Diehard GameFAN’S 2008 Gaming Awards
by Alex Lucard on January 7, 2009

Here we are: The beginning of 2009. Now that 2008 is officially done and over with, it’s time to reveal the winners of Diehard GameFAN’s 2008 Gaming Awards. Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We all debated, squabbled, eventually voted andin the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head…but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. If you are interested in a specific staff member’s pick, you can always read our individual staff commentaries. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2008.


BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 2

Yakuza II

As far as I’m concerned Yakuza 2 isn’t just the best PS2 game of the year, it is one of the overall best games of the year, period. The series still has one of the deepest stories I’ve ever seen in a video game, along with one of the best characters in Kazuma Kiryu. The action in the game is intense and brutal looking, and there are a lot of mini-games to play with if you ever think the fighting is getting dull.

Yakuza 2 is not about high definition graphics or how many enemies can fit onto the screen at the same time. It’s just a fun game wrapped up in a great story. For $30, it is easily better than many of the current generation games that are released for $60 and proof that the PS2 still has a little bit more life left in it.

-Matt Yaeger


BEST NINTENDO DS

The World Ends With You

Back when this game was first announced in 2006, most people were cautiously optimistic about this new Square Enix IP (As well as pessimistic because it wasn’t yet another Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest). Not me however. I had developed an involuntary reflex to hate every game to come out from Square Enix as they had degenerated to catering only to their own rabid fanbase who eat up all their new games without hesitation regardless of quality.

When Tetsuya Nomura was unveiled as the character designer, we were given the first details about how the game was set in the trendy Shibuya district of Japan and how it was influenced by that district’s youth culture, it was the last straw for me. I had transformed into a troll dedicated on hating that game with the traditional insults of, “Belts and zippers,” “Weaboos,” and “slash fan fiction” all being thrown around.

When I actually tried the game, I did a complete about face, swallowed my pride and told my friends that the game was good – very good actually! The setting, storyline, gameplay, and graphics were completely unique and unlike any RPG out there. The character designs should have been clichéd in any other game but they fit the setting just right and the storyline and writing made them into endearing characters.

So maybe the old magic of Square-Enix isn’t completely dead yet if they can turn my most hated game into my personal best DS game of 2008 and a must buy for any DS owner.

-Mohammad Al-Sasoon


BEST SONY PSP

God of War: Chains of Olympus

There has never been a handheld game as powerful as Chains of Olympus. From beginning to end, it pushes the boundries of what the PSP is capable of. Ready at Dawn Studios had already made a splash with Daxter, but this game was and is the ultimate showpiece for Sony’s handheld.

From graphics that were so impessive that they almost took our Graphics of the Year award, to controls that were actually smoother than the prior games in the series, Chains of Olympus is mind blowing. CoO tell the story of Kratos before the events of the first game. You get to see first hand how his hatred for the gods grew and why he was so wiling to release the titans and wage war on Olympus in God of War II.

The game pulled no punches. Everything that you would want in a God of War game was present. The combat was tight and challenging. The backdrops were huge and well detailed. The audio was epic and featured good voice acting. There were puzzles to solve and large scale boss fights permeated by the only true good example of quick time events. It was an action game good enough to be on any console, yet here it was on a handheld.

You might be thinking that something like Crisis Core or Patapon would win best PSP game this year. These games may have made more of a splash thanks to thier own charms, but as a whole, they can’t touch the greatness of God of War. In fact, I’m willing to go on record as saying that no PSP can. God of War is not only the best PSP game of 2008. It is the best PSP game ever.

Let’s just hope the rumours that Ready at Dawn is rethinking their decision to no longer create PSP games is true.

- Aaron Sirois


BEST MICROSOFT XBOX 360

Gears of War 2

This was a good year for the 360, between the awesome multiplatform titles and the slew of exclusive content. Only one game can be Game of the Year for the console, unfortunately, and while a ton of quality exclusive content found its way to the 360, one game stood head and shoulders above the rest: Gears of War 2. Now, it would be really easy to say, “This game is awesome because it does everything the original did, but better”, but that’s fairly dismissive of how much of an improvement the sequel is in nearly every way when compared to its predecessor. Make no mistake about it: Gears of War 2 took a good game and expanded the scope, tightened the mechanics, and added more modes to play with, and the end result is a game that most certainly deserves this award, if not for originality, then certainly for gameplay and functionality.

Now, certainly Gears of War 2 is a fantastic looking game, and it’s absolutely as fun to play as the first game was, but the scope of the product has been expanded so much that fans of the first game will be pleasantly surprised with just how much larger the game really is. Did you like the campaign in the first game? The sequel’s campaign is longer and more involved, features more action and storyline, and more toys to play with. Did you think the tank driving sections from the first game were too short and limited? Gears of War 2 gives you more driving sections, as well as some mounted combat in some… interesting scenarios. Did you like the huge scope of the original game when you’d face off against the occasional huge monster or two? Gears of War 2 has you kill a giant worm FROM THE INSIDE, among other fantastic setpiece battles. Did you like the online play? Gears of War 2 has that in spades, between the new multiplayer maps and the co-op campaign, and the all-new Horde mode pretty much sells the game by itself, thanks to the fact that it allows players to avoid having to assemble giant teams of players and instead lets up to five friends obliterate the CPU for hours and hours just for the hell of it. Did you hate the fixation the game had with the Hammer of Dawn? Good news; you only see it in the campaign once, and you needn’t even use it if you’re not interested.

