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Gamasutra's Best Of 2008

December 31, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 13 of 15 Next

Top 10 Games of the Year

Now (finally!), we look at this year's top 10 games, collaboratively chosen and ranked by our staff. Each member of our team also highlights his or her own personal picks that didn't make the group list.

10. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Konami, Nintendo DS)

Order of Ecclesia isn't dramatically different from any of producer Koji Igarashi's other Castlevania titles -- almost every release follows Symphony of the Night's template -- but it adds and changes enough to make this latest refinement of the "Metroidvania" formula an easy addition to our year-end list.

Ecclesia thankfully casts out the juvenile and generic anime character designs that blighted the previous two DS games, in favor of Hirooka Masaki's more fitting "gothic" art direction. The game also replaces Portrait of Ruin's clumsy two-character gameplay with a strong, graceful heroine, Shanoa, who takes on Dracula and his minions just fine without the help of a Vampire Killer whip.

Adding to our enjoyment, Ecclesia is probably the hardest Castlevania title since the franchise's NES years, requiring quick wits and a lot of boss pattern memorization, much to the appreciation of series faithfuls (and the chagrin of softer gamers). As a fan once succinctly described the game's difficulty, "This ain't no Casualvania."

9. Valkyria Chronicles (Sega, Playstation 3)

The Japanese have a reputation for being the most conservative market in game development -- and whether or not it's truly deserved, it's heartening to see an example of a development team starting with a rigid, conventional idea and tossing it aside in favor of a spirited new evolution of a genre.

Sega's Valkyria Chronicles

While Valkyria Chronicles began its development cycle as a top-down strategy title in debt to classics like Final Fantasy Tactics, it was released as a genre-defying, engrossing new blend of realtime and turn-based strategy, with a perspective that has more in common with Gears of War than Square Enix, but retains the pleasingly crunchy tactical depth Japanese games are best known for.

Add in a surprisingly mature story and beautiful watercolor visuals and you get a cult classic that is getting nowhere the attention it deserves from gamers this year, and one of the strongest exclusives on Sony's platform.

8. Braid (Number None, Xbox 360/PC)

Jonathan Blow and David Hellman's Braid is likely one of the most-trumpeted indie games of all time - partly due to it winning an IGF prize all the way back in 2006, before an extensive graphical rehaul and its subsequent debut on Xbox Live Arcade in 2008. But try to shut the hype out, and you'll find something special.

Specifically, Braid is a title with carefully thought-out, ingenious puzzles, David Hellman's evocative art, and an underlying story that doesn't lack soul - however many different interpretations you might have of it.

It's a game that makes you think and one that you care about, ultimately - and its rapturous critical reception reflects that.

7. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (Bizarre Creations, Xbox 360)

The simple majesty of Geometry Wars 2 is easy to grok, of course. The first Xbox Live Arcade version of Geometry Wars, itself following up a programmer-created homage to classic '80s twin-stick shooters like Robotron, re-ignited the genre.

It also raised an interesting question. When you've been to 10 already, where is 11 in the world of abstract shooter gymnastics? That would be Geometry Wars 2, then -- particularly to be praised for the ingenious 'side stories' that make clever alternative use of the gameplay.

When you have glorious variants like 'King' and the fiendish 'Pacifism' being, plus robust online score integration and the perfectly thought-out 'Sequence' mode, you end up with an adrenaline-bespattered winner.

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Sjors Jansen
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@Tom Newman: As far as I know Activision was founded because some developers specifically wanted more money and credit, not more creative freedom. Taking a glance at their list of published and developed games I'd rule out creative freedom as one of their high goals as well.

My sources are:

* once upon atari episode 2 (

* wikipedia (

* ign (

If you've got any evidence to back up their goal of creative freedom, please let me know cause I really want to believe that statement. As far as I'm concerned Activision is worse than what EA used to be and I really hope Blizzard's not already been affected (
friendly/ &&

If you can't then talking about this fictional past will only make the current situation look worse.

Here's to pitfall and desert strike...

Mike Ante
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In my opinion Metal Gear Solid 4 would have deserved to be in the Top 10 Games list. It's a masterpiece in every direction games can offer, from technological brilliance and artistic style to cinematic storytelling and delivering a powerful message. Just more than a big blockbuster like GTA4!

Tom Newman
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Not to get into an off-topic discussion, but I have to admit a personal bias. My first Activision game was Skiing on the 2600, and as a little kid I knew that Activision games were going to be fun. I won my 7th grade science fair using Activision's Game Maker for the Commedore64, and one of my most memorable gaming moments was beating the original Ghostbusters also for the C64. Jumping into the modern era, one of my favorite PC games of the 90's was Interstate76, and Activision has taken many chances on new titles that ended up being franchises, like the first Tony Hawk on PS1 - no one would have predicted that would turn into the cash-cow that it did. My opinion (and that's all it is) is based only on personal experience, not a wikipedia article.

Anthony Charles
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MGS4 is very appealing to the senses, but the story is maddeningly bad. i know any video game that makes an attempt at serious subject matter is automatically labelled as having "good story", but MGS 4 story is so mind numbingly skull thumpingly bad the game would have been better with 1/10 as much dialogue. Video games should be held to the same standard as other mediums and if this script was in a hollywood movie it would be the joke of the century. Its like the big taboo of video games to talk about the stupidity of mgs4's story.

the whole ending at the grave for about 4 hours of jumping from unrelated topic to unrelated topic in a meaningless and futile attempt to tie up a million loose ends. by the time the credits finally rolled i was bald from pulling my hair out.

one and two had very good stories, particularly two, but guns of the patriots had a story written by a 15 year old boy with ADHD.

