Crispy Gamer

2008 Game of the Year, Day 3: The CG Awards

Read Day 1 and Day 2 of our 2008 Game of the Year coverage.

What's your pick for Game of the Year? Sound off in our Groups.

Game of the Year, Day Three

Remember the late '80s and early '90s, when it seemed like a new game only came out once every two or three months? If you were a Nintendo fan, that was basically true. You'd buy The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and you'd get stuck because you couldn't find the Slingshot or the Tunic of Delight or whatever (this is before the age of gamefaqs.com, mind you), and you had no choice but to keep playing, keep trying different strategies, perhaps even taking careful notes on the subject and sketching out entire dungeons (though we will never officially admit to keeping a gaming notebook, and should you find a gaming notebook in the basement of Mom's house, it's totally not ours) until you'd finally, finally, finally figure it out.


And you did this -- you endured -- because you had no choice. There wasn't another great game due for, well, who knew how long? Flash forward to the present. Now it feels like more games come out in one week than they did in an entire year back then -- especially this time of year. You damn kids today; you don't know how good you have it. Damn you.


But the current deluge of videogames makes it exponentially more difficult to 1. ingest/digest them all, and 2. settle on a Game of the Year winner. After spending hundreds of thousands of man- (and woman-) hours playing these games, we've managed to whittle the field down to three finalists.


So what does the winner win? The developer of this year's Game of the Year gets:


(1) Oversized sweepstakes-style check for $48.62


(1) Autographed copy of Scott Steinberg's "Get Rich Playing Videogames"


(1) Coupon entitling the holder to an oil change at any Pittsburgh-area Jiffy Lube ($24 value)


(1) Serenade "Say Anything"-style with us standing outside the developer's office with a boom box playing "99 Luftballons" held over our heads


(1) Hefty dose of Crispy Gamer's undying respect and admiration ($11 value)


Suspense killing you? Here are CG's second- and third-place winners, followed by the game that received the most votes from the Game Trust, a.k.a. The Almighty Game of the Year. Enjoy.


Editor's note: Each writer in the Game Trust was asked to nominate three games for Game of the Year. Using a weighted voting system -- three points for a first-place vote, two points for second and one point for third -- the top five nominees were chosen. From that list, the writers were asked to vote again for the top three, using the same weighted voting system.



Read on for Third Place...


@@
Third Place: Grand Theft Auto IV

(Rockstar North)
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Game of the Year, Day Three
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0016_50.jpg"
alt="Gus Mastrapa"/>

Gus Mastrapa: Make no mistake. This is the best outing in the Grand Theft Auto series. Rockstar reeled in the scope and sprawl, which made its last GTA game daunting and generally un-fun. This more focused game didn't offer all the free-wheeling kicks that some craved, but it made up for its more straight-laced playground with insanely good writing, stellar acting, a startling recreation of New York City and a soundtrack so hip that the tunes flew right over the heads of most of its audience. Time will show Grand Theft Auto IV to be the moment that the sandbox grew up.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/alexanders.jpg"
alt="Scott Alexander"/>

Scott Alexander: To grossly oversimplify, games are often heavy on scenario and light on plot and character development. GTA IV found a very interesting balance between these poles, with an immense amount of character development and a story that packed in genuine uniqueness and legitimate narrative resonance instead of merely aping genre clich?s from this or other media (an alarmingly widespread behavior). It offered up a serious narrative amid an atmosphere of parody, had incredible music, and did an amazing job of bringing an open-world New York City to life. And it moved an obscene amount of copies. There were other games this year that were technically on par with GTA IV, but none of them even came close to it in terms of cultural importance.


Game of the Year, Day Three

Niko Bellic was the new bad boy in the best GTA to date.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0010_50.jpg"
alt="Harold Goldberg"/>

Harold Goldberg: It's hard out there for a pimp/game critic such as myself. Much as I don't want to give kudos to a franchise, I keep thinking about the attention to detail in GTA IV, and the humor, and the writing. I liked walking with my date on the ocean-side boardwalk in Brooklyn almost as much as I do in real life. Smell the sea! And when I was driving along and the radio station featured a Dr. Laura satire in which the macho caller had the tables turned on him in an S&M way, they had me, hook, line and sinker. Walk on the wild side, just like Lou Reed said. New York City, baby, just like I pictured it, too.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0022_50.jpg"
alt="Blake Snow"/>

Blake Snow: It's sandbox fun evolved, and it's the best integration of story, cinematics and gaming I've ever seen.