I know that originality is a big thing for games, and that living off of the revenues of the past is a bad solution if one is interested in surviving for the future, but in all honesty, Gears of War 2 was an absolute blast, online and off, and no other game that came out on the console this year could even hope to touch it. In the end, if I play a video game, I’m doing it to have fun, and Gears of War 2 more than allows me to do that without a problem. That above all else, is why it completely deserves its XBOX 360 Game of the Year award. The only thing that would have made the game even more enjoyable is if SOMEONE on staff, and I’m not pointing any fingers here, had been in possession of a working headset when last we played, but that’s hardly the game’s fault.

- Mark B.


BEST SONY PLAYSTATION 3

Valkyria Chronicles

Let’s do a test. I’ll mention some games and you tell me the feelings they elicit. Ready? Sakura Taisen. Shining Force II. Skies of Arcadia. Panzer Dragoon Saga. Phantasy Star IV. Dragon Force.

What did they conjure? If your life was emotionally invested in and mind and soul completely consumed by any of these games… if any of these games resonate with you as some of the best the role playing genre has to offer…… if any of these games remind you of why you love videogames in the first place, then that’s how you’ll feel when playing Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles. This is the best not only role-playing / real time strategy game I’ve personally played this year, but also the very best game the PS3 has to offer amongst the system’s best year to date.

A superbly told story and deep character development keeps you engrossed the entire way through this fictional war-time scenario. I truly cared about these characters and have never been so invested in the political intrigue and drama of what in most games equate to a generic “good nation” versus “bad nation” cliché. It seamlessly brings in fantasy elements while still maintaining the realism. Valkyria Chronicles’ narrative is charming and the unique novella / story book presentation draws you in even further.

Graphics? The filtered cell shaded visuals are absolutely beautiful. This is not only due to the detailed character models, environments, etc., but also the art style bringing the entire world to life as though a moving painting.

Aurally the game is astounding. You get an orchestral soundtrack that I’d honestly buy if they released one domestically (There is only one other game, Shining in the Darkness, I’d say that about). Also, featuring an all-star cast, the voice acting is amongst the best if not the best of any game this year.

There is no other game like this. A unique mesh of turn based gameplay, real time strategy, and action all blend together to create a hard to describe amalgam sub-genre that is unlike anything you’ve ever played. And it’s probably the most fun and well balanced game of this type I’ve played in years.

Fantastic gameplay. Stunning graphics. A charming story. It’s all right here. Valkyria Chronicles will remind you of the old Sega. The Genesis, Saturn, Dreamcast era Sega. It’s a classic that if you’re a fan of RPGs you owe yourself to experience. Yes, Valkyria Chronicles is a sleeper title. Yet and still for the staff of Diehard GameFAN, it’s the PS3′s system seller.

- Bebito Jackson


BEST NINTENDO WII GAME

Endless Ocean

I won’t lie: a vast majority of the games for the Wii are putrid. Vile, wasteful shovelware aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator, and like a tub of slime on an episode of Double Dare, usually hitting it, causing everything around it to get splattered. The good games on the Wii are either overshadowed, or contain Mario. It gets increasingly harder for people to find good games for their expensive toys, usually bought because it’s the new “in” thing, a modern day Cabbage Patch Kids or Furby phenomenon.

It’s almost criminal that this is the case, because a lot of people missed out on a brilliant title in Endless Ocean.

The hardcore fans dismissed it up front. “Wha? There’s no gameplay to it! It’s a giant aquarium!”. All “hardcore” gamers that said these exact words initially, raise your hands… *raises hand* Shamefully, I had to read Alex’s review before deciding to buy the game, but even then, it took a bit for me to try diving in. Imagine what I found: a completely open ended adventure. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Want to take pictures? Sure! Catalogue some of the things you’ve already seen? Sure! Want to just dive around in the water while Blue Oyster Cult’s Perfect Water plays, thanks to your ability to upload songs via a flash card? Sure! The possibilities are almost endless.

Alex said Endless Ocean was almost reminiscent of Animal Crossing, only if Animal Crossing was better and didn’t involve a mob racket. I don’t even think that’s accurate. The best thing I can say about Endless Ocean is that it’s a Jacques Cousteau simulator. Yes, I’ve coined a new genre. That’s the best way I can describe this game, and considering everything that brilliant man did in his life, I’d say that’s a beautiful compliment.

Anyone that scoffed at Endless Ocean, give it a second look. It doesn’t just appeal to the casual gamers that bought Calvin Tucker’s Redneck Jamboree, it’s as “hardcore” a game as you want it to be. Most importantly, it’s good enough to win our award as the Wii’s Game of the Year.

- Chris Bowen


BEST PC GAME

The Lost Crown

There’s something odd about this year. In 2008 we covered more PC games than in the previous five years combined. There were great MMORPG’s like Warhammer and the Lich King expansion for WOW. There were RPG’s like The Witcher, Sacred 2, and Legend: Hand of God. There were amazing Adventure games like The Sinking Island, Nikopol and the Strong Bad episodes. There were also just plain weird games like Arctic Stud Poker Run. But when all was said and done – one game stood head and shoulders about the rest – The Lost Crown.

TLC has been met with critical praise across the board. There’s no surprise as to why. Darkling Room and it’s head Jonathan Boakes have made some of the scariest and best told video games of all time. With TLC tying in very subtlely to the original Dark Fall (boasting THE creepiest opening to a game EVER), the game is rich in folklore, realistic parapsychology and some of the scariest bits you will ever encounter in a game. No, not gore filled splatter, but tricks of the eye, flickers on your screen and things akin to purported REAL hauntings. This game puts the emphasis on terror over horror.

The graphics are art themselves with the best use of colouring and shading I’ve ever seen in a game. Locations are all digitized versions of real places that Darkling Room scouted during development and and as such, Saxony is the most realistic town I’ve ever seen in gaming.

