The 2008 Video Game Retrospective, Part I

(Editor's Note: This is a short two-part series looking at the best video games of 2008 from Phil Kehres, who will also author this semi-regular column, The Gamer's PHILosophy. To read the next part in the series, please go here.)

by Phil Kehres

A new year always warrants a look back at the last, and as far as gaming goes, it was a helluva year. Wii may have dominated the marketplace again, but as usual, Xbox 360 — with some help from Playstation 3 — set the tone for hardcore gamers.

Game of the Year — Ranked: 5/5
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (Rated M, PS3)

In Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4), players reprise the role of grizzled soldier Solid Snake as he chases arch-nemesis Liquid Ocelot around the globe. You’ll guide Snake as he attempts to uncover the secrets of the Illuminati-like Patriots and their scheme to control the militaries of the world with a vast network of artificial intelligence. But Snake is running out of time — his clone body is ravaged by the FoxDie virus that breaks him down and makes him look like a haggard octogenarian.

Graphically, MGS4 sets the tone for this entire generation of games. It is not only the best-looking game on PS3, but the best-looking game to date this generation, by a healthy margin. From bombed-out villages in the Middle East to a frozen military installation in Alaska, environments are crafted meticulously and inspire more than a few “wow” moments. As for gameplay, MGS4 is easily the best in the series. The development team eschews the series’ traditional fixed camera for a more streamlined “over-the-shoulder” free-moving camera — a huge upgrade. The game relies less on stealth and more on combat than its predecessors, but the new gameplay mechanics really facilitate the transition. An assortment of new moves and gadgets, highlighted by “OctaCamo,” which allows you to blend in with any environment, helps the game maintain its core stealth mechanic while broadening its horizons. The online play and trademark hidden secrets and humor give the game formidable replay value.

Where the game shines most, however, is in its Oscar-worthy story. Famed director Hideo Kojima, in his last game at the helm of the series, tells a story like no one else in the video game world can. New characters are introduced, old ones complete their mission, and all the loose ends to one of video gaming’s greatest sagas are tied up — but not without a few excellent twists. The non-playable cutscenes (lasting up to 45 minutes in some parts) and strange plot points may be a turn-off to some, but fans of the series and open-minded gamers will be captivated and enthralled. Kojima, as always, is able to evoke the rawest of emotions — anger, fear, joy — out of seemingly ludicrous situations. The Metal Gear series has always been about bridging the gap between games and film, and there is no better showcase of that than MGS4.

Kojima’s work is a cornerstone in the debate on video games as an art form. MGS4 is his magnum opus.

Runner Up — Ranked: 5/5
Fallout 3 (Rated M, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

Fallout 3 is a masterpiece of a game. From the minute your character breaks out of his fallout shelter and sees post-apocalypse Washington, D.C. for the first time, you'll be hooked. The eerie atmosphere is unmatched (except perhaps by last year’s Bioshock), as is the depth of character upgrades, powers and weapons. The combat is exceptional for a role-playing game (RPG), if a bit clunky at times. The voice acting could stand to be better, but the incredible graphics, varied quests, intriguing story and depth of gameplay options will keep you going 70+ hours into this bad boy. (For another capsule review of this game, please see: "The 2008 Holiday Video Game Guide, Part I.")

Runner Up — Ranked: 4.5/5
Gears of War 2 (Rated M, Xbox 360/PC)

Bloody shooters are a dime a dozen these days, but no game does it like Gears of War 2. Sure, the characters are generic badass soldiers and the story is barely decent, but what it lacks in those departments it more than makes up for elsewhere. The graphics are stellar and the presentation is top-notch, with more epic, jaw-dropping gameplay moments than any other game this year. The selection of weapons is excellent, the combat system is the best of any third-person shooter ever, and the online modes are endless fun. Plus, to this day, nothing in gaming is more satisfying than sneaking up behind an unsuspecting enemy and chainsawing them in half. (For another capsule review of this game, please see: "The 2008 Holiday Video Game Guide, Part II.")

If you haven’t played any of these games yet, you owe it to yourself to check them out. It was difficult to pick the best games of 2008 from a stable of excellent titles, but not so hard to pick the year’s biggest stinkers. (To read about that, please proceed to Part II.)

(Phil Kehres is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(Promotional screenshot from
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots from Konami. To see a PG-13-rated video trailer for MGS4, please check below.)

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