Games of 2008
The list below lays out the best of the best for 2008, the games we rated highest from January to December. If you just picked up an Xbox 360 and are itching to get going with the newest and best titles of the year, than look no further. We've also compiled a list of the readers' top ten games of 2008 as chosen by you, the reader. Also check out our list of the top sellers of 2008 as reported by the NPD Group. But first, here they are – the top 10 best games of 2008.
It doesn't happen often, but every once in a while a game comes along that's so amazing that we can't for the life of us figure out how the developers could have made it better for its time. Grand Theft Auto IV is such a game. Rockstar's latest entry in the GTA series follows the story of recent immigrant Nico Bellic as he tries to make a life for himself in America. Along the way, he discovers what his adopted country is all about, and it's not all punch and cookies.
The characters and storyline in GTA IV are expertly crafted, but that's not all there is to this open-world epic. In Liberty City, there's someone to do or kill around every corner, and even if you turn a blind eye to the narrative, you'll still have a blast exploring the tightly-built city. The cars, weapons, pedestrians, music, graphics and just about everything else about GTA IV are amazing. Even gamers who weren't previous fans of the series have found something special in GTA IV. So if you haven't been to Liberty City yet, you're missing out, cousin.
When gamers found out the creators of the beloved Elder Scrolls role-playing gamer series were working on a new open-world game based on the post-apocalyptic world of the long-dormant Fallout PC game series, they had only one question: When can we play it?
The answer was 2008, and Bethesda Softworks delivered its sci-fi epic to broad acclaim in October. Set up much like The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion but set in a war-torn futuristic (yet creepily anachronistic) Washington D.C. area, Fallout 3 is an unapologetically dismal trudge through a series of moral minefields. And we loved it.
Create your character, push him or her from the protection of a nuclear fallout shelter into the cruel Wasteland, and watch the future of this barely-surviving world change with your creation's every step. Will you save the inhabitants of D.C. or profit from their misery? Perhaps a little of both? There's a monster around every bend and a crisis in every beat-down town. So grab your P.I.P. Boy 3000, a sawed-off shotgun and a bag of drugs. You'll need all the help you can get.
Epic Games released its third-person shooter Gears of War in 2005, and the title wowed gamers with its intense battles, gorgeous Unreal Engine 3 graphics and over-the-top storyline. Following that success, Epic teamed up with publisher Microsoft once again to deliver another installment in the fledgling Gears franchise – Gears of War 2.
This year, Lead Designer Cliff Bleszinski gave us the phrase "bigger, better and more badass" to describe the Gears 2 experience. And for the most part, we'd agree that the game delivered just that. Sure it has its issues, especially with the multiplayer (as of this writing it still doesn't work quite right), but overall Gears of War 2 is a rock-solid shooter with all the elements we demand: guns, monsters and beautiful graphics. The newly introduced Horde mode pits you and four of your soon-to-be-dead friends against wave after wave of hideous monsters, and we still can't get enough. Here's hoping the next Gears game features nothing but giant meat cubes.
Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is a favorite among the IGN Xbox Team editors, and we were cautiously optimistic when we first heard Ubisoft Montreal was working on a reboot of the classic platformer. Then, prior to this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, we caught a glimpse of the new Prince of Persia and were blown away by its illustrated, colorful look and acrobatic gameplay.
And the final product didn't disappoint. Prince of Persia is a tightly-constructed 3D platform game that looks as if the characters and landscapes jumped out of a painting. But Ubisoft Montreal didn't stop with a unique look. The Prince now has a beautiful companion, Elika, who is both incredibly useful and pleasantly unobtrusive. The platforming is satisfying and visceral thanks to the Prince's handy gauntlet, and the combat is a refreshing one-on-one experience instead of the one-against-many style that's become so common in similar games. There aren't many games like Prince of Persia being made these days, and we think that should change. Ubi Montreal showed that it can be done well, and we hope the team continues to innovate.
