If this holiday season has granted you a brand new console with an old and bloated backlog, you might find a good selection in 2008's best games, particularly in Joystiq's top ten favorites. Read on to find the industry's former best, now with a year's worth of price erosion.
What we said then: Mirror's Edge cuts to the chase, here a vertiginous sequence of elegant platforming and a ruthless hunt for efficiency. It's absolutely thrilling, presented in a perspective usually reserved for blundering man-tanks. Yes, there are cumbersome guns -- a literal throwaway element -- and yes, there's fist-to-face combat that's more than a little challenging. Mirror's Edge does stumble occasionally, but when it runs, it leaves most games in the dust. It's one of the most difficult, engaging, frustrating and satisfying experiences of the year.
What we say now: A year later, Mirror's Edge still stands out, not only as an exciting, avant-garde experience, but as one of the few games that prompted us to look up the fancy word we just used. Avant-garde. We still think the notorious no-guns achievement acts as a beacon of frustration (especially in the server room), so ignore it and improvise when possible. A year later, it's still annoying waiting for the last checkpoint to load.
New price: $20 (PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC)
What we said then: Dead Space changes up the experience of shooting anything that moves by forcing us to focus on precision, rending limbs from bodies and turning each frightening encounter into a shooting gallery. It grabbed a hold of us with its many alien tendrils and didn't let go, and at times, with the lights turned down and speakers resonating the sounds of slimy things scuffling just out of earshot, it was easy to forget that what we were playing was just a game. Helping this is one of the most elegant and functional examples of UI ever designed. Truthfully, if the developers don't come away from Dead Space with heaps of accolades for this feat alone there is no justice.
What we say now: With even Resident Evil charging headfirst into action territory (co-op partner in tow), scares aren't as plentiful as they used to be. Dead Space is no Jacob's Ladder, but it's a fine Alien, and boasts production values that justify the comparison to film. Well, that and the fact that it's set on a really scary spaceship.
New price: $20 (PS3 / Xbox 360); $30 (PC)
Far Cry 2
What we said then: Though Far Cry 2's enormous map entertains movement in any direction, you're strictly set on a path of violence. But the world's organic nature can't be escaped, with even minor firefights threatening to set off spectacular chain reactions. Whether those play in your favor largely depends on your ability to deal with unreliable weapons, misfiring rockets and ravenous fires. It's a thing of beauty when your perfect plan degenerates to, "Right, I'm going to burn everything to the ground."
What we say now: Aside from a half-eaten bowl of cottage cheese that's been sitting in our refrigerator for a year, 2008 hasn't spawned a more organic and offensive environment than the one in Far Cry 2. It also smells much better than the interior of the aformentioned cooling apparatus; at least if you enjoy the distinct aroma of burning grass. We still love the unexpected chaos that can erupt from a vicious gunfight, even if it is within one of a billion guard posts. And where is our run-and-slide move, other first-person shooters? Where?
New price: $30 (PS3 / Xbox 360); $20 (PC / Fortune's Edition, Steam)
What we said then: We imagine that Media Molecule's proudest moment since the game's launch was not its warm critical reception, but rather, the first time a player published a level that rivaled one of their own in terms of quality and creativity. We recall clearly the first such level that we played -- it was a pretty startling moment for us as well, as it was the first time we realized that the tools we had in our possession were used to create the story mode we'd been tooling around in. Media Molecule had unknowingly issued the purchasers of their game with an invitation, or perhaps even a challenge.
"Think you can design a game better than us? We'd like to see you try."
What we say now: With the addition of water, our burlap buddies are sure to find even more creative playgrounds for their antics (and somewhat floaty jumping). The LittleBigPlanet community has provided an amazing amount of content within the last year, ensuring that newcomers will have plenty to download and explore right away. It is a pity, however, that Media Molecule and Sony have treated the game as more of a wardrobe than a playground. You certainly won't be wanting for costumes.
New price: $50 (Game of the Year Edition, PS3)
Gears of War 2
What we said then: From chainsaw duels to meatshields, Gears of War 2 offers an arsenal of improvements over the original (which, for the curious amongst you, was Joystiq's 2006 Game of the Year), along with plenty of colorful language and tons of gore -- including a lot of new choice quotes from The Cole Train.
What we say now: Wow, that Cole Train guy is still pretty offensive. Mind you, so is most of this crass, blood-splattered and monster-infested shootfest. So we still really like it, basically.
