Today through Christmas Eve, we'll be recapping the year that was. Today: 2008 honorable mentions.
If you hear me complain that 2008 was a blah year for games, it's not to suggest that we lacked quality software. Quite the contrary. Rarely did we have to go more than a month or so without finding something decent to play. But so often, that's all these games were: decent, especially compared to last year's standouts. This year, nothing I played was as purely fun as Crackdown. Nothing moved me as did The Darkness. Nothing blew my mind like Portal (well, maybe Braid). And nothing synthesized everything I like about games into one superb package, as did BioShock.
Then again, it's not anybody's job to make exactly the game I want to play, and I'm happy any time I play something I like, even if I don't love it. And this year, there were a lot of those. In chronological order:
Burnout Paradise: Wasn't perfect, but nobody does high-octane racing with spectacular crashes like the folks at Criterion.
Army of Two: Again, not perfect, but I played through the whole thing and it kept my interest. I thought the topical references were ballsy, the interplay between the leads was hilarious, and the Aggro system actually worked.
Ikaruga: Glad I finally got to play this cult classic, even if I ran away from it in terror once the review was finished.
LostWinds: Cute, with a winning aesthetic and a fun, innovative control scheme. I just wish I had known going in that it was only episode 1.
Ninja Gaiden II: I was far too unskilled to get the most out of this game, but even playing it as a button masher made for a gory good time.
Space Invaders Extreme: Raise your hand if you saw this coming.
PixelJunk Eden: Thanks to the Serious Games Journalist Network of Pretension for turning me onto this one. It was just a nice, relaxing game that you could lose yourself in without realizing how taxing it actually was.
Dead Space: A triumph of execution, with excellent graphics, sound, and play control. I spent a lot of time harping on the negatives with this game, but it was a polished shooter that was well worth playing.
Silent Hill: Homecoming: Atmospheric and creepy. I thought this was the better horror experience, compared to Dead Space.
Gears of War 2: I wrote, scheduled, and published this post without remembering to include Gears of War 2, even though it was better than most of the other honorable mentions. Partly, that's because the top 10 list was touch and go for a while there, but I think it also goes to show how GoW2 made less of an impact than its predecessor. Horde mode is awesome, though.
Prince of Persia: It's as if the folks at Ubisoft Montreal made a list of everything that's annoying about platformers, and one-by-one excised each item from their game. The result feels a little bit like an extended QTE at times, but the newest Prince of Persia is beautiful to look at and a pleasure to experience.
Tomorrow: The worst games of 2008.