I could go on and on about how revolutionary The Lost Crown is in nearly every way, not just for scary games or adventuring games, but gaming in general. I wish Boakes would consider porting his creations to the DS or Wii as they’d find a perfect home there and allow more games to experience the dread his titles are infused with. Now it’s just a matter of us sitting on our hands waiting for Dark Fall 3 and seeing how many awards THAT ends up winning from us.

-Alexander Lucard


BEST SPORTS GAME

NHL ’09 (Multi)

I suppose I could string together an endless list of platitudes about NHL ’09, like how much harder it is to score, how things are a little tighter than they were in the superlative NHL ’08, so on and so forth. While all of these things are true, there are only three words that really describe the awesomeness of NHL ’09.

Be A Pro.

By creating a first-person career modes for the NHL series of games, EA has rendered every hockey game other than NHL ’09 obsolete. Be A Pro mode brings to the forefront everything that is good about NHL ’09 and then some. It’s not about the focus on positional and team play; it’s more than that. It’s about earning your way into the NHL. It’s impossible not to feel pride watching your created player skate onto the ice in a NHL uniform for the first time.

That NHL ’09 doesn’t allow players to sim their way into the NHL is no accident. It’s just one more example of how EA brings forth the true spirit of hockey in its greatest game yet. With Be A Pro mode, it looks like the NHL series will remain at the top of the sports gaming ladder for some time.

– Bryan Berg


BEST FIGHTING GAME

Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe (Multi)

You know, I can’t believe I’m saying a Mortal Kombat was the best fighting game we played all year, but it is in fact so. I’m generally a King of Fighters lad, and I’ve never really enjoyed a Mortal Kombat game post MKII, which admittedly is one of the best fighters around. But that came out a whopping 15 years ago.

So what made MK Vs. DCU outlast several SNK compilations, yet another Street Fighter remake, a Castlevania fighting game and more? Well there are lots of reasons. We’ve got the best story we’ve ever seen from an MK game complete with tight continuity provided by the writers of the best overall comic on the shelves today – Jonah Hex. It’s a fighting game that can actually perform properly with both the craptastic Dual Shock 3 and the sub par 360 controller. It’s been a long time since a fighting game actually responded to something other than a Sega Saturn emulation pad or an arcade stick, but here it is. The game features brutalities and fatalities that might have lost the over the top gore, but were no less amusing or fun to perform. MK Vs. DCU also featured the best online experience I’ve had in a fighting game in a long time.

Oh yeah, and there’s a few super heroes from the DC Universe mixed in as well. Not only is this some awesome fan service, but the characters are respected and well written and we recieved a great line up of DC classics. Barry Allen. Batman. Captain Marvel. DEATHSTROKE! The onyl way this could have been better is if they had given us skins for Green Lantern so I could have Guy Gardener over that wussy Hal Jordan. That and Booster Gold. Booster vs. Johnny Cage was a perfect dream match that was blown. Ah well…

I’m still blown away by how well done this game was. Sure there were some black spots, but those were the combo challenges, and really, NO ONE liked those. This was Ed Boon and team getting back to basis, crafting a solid fighting game instead of doing little mini games that brought the overall quality of the title down, and most importantly, shutting the critics up by proving MK Vs. DCU is both a fiscal and critical success.

Now if I could only give a certain song out of my head…

- Alexander Lucard

On behalf of everyone at Midway Games and the Mortal Kombat design team, I’d like the thank Diehard GameFAN for this award. Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is the result of countless hours of hard work by many people. Its rewards like this, and the great sales the game is enjoying that make it all worth the efffort. We are so happy that people are enjoying that game and really appreciate this award. Thank you.
- Ed Boon
Creative Director & Team Lead (Mortal Kombat Team)


BEST ROLE PLAYING GAME

Fallout 3 (Multi)

Let’s face the facts… did anyone really expect Fallout 3 to be a disappointment? Regardless of all the hype and general uncertainly surrounding its creation, I can honestly say I have never been more certain that a game was going to kick insane amounts of ass prior to actually playing it than I have with Fallout 3, or as I lovingly sometimes refer to it, “The Elder Scrolls: After The Bomb”.

Coming from a dedicated fan of the Fallout series, I don’t hesitate in the slightest to say that Bethesda has managed to recreate the gritty, bleak, and morbidly humorous personality of the previous PC games to an admirable level. This is certainly a feat that could only have been accomplished by a development team that truly cared about the integrity of the license they’ve acquired. Exploring the Capitol Wasteland will undoubtedly seem familiar to Oblivion fans, and I believe it was the perfect way to do business. It’s also fair to say the V.A.T.S is the new “Bullet Time”.

Whether you’re a fan of the original games or not, Fallout 3 should not be missed. The meticulously crafted concept is beyond refreshing, the gameplay is stellar, and Nuka Cola still tastes good after all these years of fermenting amidst a nuclear holocaust.

- J. Rose

Thanks. Fallout 3 was very much a labor of love for us and obviously we very are happy the folks at Diehard GameFAN liked the game so much. Thank for the award, and thanks to everyone who has played Fallout 3.
- Pete Hines (Bethesda Softworks)


BEST FIRST PERSON SHOOTER

Left 4 Dead (Multi)

I’ll admit it, I wasn’t expecting this to grab me like it did (with it’s tongue, from a block away!). First of all, it’s a PC game ported to the 360. Secondly, it’s a Valve game ported from the PC to the 360. Their games have a habit of being over hyped and underwhelming in my mind. Not so here. In Left 4 Dead you have perhaps the best use of four player co-operative gameplay since Gauntlet. You have atmosphere and mood. You have wave after wave of zombies attacking you like you said you were bigger than Jesus. The game has issues. Like all Valve games you don’t run, you float. The only weapon worth taking is the shotgun. You’re being attacked by zombies, of course the only weapon worth taking is the shotgun. You plus three friends plus this game online equals mad fun. Just don’t set off any car alarms unless you are prepared for the horde. Congratulations to Valve for making the First Person game of 2008.

