Because we’re having a slow news time, what with there being a typical post-christmas lull, a global recession and nothing but a load of announcements & promises in the form of press releases (coupled with the fact we forgot to do it in 2008), here’s the CNS Best of 2008
On the contrary, Barry (the site overlord) and myself (the lowly news goat) will have differing tastes and opinions, meaning one central mega-list would be unfeasibly messy (and, of course, since I’m writing the article, his opinions would just be wrong!).
As a result, what follows can only be described as North vs South, Holmes vs Moriarty, the irresistible force vs the immovable object.
This should be fun…!
10Barry’s choice – Football Manager 2009 (Windows PC, Mac OS, PSP)
Football – It’s a funny old game…
While more of an evolution than a revolution for the series (which dates back 16 years), the new additions such as the 3D match engine (which for those of you who love a spreadsheet can turn off) and more media interaction (via Press Conferences) make this a big time sink.
Basically, I’ve probably put more hours into this lately than any other game in this list.
Andrew’s choice – Trials 2: Second Edition (Windows PC)
There’s something about a game that proudly carries a Steam Achievement of ‘All Bones Broken‘, too be worn as a scouts badge designed solely to highlight exactly how badly you f*cked everything up!
Trials 2 takes me right back to sessions with Motocross Maniacs for the original Game Boy back in 1990. The mind-boggling insane & convoluted courses, the inane ability to flip the bike over just by pushing left on the controls whilst stationary and the ‘goddammit-I-am-so-frustrated-with-this-damn-thing-but-I’ll-just-have-one-more-go’ are all there, only this time you’re competing with the rest of the internet for the high-score and you don’t have to worry about the batteries running out anymore.
9Barry’s choice – Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360)
“Bigger, Better and more Badass” is how CliffyB (he’ll hate us calling him that) announced Gears 2, and it most certainly lives up to it’s word – with a finale that is certainly Big and Badass.
Multiplayer has also been made “Bigger Better and More Badass” – Horde mode especially is a standout as you fend off wave after wave of enemies. With the right team you’ll have a hell of a lot of fun.
Epic have once again shown other developers how to do things.
Andrew’s choice – Penny Arcade Adventures (Windows PC, Mac OS, Linux, Xbox 360)
You can’t beat a bit of casual & highly-caustic swearing… For that reason, PAA:OTR-SPOD (to give it the full acronym) gets a thumbs-up. The other thumb comes courtesy of an entertaining episodic homage to nearly every JRPG in existence, wrapped lovingly in the sort of wordy D&D-inspired spiele we’ve come to expect from Gabe & Tycho.
The flawless-implemented custom character system (even down to your avatar appearing in the games fully animated cutscenes) and the simple fact that Hothead Games had to bawls to release on 4 simultaneous formats – including Linux – makes the game hard to pass up.
8Barry’s choice – Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)
Snake’s “final” outing has to be in the Top 10, while not as good as it should have been, it’s still a brilliant game, telling a wonderful story (through many hours of cutscenes and stilted dialogue) and you truly feel like Hideo Kojima put his heart and soul into this.
The last Act in particular is a standout moment in gaming – you have to play it to understand.
Also includes Metal Gear Online, which aside from making you come up with about 300 usernames is actually a lot better than you might be expecting. It plays a lot like Counter-Strike in 3rd Person and the MGS universe and has a good community and is well worth playing.
Andrew’s choice – SPORE (Windows PC, Mac OS)
As a game, SPORE is (admittedly) not that great. Essentially comprising a collection of half-baked mini games centred around your symmetrical genetic masterpiece as you guide it from single-celled organism to galactic civilisation, none of the stages particularly stand out, either being very simple or very repetitive.
What does stand out from the crowd is the tools with which to shape your creature and the ensuing civilization that grows from its humble origins – limited only by a few basic rules and the large number of parts offered by Maxis (too be expanded by inevitable add-on packs), the possibilities are almost endless!
Alongside the seamless community interaction of the Sporepedia, you have a technical marvel. Next time Maxis, can we have a game to go with it?
Barry’s choice – Little Big Planet (PS3)
Sackboy is cute! The game has a lot of promise, and for that it makes it into my Top 10, the reason it isn’t higher however is due to the fact that really it’s a short term game.
Yes, there’s lots of creativity and custom levels but really, there’s not much else to the game – there’s not really a lot there to keep me coming back. It’s a game that, in 6 months, will likely be gathering dust on my shelf.
