Alright, let’s close this damn year out already.
5) Mirror’s Edge
As much fun as Mirror’s Edge‘s campaign is, there’s even more fun to be had after the credits roll. Or before, if you’re the type of savage to skip the story mode all together and go straight to the time trials, but that would be a grave mistake. Beyond the hideous flash animation is a brand spankin’ new subgenre that works better as a first attempt than it has any right to. Controlling Faith is as responsive as can be, and every failed leap is just another opportunity to make her look cooler than she did the last time you attempted that wall-to-wall leap over a barbed-wire fence into a dust-kicking slide. Mirror’s Edge 2 will be incredible if they figure out what the hell they want to do with combat.
4) Condemned 2: Bloodshot
I may have forgotten some great entertainment from the first half of 2008, but I never once forgot about this one. You know you’re in for a treat when your first objective as alcoholic detective Ethan Thomas is to “follow the bum up the stairs.” Condemned 2 spirals into madness from there, and though it pains me not to spoil it at this point, it’s home to what is hands-down my favorite scripted event of the year. I will raise hell if there isn’t a third game in this series, and I will blame everyone that for some reason or another doesn’t seem to give a hoot about one of the freshest first-person series since you first typed IDKFA in Doom (cheater).
3) Castle Crashers
I like Alien Hominid. I love Castle Crashers. It’s both a send-up to one of my favorite genres—the rowdy beat ’em up—and a gorgeous case for the future of 2D gaming in high-definition. It has humor, it has fantastic animation, and it’s a much deeper game than one would expect at first glance. Even notoriously buggy online multiplayer that was only recently patched couldn’t stop everyone I’m friends with on 360 from jamming this game rotten. If this is what The Behemoth is putting out for their first real exclusive-to-XBLA title, I can’t even imagine what the future holds.
2) Little Big Planet
This was my game of the year at some point, and it certainly deserves the spot. Rather than ask why it isn’t, let’s just focus on why it’s as high up as it is. Little Big Planet is a very strange game, and there hasn’t really been anything like it up to this point. The platforming and physics are imprecise, but the game is so much damn fun, especially with a friend, that it doesn’t matter how floaty the jumps are or how much Sackboy slides in ways you don’t want him to. All the little flaws disappear when you realize you just spent hours running and hanging and being slung around each themed level, all to the tune of what is without a doubt the best soundtrack of the year. The game keeps giving, too, and it won’t stop as long as there’s a creative community to support it and push the design boundaries of a level creator that already seems pretty limitless.
1) Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
I’m no saint. Innovation be damned, Metal Gear Solid 4 pushed almost all the right buttons for me. Sure, Kojima’s obvious mental deterioration is splattered across every cutscene like the aftermath of a Scanners showdown, but MGS4 is the culmination of a decade of gaming for many, and its emotional highs and lows make it worth watching every absurd cutscene, even if it’s obvious no one at the studio has ever heard of an editor, balking at the concept that “less is more.” Old Snake’s story is heartbreaking in a way, but this final chapter goes out with a bang, and the five-act structure does a fantastic job of framing the story while setting up landmarks for every major change in game philosophy. From the wide-open range of the game’s opening war to the back-to-basics finale, Metal Gear Solid 4 is unforgettable.