- Michael O’Reilly


BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER

Metal Slug 7 (NDS)

We fans of old shooters don’t ask much. Just give us guns, things that go boom, and get out of our way. Enable us to avoid bullets so we don’t go boom. Make the controls tight. Thanks, now go away.

The Metal Slug franchise has been doing that, almost perfectly, for the past twelve plus years. Excepting the Korean developed Metal Slug 4 and the handheld games, they’ve all had the same general idea: you’re you, shoot the bad guys, try not to die. It’s Contra style gameplay at it’s finest, and the formula has been finely worked over the years. Metal Slug 7 is no different, as it gave us all the wonderful gameplay we’ve come to expect now that the franchise is back in competent hands, and though it has nothing “new”, per se, it gives us fans anything we could ask for.

Metal Slug 7 is a worthy addition to the lineage of Metal Slug games, and deserving of our Traditonal Shooter GOTY award.

-Chris Bowen


BEST ACTION GAME

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (NDS)

Let’s get a couple of things clear with this new iteration of Castlevania. The difficulty of the game may turn off a lot of people who are used to the some of the easier Castlevanias that came before it, but it’s not nearly as hard as everyone makes it out to be. Order of Ecclesia also isn’t as addictive as past Castlevanias (particularly Dawn of Sorrow), as the glyph system has too much guesswork in it.

Having said all of that, this is the best Castlevania of the modern era, even surpassing Symphony of the Night. The bosses are second to none, the level design is excellent and intriguing, and even the fetch quests are interesting. Old enemies have been reinvigorated (I’m looking at you Flea Man) to be an actual threat again. Heck, even forms of skeletons and zombies are back to their 8-Bit Nintendo level of threat. Order of Ecclesia is an addictive exercise in great game design that is as challenging as it is fun without seeming unfair *coughNinjaGaiden2cough*.

- Tom Pandich


BEST ADVENTURE GAME

The Lost Crown (PC)

Up until this year, I’ve been the sole and token Adventure gamer on the sites I’ve worked for. But not this year. One of the good things about being Editor-In-Chief, is that I can pass around all the Adventure games we get from various publishers to my unsuspecting staff. That and actually hiring people that LIKE point and click titles like Nate and Aaron.

So what made The Lost Crown take top prize, especially in a year where we also encountered Theresia, Nikopol, Dracula: Origin and more? Well it comes down to three big reasons

A) Story. TLC has the most realistic and creepy ghost story I’ve ever encountered in gaming. It’s like a classic Victorian tale brought into 2008, complete with pacing atmosphere and being a work of art. Memorable characters, a chilling mystery, and some very creepy events keep you on your toes from beginning to end.

B) Graphics. I want to call it digital art, because for the first time, I actual believe games CAN be art thanks to TLC. The majority of the game is in black and white with little bits of colour interspersed here and there to make things seem more vivid and dynamic that they would have otherwise. To see The Lost Crown in action is to see a painting come to life.

C) Diversity. TLC isn’t just an adventure game. There are some new and pretty innovative puzzles, there’s a lot of real folklore and historical bits in the game. There are survival horror bits. There’s a first person shooter bit. Yes, as the core it’s still a point and click game, but The Lost Crown manages to turn other genres into mini-games and asides and thus it really makes the game feel bigger and better than any Adventure game that has come along since 2006′s Barrow Hill.

To put it simply, 2008 just might have been the best year for adventure gaming this decade, which makes TLC’s win here all the more impressive.

- Alexander Lucard


BEST RHYTHM GAME

Rock Band 2 (Multi)

In a couple of years, music games went from being a niche market to a powerhouse genre that generates enough money to convince legendary bands like The Beatles to sign up for their own game – something that would have been unthinkable a while ago. While Guitar Hero more or less started the trend, Rock Band took the idea, expanded it and ran with it.

This year, Rock Band 2 took the concept and perfected it, improving nearly every area of the game, and at the same time, stood tall despite the onslaught of Guitar Hero: World Tour.

First, there is the great selection of songs, which includes everything from current idols to classic rock. This initial playlist can be updated with hundreds of songs available for download from the in-game music store. This gives the game a replay value that is almost infinite, only being limited by your own wallet. With three or more new songs each week and no sign of slowing down, the store is an example of what downloadable content can really do to extend the life of a game.

Second, there is the improved instruments. Yes, the first Rock Band did have some issues with the peripherals, but their improved versions are really impressive. The guitar is now wireless, while the drums are now quieter, bigger and almost unbreakable. The pedal is covered with a metal plate which means that it will NOT break in half in the middle of a party anymore. All in all, the design team did a flawless job when it comes to the plastic instruments.

Finally, there is the sheer amusement of inviting all of your friends over for a session of Rock Band 2. No other game even come close to providing this feeling of unity when playing with friends. Sure, competition is always fun, but the excitement of all coming together to play a perfect rendition, “Ace of Spades” just cannot be matched.

Oh yeah, there’s also the improved Band World Tour mode, the fact that you can now insert your own characters as support members of a band and the very practical “No Fail” mode, which is a blessing whenever first-time players want to perform all at the same time.

Is it the perfect rhythm game? We can never tell, because the team at Harmonix could always find a way to add something for the next game. However, we can definitely call Rock Band 2 the ultimate band experience of the moment, and the best Bemani Game of 2009.

