There maybe be spoilers ahead, but while there’s volumetric-lighting, and Love and romance…
1. Not having enough time to play it all. If there was nothing else to remember 2008 by, there was at least the sheer fact of there being too much to play. In the past few months I’ve struggled to even know what to boot up, let alone what to persist with, what to bin, what to save for the dark months after Christmas, and what to avoid lest it eat my entire life. It was easier to sit there, paralysed by indecision, reading through everyone else’s experiences of these games in internet forums.
Clearly I’m too lazy to perform any kind of accurate metric study here, but I’m fairly sure this has been the single busiest fourth quarter in the past fifty seven years. The variety has been refreshing too: from Saints Row 2 through to Mirror’s Edge, from LittleBigPlanet to Dead Space. The mainstream has been hitting its stride and delivering convincing, intimidating monoliths of game timesink. I mean, I think it was a good thing the Fallout 3 story is so short. It meant I had time to buy Christmas presents for my loved ones…2. LittleBigPlanet not being rubbish. Because it really could have been. The demonstrations we’d seen from GDC and the like made this one of the most interesting titles anywhere in gaming, and yet its fate was horribly uncertain. Could a console pull off the user-generated stuff they were touting? Would it just be a mess? Would copyright issues kill it dead? (Nearly!) It was a moment of absolute relief (and validation of ongoing hope) when I finally got my hands on LittleBigPlanet and saw that it was a mercurial (if slightly buggy and troubled) piece of game design. Cute and so, so solid. Shame it’s not selling as well, but hey, you can’t have it all. But you can have a virtual mechanical calculator:
3. Rom Check Fail. Twelve retro classics all mashed up into a single game. Pilot the ship from Asteroids to kill classic Space Invaders, have Pac-Man be chased by the ghosts from Gauntlet. Fight all the bosses as one mega-boss… There’s something so meta about this game that we assumed the world would end. Pure genius.
4. The Rube Goldberg Contraption in Fallout 3. In a game filled with interesting vignettes, both large and small, it was this demonstration of in-game physics silliness that really made me laugh and smile. These are the kinds of things we all know games can do, but only the occasional dedicated studio actually bothers to make them happen. Videogames are a great place for secrets, so let’s have more of them.
5. Realising that Spore wasn’t meant for me. Being a hardcore gamer type I was filled up with critical hot air after playing Spore, all of which was deflated as I watched my my girlfriend play, create an animal and then silently spend eight hours evolving it and building its culture. A cosmic doll’s house of a game, then: it’s just a shame the space section was so crap. She never did get on with that.
6. The music in World Of Goo. 2D Boy‘s gooey opus was pretty good as puzzle games go, but its music transformed the experience into a life-affirming journey of a game: a window on some kind of game-design soul. Gaze out at the goo and feel some kind of weird sense of purpose, it was the raw magic of mixed media. Actual magical, I suspect, of the kind liable to be exorcised by voodoo witch ladies from the swamps. (I know you made a pact at the crossroads, 2D Boy.)
7. Burnout Paradise. From the nerve-jangling chords of the menu screen Guns ‘n Roses, to the furiously physical depths of the pedestrian-free metropolis, this was pure videogame. I’ve never quite got past the feeling of speed that it delivered, and other games do seem to pale next to its joyous, insane slow-motion collisions. Smash it up, smash it up. Incredible that a racer managed to grasp the lessons of previous years of open world gaming, and deliver something so fresh and colourful.
8. Brucie in Grand Theft Auto IV. I’m not going to explain that one. I suspect you get it.
9. The brazen ludicrousness of Limbo Of The Lost. In case you missed this, Limbo Of The Lost was a monumentally crappy adventure game that bordered on the surreal. It came to general attention when it was revealed that large parts of the game were simply screenshots of other games, such as Thief 3 and Oblivion, with dodgy 3D models pasted into the foreground. Not only was it a classic of copyright violation and bad game design, it was also nightmarishly weird, as illustrated by its closing sequence:
10. Watching my Dad laugh more than he has done in two decades, while playing Boom Blox. The old man is a taciturn safety officer with a meticulous sense of procedure, and while often quick with a joke, the open belly laugh is a definite rarity. He was initially sceptical of the Wii, and he still seems unsure of quite what it is I’ve been doing for the past decade.
Nevertheless Nintendo’s arm-flailing innovation has been a breakthrough – first through Wii Sports and then some mini-games disc – it has dissolved the Dad barriers and brought a new era of gaming to my aging folks. For the first time since his mastery of Chuckie Egg in 1984, he has been completely engrossed in gaming. When it came to the mad Jenga-mutations of Boom Blox, he was rapt and bellowing. It was my gaming moment of the year. Pure, pure joy.
[Jim Rossignol is an editor at RockPaperShotgun.com and the author of This Gaming Life, an account of the life of modern videogames and some of the people who play them. Ragdoll Metaphysics is his Offworld column exploring and analyzing gaming’s vast world of esoterica.]