2008 was a slower year for gaming than I've seen in awhile, but it was still a rough ride for all those bad little digital dudes who had the misfortune to wander onto my computer screen.
Making the past year particularly unusual is the fact that I spent so much of it playing catch-up with games I'd missed when they were new. Older releases took up the majority of my time, and while I was adequately entertained over the past 12 months I also felt a nagging twinge of disappointment in the dearth of quality PC releases this year. Yes, these are all PC games. It's what I do.
As others have pointed out, this is in no sense a "best of" list, it's just a collection of stuff I played in 2008 that struck a chord with me. They were fun, they were engaging and most important, they gave me hope for the future of the hobby we love. Without further adieu, then, my list. Ho ho ho.
5. Shadowgrounds Survivor - Eschewing the all-too-common philosophy of technology über alles, the gang at Finnish developer Frozenbyte put together a top-down Doom style shooter that's pure silly fun. The game is short, the AI is weak and the challenge is marshmallow-soft even at the highest levels, but so what? You're here to kill aliens and blow stuff up, and that's what happens, by the truckload. Rocking soundtrack, too.
4. Half-Life 2 Deathmatch - An odd choice for 2008, maybe, but after years of living in the boonies I finally scored some functional broadband in October. My desperate need for some online action after years of wandering the dial-up desert led me to the first thing at hand - Half-Life 2 - and a simple round of deathmatch became an all-night long celebration. The voices of other players bantering back and forth as we happily blasted away at each other was sweet, sweet music, and the thrill of competing against real, live humans again was a revelation. Despite all the other options available, two months later I'm still playing.
3. Titan Quest - Picked up cheap and used, Titan Quest was far more than just a pleasant surprise: It was a rock-solid action-RPG that delivered tremendous bang for the buck. The game is huge - and I haven't even picked up the Immortal Throne expansion yet - but its varied environments and enemies, deep skill trees and numerous side quests keep the action moving. Titan Quest and its developer, the defunct Iron Lore, took a bad rap for buggy, sub-standard performance, but the game I played is the best thing that's happened to the genre since Diablo 2. My only regret is that Iron Lore was already dead and buried by the time I got around to it.
2. Passage - Not really a game so much as a five-minute experience, Passage is a groundbreaking independent release by Jason Rohrer that by any reasonable measure lays to rest the argument about whether videogames are art. I've played it once, and in that five-minute span it delivered an emotional mule-kick that resonated far beyond anything I've ever felt while playing blockbuster titles like BioShock or Neverwinter Nights 2. I still think about it, I still remember "that moment" and I still can't bring myself to play it again. Passage may look primitive but it's an absolute pinnacle of videogame development.
1. Fallout 3 - Maybe this is the obvious, easy choice, but after faltering a bit with Oblivion, Fallout 3 has restored the shine to Bethesda's crown. The studio has managed to remain true to the spirit of Fallout while still making the game very much its own. The Capital Wasteland is harsh, oppressive and lonely, with a weather forecast calling for excessive violence and a chance of dismemberment; in other words, all is as it should be in post-nuclear Apocalyptica. VATS is brilliant, the game allows for numerous playing styles and while the story may not be great literature, it's more than enough to keep players involved. It may not be flawless, but it's still hellishly good and it's come far closer to ruining my life than anything else I've played this year. In my book, that's a win.