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January 16, 2009 by mittens on Rawr

Every year I realize I don't really like writing lists or articles which end up sounding more like game reviews than critical analyses. So, to close out my list of 2008's best games, I offer the best of the rest:

Valkyria Chronicles
Sega's Valkyria Chronicles uses its pseudo-World War II setting to the best of its abilities, presenting everything from the blitzkrieg of an "evil empire" to the concentration camps of a group of humans who are discriminated against for inciting a war thousands of years before the events of the game. The game attempts to encourage players to treat the units in the game as individuals each with their own positives and negatives and, as such, character development is handled through one of five character classes and upgrades to these classes affects every character of that class type. This behavior does diminish the goals of most strategy RPGs but, at the same time, the inventive combination of real-time character movement/action and turn-based unit management makes for a superb tactical experience.

Luminous Arc 2
Unlike Valkyria Chronicles which handles its strategy/RPG gameplay in a very new and innovative way for the genre, Luminous Arc 2 is an SRPG which makes no attempts to hide its Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre-inspired gameplay mechanics. Unlike the sea of other games inspired by this very specific type of character development, Luminous Arc 2 offers an incredibly well-balanced difficulty curve over the course of the game. And through the use of Luminous Arc 2's "engagement" system, the game forces players to treat unnecessarily well-defined witches as a type of battlefield resource for the continued stat progression of the game's protagonist. Gameplay aside, the game has one of the best scripts I have ever seen from a Japanese RPG.

Boom Blox
Boom Blox is the kind of game everyone dreamed of when the Nintendo Wii remote was first announced. It's Jenga, it's throwing baseballs and bowling balls at complex structures to make them fall down, it's a party game, and it's a game where you toss heavy objects at a group of invading bear blox in order to safe a bunch of sheep blox. Yeah.

Audiosurf
It's a game where you race through tracks that are procedurally generated based on the music that you choose. So you race your music. You race your music.

January 14, 2009 by mittens on Rawr

It's easy to be disgusted by a game like Ninja Gaiden 2. Team Ninja's (now former) director, Tomonobu Itagaki, makes no pretense for a fair display of gender differences. The game makes no attempt to convey an intelligent and thought-provoking story through its occasional and concise cut scenes. And the game makes no attempt to further the integrity of video gaming as a medium. Within the first five minutes of the game a player is treated to pints of blood being splattered across the entirety of a given level and inhumanly large and buoyant breasts are barely stuffed behind a skimpy leather top attached to a CIA agent in an equally revealing miniskirt.

Unlike Grasshopper Manufacture's No More Heroes, no aspect of Ninja Gaiden 2 is designed to subvert and exploit the expectations of the medium or the desires of young teenage males. Ninja Gaiden 2 is what it is and, really, not much more. It is, through and through, an action-focused video game.

And as an action game, Ninja Gaiden 2 is the absolute best in its class for one primary reason: the game places the entirety of Ryu Hayabusa's behavior into the hands of the player. There are no quick-time events, there are no platforming segments where a player solely has to keep the joystick pressed forward to successfully progress, and at no point is there an AI-controlled ally character who exists to help the player along. The closest the game comes to taking away direct control from the player is when Ryu is "obliterating" an enemy foe who is in a state of near-death and operating in like a kamikaze fighter. During these segments a five-to-ten second animation players where Ryu will absolutely decimate an enemy's body, thus preventing this enemy from ever troubling the player again throughout a combat encounter. These segments, as automated as they are, serve as the only moments of respite in combat and, on harder difficulties, are used as a strategic period of invulnerability against, say, a group of enemies volleying rockets into the air through their rapid-fire launchers.

January 12, 2009 by mittens on Rawr

Around the time when I got my Nintendo DS along with Square-Enix's 3D remake of Final Fantasy III -- it's now cool to refer to Final Fantasy games without specifying the use of the Japanese numbering system, right? -- I experienced a gaming phenomenon more clearly than I ever had before. At that point I was already a couple dozen hours into the game and the finer aspects of its mechanics, character classes, and general progression of the game were all as well-known to me as they were ever likely to become. I approached the final dungeon with a feeling that I wasn't having fun anymore but I was close enough to the end of the game where stopping seemed absurd. After all it was the final dungeon and my characters seemed buff enough to handle whatever it contained. And they were.

They were buff enough for the first hour or two of that dungeon, anyway. After that I could sense a feeling of fatigue setting in amongst the entire party. Because what my characters were woefully unprepared for was the marathon of random battles, mid-dungeon bosses, and room-after-room in this dungeon that, all told, would take a player three-to-four hours to complete. And the time commitment wasn't a kind one. There isn't, to my knowledge, a single save point in the final portion of that dungeon. I ended up dying at the hands of one of the mid-dungeon bosses -- not only as a result of a lack of character preparedness for the long-slog, but as a result of sitting in the same couch for two or three successive hours dealing with random battle after random battle and eventually deciding: no.

