DarkZero Awards 2008: 10th – 1st
Here is the lovely part two of the long listing of our favourite games of 2008. In case you missed it, here is part one, which we assure you was equally as awesome as part 2 will be. Read on to find out what we placed in 10th place all the way to the super, smashing, great number 1. Then you can obviously disagree with us afterwards and call us stupid.
Seth: Probably the best-looking game I’ve seen all year, Far Cry 2’s stunning graphical and lighting prowess really does help to immerse you in the Heart of Darkness. Africa has been relatively unexplored in gaming, but Ubisoft have shown that guerrilla warfare can be enjoyable even when both sides are virtually indistinguishable. The sheer scale of this open-world provides exhilarating freedom in many ways.
Sean: Really bloody hard work at times, but absolutely stuffed full of totally unplanned ‘moments’ which emerge seamlessly out of the incredible backdrop that Ubisoft have put together. Put some real effort into the game (and play it on ‘hardcore’ difficulty – trust me, it makes it much better), and you’ll soon find yourself pulling things off that, in most other games, would be confined to non-interactive cut-scenes. Not the best game I’ve played this year, but it has easily supplied some of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
Thomas: No where near as fun as I expected it to be, but still entertaining nonetheless. I enjoyed listening to ‘I Would Walk 500 Miles’ while playing it, as it sums up the game game perfectly.
Jonathan: I’ve just bought it and only seen the box but it looks kinda cool…
Dominic: REAL AFRICAN WOOD! That’s what I screamed out when I got my limited edition version of FarCry 2 for the PC. It smelt so nice did that wood… Really I don’t know why the game kept the FarCry name because it has nothing what so ever to do with the first game. I personally think the game could have lived on its own without the help of Crytek’s brilliant first game stuck in the title. It’s a beautifully detailed game that looks outstanding, probably the second best looking game after Crysis Warhead.
Andi: Far Cry 2 is a game that tells two stories. The first is a story of bugs, repetitive gameplay and an awkward, outdated save system that can cause people to lose 45 minutes worth of progress TWICE in on session. The second is a much more interesting story, one with total freedom to approach the mission in hand – find and kill “The Jackal”. At no point does Far Cry 2 ever patronize you, hold your hand or dumb things down and for that I can’t sing it’s praises highly enough. If it wasn’t for its obvious flaws, Far Cry 2 would not only be my game of the year, but probably the best first person shooter since Half Life 2. Believe.
Alasdair: A surprising 3rd party Wii game that was exceptionally good. The point and click adventure style mixed with some fiendish puzzles makes this an absorbing game. Easily overlooked as it was released so early in the year, Zack & Wiki firmly deserves to be highly rated.
Seth: After seeing the overly cutesey and colourful visuals, it comes as something of a shock to realise that this game can really tax the brain. Making good use of the Wii’s unique controls, this is trial-and-error gameplay at its finest.
Dominic: One of the first games to be released in 2008, Zack & Wiki made point and click games fun and stylish on the Wii. With some great control schemes, the remote was used in pretty much any way you could think of. It’s a shame none of you bought this little golden gem.
Thomas: This awesome game can still be bought. You should buy it.
Seth: Certainly not a revolution, but a solidly built game that’s over-the-top in almost every way. Built from the ground-up for co-op, playing Gears 2 on Insane with a buddy is a thrill. Play Horde mode with four mates and you’ll really feel like you’re in a warzone. Even the terrible plot and dislikeable characters can’t overshadow the firm gameplay foundations that Epic have built.
Thomas: I now use the phrase “Ten Shitloads” regularly. Thank Clifford!
Andi: The second best co-op experience of the year, played through in two solid sittings with my housemate. It isn’t clever, but it is big and dumb fun. It is also much, much better than its predecessor, which here are DarkZero was our number one game of the year for 2006. Shows how fickle we are.
Alasdair: My personal favourite game of 2008. A game that can last forever, there’s so much to unlock and so many characters to use. The addition of a stage builder opens the door to a variety of challenging stages. Hardcore and casual gamers alike can find many memorable experiences in Brawl.
Ben: When it comes to fighting games, Smash Bros changes everything. It’s so fun, accessible and varied, there’s nothing else like it. I didn’t think the array of characters could get any better than those seen in Melee, but Snake and Sonic’s inclusion was a masterstroke. There’s just so much variety on offer, one could play for weeks trying to learn how to use each character properly. Unparalleled unlockables, inclusion of a story mode and level editor add much to an already excellent game. This is an unmissable addition to your multiplayer shortlist.