– Guy Desmarais


BEST REMAKE / RE-RELEASE

Bionic Commando: Rearmed (Multi)

There are two schools when it comes to bringing back old franchises: one is to take elements from the older games and make a completely new game that is virtually indecipherable from the old one, much like Space Invaders: Extreme. The other is to take the same game that was released before, and make it look and sound nicer, and release it like that, like Rez HD did.

Bionic Commando: Rearmed is the best example of the latter school, and the best remake of 2008. Bionic Commando for the Arcade and NES was a beloved game with a unique method of moving around – a bionic arm instead of jumping like every platformer and it’s dog from the 80s – and Capcom, always one to milk popular franchises, took their seminal classic, brought the sound, graphics and control to modern standards, and showed us old people that Bionic Commando is still as great in 2008 as it was in 1988, while showing the younger gamers what they missed.

When re-releasing titles decades after the fact, the ultimate goal is to make it so that there’s no reason whatsoever to play the old one save a feeling of nostalgia which should disappear after five minutes or so. Capcom nailed it with Bionic Commando: Rearmed, rendering one of the greatest NES games of all time completely obsolete, and in the process, showing everyone else how to do a remake the right way.

- Chris Bowen


BEST PLATFORMER

Super Smash Bros. Brawl: The Subspace Emissary (Wii)

New to this year’s iteration of Smash Bros. was an extensive platformer mode that could stand alone as its own game. Since the plot frequently shifts focus from one group of characters to another, you have to adapt to using different characters. This means you couldn’t just abuse your favorites and ignore the rest. It also provides you with another means to unlock characters if you grow weary of going through Classic Mode for the gazillionth time. The platforming elements work well and incorporate items found in the regular batting mode seamlessly. Boss fights are the classic button smashing and frenzied scramble for items that Smash Bros. fans knows and love. Being able to power up characters with stickers you can added a slight RPG aspect, both in terms of building up certain areas in a particular character and managing your sticker inventory. The option to play cooperatively is helpful if you’re having trouble with an area and is a nice diversion if you somehow get bored of defeating your gaming companion over and over (or being on the receiving end of such).

The plot is of the conventional “good versus evil” variety present in multifarious games and involves one of the hugest crossovers ever, but it manages to stay cohesive. Although people don’t usually pick up Smash Bros. games for the story, what plot there is and the characters’ personalities are conveyed well despite the lack of dialogue. There are some rather amusing moments, such as Diddy Kong dragging Fox and Falco behind him and Sheik sipping tea while wearing a monocle. The various combinations of characters seem plausible rather than just the equivalent of throwing things at a wall and seeing what sticks. Will it supplant all other franchises as best platformer of all time? Doubtful. But what’s here is a solid and well executed platformer that earns the title of Platformer of the Year.

-Aileen Coe


BEST HORROR GAME

Dead Space (Multi)

There’s something about being lost in space that is just absolutely frightening. Just think about it; you’re stuck floating around in a limitless void, quickly running out of food, air and probably sanity. Now add aliens into the mix, and try not to shit your space suit.

Dead Space is easily our pick for best horror game of the year. Everything from the enormously creepy cinematic before you press start at the title screen, to being chased, defenseless, down a corridor by aliens that want to hack you up, to approaching a seemingly dead alien only for it to pop up and try to bite your face off creates an atmosphere of terror that’s just amazingly fun and great to play.

Little things like sound effects (I’m looking at you, creepy alien that sits in the wall and howls while you shoot the bejeebers out of it) and the great musical score contribute to the atmosphere very well. Things become less scary when you become equipped with all manner of weaponry you can use to disembowel said aliens. Just remember – that ammo runs out sooner or later. Then, you might as well just sit and wait for your head to get cut off.

- Charlie Marsh


BEST ALL AGES GAME

Endless Ocean (Wii)

Very rarely does a game that touts itself as being for “ALL AGES” carry itself as well as Endless Ocean. This is the kind of game that can start kids toward their career. Imagine listening to an Oceanographer twenty years from now being interviewed, and saying “I wanted to learn more about the sea because of a video game in 2008 called Endless Ocean“. This is more than a game, it could be a life changer to anyone with ambitions of being the next Cousteau.

Endless Ocean can serve many purposes. You can use it to relax for an hour. You can use it to unlock items if you’re of a more gamer-like mindset. But most importantly, Endless Ocean is like an interactive book where you can control a diver as he runs through the sea, looking at various aquatic wildlife that one would normally have to take a trip to an Aquarium to see. This is the perfect game for a parent to play with their children, as it’s not only informative – “look honey, that’s an Orca!” – but also fun.

I remember Electronic Gaming Monthly mocking the game as it came out, saying it wasn’t even a real game. Of course it isn’t; there’s not nearly enough blood, gore and stupid one-liners to satisfy the “hardcore” gaming crowd, which the hacks at EGM seem to represent so well. That’s fine; let them pine for Duke Nukem Forever like a single dork at a restaurant table set for two, muttering to himself “she’ll show up… she’ll be here… it’s just traffic…”. As for me, I’m not only going to play Endless Ocean, but I’m going to show it to my parents, brothers and young cousins as well. This is the epitome of what the Wii can do as a system for the entire family.

- Chris Bowen


BEST RACING/DRIVING GAME

Mario Kart Wii (Wii)

Oh man, how freakin’ fun is this game? Between the levels, characters and the Wii Wheel, it just might be the most fun game ever. Well, maybe not, but it’s certainly our best racing game for 2008.

Of course, Mario Kart Wii is most fun playing it with other people. Whether it’s four person multiplayer or playing online, it’s great to gloat when you win a race by a hair or curse the person who hits you with a red shell seconds before you cross the finish line. There has been no other racing game this year that my friends and I spent hours, literally hours, playing the same old stages with the same old characters over and over again. The game is just that good.

