in no particular order – the 2008 Essentials are as follows:
As if we'd lead with anything else. Konami and Kojima delivered on most every conceivable level, and gamers everywhere owe it to themselves to experience this engrossing and moving adventure. Even if you were never a fan of the franchise before; even if stealth-based games drive you up the wall, you're not allowed to use that as an excuse. First of all, MGS4 is actually less about stealth than any previous title in the series, and secondly, the storyline and cast is unparalleled in the industry today. Thirdly and lastly, if you've ever wanted to become emotionally involved in a plot – and due to the fact that strict RPGs appear to be dying out – MGS4 needs to lead your list.
As a final note, after I finished interviewing Dave Jaffe yesterday (feature to be posted soon), I asked him what his Game of the Year was, and he said he was torn between MGS4 and Gears of War 2 . But if someone "put a gun to his head" and made him pick, he'd go with MGS4. He then provided a comment which may be perfect: "Gears 2 is the better game, but MGS4 is the better experience ."
Although the Final Fantasy VII sequel for the PS3 never materialized, PSP owners got the next best thing with Crisis Core . This action/RPG is easily one of the handheld's best titles currently available, and if you're a fan of the long-running series, you can't pass it up. About as riveting and absorbing as a portable title can be, and loaded with plenty of amazing visuals and flashy combat, Crisis Core remains one of the best accomplishments of the year. Square-Enix may be in the doghouse for many PS3 owners, but the unbelievable quality of this PSP masterpiece cannot be denied.
Innovative, charming and endlessly addictive for all micromanagement and content creation fans, LittleBigPlanet is a true-blue phenomenon. It's all about the community and giving the player as much freedom as possible to flex their creative muscle, and although it hasn't rocked the sales charts, the game's inherent appeal isn't subject to debate. Everyone should take the chance and grab hold of SackBoy to experience the world of LBP, and if you get sucked in, Sony will continue to fuel the fire by issuing continual updates (just check the Store; there's already plenty there). Great for all ages and fully capable of sucking up a lot of time, this gem is most certainly worth the price of admission.
Easily the best RPG of the year, Bethesda's Fallout 3 is often described as "a futuristic Oblivion ," and considering the latter was one of the best games of the generation, there's nothing wrong with that description. The huge, atmospheric world and wonderfully solid gameplay mechanic lets the player immerse himself into a universe loaded with seemingly infinite possibilities. Something like LBP is worth every penny due to its originality and innovation, but Fallout 3 will sate your desire with sheer length and potential. Although 2008 was a pretty thin year for the genre, this highly accomplished title likely would've topped most anything else, anyway. A must!
The PSP enjoyed its best year ever in 2008, and although the PSP-3000 helped spur sales, software is always most important. And along with Crisis Core , Chains of Olympus represented the second part of an amazing PSP software duo that coerced many a consumer into snagging the sleek portable. At this point, there's little to no chance that any game with "God of War" in the title will be a disappointment; there's a much better chance it'll be one of the best titles in history. This one is no exception to that rule, even though many fans of the PS2 masterpieces didn't initially believe a handheld version could be great…oh, but it was. Freakin' great .
Guaranteed to be the primary opposition to MGS4 for Game of the Year amongst most all gaming publications, GTAIV effectively pushed the critically acclaimed franchise into the new generation. It used more realism and authenticity, instituted a new – and perhaps surprisingly well done – action and combat mechanic, and provided us with a more intricate and dynamic open-ended world than ever before. Like it or love it, there's no denying Grand Theft Auto IV 's quality; even the story proved to be a big plus, and at no point did we get bored exploring the intoxicating landscape of Liberty City. A top-notch production and easily one of our favorites, GTAIV delivers the fun-filled goods in spades.
Many gamers out there instantly forgave EA once they tried Dead Space , and that's because the game is so damn good. Many will argue over whether it's a survival/horror title or straight-up action, but regardless of the genre, this adventure is freaky, creepy, in-your-face, and oh-so-brutal. This is one of the few titles in the past few years that has a legitimate chance at scaring the ever-loving sh** out of you, and that alone is one hell of an achievement. But the rest of this production – including everything from control to presentation to design – is stunning as well. Don't miss it, or we'll come and find you with our maxed-out Ripper…
Although it didn't make it into the upper echelon of 2008 titles in terms of overall score, it's still one of our absolute favorites. There's nothing more entertaining than running about with one of the biggest bad-asses in history, and we even had a blast with Nero. It's the most stylish and satisfying slash-'em-up of the generation in our opinion, and we most definitely got our money's worth. Thankfully easier than the over-the-top DMC3 (the original, not the re-released Greatest Hits edition), we smiled the whole way through and wanted more when it was over. DMC rocks the house, and no other action title is more attitude-laden!
Although LBP gets much of the attention, in no way are you allowed to bypass this excellent sequel. Don't give in to the Internet BS that says it's "no different than the original" (giant pack of filthy lies), and play the hell out of this sucker. Bigger and grander in most every way, from the more robust single-player campaign to the greatly enhanced online capabilities, R2 is exactly what we wanted. This is hands-down one of the year's best, and it proves two things: 1. Insomniac is one hell of a developer, and 2. despite the insanely stiff competition in the world of FPSs, R2 succeeds and excels. Fun from start to finish, it's a superb shooter that emphasizes fluidity and non-stop action. Awesome stuff.
The best racer of the year was a labor of love for Criterion Games, and it's still a labor of love. This one might've been left off our Essentials list if it weren't for the team's constant devotion to its fans; they've released a horde of new content and updates throughout the year, and then they made it available for only $29.99 on the PSN. Even more stuff is on the way early next year, and at this rate, they may never stop! As if anyone is going to complain. The speed will make your eyes bleed and Paradise City is the perfect setting for such an involving arcade-style racer. You could spend a great deal of time with this invigorating title, and if Criterion keeps it up, you'll never have to put it away.
In all honesty, this may be the lowest on the ladder of the current list, but we include it because it's a unique experience that really grabbed our attention. Many will argue against its length and trial-and-error gameplay and while both are legitimate complaints, we have to say that if you're a gamer first and foremost, you have to at least try it. There's a demo on the Store if you don't want to risk the cash just yet, but bear in mind that all you'll really play is a tutorial and a very simple, straightforward mission. The full game is indeed much better, and even though it has its fair share of flaws, we enjoyed this game immensely. It managed to draw us in and keep us there.
The two best PSN titles of the year deserve a mention: one will melt your eyes and make your hands sweat while the other might give you a headache…but a good, satisfying, "hey, I did it!" headache. Wipeout HD is one of the smoothest, addictive, and most challenging racing titles we've ever played, and echochrome 's ingenious originality is just downright awesome. "Perception is truth." We love that! You can pick 'em both up right now for only $30, which is half the price of one new game down at GameStop. For such fantastic productions like these, that's a deal and a half, so don't waste another second.
Okay, that's it. Obviously, you can't satisfy everyone with lists like these, and we realize there are plenty of great games that released this year. We didn't include Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band 2 , for example, but that's only because…well, they get enough exposure, to be honest, and we're sick of seeing them everywhere. Great games, no doubt…we're just saying. Anyway, take this list for what it is; we can guarantee you won't go wrong with any of the featured titles.