2008 has been a really unforgettable year for gaming. I know that we like to throw that phrase around a lot - it pops up just about every year, actually - but there's no better way to describe the past 12 months we've spent playing games.
It's hard to even know where to begin. This past year saw the monumental release of Grand Theft Auto IV and the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4. Frankly, the releases that we've seen this year have solidified my satisfaction with my relatively new PS3. As we saw more and more really stand-out multiplatform as well as PS3 and 360-exclusive games this year, I became more and more convinced that I made the right move by purchasing a more hardcore console to go along with the casual-friendly Wii.
Characterizing any given year by its two or three massive releases makes things too easy; 2008 was amazing because it saw so many AAA games that, frankly, didn't get the attention they deserve. The creepy, atmospheric Dead Space was a terrifying experience. Left 4 Dead reaffirmed Valve as one of my favorite developers of all time. And the recently-released Valkyria Chronicles is one of the best, most innovative strategy games I've ever played.
It's also important not to overlook the handhelds; in fact, 2008 was just as good to the DS as it was to any other console. My summer free time was happily spent with The World Ends With You, a truly revolutionary RPG, and FFTA2: Grimoire of the Rift. We also got Ninja Gaiden DS - hands-down the system's best action game. The DS continues to amaze me as it proves just how enjoyable, immersing, and time-consuming handheld gaming truly can be.
The only thing that really disappointed me this year is the further fall from grace the Wii has experienced. Every once in a while, we get a great game we can really sink our teeth into, like Brawl or (a personal favorite of mine) the remade epic Okami. But the more I see from Nintendo, the more I'm convinced that hardcore gamers have been abandoned. It really saddens me, because I have wonderful memories of some truly phenomenal games I've played on the GameCube and N64. At least the DS continues the company's tradition of excellence, innovation, and core appeal, even if the Wii does not.
The biggest videogame successes of 2008 are many in number, and obvious enough. Grand Theft Auto IV cleared the high bar its predecessors set, offering a much-improved combat system, storytelling that worked moral conundrums in with the series' trademark depravity, and a world that really felt like New York. (I live in the Big Apple, and whenever I walked outside after playing, I felt oddly compelled to steal cars.) Gears of War 2 provided exactly the high-detail, testosterone-fueled slaughter-fest that was expected of it. Mario Kart Wii took advantage of the Wii's motion controls and free online multiplayer, even if it included too many items that cause random spin-outs.
Fable 2, Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Far Cry 2 . . . yes, 2008 was a year for sequels, but that's just the way the industry goes. Success builds upon success, with programmers perfecting their winning formulas on ever-higher budgets. And it's not like LittleBigPlanet, No More Heroes, etc., didn't round out the annual tally.
What interests me most about the current generation, however, isn't how developers push the technology to the limit. That always happens. What's fascinating is how new consoles pay homage to older technologies: For $5-15, gamers can download both the classics and simple new titles. In this regard, 2008 has been a mix of smashing success and bitter disappointment.
On the bright side rest Geometry Wars 2 and Braid. The former expanded greatly upon the original's success, with addictive new modes that kept me blasting away for hours at a time. The latter is exactly what download services were made for; aside from the graphics, it's nothing that couldn't have appeared on the Super Nintendo, but the level design and gameplay are brilliant.
On the dark side is, well, Nintendo. The Virtual Console soldiered on, adding a number of fun classics. But what on Earth is up with WiiWare, the service for downloading new games that launched in May? It's been a complete disaster.
It's true enough that every system has its mediocre games, but WiiWare has seen nothing but. There have been few notable exclusive titles, and thanks to the Wii's 480p resolution cap, the service misses many of the best multiplatform ones (say, the SFII HD remake). The only high points have been the few multiplatform titles WiiWare has received (Mega Man 9). Step your game up, Nintendo.