Even by yourself the game is fun. Yes, even Rainbow Road, while challenging, can be considered fun. The single-player campaign is pretty deep, with 3 engine classes and a 4th class with backwards tracks, each with 8 Cups, adding up to 128 races for you to conquer. Add in 22 playable characters and a host of karts and the new motorcycles to choose from, and there is a lot to do in this game. Half of the tracks are from the other games in the series, which is great for a classic game fan like me. Some people may say that the AI is unbalanced, what with you seem to get bombarded with a barrage of shells and bombs every time you think you’re safely in first place, but I say that’s all part of the game’s charm.

All in all, you have yourself one solid racing game here. If you didn’t pick this up in 2008, be sure to grab it in 2009 and join in the fun.

-Charlie Marsh


BEST DOWNLOADABLE GAME

Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty (PS3)

Insomniac Games is amazing. I honestly can’t think of another studio that can consistently deliver quality games year after year. The only drawback is that we have to wait almost a full year for each title, or two years per franchise title. Of course the wait has always been worth it, so there’s really nothing to complain about.

Then they give us this, a miniature movie of a game, to keep us anticipating the future. Sure, there was nothing new in the game, in fact, it was rather stripped down from the main release, but it pleased nonetheless. The story and humor were right on the mark. It played and looked good, and even if it was short, it filled those hours with as much joyful chaos as possible. It may not be a full serving of R&C, but it was a refreshing break during the long wait.

-Robert Capra


BEST PARTY/MULTI-PLAYER GAME

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)

What makes a great party game? There is no one answer to this thing. Great party games tend to share a number of qualities. First and foremost, the game should be accessible. Controls should be, to bring further wear and tear on a tired cliché, simple to learn and difficult to master. A great party game should be customizable to the whims of its audience. Most of the time spent with a great party game should be spent playing said game, not waiting for your turn or watching cut scenes.

Though far from a necessity, it helps to have broad appeal; be something that a 5 year old, a 15 year old, and a 35 year old would want to play.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl is all of these things. I cannot imagine that I need to explain this to you.

BUT

What makes Super Smash Bros. Brawl a truly great party game is the fact that it is completely and totally unfair. Good items pop up where you can’t reach them. Some characters are nigh useless, while others are beasts. Certain special moves are automatic hits while others are easily avoidable.

Really, this is the quality that makes for a great party game. It is about complaining to your friends that you got stuck with Jigglypuff. It’s about destroying the competition with Captain Falcon until your brother swears at you and calls you a cheater.

And it’s about overcoming the odds and humiliating Ganondorf with the Ice Climbers.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl, we salute you, and your ability to make me shout obscenities.

- ML Kennedy


BEST PUZZLE GAME

Bubble Bobble: Double Shot (NDS)

I remember being very apprehensive about reviewing this as back in 2006, Bubble Bobble Revelations deservedly won our “Worst Game of the Year” award.

What a difference two years makes. Sure the game doesn’t allow you to save and it’s arugably the toughest, cruelest puzzle game to come out in years, but man is it fun! Playing Double Shot feels exactly like you’re back in an arcade, jamming away with a stack of quarters sitting on the rim of the machine.

It’s rather telling that Taito, the owners and creators of the Bubble Bobble franchise, along with their new owners Square-Enix had nothing to do with this game. Maybe the series just needed a brand new dev team who was able to combine the retro-stalgia longtime fans wanted while expanding the gameplay to new heights. I loved how innovative the series was and even enjoyed the addition of a third member to the Bub n’ Bob show. There are new moves, some highly creative level designs and the ability to switch between all three dragons. In spite of the game’s flaws, I fell in love with this little cart and I have to admit, I was surprised when others raised their voice for this to win “Best Puzzle Game of 2008″ as well.

Here’s hoping both S-E and Taito take note of this win, as maybe they’ll start to remember that this is where Taito’s largest fan base still resides. Thanks Ignition for publishing this stateside where Taito/Square-Enix dropped the ball.

– Alexander Lucard



WORST GAME OF THE YEAR

Alone In the Dark (Wii)

Alone in the Dark for the Wii is probably the worst game I’ve ever played. I’ve played a lot of bad games, a lot of really bad survival horror games, and Alone in the Dark for the Wii is the worst. The only redeeming feature it has is the fact that it’s short. If you decide to suffer through it, I beat it in about 6 hours and that was with retrying several sections and playing the last chapter twice to see both endings. This game is like a textbook of bad development: There are horrible motion controls, bad camera angles, too easy puzzles, non-existent enemy AI, graphics that looked dated eight years ago, poorly translated dialogue, and a story that doesn’t make sense. All of this adds up to a game that is better off in a landfill then in your game library. Avoid at all costs, even if you see it on clearance for $5. Stay away.

- Matt Yaeger


CHARACTER OF THE YEAR

Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid 4, Super Smash Bros. Brawl)

It isn’t rare for a big character to have a AAA title every once in a while. Mario gets a big one every other year or so. Link has another adventure or two with every console. That’s just how it is.

What is rare, however, is for a character to be in TWO AAA titles within a few months of each other. That’s what Snake has pulled off in 2008.

First, he stole the show in Super Smash Bros. Brawl . I’ve wasted a ridiculous amount of time just watching the videos where Snake is introduced to the other competitors via radio. His reactions to Kirby, Samus, and Yoshi are all incredibly amusing. True, he wasn’t the main star, but there isn’t a single person out there who didn’t get just a little bit giddy at the thought of playing as Snake against the likes of Mario and Sonic.

Not much longer afterwards, PS3 owners were treated to the much hyped and much anticipated Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I haven’t heard a single person who’s played that game complain about it. It’s garned numerous GOTY nominations and is easily one of the best games on the PS3. some places even gave it a perfect score.