Seth: With an almost overwhelming amount of content, Smash Bros. Brawl is a Nintendo fanboy’s wet dream. Chock-full of enjoyable nostalgia from some of gaming’s best-loved franchises, Brawl manages to be both accessible and deep. The only shame is that a Gamecube pad is almost essential to enjoyment.
Dominic: This was probably Nintendo’s biggest and most hyped game of the year. This was mainly due to the Smash Bros’ Dojo that kept releasing new information all the time. There was so much content cramped into the disc that it ended up been one of the first Wii games to be dual layer. Nintendo showed all game developers how to properly do a sequel. It added 3rd party characters, loads of new content and was just jam packed with pretty much everything you could think of. If the online experience was better, Smash Bros Brawl could have been the perfect Smash Bros game, alas it still awesomely good!
Ben: The most entertaining game I’ve played this year, it has consumed more of my time than any other. The formula just never gets old and unlocking everything was both challenging and fun. Crucially, even hard to please non-gamers love Mario Kart, especially now there’s a wheel. Quite simply the best multiplayer game available on any system. I just wish Nintendo would make it possible to dodge the blue shell!
Alasdair: There’s a hint of irony in the fact that the best racing game of the year had to be the one with no car modding, little dependence on car stats and the one that made little or no sense throughout. Mario Kart Wii adds more racers, more weapons and more madness to the classic Mario Kart formula to make the best multiplayer MK yet. Serious gamers may become frustrated with the apparent injustice of some items, like the blue shells, but we all know Mario Kart is best enjoyed with friends.
Dominic: Mario Kart on the Wii is a game I was looking forward to. This wasn’t because of the wheel controls; I personally found them to hinder my Mario Kart gaming experience. Instead it was for what Nintendo would come up with next. Some awesome new tracks (Koopa Cape is instantly a classic!) and the best online experience yet for the Wii (although that doesn’t really say much, but it is a great set up for what they have). This is a game that any person can get into playing and provides hours of fun for all ages and family. The best party game this year!
Andi: In all fairness, this was probably one of my personal disappointments of 2008. A great, great racing game that was tainted by the stench of the mum and dad gamer – great instant fun, but overshadowed by an emphasis on keeping things fair by the way of a ridiculous weapon balance that means skill will actually work against you. As a fan of fighting games, where fairness is absolutely essential, this rubbed me up the wrong way. Donkey Kong on a little dirt bike was pretty cool, though.
Seth: Having played Mario Kart DS to death, I wasn’t about to turn up my nose at more of the same, and thankfully the shift in hardware changed nothing but the enjoyable addition of motion-controls. Despite initial scepticism I was pleased to find that using the Wii Wheel actually added to the fun. Simply, this is Mario Kart and there’s nothing else quite like it.
Jonathan: Probably the most enjoyable multiplayer game I have ever played, getting a big group of friends together and cracking out a tournament is like no other game. It’s fun, and not impossible to unlock everything, and then play it some more. I would have won too if I hadn’t fallen off Rainbow Road at the last minute, grr.
Dominic: This game is pure 100% fun on a blu-ray disc. Cute, Innocent and just damn good enjoyment. Media Molecule hit every note rightly when it came to the content on the disc. The ability to create your own wacky worlds is something that has taken off reasonably well. All that needs sorting is the moderation and it will surely become a game that has one huge community of sack boy loving gamers.
Seth: This game oozes charm and is one of the few non-Wii games that I have seen adults and children playing side-by-side with equal joy. The user-creation options are accessible and yet so vast that any level you’d wish to create is limited only by your imagination. Incindentally, it has some of the best object and material physics I have ever seen.
Seth: GTA’s move to a more realistic aesthetic divided gamers, but no-one can doubt the impressive cityscape that Rockstar North have managed to design and build. Whilst it was disappointing that missions were more repetitive and less outlandish than previous instalments, the outstanding strength of the characterisation, dialogue and voice acting managed to make for this. Best of all, Liberty City finally feels tangible, and this is GTA IV’s crowning achievement.
Sean: A lot of dodgy missions and a well-told but fundamentally limp story didn’t stop me enjoying the hell out of this. To me, it felt like a genuine triumph of pointless fluff over substance. The radio stations, the TV, the internet websites, the spending hours trying to arrange to pick up your girlfriend in a helicopter to take her on a date only to pick her up and then promptly hit a skyscraper by accident and laugh through the tears as you plummet to your doom… it’s awesome. And shame on anyone who traded it in, because with a healthy dose of imagination, playing free mode online with a few friends is still amazingly good fun. If you think it’s boring, you’re boring.
