It was about this time last year when I did a round-up of my favourite games of the year, so now that pretty much all the major titles of 2008 have hit the streets, now seems like a good time to post my thoughts on the must-have titles of the year.
So, the usual rules apply, no particular order or preference for format, though just to make things easier for me to write, I'll probably write in vaguely chronological order, and I expect this to be a mostly PC-exclusive list, since it's not really been a stellar year in terms of Wii and DS releases.
First up is: Off-Road Velociraptor Safari
An agreeably bonkers browser game, this was my favoured work-avoidance strategy for the first few months of this year. There's not really much you can say about it, at least if you wanted to sound vaguely clever about it. You thrash around in a jeep, doing stunts, running over velociraptors and trying to tag and catch them. That's pretty much it. But it's amazing fun.
This game gave rise to one of the more worrying trends to come out of videogaming this year - that being a resurgence in the popularity of Rick Astley - but I'm not going to hold that against it. Obviously, this game is only going to be as good as your music collection, but it's such a simple idea executed so brilliantly, it's an instant PC classic in my eyes.
Sins of a Solar Empire
Deservedly one of the best selling PC games this year, Sins is a real-time strategy carried out on the scale of a 4X turn-based strategy. Ambitious, well-executed, if a bit graphically dowdy, Sins makes Supreme Commander look small. This game just needs a Star Wars: Supremacy total conversion mod and then I can die happy.
It took a while to come out on the PC, but it was worth the wait. A better interface, better graphics, reduced texture pop-in and controllable minions, this rates as not only one of the better console-to-PC conversions of recent years, but also arguably the best single-player RPG on the PC to come out since Knights of the Old Republic. It also has one of the greatest female NPCs ever put in a game. Sassy, deeply flawed and pretty darned sexy, Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams comes in a notch above Bastila Shan as far as I'm concerned. And I never thought that Bastila would get usurped in my geek affections.
Mario Kart Wii
Okay, it might just be Mario Kart AGAIN, but by golly, it's terrific fun, especially in multiplayer.
Yes, you did read that right. There's not much to it, admittedly, but it's just such a lovely, genteel game. It's so nice to play a game for once where you're not pre-occupied with murdering people. And it's a great excuse to crack out the Wii Fit board.
I really need to play this much more, because it's just so good on so many levels. It's a better RPG than Zelda, the Celestial Brush controls are perfect for the Wii and the game is aesthetically amazing. If you have a Wii and don't have this game, you are no longer my friend. Assuming you were to begin with. In any case, GET OUT.
Trials 2: Special Edition
PHYSICS! PHYSICS! That is all.
Speaking of PHYSICS! The graphics engine looks a bit ropey now, but in terms of track and car modelling, this is still the dog's bollocks. You've not lived until you've gone into the Karussel on the Nordschliefe in a Koenigsegg CCX on your roof.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Did you seriously think I wasn't going to mention this? My personal game of the year, by several miles.
The Biggest Disappointment of the Year
Unfortunately, given all the lofty predictions I made about it this time last year, has to rate as Spore. It was a wonderful concept, as you'd expect from Will Wright, and the creature creator really caught the imagination of a lot of people, but as a game, it was... lacking.
The Most Unsurprising Disappointment of the Year
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I think a lot of people decided they were going to uncritically cum all over this because it's not World of Warcraft, when in truth the game's PvE content was so lame it made Korean MMORPGs look sophisticated and had a graphical style that seemed to forget the whole concept of fantasy. People may talk up the PvP aspect of the game, but if I want to play Capture the Flag, well, that's what I have Unreal Tournament for. This one was always destined to end in tears, methinks.
The Biggest 'Meh' of the Year
This is a joint award for GTA 4 and Fallout 3. Yeah, yeah, just not fussed. An honorable mention in this category goes to Far Cry 2, which I bought, played for less than an hour and promptly forgot in favour of World of Warcraft. I suppose Left 4 Dead could go in here, too, but that's more deserving of a 'For fuck's sake, are we not done with zombies yet?' category... I'm so over online shooters.