So there you have it. Two possible game of the year quality games and millions upon millions of games sold on multiple consoles.

Solid Snake has had the best year of them all.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST STORY

The Lost Crown (PC)

Generally video games tend to have plots that are over the top. A bit fantastical. If we look at previous year’s winners of this award (Disgaea, GTA: San Andreas, Digital Devil Saga 1, Rule of Rose & Mass Effect), all of there stories are things that could only happen in the realm of fiction. Which makes The Lost Crown stand out so much – because it could actually happen.

Nigel Danvers is on the run from his corporation after discovering things he shouldn’t. Instead of being killed however he is offered a deal by the mysterious head of the company. They will let him live, and even keep his job, if he performs a few simple tasks in the town of Saxony that he has retreated to. Of course, these tasks…are ghost hunting.

Now I know what you’re saying, “How the heck is ghost hunting realistic?” Well, it’s in how the game portrays it. There are no ecto containment units, giant five head demon spectral apparations or anything like that. The Lost Crown takes its parapsychology VERY serious, and so you’ll be using night vision goggles, EKG meters and other professional ghost hunting equipment. The story is realistic and yet very spooky. It’s down to earth and yet extremely disturbing. Evenwhen you do encounter ghosts in this game, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever played before.

It’s also helps that Darkling Room spent YEARS making this game as realistic as they could. Locations in the game are real world buildings and places, the folklore used in the game in on target, and the way ghosts are presented is so realistic, it’s scarier than any game featuring zombies or mummies or vampires. Because when you turn out the lights as you go to bed those games are so far from the realm of possiiblity that you laugh them off. But The Lost Crown? Allow me to paraphrase the immortal words of Edward Van Sloan from a familar play/movie…

We hope the memories of things you’ve seen in The Lost Crown won’t give you bad dreams, so just a word of reassurance. When you go home tonight and the lights have been turned out and you are afraid to look behind the curtains and you dread to see a face appear at the window…why just pull yourself together and remember that after all THERE ARE SUCH THINGS.

Good night out there…whatever you are.

- Alexander Lucard


BEST GRAPHICS

Gears of War 2 (360)

The big joke over the last two years, and I know you’ve seen it somewhere on the internet, is to note that “next gen graphics” means “brown and gray with the occasional red for blood”. This accusation is usually followed up with a picture of, you guessed it, the original Gears of War. Well, I guess Cliff Bleszinski got pissed, because Gears of War 2 only features SOME levels that are brown and gray with the occasional red for blood. Good job, Cliff… oh, and all of the guys who spent two years rendering the graphics, you guys are awesome too.

Anyway, Gears of War 2 shows off some more detailed character models, and there are plenty of well-detailed death scenes that weren’t in the first game. The real star of the visuals are the huge, fantastic environments you’ll plow through, from forests to frozen mountains to the inside of a giant worm-thing to flaming buildings to massive subterranean caverns and beyond. Every environment, every location, and every last piece of landscape seems like a giant middle finger from the staff of Epic to all the internet comedy writers who mocked their previous game’s visuals. Hey, if that means we get to ride along an underground river while murdering a giant tentacled fish, so much the better for us. Everybody wins! Well, except for internet comedy writers, but nobody likes them anyway.

Yeah, okay, SOME of the stages are brown and gray, but they’re the prettiest brown and gray available on the market today, goddammit. Sure, fine, the blood still looks like Smuckers jelly flying out of an enemy, but watching two COG’s tag-team chainsaw a Locust is hilarious in spite of, and perhaps BECAUSE of, this thing. That’s fine, guys. Just remember, “bright and colorful” does not exclusively equate to “visually epic”. You know what else is made up of lots of dark colors? The Mona Lisa. Now, I’m not comparing Gears of War 2 to the Mona Lisa, but I AM saying that Leonardo Da Vinci understood that a large color palette wasn’t necessary when you knew what you were doing with your colors. The visual artists behind Gears of War 2 most certainly know that exact same thing. So, y’know, MAYBE I could be making that comparison. You’d have to wedge a chainsaw into her forehead first, though, and I think maybe I should stop now.

In conclusion, Gears of War 2 is very pretty.

- Mark B.


BEST AUDIO

Baroque (Multi)

… the voice acting (in Baroque) is, for the most part, quite well performed, the sounds are pleasantly morose, and the music is really, really, REALLY atmospherically appropriate and exceptionally well done, and is vaguely reminiscent of the score to the film Dreamscape… or, to a lesser extent, Silent Hill. – my PS2 review of Baroque.

I adore the score to Baroque. The music is far superior to what we had on the Saturn and all the tracks are haunting and fit the surreal nature of the game perfectly… The music is just so fittingly creepy and post-apocalyptic in tone… The voice acting is excellent as well… The characters may take a bit of getting used to, and even longer to care about, but the voice acting certainly helps… Baroque has a strong chance of winning our “Best Sound” award at the end of the year. – Alex Lucard’s Wii review of Baroque.

Now, here we are, and here it is, goddammit.