Thomas: A truly fantastic game to experience, and something everyone should play in my opinion. However, after about 25 hours I was left with nothing to do. It did not help that the much hyped multiplayer ended up a failure.
Dominic: I don’t think I need to say much about the title. It’s the new GTA all pumped up for the powerful systems. Taking away the huge freedom of San Andreas and replacing it with a much more believable world, and a story worth of a high budget film. GTA IV was going to always score highly and rightly so. RockStar took the problems they had with the past versions and fixed them to give a brilliant gaming experience full of gripping action and unique RockStar gags.
Andi: So close to being my favourite game of 2008! The single player was a masterpiece, a great story told in the middle of a living, breathing city and a refreshing change of pace to the normal GTA shtick, finally shaking free its Daily Mail scapegoat tag in the process. I never found myself wanting to go on a murderous rampage this time around, because it simply wasn’t something Niko Bellic would DO. The characters, story and gameplay came together to create one of the best gaming experiences of the year, despite the bizarre backlash that followed its release. Whoever had the idea to open the city up to you and a bunch of your silliest mates over Xbox Live is an absolute genius, mind. Some of my greatest gaming moments of the past year all happened within one of these online sessions, and with the new DLC not only adding to the single player, but to the multiplayer too, GTA IV could even be one of the best games of 2009.
Seth: Building on their successes with Oblivion, Bethesda have used the post-nuclear holocaust setting as a hook on which to hang a game that is full of tragic comedy, devastating moral choices, intriguing exploration and more loot and weapon management than you can shake a stick at. The kind of game that is very, very hard to put down.
Sean: More ‘sci-fi Oblivion’ than the true Fallout sequel I really wanted, but still an amazing game in its own right. While it steered clear of some of the grittier elements of the previous Fallout titles, it made up for this with the wonderful VATS combat system, and some wonderfully-written bits of story that you could easily miss if you’re not careful. Whatever Fallout 3 may be, it’s definitely not a game you should rush through.
Dominic: Oblivion half mixed in with post apocalyptic America. Fallout 3 was one of those games that people were waiting for a long time. When it arrived, it didn’t disappoint. The world of Fallout 3 was a living, breathing world, where what I did effected what people did. This mechanic was much improved over Oblivion’s. It made it that much more unique when exploring the nuclear infected Washington D.C. It gave you a feeling of creating a persona in the world and that’s something you don’t always get in a video game.
Andi: If I’m honest, I wasn’t hugely fussed about getting a “Fallout sequel”. All I really knew about the previous titles, bar a few abortive playthrough attempts, was that the atmosphere is unparalleled. So, Fallout 3, while staying faithful to the mood and setting of the original games, updated the series perfectly by slapping itself over the top of Oblivion, replacing the spectacular if somewhat dead hills of Cyrodill with the expansive wasteland of Washington D.C that has atmosphere every step you take. Sure, the story doesn’t appear to be up to much, but like the best games – you make your own. The V.A.T.S system ensured that, at the very least, the spirit of the original gameplay made it into 2008 and provided us with some of the year’s more graphic moments. A point blank shotgun blast to the chest with the bloody mess perk? They’ll be mopping the bits up for weeks.
Ben: This was my first choice for game of the year. Braid shows that you don’t need a huge team and vast budget to create a superb game. The mysterious storytelling, flawless manipulation of time and strong creative vision propel Braid to memorable heights. A rewarding experience that is a testament to why sometimes 2D is still a perfectly valid design decision.
Seth: Jonathan Blow proved the validity of downloadable games this year, with a title that marries gameplay and narrative superbly. The time-twisting interactions are challenging but satisfying and provide a whole new view on platforming, and the prose that precedes each world gives us a poignant glimpse into a somewhat tragic life of missed opportunities. The ending literally made my jaw drop, and was easily one of the gaming moments of the year for me.
Dominic: The thing that stood out for me in Braid was how beautiful the game looked. I’m a fan of unique looking games and this certainly falls into that category. While reversing time isn’t an idea that is totally original, Braid did it in a way that when combined with platform puzzling came off extremely well and fresh. It made you think about solving puzzles in a totally new imaginative way.