However it is still worthy of inclusion into the top 10 for simply being bold enough to focus on custom content on a console platform.
Andrew’s choice – Race Driver: GRID (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Days of Thunder was a bit shit – riding on the testosterone high of Top Gun, the only good bits were the high-speed racing bits with heavy shaky-cam filmography and a metal soundtrack that allowed us to all ignore Tom Cruise and get on with watching heavy lumps of metal barge each other into the wall. Race Driver: GRID pays homage to this and more.
Taking the Race Driver (nee TOCA Touring Car) series in a new arcadey direction peeved a fair few off, especially as DiRT showed that the Codies were still happy to do a fairly-serious racing sim, but the adrenaline rush you get from watching the replay you just recorded back can’t be beaten as you carve up the field of cars to a thrash-techno soundtrack.
Cheating AI and terminally-delayed downloadable content have harmed the games longetivity, but it’s a strong, solid and terribly good looking arcade racer, regardless of the format.
6Barry’s choice – Far Cry 2 (Windows PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Absolutely stunning vistas with an awesome rendition of fire but let down somewhat by the world being populated by people who want to kill you, who when you kill them respawn in the same place when you go back and er….try to kill you again.
It’s the kind of game that if you play for a long period of time, the flaws start to really grate, play in short bursts and it’s great fun.
A Flawed Gem, like most recent Ubisoft games.
Andrew’s choice – Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People (Windows PC, Wii)
As I mentioned in my review, SBCG4AP is an acquired taste, just like the source material it’s based on. Luckily, if you’re taste is for off-the-wall adventure gaming in an obscure & mad world based on an internet phenomenon, then look no further than Telltale’s latest opus.
Taken individually, the episodes don’t really stand up too well – they’re a bit easy (especially the first two) and not really lengthy, even at their original low price. Luckily (or, as some might say, controversialuckily) it’s now only available as a complete season, offering you a hefty chunk of Homestar-ruining, Strong Badia-freeing, Baddest of the Band-ening, Dangeresque Three-ing, 8-bit Enough-ening for a nice sensible price.
Looks like we’re gonna have to JUMP!!!
5Barry’s choice – Fable 2 (Xbox 360)
Improves upon the original in every way.
There’s more of a plot, the characterisation of your pet dog is handled quite well (although the little bugger is always running off looking for treasure) and lets face it, who doesn’t love being evil and marrying someone and then killing them. Makes marriage much easier.
Let down by some bugs (including a lovely one, where my character was stuck in “Being told about a Quest” mode, meaning i couldn’t progress and had to start again).
Andrew’s choice – Prince of Persia (Windows PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
When you first load the latest reboot of the Prince of Persia meta-franchise, you get a distinct wiff of Arabian Nights, Disney’s Aladdin and all the previous entries into the series… Then the main characters speak and the immersion is broken by crappy American accents!
The game is GORGEOUS to look at, adopting a cel-shaded approach to the graphics this time and ramping up the performance on like-for-like hardware when compared to Assassin’s Creed, with which this game shares engines.
Unfortunately, also like AC, the gameplay mechanics have been streamlined so much it makes your input seems almost superfluous. The free-running/climbing gameplay is a little more interactive than AC’s ‘hold-down-the-button-then-run-from-A-to-B’ gameplay, but it still amounts to simply pressing buttons at the right time and the combat is less satisfactory than Warrior Within or AC, but the tag-team aspect is well implemented.
If you have money burning a hole in your wallet, then you can do a whole lot worse than this magical entry in the series (and there’s not a metal g-string in sight!).
4Barry’s choice – Mirrors Edge (Xbox 360, PS3, Windows PC)
It’s beautifully realised, beautifully executed.
The story isn’t up to much (you’ll finish it quite quick), however the real fun to be had is through the time trials, which some people are setting some very competitive times for.
This game shows that DICE are brimming with ideas, but ultimately are struggling a bit to execute them (See also: Battlefield Bad Company).
Andrew’s choice – Far Cry 2 (Windows PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Far Cry 2 is, unfortunately, another case of Ubisoft aiming for the Moon and getting, well, a block of very well presented cheese. Every time you play Far Cry 2, you will feel disappointed as fake/forced gameplay mechanics crop up left, right and centre. Only then, just as you’re about to quit in frustration, something cool happens.