Current retail price: $36 (Game of the Year Edition, Xbox 360)
What we said then: There are many layers to the game, each reflecting the thoughts and concerns of the player and, like in poetry, Braid offers many images and creative hooks that allow players to come to unique conclusions -- all of which are valid. The profound impact of Braid is rather surprising considering its humble origins. Although it may be a small, short downloadable game, there's so much to appreciate about Braid's intelligent design.
What we say now: There's so little we can add to Soulja Boy's definitive review -- he did tell us, after all. (Psst, we're still waiting for that game of yours.)
New price: Alright, Braid isn't any cheaper on Xbox Live in 2009, but it is available on more platforms! $15 (Xbox Live Arcade); $15 (PlayStation Network); $10 (PC / Mac)
What we said then: This isn't a linear RPG; this is a world. Every ruin contains a mystery, and around every bend is a new (and often surprising) situation. It's meant to be lived in and combed for every last bit of the experience it has to offer. It's a role-playing game in the truest sense; when you're a hundred or so hours in, you feel as if you're leading another (far more exciting) life, one that you've carved out of civilization's remains.
What we say now: Turning D.C. into an apocalyptic battleground is almost a thing these days, but Bethesda's ruined landscape provided an unforgettable jaunt through collapse, decay and inhuman depravity. Huh, it doesn't really sound that fun when we put it that way. Did we mention the exploding heads?
New price: $30 (PS3 / Xbox 360); $57 (Game of the Year Edition, PS3 / Xbox 360); $30 (Game of the Year Edition, PC)
Left 4 Dead
What we said then: Through its simplicity, L4D is able to address some multiplayer problems that might have seemed unsolvable just a few months ago. Those solutions are so subtle, one might not even realize that's exactly what they are. How do you build a spirit of teamwork? Have players constantly risk everything to save their friends, then frequently force those friends to return the favor. How do you keep players from hoarding power-ups? Reward them for giving them away. How do you break up a long campaign? Let the players occasionally switch teams and play as the enemy. There's a wealth of really fresh thinking on display here.
What we say now: Human beings instinctively categorize their environments and social connections, often deliberately and sometimes subconsciously. Left 4 Dead certainly assists in the former process -- that guy's a witch shooter, this girl's a medpack hoarder and this one, oh this one, he's a car alarmist. We hate them all, but in the partially gnawed face of an oncoming zombie horde (which is even stronger in the sequel, we hear), a friend with lead is a friend against the undead. Something like that.
New price: $30 (Game of the Year Edition, Xbox 360 / PC)
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
What we said then: MGS4 is really strange. It's not that the game's strangeness isn't apparent to a casual player or newcomer -- just peep the truly bizarre opening: an obnoxious in-game ad (or is it?) followed by live-action fried eggs. But, and this brings us back to our cliché, to a video game lifer (a "gamer"), MGS4 is not unlike -- dare we mention -- a reader cracking open a postmodern novel for the first time. That is to say, MGS4 experiments with previously unknown possibilities of the medium (you know, it's "innovative"), while sticking to some established conventions. Perhaps its true brilliance, though, is in its ability to present itself as distinctly ordinary. One could play through MGS4 from beginning to end, doze through the hours of cut scenes, and come away fulfilled, having played one helluva action game.
What we say now: The Metal Gear Solid games are oddly resistant to the effects of time, probably because they're so, well, odd. But "unique" is probably a better word, if only because the number of games starring a geriatric soldier, teetering on the brink of suicide and toppling into an alienating world of modern conflict, is somewhat curtailed. The same could be said for a game that so effectively blends action (now with proper, third-person-shooter controls), stealth and spectacle. And spectacles, if you're an Otacon fan.
New price: $25 (PS3); $20 (GameStop)
What we said then: Fable 2 has not only refined Molyneux's original promise but, in doing so, has even surpassed many of our earlier, admittedly inflated, expectations for that game. Much like Molyneux, Fable 2 is the comeback kid, knocked down in the first round, but with too much ambition – too much heart, like they say in boxing – to stay down.
What we say now: Fable 2 certainly doesn't have the depth or moral wrestling to match Dragon Age: Origins, but its wit and whimsy are as contagious as ever. It's a simple RPG tale -- one that embraces the satisfying progression that makes the genre so appealing. Starting as a stick-waving pauper and ending as a staff-wielding king, this little slice of life in Albion still manages to inspire.
New price: $28 (Xbox 360); free (Fable II: Episode 1, Xbox Live Marketplace); $30 (Platinum Hits version w/ DLC; available Jan. 12, 2010)