A scenario like that may have been alright when I was growing up, unable to drive, and living in the middle of a rural nowhere. That kind of gameplay is embraced when it's an early Saturday morning in the middle of a Northern Michigan blizzard and the nearest friend is, at the least, eight-nine miles away. More importantly, though, is when a game like Final Fantasy III is one of a mere handful of games that a budding gamer has in his/her possession then that game will get play no matter how grievous its sins may be. When those young gamers get older and start getting more and more responsibilities and, in some cases, additional funds for acquiring a wider variety of games to occupy their time, the kinds of games which were once lauded for their difficulty and time commitment become the kinds of games that are actively avoided.

After that first attempt at beating the final dungeon in Final Fantasy III failed the game then enters a pile of games that I could play but didn't really feel like dealing with. It's a pile of games that gamers look at and worry more about the amount of time it may take to get to "the good stuff" or, more commonly, whether or not a gamer may have enough time to get from one save point to another.

January 8, 2009 by mittens on Rawr

Metal Gear Solid 4 is a strange game to discuss. As a long-time fan of the series it is both a superb gaming experience and an absolutely infuriating one. The game presents itself to players as being almost two separate entities: the one the player is engaged in and the one that Hideo Kojima wants the player to watch.

For a game like Metal Gear Solid 4, franchise history is of paramount importance to any discourse regarding the game. Metal Gear Solid is a franchise that got its North American start back in 1998. The Playstation game was released to pretty wide critical acclaim and commercial success (shipping "six million units worldwide. The game made good on its tag line of "Tactical Espionage Action" by merging its action and stealth gameplay better than any game that preceded it -- a feat that went unmatched until the release of Splinter Cell four years later. Metal Gear Solid was, above all else, a game with sublime pacing throughout its duration; the gameplay was the focus, the cut scenes were lengthy for the time, but rarely excessive. The game's sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, was released two and a half year later and, despite critical and commercial success exceeding the original game, is considered a misstep in the series due to the change in protagonist, a pronounced increase in tangential storylines (especially the romance of two main characters), and more and longer cinematics.

When Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater was released in 2004, the gameplay, characters, overarching story, and level design were all better than they ever were before. And it was with Metal Gear Solid 3 that the franchise's penchant for unnecessarily lengthy storytelling through non-interactive cut scenes was most pronounced. The increased length of the cut scenes (along with an increased number of them) seemed to also go hand-in-hand with a poorly-crafted script that seemed to rely on a pure bulk of dialogue to present information and storylines. The franchise was always fond of its own verbosity, but each game in the series took it one step further.

And in 2008 Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots was released.

January 3, 2009 by mittens on Rawr

Shortly after I started my first game of Far Cry 2, I was treated to an on-rails taxi ride where my driver pointed out some of the unique sites of Africa. There are groups of civilians wandering in hope of escape from their country, varied wildlife, the spreading of a flash fire spreading from a patch of dry grass to a nearby tree, and more than a few angry-looking mercenaries. Functionally, this segment did nothing for me that Half-Life's tram ride didn't do back in 1998. Though, the tour did allow me time to take in the harrowing beauty intrinsic to Far Cry 2. The game's microcosm of Africa is beautifully realized and serves the game as an entity unto itself; a living, breathing pseudo-ecosystem. More than that, Far Cry 2 provides the player with a robust toolset of destruction that makes each of the game's bountiful combat encounters play out different every time.

When the segment ends, my character blacks out as a result of what I soon discover to be a latent case of malaria finally manifesting itself at the worst imaginable time. Upon waking, I see that I'm recumbent in a shanty hotel room and there is an unfamiliar figure standing at the foot of my bed, reading my confidential mission documents aloud. He quickly makes himself known as The Jackal, the infamous arms dealer that I have been sent to assassinate. This first scene represents the sole objective of Far Cry 2's premise in its entirety: it introduces the player to The Jackal, gives some basic background on who he is, and what his relation to the player is. The scene ends when my character's malaria flares up again and he blacks out.

Next time I wake up it's to the sound of explosions and fire all around me as my hotel (and likely the rest of the village it's in) is being ravaged from a battle outside. I grab a nearby pistol and then learn the basic game maneuvers as I crawl through debris and jump over broken walls until I eventually make it outside the village and, once again, black out.

