I was reluctant to play this game at first after seeing a few videos of it on Youtube. Average-at-best graphics, no story mode to speak of, and a T-rating in an otherwise hyper-violent series. It turned out to be my favorite class-based, objective-oriented FPS since Team Fortress 2. As either attackers or defenders, you were always in a constant rush to the chokepoints - using various tactics based on your class (which were pretty well balanced) to push through enemy ranks or hold the line at any cost. Battles were hectic and unpredictable, as a minor flaw in your efforts could lead to a chain of events that ultimately resulted in defeat. If you can look past the game's cosmetic weaknesses, you'll find one of the most frantic battle-zones of 2008. Definately worth a rental, if not a purchase.
As of writing, Samurai Warriors 2 is my favorite entry in Koei/Omega Force's various beat 'em ups series. A large cast of characters with unique fighting styles and personalities that were fully fleshed out beyond any of the previous standards of the franchise. Showcasing the end of an era as the wars of sword and spear fell violently to the mass production of firearms, Samurai Warriors 2 had much greater passion in its reasoning for combat than I've seen in most brawling games for years. In 2008, Japan got an expansion disc to SW2 featuring that same great game-play with an addition of new characters and scenarios. I would have liked it if America got the same treatment (would have meant more gamerscore and a resell value) but I'm happy enough SW2: Extreme Legends was available as DLC on the Marketplace (even if it was a steep price). For the gamers with disposable income, I'd have to say this is worth both your time and money if you're a dedicated fan of the series or genre.
Homecoming is without a doubt my least favorite game in the Silent Hill series (minus the hokey arcade shooter which has yet to be released in the States). That being said, it is a solid title despite bland characterization and average graphical presentation. A violent tale of yet another man drawn into Silent Hill because of his personal demons - shedding light on the nearboring towns and how they react around having such a horrifying location in their proxy. Homecoming "modernizes" the camera angles, makes the combat easier to handle (for the most part), and features several monsters from the Silent Hill film that are easily recognizable even to series newcomers. Those seeking more of the "industrial-hell" locations from the previous games might want to look here, as the endlessly spinning metal fans and hissing heat vents are rendered quite well, possibly the best in the title's visual stock. This is a truely white-knuckled adventure, featuring desperate item-management and combat intense enough that you'll only want to engage the enemies if you absolutely have to (something missing from many of the big horror franchises of recent times). Looking past its flaws, Homecoming is one of the few survival-horror games on the 360 and does well enough of a job to earn it a position on my "Best of 2008" list.
I grew up saturated with the excessive tones of violence and masculinity from the late 80s to the early 90s. Videogames and movies reflected that mindset, with iconic films like Commando and Predator and NES titles along the lines of Contra and Double Dragon. As the 90s wore on, the over-indulgence of this matrix of manhood was filed down into a more modern formula to accommodate the new generation of movie-goers and gamers. Something was lost along the way - a void of sweaty shirtless men spewing cheesy one-liners against armies of communists, black-garbed ninjas, or cyborg street punks. Army of Two is the closet thing I have felt to those tumultuous times of my childhood since the end of the SNES era. I lost a lot of respect for EA after their Orwellian purchasing and shelfing of Virgin's Thrill Kill for the PS1, but the creation of Army of Two had healed some of that wound. Best played with co-op, but suitable by yourself - AO2 is a action-fueled adventure of body armor, bullet geysers, and "bromance". With a wide array of weaponry and a nice political-fiction opera of a storyline - Army of Two became my favorite run-n-gun title of the year. I look forward to the rumored sequel and ask that you try the game out for yourself.
Although (as mentioned in my review) the campaign of Bloodshot wasn't as solid as the prequel's, Condemned 2 sold me on the engaging forray into an online beat 'em up on presented in a first-person perspective. If smashing people's skulls inward with toilet seats wasn't awesome enough, there was a very creepy and frantic mode attached called "Crime Scene" in which consisted of two teams playing a deadly game of cat and mouse in derelict locations. Largely overshadowed by the later games of 2008, Condemned 2: Bloodshot left a positive impression on me - enough of that I nominated it onto my "Best of 2008" list. Worth purchasing still, although the online community is much smaller than it was 10 months prior.
2D beat 'em ups are a rarity these days, with most of these retro-brawlers being movie tie-ins released for Nintendo's handheld consoles. It may look old-school, but it would be foolish to dismiss Castle Crashers as a throw-a-way time-waster best viewed through nostalgia goggles. In fact, it is quite an engaging experience - a streamlined hack 'n slash with dozens of weapons, numerous unlockable characters, and enjoyable 4-person simultaneous co-op combat. It is unlike anything on the 360, and you would have to travel back to arcades in the early 90's to have experienced something similiar to this wonderful little gem. Despite some bugs (most of which have been patched) and a small online community - Castle Crashers was the best XBLA game of 2008 and one of the best games of the aforementioned year. Very much worth a purchase, and as of this review it has some inexpensive DLC available on the marketplace to add to the experience.
