It’s always nice to look back on the console generations gone by and marvel at the number of high profile releases each year. This is especially so when looking at 2008 which had excellent follow-ups in established franchises and awesome new IPs. Let’s examine 15 of the best games that year along with what made them so great.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Super Smash Bros. Melee served as the series’ watershed moment, providing a near-perfect combination of gameplay, graphics and music. Super Smash Bros. Brawl didn’t win over everyone with some of its changes (hello, tripping) but it was superior in a number of other aspects. Subspace Emissary is an incredible story-driven mode till this day; the base roster was large and grew even further with the addition of non-Nintendo characters like Solid Snake, Sonic the Hedgehog and Cloud Strife; and the Stage Builder was introduced for creating one’s own levels. The Nintendo Wii already had a number of great exclusives but Super Smash Bros. Brawl is definitely one of its finest.
Grand Theft Auto 4
After Grand Theft Auto 3 popularized the open world action adventure genre – with Vice City and San Andreas proving to be worthy follow-ups – all eyes were on Grand Theft Auto 4 to take the next step forward. It wasn’t a massive reinvention in terms of mechanics but it represented a monumental leap in the attention to detail. Liberty City looked and felt more like a New York-inspired urban playground while the story offered a grimmer, less glamorous take on the underworld. A cover system, expanded multiplayer for up to 32 players with both competitive and co-op options and the revamped cell phone among other features helped cement the sequel’s legacy.
The first Fable was somewhat over-hyped but still delivered a fun fantasy RPG experience. Fable 2 takes a more serious turn, leaning even more into the weight of your decisions. Relationships are expanded heavily and it’s possible to have children who you have to care for (and even rescue if they run away from home). You have to get a job to earn money; different stats will influence your appearance upon leveling up; and depending on one’s actions, your appearance can become nicer or meaner. This can influence your dog’s appearance. In terms of presentation, combat and really immersing you in this fictional life, Fable 2 knocked it out of the park.
Ninja Gaiden 2
Sometimes, the key to satisfying fan demands for a sequel is to just give them more of what already worked. Ninja Gaiden 2 did just that, piling on the gore, weapons and insane bosses while maintaining the original’s penchant for merciless difficulty. Perhaps the best new addition was dismemberment, since it allowed for lopping off limbs and arms of enemies, and Obliteration Techniques for quickly finishing off weakened foes (lest they kill Ryu first). New weapons like the Eclipse Scythe and Falcon’s Talons lent even more variety to the combat. You could argue that it didn’t really improve much but Ninja Gaiden 2 was still a bloody good time and an essential title for hack and slash enthusiasts.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
For being the first Metal Gear Solid title on the PS3 and serving as the epic conclusion to Solid Snake’s story, it’s impressive just how much Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots got right. The more action-oriented gameplay was handled well while still providing avenues for stealth with the OctoCamo and Psyche Meter. Memorable set pieces also abound, from battling the Beauty and the Beast Unit to the chase in Eastern Europe. Most important, however, is how nearly every character got a strong send-off, culminating in Solid Snake finally, after all these years, finding inner peace.
The Fallout franchise had always been known for its overhead isometric gameplay and deep role-playing elements. Fallout 3 would be the first title in the series to provide an FPS/RPG perspective, mixing in decent gun play with the same freedom of choice and strong world-building that defined its predecessors. Memorable decisions like the fate of Megaton and stellar companions like Dogmeat and Fawkes, combined with strong writing, make it the best realization of Bethesda’s take on the formula. And that’s even with the multitude of bugs it suffered from.
If Persona 3 was the breakout success that put the series on the mainstream map, then Persona 4 was the universally loved follow-up that raised the bar. Its writing and voice acting, coupled with the stellar battle system that leveraged Shin Megami Tensei’s weaknesses and “Once More” system provided an incredible RPG experience. The plot was also incredibly involving and getting to know each character was fun owing to how well realized they were. Of course, it also didn’t hurt that the soundtrack was also superb.
Left 4 Dead
It’s crazy to think just how much influence Left 4 Dead’s brand of co-op PvE action would have on future titles. The dynamic of a four player squad dealing with hordes of zombies – with special Infected that required specific tactics to beat – and an AI Director that would constantly adjust to the action, resulted in one of the most addictive first person shooters at the time. Such was the level of polish and fun that only the sequel has been able to surpass it to this day.
The survival horror genre had always been known for its slow pace and “flight before fight” mentality before Resident Evil 4 came along and blew things up. Dead Space embraced the over-the-shoulder perspective while dialing up the psychological horror, mixing in its own brand of terrifying enemies and an oppressive atmosphere. The Metroidvania-like level design meshed well with the exploration while strategically shooting off the limbs of Necromorphs never got old. On top of all this was the story with its incredible pacing that kept you hooked till the very end.
When Jonathan Blow developed Braid, he could never have envisioned the impact it would have on indie games and 2D platformers (alongside Fez and Super Meat Boy, of course). On its own, Braid is an incredible game, from its aesthetic to how it plays with the concept of time for each level. The story-telling was also top-notch, subverting a hero’s quest to save the princess into something more dangerous and obsessive.
The Burnout series received a huge boost when EA acquired the IP with Burnout 3: Takedown earning praise for its high octane action. Burnout Paradise took the next big step when it went open world, introducing fans to the insanely fun playground that was Paradise City. The sense of speed was still intoxicating and changes to the damage system, Crash Mode becoming Showtime and customizable races only added to the chaotic fun.
Creating a fun platformer that’s accessible while having its own unique hook is no easy task, regardless of the console generation. But LittleBigPlanet wasn’t just seeking to provide a new 2.5D platformer with great music and cute visuals to enthrall PS3 fans. It also introduced a robust toolkit that allowed for creating everything from individual levels to full-on mini-games that players could tackle solo or with friends. In many ways, it helped popularize the whole formula of “Play, Create and Share” while introducing a lovable new mascot with Sackboy.
Insomniac’s follow-up to Resistance: Fall of Man made some very big strides in its campaign and multiplayer. The story, which saw Sgt. Nathan Hale and Echo Squad battling the Chimera, was on a much larger and darker scale than the original. This was further reflected in the massive bosses and conflicts that could occur. Various changes would make it less beloved among fans of the original but Resistance 2 still delivered a compelling FPS campaign and some fun multiplayer shenanigans.
Gears of War 2
After the amazing cover-based shooting of its predecessor, Gears of War 2 moved away from touches of horror into more action-oriented. The story was arguably better off for it, providing plenty of emotional moments and fun set pieces ranging from weird (battling through the Riftworm) to insane (riding a Brumak). It also added Horde Mode, the wave-based battle against AI foes that brought years of entertainment and spawned numerous iterations on the formula.
God of War: Chains of Olympus
Serving as a prequel to the first game, God of War: Chains of Olympus saw Kratos battling the likes of Atlas, Charon and Persephone along with mythical creatures like the basilisk. Though developed for the PlayStation Portable, it retains the stellar combat of its console brethren while introducing several new enemies, weapons and puzzles. The only real criticism is the relatively short length but make no mistake – Chains of Olympus is one hell of a ride.