Every year, gamers can count on being called to duty by Activision. The world's largest publisher now has two developers working on CoD games – Infinity Ward and Treyarch. The former produced last year's critically acclaimed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and the latter was responsible for this year's Call of Duty: World at War. Whereas Modern Warfare eschewed the World War II setting in favor of a more, er, modern one, World at War went back to the tried-and-true WWII formula in which the series has its roots.
And the result was yet another impressive Call of Duty experience. The single-player campaign delivers edge-of-your seat frontline action, and the addictive multiplayer brings back the CoD online play fans have come to expect. And what's an online game these days without zombies? Modern Warfare includes a four-player cooperative mode in which you and three friends can team up to fight Nazi zombies. Include a special appearance by Jack Bauer himself, and you have a winning recipe.
Speaking of zombies, Valve's sole retail release on the Xbox 360 this year is knee-deep in the brain-eating bastards, and we wouldn't have it any other way. Left 4 Dead is survival horror like it's never been done before in a console game, and it's a hell of a lot of fun.
There's a single-player component to L4D, but it's primarily meant to be a multiplayer experience. As one of the only survivors of an ongoing zombocalypse, your task is to join up with three fellow humans and fight your way to a safe zone through throngs of zombies. Part CounterStrike, part Resident Evil and part Night of the Living Dead, Left 4 Dead is hectic, gruesome and immensely satisfying to play. Choose your weapon, stock up on health and be prepared to use teamwork, because you'll never make it out of there alive without the help if your ragtag group of fellow survivors. Watch your friendly fire, people.
What's better than a music game with a great track list that lets you and your friends rock out like a real band with fake instruments? A sequel, of course. In 2008, Harmonix and MTV Games released Rock Band 2, an update to 2007's Rock Band that updates the previous game somewhat while retaining the core experience that made the first game so popular.
But most importantly, Rock Band 2 includes an all new set of songs that's hard to rival. The sequel adds 84 new songs to the RB library, which is reason enough for hardcore fans to pick it up. From Talking Heads to Interpol, Rock Band 2 improves over even its predecessor's impressive track list. So create your band, load up your favorite tunes and shred away. And when you've tired of what's on the disk, just head to the in-game online Rock Band store to download buckets of extra tracks. You'll never leave the house again.
IGN Xbox Team editor Nate Ahearn calls NHL 09 "one of the best sports games to be released in the last decade." If that's not enough to give you reason to pick up EA's latest hockey title then you're probably not Canadian. Upgraded right-analog stick controls, excellent sound effects and commentating, and the fantastic Be A Pro mode combine to form an utterly refined hockey videogame experience.
There's plenty of customization in NHL 09, and the action on the ice is unmatched. Be A Pro alone is likely to change the way console sports games are played going forward, and it only takes a few rounds online to see why. If you have a hockey fane and gamer on your holiday list this year, pick this one up for sure.
Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios has something of a reputation for speaking in grandiose terms about his upcoming games, and this year's Fable II was no exception. Molyneux promised us nothing less than an experience that would change the way we think about roleplaying games and break the traditional constraints of the genre.
Well, we don't know about all that, but his team sure did make a great game. Fable II may not be the be-all-end-all of RPGs, but it's beautiful to look at and contains a host of true innovations. From the infinite magic supply to the HUD-replacing canine companion, Fable II is full of little touches that turn this fairy tale into something larger than the sum of its somewhat clich? parts. The music is sweeping and epic, the characters and quests are endearing and there's something special about Albion that just keeps pulling you back in. Fable II is a rare example of a hardcore game that pleases more casual players, too. And that, in and of itself, is an achievement.
If a year goes by without a Madden NFL videogame, does that year actually happen? A team of IGN scientists are currently pondering that very question in the IGN Research Labz™, but so far their complex computer models have turned up nothing. Slackers.
This year's installment of Madden is EA's best effort since 2005, and it's a welcome addition to the long-running franchise. EA Tiburon made a huge leap with its improved animation system, and the gameplay in this year's effort is solid, with running, defense and passing all improved over recent installments. Yes, we had some issues with the presentation and somewhat lacking online functionality, but overall Madden delivered, unlike Hilary Goldstein's beloved San Diego Chargers. Oh, snap.