So let it be written; so let it be done. Jared chimes in with a list that's heavy on the martial arts.
It's the end of the year, and you know what that means: lists-a-plenty! We make them because it's a fun way of looking back at the past twelve months, and because they're far easier to read (and write) with an eggnog hangover than our usual more in-depth stuff.
The criteria for a game's inclusion on this list is the enjoyment I derived from playing it, nothing more, nothing less. These games aren't necessarily the "best" of their kind from this past year (though some certainly would be in the running), but they're the ones that stuck with me, long after I'd finished playing them.
Feel free to argue, discuss, or better yet, present us with your very own fab five. Pass the nog.
5. Fable II (Xbox 360) - I spent the better part of 2008 acting like a videogame obsessed Fox Mulder, wanting to believe in something that may or may not exist: a Peter Molyneux title that lives up to the hype. I can recall sitting through his speeches at the annual Game Developers Conference, the entire time thinking, "What if this cheeky bastard pulls it off? Wouldn't that be amazing?" While I'd have to push the goal posts forward ever-so-slightly, I'd say the team at Lionhead Studios accomplished that goal. Not only is Fable II an extraordinary adventure, but it kept me hopelessly glued to my Xbox for nearly 30 hours without a single punishment for any would-be failures. Positive reinforcement as a design philosophy without relentless hand-holding? Why are we just now getting games that do this?
4. Mirror's Edge (Xbox 360, PS3) - If Fable II exists on one end of the spectrum accessibility, Mirror's Edge is certainly on the opposite. Like most folks, I too came close to chucking my controller through the screen in a fits of blind rage when faced with some of the more challenging moments of Dice's first-person parkour adventure, but over time I realized I was more upset at myself than the game. Navigational issues aside, Mirror's Edge doesn't do much of anything wrong regardless of what easily flustered reviewers may have told you. It controls like a dream and provides enough playground action to experience what's possible when we turn our idea of what a first-person title should be completely on its head (with respect to Breakdown, mind you). What Dice has created in Mirror's Edge should be celebrated as a bold, daring piece of work.
3. Saint's Row 2 (Xbox 360, PS3) - On the other hand, what Volition has created with Saint's Row 2 is one of the most mindless, juvenile, intellectually bankrupt titles I have ever witnessed in my entire life, and that's what makes it so damned amazing. While Rockstar was busy making an attempt to turn Grand Theft Auto into "art," Volition went the complete opposite direction and crammed as much ridiculousness into a single game as possible. In my time playing Saint's Row 2 I've drowned innocent civilians in raw sewage, threw old ladies from the top of sky scrapers, sang along to "Take On Me" to earn an achievement, pimped out an ATV with spinner rims and nitrous and I did it all as a frighteningly accurate Rick Astley. You're not going to see Saint's Row 2 win an award, much less be nominated for one by any major publication and that's a shame. It may not be classy or the most polished game in town, but damn it, Saint's Row 2 is the most entertaining open-world game you may ever play.
2. Street Fighter IV (Arcade) - "But Jared," I think to myself, already having the inevitable conversation. "How can you list Street Fighter IV when it's not even out yet?" The Street Fighter IV cabinets ten minutes away from my apartment says it is, as do all the other sets littered throughout other major metropolitan areas of the United States. I'll gladly admit I was wrong as I managed to go from being one of the most vocal critics of Street Fighter IV to one of its biggest supporters, finding just about any excuse to make my way over to the nearby arcade and sacrifice my laundry money to its 3D hotness. From the absolutely gorgeous visuals to its surprisingly competent balancing, Street Fighter IV is exactly what fighting fans have been looking for. The new characters, while still not as appealing as the cast of Street Fighter III, have definitely grown on me and become part of the growing family. The new focus attacks have created a massive trend towards a more turtle-based game, but that balances out once they're utilized as part of a spirit-crushing offensive. No doubt, you will see this game on my list next year when it debuts on consoles.
1. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Xbox 360, PS3) - Backbone's high-definition update to Super Street Fighter II Turbo makes the top spot because they took what was already the finest example of 2D fighting games around, improved upon it in ways once thought impossible and then ushered forth a whole new era of fighting for a fourteen year old masterpiece. Not only is it an incredible reimagining of my all-time favorite videogame, but it's opened the eyes of a whole new generation of players, including those who thought they could pass it over for some of the flashier entries in the series. Not only are a ton of new players discovering what we in the Street Fighter community have known for years, but the sharing of knowledge has been made even easier due to its impeccable online infrastructure. Taking queues from the folks over at GGPO, SSF2T HD Remix sports the absolute best online play of any fighting game available on consoles. This was an easy pick as my favorite game of the year and only time will tell if we'll be playing this for another fourteen years, but I'll tell you now, I wouldn't mind that at all.