Sean: Art-games, eh? They’re interesting enough, but seldom are they actually good games, or good art – at best, they’re only one or the other. Then Braid came along, spread its beautiful, painterly cheeks apart like a massive hydraulic door, and proceeded to defecate on basically everything that had gone before. One of the most thoughtful and dense video games to come out in years, it manages to convey complex emotional ideas through its gameplay and aesthetics, as well as actually being really fun, and providing a sense of achievement I’ve not felt since beating the final boss in God Hand. An absolute masterpiece, and a shining example of what video games are really capable of.
Seth: Not content with creating last year’s dark-comedic masterpiece Portal, the guys and gals at Valve have seen fit to show up every other title in 2008 by proving they have a perfect understanding of what a video game should be. Every element of Left 4 Dead is world-class, from the simple-but-effective HUD, the situational dialogue, the superb animation and lighting, and some of the best A.I. ever seen in gaming. With the fiendish A.I. director mixing things up, and the most enjoyable co-op gameplay of 2008, this is one zombie apocalypse that you want to experience again and again.
Thomas: In its current form it is a game I could find myself playing forever. If DLC is released for it, then I could play it longer than that. You really can’t get more value for money than having a game that last longer than time itself. So yeah, it really does deserves number 1.
Sean: So here’s the thing – I can’t play scary games. At all. I traded in my copy of Gregory Horror Show on the PS2 because I couldn’t hack it for more than the first half-hour. I have never, ever understood the entertainment value of being scared – until Left 4 Dead happened. To date, I have had three nightmares about this fucking game, and yet I can’t leave it alone. Because as well as being scary as hell, it’s also one of the most fun games I’ve played in years. Every second I spend on it, I’m constantly walking a line between laughing my arse off, and bursting into tears. And every second I’m not spending on it, I’m boring my poor girlfriend to death with my tales of survival against the zombie hordes. Some people complained about the game’s lack of a ‘proper’ story – they’re idiots. Left 4 Dead shows what can be done when players are allowed to patch their own narrative together through stuff that actually happens to them, making it the best co-op experience since whenever you lost interest in Dynasty Warriors.
Dominic: There’s really nothing on the market quite like Left 4 Dead. It might not seem fresh from looking at the back of the game’s case, but trust me when I say it’s bloody fantastic. There’s not one game I can think of that requires so much working together and team effort. It rewards you so well too, because once your team has clicked, you see your effort paying off as you work your way through waves of human hunting zombies and other abominations valve has decided to throw your way. You can be annoyed, angry and happy all at the same time and people won’t mind because they are probably going through the same feelings as you are. Those feelings are all departed though when you hit the safe house to move onto the next area. This is what makes a co-op experience and throughout all the years of gaming there’s not been a game that has made me feel like I’m working with others quite like this one. Buy it!
Andi: The winner, and my number one pick. Left 4 Dead has taught me several important things about the people I know. It has taught me that although prone to the occasional panic attack, Sean will be a useful ally in a zombie outbreak. It has taught me that several other of my friends will have my back even in the wake of a worldwide undead resurgence. It has also taught me that sticking with my housemate will get me killed very, very quickly.
I was going to put Grand Theft Auto IV as my GOTY, primarily due to my enjoyment of the single player story and the absolute riot I have had in free roam mode over the last 12 months. However, after a night out discussing such matters and boring anyone passing me by to big, fat, salty tears about my recent games on Left 4 Dead, I realized that this is the most fun I’ve had with a game in AGES. The first few play sessions were pure panic, seat-of-your-pants gaming that won’t ever be recreated, a bit like the first time you played Warioware. After a few runs through the campaign, and becoming knowledgeable about how the game works, it doesn’t get tired. Trying to out-think the director is a huge mistake – I must’ve been through all the maps on normal difficulty ten times now and it STILL throws something up that takes you by surprise and causes all well-laid plans to descend into chaos.
The game hasn’t even got the usual problems with idiots online! Ultimately, everyone is in the same boat – survive – and teamwork is essential that you very rarely get some of the usual morons that can easily ruin any other online experience. When you do want to be an arsehole, the game has an entire mode dedicated to it! Playing as the zombies in versus mode is essentially a glorified griefing simulator, and it is wonderful. Just had a horrifically tense run through the underground station, only to be foiled at the last stretch by a well-organized ambush? Next round, it is your turn to dish out the punishment.
As most of my social group will agree, I could go on for days about Left 4 Dead, so I’ll stop now before I get started on that game the other night me, Ian, Pete and Sean played where we were pinned down in a barn waiting for a rescue when suddenly…