Raphael van Lierop
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Regarding Bart Stewart's comment, quoted in the article above:

>>>Bart Stewart: "Part of me wants to object that any game that was excluded for months from PC gamers should be excluded from this list. Is it helpful to reward a publisher with a 'best of' award or honorable mention for a game on a particular platform if that platform wasn't considered worthy of support at the game's launch?"

Bart may not realize that there is a growing trend of releasing the PC SKU of games months after the console SKUs. This has nothing to do with disrespecting the PC as a platform. Rather, it has to do with combating piracy.

By releasing the PC SKU well after the console versions have had a chance to sell through their peak period (1-3 months post-launch), publishers avoid having pirated PC copies cannibalize sales of the console SKUs. Also, anyone who *really* wants to get their hands on a particular title might be willing to purchase the console version rather than wait a few months for the PC one.

It's not a perfect solution, but it makes a fair bit of sense. After all, nobody benefits from PC piracy except the pirates and those who steal games, and our livelihood by doing so.

Kevin OBrien
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I agree with the dismay at a lack of a solid critical vocabulary for game criticism, and on the need to move away from the product review model when discussing games and game design.

When we critically consider other forms of entertainment - for instance, literature, movies, and theater - we can focus on both the phenomenal experience of the thing, and on the formal quality of the thing being reviewed. It isn't a perfect approach, but it gets at the heart of the matter, which seems to be twofold: "is this thing well put together", and "will I be moved by this thing in some fashion?" It doesn't take a vast and complex understanding of the field to speak to those points, either - we all know that a review citing poor special effects and horribly mixed audio (arguably formal issues) suggests that even an exciting science fiction story (the experiential side of things) will come across poorly on film.

The interesting question, I think, is whether we should we approach games (be they electronic or otherwise) in the same way, and if so, whether the tools that we can borrow from other critics are sufficient?

Amir Sharar
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Just a clarification on the LBP delay Top 10 Contraversy: Muslims don't find it offensive to have Quran quotes in songs, it happens quite often in Muslim hymns.

What makes this a remarkable news item though, was that Sony reacted to a gamer's post on a forum, rather than a complaint by any organization. Muslim organizations didn't complain because it was in fact a hymn, but you saw a gamer stating his opinion, and Sony taking that as a representation of over 1.5 billion people. It seems from my limited research that Sony did little in making an effort to contact organizations like the Muslim Council of Britain...which would have saved them a lot of hassle in delaying the title, reprinting BluRay discs, and in affecting launch sales.

Fireblaze Blaze
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"alarming numbers in the audience still think it's fair to steal en masse." Thats is a false statement, steal is to take something from another person so that that person does not have it anymore, copying is another matter.

Am I to understand that Gamasutra thinks that make of Tris a tetris-like game for the IPhone is a thief? Cause he made an clone of Tetris?

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My list:


2Fallout 3

3Lost Odyssey

4Last Remnant

5Soul Calibur 4

6Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

7Crisis Core

8Valkyrie Chronicles

9Resistance 2

10Farcry 2

Tony Coles
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I'm surprised that Saints Row 2 hasn't made it into any lists here. For my money, it offered one of the best player-considerate sandbox experiences yet seen. Superb levels of detail and real consideration for what the player will want to do and how they want to do it. Compared to GTA IV, it was a revelation, making Rockstar's folly seem aged and clunky in comparison.

Matt Myers
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My favorite this year would have to be Tales of Vesperia. It may have been business as usual for some folks, but it was my first Tales game and has the best combat system in a JRPG I've ever played. That plus the ~40 hour storyline with characters atypical to the usual JRPG fare makes it the most memorable game for me.

Also an indie game not mentioned anywhere here is Passage. It's a very simple 2d experience that only lasts five minutes. Nevertheless I found that it had a profoundly emotional effect on me and is certainly worth checking out at least once.

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I agree tales is pretty good, but I don't like that the battle system has characters that control themselves. I like to be in control of everything and while you can set the battle rules for them it turns out that it feels like you're barely playing the game and making the decisions. Compare this system to FFXII and I like how FFXII allows you to pause and issue moves for characters each turn so that at times I can let the gambits do the work for trash enemies, but on harder bosses I can micromanage a bit more. The only Tales game I ever played all the way through was Tales of symphonia for the gamecube and I played through it with all the characters dead except the main character because I didn't like the AI controlling my guys.

Chris Remo
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"Fireblaze Blaze,"

How about "obtain illegally" rather than "steal"? Does that work for you? Call it what you like if it makes you satisfied.

Bart Stewart
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Raphael, I appreciate the point you're making. I did/do understand that piracy of PC games is a potential reason for delaying the release of a multiplatform game for the PC SKU.

I'd just ask readers to consider a couple of points.

1. The PC is hardly the only platform on which piracy occurs -- Gamasutra itself recently published an article on the massive, almost casual piracy of games for handheld devices in Asia. Singling out the PC for a delayed release may not be justifiable on piracy grounds alone.

2. The question I raised -- regarding the decision to reward publishers (with a mention in a "best of platform" category) despite excluding the gamers who prefer that platform by not initially launching the game on that platform -- I think stands on its own regardless of the reason for not launching on a particular platform. As I said in my original comments, it's not something I'm losing sleep over, but I do wonder whether it's a good principle generally for anyone who publishes widely-read judgements on games. That said, Chris's response satisfied me that some thought went into the decision to do so, so I have no serious complaints. As I said then, I thought the games that made it to Gamasutra's "best PC games" list were generally excellent... once they came out for the PC. :)