Well, the year 2008 is finally at an end and though there were disappointments, many games lived up to the hype. The decision to make a Top 5 Games list instead of a Top 10 list was rooted in the fact that there were so many great games that it was tough for the staff to develop a consensus past the first five. Plus, the longer the list, the more you start to get all political with it and say crap like, "Boy, we need another game from x console in there." So here they are, our top five games of the year. Read 'em and bitch.
Oh, one note: The honorable mentions for the year could've been a few pages long too, but it's been restricted to the games that actually received votes from staff.
Pete Haas: This game is probably the least played game on this list but it's made quite an impression on those who have played it. In spite of its short length, Braid offers one of the richest gameplay experiences in years. Many games settle into a routine and rarely deviate from it but Braid is constantly evolving and challenging the player throughout. Once you master the basic technique of rewinding time to solve puzzles, the game introduces objects and enemies that aren't affected by the time shifts. It obviously feels good to lavish praise on an indie game but Braid isn’t just some favored pet of critics – it’s truly incredible and worthy of being branded one of the best games of the year. Hopefully it makes its way to PSN and the PC soon so a wider section of gamers can enjoy it.
William Usher: Hailed by many as one of the best multiplayer games ever, Left 4 Dead didn't have much to live up to like a lot of other sequels this year, but it certainly did live up to being one of the best of the year. Fast-paced shooting, four-player cooperative modes and one of the best auto A.I. adjusters (called 'The Director') made this a really cool game to play. While the graphics weren't anything new to the department of visual ingenuity, the zombie flesh-eaters and dark environments were enough to make the game sell as a bona fide survival-horror-shooter. And even though a more robust use of the physics engine would have been nice, Turtle Rock Studio's Left 4 Dead took a small concept of multiplayer survival and turned it into the kind of game we rarely get: A bloody fun time with friends for the sake of having fun. I can't remember the last time I played a cooperative game that enforced multiplayer cooperation as an absolute necessity for victory and survival. Left 4 Dead's in-your-face pace and balanced difficulty settings will have developers scrambling to emulate Turtle Rock's success, and that's why this game belongs on this list...as one of the best of 2008.
Nathan Ochiltree: Fallout 3 would have been a really easy game to screw up and I'm saying that as a die hard fan of the series. Unlike most successful cult franchises you can't just slap the Fallout name on something and expect its fan following to catch on. If Fallout Tactics and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel have taught us anything it's been that fans are very particular when it comes to their beloved wasteland wandering epic. This game has an image to protect as much as anything and if you fail to keep the style and attitude it just falls flat on its face. Bethesda succeeded with Fallout 3 by keeping the gritty look alive and by staying true to the tongue-in-cheek delivery. Ultimately the Fallout series has always been about open ended game play and it's no surprise that the creators of Morrowind and Oblivion decided to pick it up. And we're all certainly glad that they did.
Andy Keener: I knew exactly what I was getting myself into with Gears of War 2. I knew I'd be getting an over-the-top shooter with a crappy storyline and bucketloads of blood and guts. I still loved every minute of it. While some people might get high and mighty about the content in their creations, Epic decided that they'd run with the world they've created, and what they created was pure fun. And fun's what we're all here for, right? As much as I hate comparing games to movies, Gears of War 2 (and its predecessor) harness that man-power energy from such great movies as Predator, Terminator, the Rambo movies, and it turns it into a playable action movie.
Nathan Ochiltree: Running on new software (i.e., Natural Motion and Kynaspe AI) for enhanced social interaction, physical interaction and advanced immersion all the way around, Grand Theft Auto IV is the perfect combination of gameplay meets graphics. There's so much to do in the revised and reinvented Liberty City, and the social activities that mimic The Sims are a great counter-balance to the action and driving for which much of the game is composed. There's nothing in this game that won't keep gamers busy for a long time to come, and all the necessary fixes and improvements that gamers complained about with GTA: San Andreas have seen a major face-lift or renovation in GTA IV. The multiplayer was also a nice addition to the game, even though it doesn't feature all the bells and whistles found in the likes of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, it does provide an excellent escape from all the single-player fun. While GTA IV isn't a perfect game, it does excel the industry forward with a lot of open-world interaction and great story-telling.
Honorable Mentions: LittleBigPlanet, Dead Space, Valkyria Chronicles, Red Alert 3, Mirror's Edge, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Mega Man 9, Professor Layton and the Curious Village
You can check out the rest of Cinema Blend's Best of 2008 coverage here.