Now, to be completely fair, of the five games competing for the title of “Best Audio” this year, personally speaking, only two actually hit my top five for the year (Anyone who can guess the other four is someone I’d like to pat on the back), but then, to me, great sound effects and great voice acting are really fairly minor parts of a great audio presentation. Does Baroque have great sound effects and voice acting? Absolutely. But that isn’t, nor was it ever, the deciding factor, in my mind, that Baroque had the best goddamn audio this year. If the voicework and effects had been abysmal, I’d still have voted for the game, without a second thought, because the soundtrack to the game is, and I don’t care how egotistical this sounds, the best game soundtrack this year, period.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I admit, openly, goddammit, that I love guitar-heavy rock tracks, industrial music, and programming-heavy audio tracks, but that isn’t why I say this. The music in the game fits the theme and concept of the game more perfectly than one could imagine, but that’s only a small part of why I say this. Rather, I say this because the music in Baroque is, simply put, amazing. Whether you’re talking about the heavy-hitting “Sinful Eyes” that accompanies the opening movie, the haunting and atmospheric while also being chaotic and powerful “Crazy Prayer”, the uplifting and beautiful “Floatage Girl”, the powerful yet dancy “Echo of Infinity”, or the dreadful, industrial-sounding and menacing “Groan of Metal”, you’re talking about an amazing goddamn track from a whole soundtrack full to capacity with amazing goddamn tracks.

If you think any game had a better soundtrack this year, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.

No, shut up.

No, shut up, goddammit.

You are wrong.

Baroque is an aural masterpiece, period. It’s just a shame that the audio from the game wasn’t attached to a better, y’know, GAME, but hey, that happens, goddammit.

- Mark B.


BEST GAMEPLAY

Saint’s Row 2 (Multi)

Saint’s Row 2 is not the prettiest game of the year, but where the game succeeds is trying to make every single moment of gameplay fun. Every step you take in the city of Stilwater there is something to do. You can jump onto a car and start the car surfing mini-game. If you strip you can start the streaking mini-game. Go to the TV in your house and you can play the zombie arcade style game. Jump out of a plane or off something high enough and you can start the base jumping mini-game, and on and on and on. The main story missions offer more variety than the first game as well, and there are even more respect missions to do this time, including some truly great additions such as the Fuzz missions.

There has not been another game released this year where the developers have tried to pack in something to do with nearly every moment you play the game. Plus nearly everything they do pack into the game is over the top fun. The action might not be as intense as Gears of War 2 and it may not look graphically as good as GTA IV, yet it still manages to be more fun. Isn’t that why we play video games in the first place?

-Matt Yaeger


SYSTEM OF THE YEAR

Microsoft Xbox 360

A gaming console can have all the hardware in the world, but it doesn’t matter if the games – the reason to own a console in the first place – aren’t up to par.

This is a lesson Microsoft learned painfully with their virgin effort into the console world, with the original XBox. That fairly powerful system – a monolith that could have also been used effectively as a high-impact ballistic weapon – had technical advantages over the Playstation 2 in bundles, including but not limited to better graphics, a hard drive that wasn’t a useless piece of garbage, MP3 support in certain games, but despite the power of Halo and certain exclusive Sega releases, the PS2 had the more varied lineup of games, and won the day handily to be the best console of the last generation.

Since then, Microsoft, their console cherry long since obliterated, released the 360, which has the most varied lineup of games, a good first party selection, top-notch third party support, and hardware that’s been out long enough for developers to learn inside and out. Meanwhile, Sony has their Playstation 3, a supercharged piece of hardware that has superior hardware, superior interactivity with addable hardware such as new hard drives, and other assorted goodies that the 360 and the Wii can only dream of. It even supports Linux, for God’s sake! But the PS3 also has a weaker third party lineup, a far inferior downloadable service, and a weaker online service, one that can’t match up with Live. It’s almost as if Sony and Microsoft switched places.

Naturally, that’s why they switched places at the top of the console leaderboard this generation, and this year.

The 360 has become the system of choice for most non-casual gamers simply because it not only has the best third party support, but also very solid first party support as well; games like Gears of War 2, Fable 2, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, and Lost Odyssey combine well with third party titles such as Culdcept Saga, Guilty Gear 2: Overture and Dead Space to create the best lineup on the home consoles. To add to that, the 360′s XBox Live Arcade service showed it wasn’t the shovelware dumping ground that it was in 2007, releasing brilliant titles such as Rez HD, Castle Crashers, Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix and Braid, among others. Finally, the XBox Live service proved that you get what you pay for, showing that it’s the best way to play against people online with the best, most well rounded service, increasing the usefulness of The Orange Box and the third party sports titles such as Madden ’09, NASCAR ’09 and NBA 2K9.

Taking everything together, it really is anti-climatic: The XBox 360 was, by far, the premier gaming platform of 2008.

- Chris Bowen


GAME OF THE YEAR

Valkyria Chronicles (PS3)

While other sites are busy paying tribute to yet another sequel with the same characters, graphics, gameplay and cliches we’ve all seen before multiple times, we here at Diehard GameFAN have decided to go with Valkyria Chronicles. There are many reasons why, but chief amongst them is the originality.

VC packs an amazing story that is told as if it is being read from a historical chronicle about the Great War. The graphics are unique and yet somewhat reminiscent of Cell Shading which we discovered in another great Sega game – Jet Set Radio. The gameplay and engine of Valkyria Chronicles is easily the most original in years. Take a turn based RPG, thrown in tactical gameplay and then let it all play out in a nearly real time strategy like atmosphere and you have some nearly every gamer can not just enjoy, but fall in love with.

Truth be told, it should surprise no one the development team known as Sega WOW took this award this year. With games like House of the Dead, Phantasy Star IV, and the Sakura Taisen franchises under their belt, Sega WOW has arguably THE best track record for quality games in the industry. It’s just a shame this title sold so poorly in the US. Not only does it blow away everything that came out this year, but it’s not a sequel. It’s something entirely new, offbeat, innovative and original…aside from the ability to get a certain pirate named Vyse on your team.

Congratulations Valkyria Chronicles, you are exactly the type of game developers should be striving to make. Now let’s just cross our fingers and hope the anime (and hopefully a sequel) makes it stateside.

- Alexander Lucard





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