Whilst passing a villa at night, your GPS starts flashing, letting you know something of interest is nearby. You creep up on a hillside, scout out the area with your monocular, snipe a barrel in a fuel depot, fire your M79 into the crowd of goons that go to investigate, sneak in, wipe out the stragglers and find the diamond case your GPS locked onto. As reinforcements arrive, you fight your way out, using molotovs to create a firewall which covers your escape into the night. It’s worth pointing out that none of this was scripted, nor did it take part in a mission.
Far Cry 2 is the ultimate action-bubble generator and if you can get past the blatant mistakes and flaws in the game mechanics, it’s a riot.
3Barry’s choice – Prince of Persia (Windows PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
An absolutely stunning game, everything is a bit more streamlined this time, and there’s a lot of hand holding (you can’t actually die either) and combat is a bit shoddy but the game is just so beautiful to play and flows so well, that it doesn’t detract too much from the experience.
If you’re a collectathon fan, then you’ll love this as there’s a hell of a lot of “light seeds” to find and you’ll need to find just about them all if you want to progress in the game, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun finding them, and a real testament to the strength of the design that it never really grates too much.
Andrew’s choice – Fallout 3 (Windows PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Some might say developing Fallout 3 was akin to ice-skating up hill. No matter what Bethesda did, nothing would do for some of the die-hard fans short of employing the entire original Black Isle team and using the original engine with a story scripted from start to finish by Tim Cain himself.
Luckily Bethesda stuck at it and gave us the best the current games industry would tolerate. The VATS combat system is as close to the original turn-based mechanic as feasible and the atmosphere is that pure pulp sci-fi that we all love and cherish.
The storyline doesn’t take as many chances as it could and there’s a distinct whiff of ‘we left this out so we could sell it too you later’ about the upcoming DLC packs but there’s a massive truly open outdoors for you to explore and, unlike Far Cry 2, not everyone wants to shoot you on sight (at least until you provoke them by stealing their stimpaks).
2Barry’s choice – Fallout 3 (Windows PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
If I had done this list the week Fallout 3 came out, it would have been the Number 1 because it tells a good story, there’s a few branching paths here and there and the introduction is a great way to make your character.
The combat is handled well and yes, the Fallout purists hate what Bethseda has done, but as I said in the review they’ve done a brilliant job at getting the Fallout vibe but at the same time they made it their own – and in the process have got more people interested in the Fallout Series.
Andrew’s choice – World of Goo (Windows PC, Mac OS, Linux, Wii)
Like most indie games that attempt to take chances in this day and age, World of Goo is, for lack of a better term, unique.
Built from one of the developers experimental games, the game chronicles the life & trials of a multitude of goo balls as they strive to not only survive in their eclectic world that lives and breathes on physics but engage in a bit of corporate espionage in attempt to bring down the World of Goo corporation in the process!
The puzzles are mostly fiendish at first viewing, yet totally logical to the extent that every solution obeys the laws of physics set out by the level and a little trial of error will send you on your way in this masterpiece of independent game design.
1Barry’s choice – Left 4 Dead (Windows PC, Xbox 360)
Without a doubt, the most fun 4 Player Co-op I’ve played since, well, I can’t remember!
There may not be a lot of content there but what makes the game is the moments shared with your friends as you fend off the horde of infected, the pure laugh out loud moments as the Tank kills you for the umpteenth time. In versus mode, the laughs are ten fold.
If Valve can keep adding content to this, it would be perfect. It’s the game that got me back into online multiplayer – get a good bunch together and it’s a mind blowingly fun experience.
Andrew’s choice – Left 4 Dead (Windows PC, Xbox 360)
L4D 101 – There is no I in TEAM!
Many games have pushed the concept of multiplayer co-op in the last year, but none have pushed the sort of reliance on your team mates as Valve’s latest shooter, which forces 4 relatively weak and mundane characters to work together to survive the onslaught of a clever AI system that fuels the game by picking off the lone wolves who don’t work for the team (as in all good zombie stories) and ensures not a single game is the same.
Set in your a-typical bleak zombie apocalypse, the game offers 4 ‘movies’, each of which offers a slightly different gameplay experience populated with stunning set-pieces that keep things interesting again and again.
Left 4 Dead is simply another Valve masterpiece – a stunning tour-de-force of community interaction, pacing, co-op reliance and bloody good fun.