Several critics of this game called it basically an expansion pack of the first, a Rainbow Six Vegas 1.5. I could care less - and it is evident than sometimes more of the same benefits over risking a major change in core design during sequel production. Not that R6V2 is a carbon-copy of its predecessor - it featuring several new guns, a sprint feature, more cosmetic variations,an enhanced tactical enemy A.I., and a much improved upgrading system than allowed you to import experience from the single-player campaign into your multiplayer avatar and vice-versa. Although the storyline has some noticeable plot-holes and a villain who has some weak reasonings behind his motive - the story also feels very close to the plausible terrorist scenarios we often reflect upon in post-9/11 America. This is no clean-cut saves-the-day affair, with bodies littering the civilian structures serving for battlefields - and there are several scenes that made me pause and go "wow..". While Gears of War gets all the glory for cover-based tactical shooting, Rainbow Six Vegas and it's sequel have always felt more satisfying to me and its community seems to have less children playing and more level-headed FPS veterans populating its servers, R6V2 continues to support a dedicated fan-base, and rumors reach my ears than Ubisoft my indeed add further DLC onto the title. I insist you pick up a copy of this game if you already haven't, as it was one of my favorite games of 2008 and continues to be one of my most enjoyable experienced on the 360, period.
In a stunning one-two punch for 2008, EA not only released the enjoyable Army of Two - but also the ambient action-horror thriller Dead Space. Borrowing from the best in sci-fi terror (Aliens, The Thing, Event Horizon), Dead Space tells the tale of an emotionally wounded man driven to survive in a space ship overrun with a vicious alien parasite that renders its victims into aberrations of flesh bent on a cycle of killing and transformation. There have been a lot of silent protagonists in the world of videogames, but Issac Clarke is one of the most engaging ones since Doomguy. What the hero lacks in vocalization in realized in various holographic tapes and displays chronicling the paranoia and distrust between the former crew members and the eventual seizure of the ship by the Necromorphs. A visually delightful HUD system leaves the screen almost entirely free of button-cue clutter and allows the player to fully appreciate the ship's bloody aftermath and haunting eternity that is space. A gripping story, accompanied by graphic violence and a constant struggle to survival makes Dead Space one of the best games of 2008 and a contender for Resident Evil 5 to compare itself with in 2009.
If you had asked me at the beginning of 2008 what my prediction of the year's #1 title would be, Left 4 Dead would have been my immediate choice. Zombie games are few are far between, and with Resident Evil's depature from the undead legions - I had been feeling bummed out as of late. Left 4 Dead arrived as an uplifting spirit, stepping up the 360's lack of intense survival-horror game-play and etsablishing a stunning revolution in the impletmenting of advanced enemy artificial intelligence. I sunk upwards of 60 hours into the game and repeatedly declared it the best thing with zombies in it since Resident Evil Outbreak File #2. The only real downside of the game (which kept it from reaching the coveted #1 position on my list) is the limited amount of campaigns (4 single-player and co-op, and only 2 of those featured in versus) and a last minute change of the character designs I found unsavory. DLC is rumored to be arriving for Left 4 Dead sometimes in the near future, but it is by all means a substantial title that I fully support a classification of "must-buy" onto.
#1: Fallout 3 (X360)
I rented Fallout 3 with low-to-mid expectations of quality. I had little experience with the developer, Bethesda, aside from about 2 hours of Oblivion - which I disliked. I knew the original Fallout creators had nothing to do with this game, and the last time an outside team used the creative property - we were left with Brotherhood of Steel. About 3 hours into the game I found that my interest had skyrocketed - I was overcome with the sensation that I was playing a title in the same league as classics like Deus Ex or Mass Effect. The wasteland felt legit, unlike any other "life-like" environment on the 360 - it was void of all the usual restraints for a curious adventurer had imposed against him in the average case for the sandbox genre. The ruined buildings seemed like they could exist in the real world, rather than simply a shell meant to throw a few items or enemies in. Homes felt lived in, with evidence of lost lives and decades of damage done from weathering and looters instantly recognizable. I actually cared about how I acted toward NPCs, going as far as to protect them from danger even if there was no reward involved in it other than goodwill. A strong, branching storyline guided me through my travels - whether it be for the interest of mankind or the selfish desires of a man seeking to exploit the ruins of civilization. And unlike a lot of big-name titles, Fallout 3 is poised to receive a flood of DLC - so even if you wear yourself out of the basic content, more is on the way. I applaud Bethesda for coming out of nowhere, and keeping the notch high on an established series and proving that an RPG can still throw down in an era dominated by FPS. Fallout 3 is the best game of 2008 in my opinion, and I suggest if you're still on the fence of whether to buy it or not, take the chance and make a purchase.
And there it is, the best of what the year 2008 had to offer. I know a lot of highly-praised (by other people's standards) titles didn't make the cut here, but if you've played videogames as long as I have you've come to realize that all the money and hype in the world can't give quality to a game that otherwise lacks it. I'm happy to put a lot of underdog, down-trodden games on my list - because quite frankly, they deserve the attention. Well, that about wraps it up - I'm looking forward to having as much to work with for the next "Best of" list in the following year.
List by xenodolf (02/26/2009)
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