January 2, 2009 by mittens on Rawr

It's been a superb year for gamers. There have been such a vast number quality major releases across any number of genres that the idea of a given gamer feeling "left out" is near unthinkable. The major, well-received releases can be categorized as a 4X RTS or simply a great 4X turn-based game. There are open-world shooters in Africa and two types of open-world games in the vein of Grand Theft Auto. Superb cooperative games involving things like zombies, chainsaw-mounted assault rifles, and a throwback to the days of Golden Axe. And then there are major sequels like Grand Theft Auto 4, Fallout 3, and Metal Gear Solid 4. Oh, yes.

The deluge of gaming was good to me this year as well as, for the first time in a few years, I was actually able to play every title that I had any desire to play across all non-Wii platforms (and even then, I'm currently borrowing one of those to play No More Heroes). Not since my 2005 games of the year have I felt well-informed enough to write about some of my top picks for a given year. Granted, I can't objectively write about games like Galactic Civilizations: Twilight of the Arnor or Sins of a Solar Empire -- both of which are games that I, as a gamer, hold in remarkably high esteem.

This year I'm doing something a little bit different. I'm not sure if I can really classify a deviation from a one-time top ten list as something "different" or not but I will continue to think my actions in this matter as such. It's no radical change, but I'm just going to write up three-four articles on games I consider to be the best of 2008's best with no regards to rank or categorization. At this point, I still have yet to figure out what I want to make two of the four games. They will be from the following list of games I'm in the process of choosing from. The following games are all superb and remain in my mind at this point in time as equally superb.

December 16, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
IGN has announced their winners for the best PC games of 2008 and Sins of a Solar Empire has earned the top honor as the Best Game of 2008!

View the award here:  http://bestof.ign.com/2008/pc/22.html

IGN also gave Sins the top honor in the following categories:

Best Strategy Game Best New IP Most Innovative Design Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor also won Best Expansion!

http://bestof.ign.com/2008/pc/19.htmlA huge thanks to all of our fans who helped to shape...
December 16, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
Gamasutra.com has their top 5 PC games for 2008, and Sins of a Solar Empire is on that list! This covers the top 5 games out of 15 "standout" titles from the year.

"One of the year's great success stories was this space strategy title from Vancouver-based Ironclad Games, which put the small developer on the map and scored another hit for its increasingly influential publisher Stardock. Ostensibly a member of the "4X" genre of domination-oriented titles, Sins of a...
December 10, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
Voodoo Extreme VE3D has Sins of a Solar Empire and Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor, up for Strategy game of the year.  They have a poll asking which was your favorite strategy game of 2008.  Head over and give your thoughts.

http://ve3d.ign.com/poll/236/Strategy-Game-of-the-Year
December 10, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
Sins of a Solar Empire and Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor were both nominated for Best Strategy Game in the Best of 2008 Awards on X-Play, which can be seen on G4TV.

Sins of a Solar Empire won!

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December 9, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
GameSpy.com has voting going on for the Gamers’ Choice Voting for PC  game of the year.  Both Sins of a Solar Empire, and Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Anor, are up for voting.

Head over to GameSpy and cast your vote!

Link: http://pc.gamespy.com/articles/936/936023p1.html
December 8, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
The Today Show on NBC had a feature today of the top 15 “tech toys” for the holiday season, and Sins of a Solar Empire was a pick!

”More “serious” gamers looking for a bit of intergalactic gaming should look at Sins of a Solar Empire (Stardock $29.99). This game is like playing chess on the scale of “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.” Huge armadas of spaceships vie for control over vast galactic distances.”

December 7, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
With the end of the year rapidly approaching, we are seeing more and more “best of 2008” lists comes out, and today we have Wired.com’s top 5 PC Games of 2008.

Sins of a Solar Empire makes into the list at #3.

“Expand, explore, exploit, exterminate. Become the master of the universe in this elaborate interstellar strategy game. "Epic" doesn't even fully encapsulate the scope of Sins of a Solar Empire. The depth of the gameplay and the customization options are amazing enou...
December 6, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
X-Play has announced the nominees of it’s “Best of 2008” awards which will appear on G4TV on December 9th.  Both Sins of a Solar Empire, and Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor were nominated for Best Strategy Game!

“X-Play is proud to present its Best of 2008 Awards on Tuesday, December 9th, at 8PM ET. This sixth annual awards program will highlight the best in gaming throughout the year. '

"It seems commonplace to expect and find every year to improve on t...
December 5, 2008 by Island Dog on ID's place to speak
The next Independent Games Summit will be held in March 2009, and they released the list of speakers which include Stardock’s Brad Wardell.

“In addition, Stardock's Brad Wardell, the founder of an independent game developer and publisher involved in such titles as Galactic Civilizations II, Sins of a Solar Empire, Demigod and Elemental, is presenting a lecture named 'Stardock On The PC Hardcore Scene As Indie', described as follows:

"Through its choice of game projects combi...