It’s that time again — time to name the year’s best and brightest video game releases. The Game Reviews will be breaking our virtual awards ceremony down into three parts this year, beginning right now, with the Genre Awards.
Winner: Metal Gear Solid 4
Runner-up: Grand Theft Auto 4
Hideo Kojima is the kind of guy who throws everything at a wall in order to see what sticks, and nowhere is that more apparent than MGS4. The game is pure spectacle, flourishing with new ideas at every turn. MGS4 is like that crazy girl you used to date back in college who broke your heart, but you loved anyway. It’s a bit of a mess, but the most lovable, creative, gorgeous, eccentric, bombastic, ludicrous, endearing mess out there. It may be sheer lunacy, but MGS4 provided more standout moments and wonderful memories than any other game in 2008. There’s certainly nothing else quite like it. And if MGS4 is like that old girlfriend, then GTA4 is like the guy who kicked your ass and took her from you, along with your wallet and your car. The biggest and best Grand Theft Auto to date took the gaming world by storm in early 2008, refining the franchise in almost every way, and augmenting it with an undeniably fun multiplayer mode.
Winner: Left 4 Dead
Runner-up: Gears of War 2
It takes a lot to truly stand out and innovate in this genre, but Left 4 Dead, Valve’s 4-player cooperative zombie shooter, manages to do just that. The game drops you and three of your buddies into 20 levels packed to the brim with undead creatures that are looking to make you their evening cuisine. The action gets frantic quickly when the monsters pile through the doors, windows, ceilings and floors as you try and keep them away from your squad-mates while also watching your own back. L4D is a true co-op experience, as you must work with your partners if you hope to escape the zombie apocalypse, and each level is packed with many memorable moments that will leave you screaming on your couch. Left 4 Dead is easily the most unique and entertaining shooter of the year, and one that will keep you playing for a long time to come.
Runner-up: Valkyria Chronicles
Will Wright has done it again with his newest creation, Spore. Essentially five games in one, the genre-blending evolution sim successfully combined elements of real-time and turn-based strategy games, city-building sims, platformers, and more, guiding players and their biological creations from the microbial tide pool all the way up through galactic conquest. Accessible to veteran gamers and newcomers alike, Spore demonstrated how existing gameplay mechanics can be implemented to create something truly unique. On the other side of the coin, runner-up Valkyria Chronicles nearly perfected turn-based and real-time tactical combat, and did so with more style than any game of its kind.
Winner: Persona 4
Winner: Fallout 3
For years now, the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series have pushed the boundaries of we have come to expect from RPGs, namely of the Japanese variety. Persona 4, the latest entry into the series, expands upon its predecessors in every way. Featuring new personas, memorable characters, a weather forecast system, and an intriguing miniature life simulator, gamers are thrust into a chilling murder mystery that forces you to balance your time effectively. Do you spend each day in-game leveling in a dungeon to rescue the next potential murder victim, or do you go to school, study diligently, and form social links with those around you? Sprinkle in a game length rivaling that of multi-disc sets, and you have a fantastic way for the PS2 to go out with a bang. However, Persona 4 wasn’t the only RPG to blow us away this year. With Bethesda taking the reins of the immensely successful Fallout series, what resulted was a sprawling, epic look into the world of Vault 101. The ability to choose between being a saint, a devil, or something in-between made multiple playthroughs a dream. Stunning voicework, the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, and permission to traverse the post-nuclear wasteland as you see fit made Fallout 3 one of the must-have RPGs of the year, no matter your tastes. Beautifully combining an FPS angle with a twisting, intriguing story, gamers everywhere will be hunched over their very own Pip-Boys for a long time to come.
Winner: Burnout Paradise
Winner: Madden NFL 09
Winner: Mario Kart Wii
The sports and racing genres were so packed with diverse competition this year that the TGR Staff decided to award a trio of excellent titles the distinction of being the best in their category. Madden 09 proved that EA Tiburon wasn’t just recycling the same game year after year when it brought a new play-calling system, a gaggle of new modes, and a number of significant gameplay improvements that helped the game score with fans. Burnout Paradise reinvented the series with a massive open-world city, new game types that were built around the free-roam structure, and seamless online play that has been improved by a number of game-changing downloadable content packs that have been as plentiful as they are free. Mario Kart Wii brought the online play that fans have been clamoring for, as well as a ton of new courses, karts, and characters, to create a fun multiplayer racer that will keep everyone in the family playing for a while.
Runner-up: Professor Layton and the Curious Village
In the not-so-recent past this category might have been won by a somewhat underwhelming title due to the lack of competition. Happily, puzzle games have enjoyed a heck of a resurgence, largely thanks to the success of handheld and downloadable gaming. It’s fitting then that this year’s runner-up and victor are what they are. Professor Layton’s charming art direction and engrossingly devious puzzles would normally have made it a clear winner, but it’s not every year you get a game as special as Braid. The only way to complete Braid was to take everything you thought was standard about puzzle and platformer games and turn it upside down, and then some. Each time you thought you’d gotten on top of the specific type of time manipulation required for one world, you’d be moved on to the next, which would require a whole new level of lateral thinking. That each of these types of gameplay translated into the overall story and vice versa is the delectable icing on the cake. Braid is not just the best puzzle game of this year, but one of the best puzzle games ever made, hands down.
Written by Jeffrey Matulef, Joseph DeLia, Eddie Inzauto, Brittany Vincent, and Sinan Kubba