Read on for Second Place...


@@
Second Place: Left 4 Dead

(Valve Software)
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Game of the Year, Day Three
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0052_50.jpg"
alt="Russ Fischer"/>

Russ Fischer: This is what I've always wanted from multiplayer. The free-for-alls of Halo and other shooters never worked for me for more than a few minutes at a time, even with the restrictions of team-based games tacked on. (GTA IV's multiplayer is a rare exception to that rule.) By constraining scope and heightening uncertainty and danger, Valve formulated a multiplayer vision that works perfectly. It emphasizes teamwork while retaining the danger and wild spirit of a world overrun by zombies. Or, I guess I could have saved a lot of time here and simply said "It's fun to puke on your friends!"

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0017_50.jpg"
alt="Evan Narcisse"/>

Evan Narcisse: I used to think of the multiplayer aspect of doing game reviews as a chore. Logging on and wading through static levels and unfriendly chatter made me want to snap my headset in two. But, this year, one of my pet theories has been the way good multiplayer makes its own narrative gravy. More than GTA IV or Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead epitomizes this kind of instant story experience. Thanks to the Director, Valve's first-person shooter holds more value than is immediately apparent because each playthrough has the chance to differ wildly based on how you play and with whom you play.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0064_50.jpg"
alt="Dan Hsu"/>

Dan Hsu: This way-too-short disc may feel more like a gateway drug for future downloadable content, but what's there is brilliant. L4D vomits all over traditional gameplay conventions by having enemies attack you after a room is cleared, and from behind you after you've moved through an area and cleaned it out ... and by giving players the chance to be the enemy exactly as the artificial intelligence plays it. What's there provides quite a rush, so we'll be first in line for the DLC.


Game of the Year, Day Three

Hail, hail, the gang's all here ? surrounded by undead.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0016_50.jpg"
alt="Gus Mastrapa"/>

Gus Mastrapa: How long is long enough? Last year Portal tested the boundaries of game length, but was bundled with The Orange Box to cut the sting. Left 4 Dead offers about four hours of gameplay, but those four hours are harrowing and a blast to revisit over and over again, especially if you're playing with friends, playing competitively against another team, or testing your skills on the Expert setting. Valve's shooter perfects four-player co-op, redefines the survival horror genre and changes the game when it comes to replayability. That's some pretty heavy lifting.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0008_50.jpg"
alt="David Chapman"/>

David Chapman: Left 4 Dead brought the "play" back to multiplayer. At a time when most game developers approach online multiplayer with the idea that "more is better" (see: Resistance 2's 60?player competitive mode), Valve instead looked at things and said, "Better is better." With just four players fighting for their survival against hordes of undead, you finally get to feel what it would be like to live out a zombie movie. Better still, in Left 4 Dead, you can actually play both sides of the field and make a meal out of your buddies. When the dead walk the Earth, they'll be playing L4D, too.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0018_50.jpg"
alt="Kyle Orland"/>

Kyle Orland: No game evoked more raw emotion for me than this one, which is why it gets my top slot. Part of it was the excellent atmosphere created by the groaning zombies and the run-down locales (and the unseen Director), but most of it simply came from the people I was playing with. L4D's multiplayer design, especially its Versus mode, finds a perfect balance between the every-man-for-himself twitchiness of most deathmatch games and the stick-together camaraderie of co-operative play without missing a beat. The future of team-based online multiplayer is right here.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0059_50.jpg"
alt="Ryan Kuo"/>

Ryan Kuo: Valve's hippest, most self-aware game yet draws metaphors between gaming and acting, and suggests that the human relationships formed in multiplayer are simply a result of the developers' (and Director's) machinations. As such, the emotion I feel most often isn't camaraderie or desperation, but tragedy. Still, the level design -- naturalistic, slyly letting you find the way -- is Valve's best to date, and the Survivor/Infected dynamic in Versus mode feels timeless.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0039_50.jpg"
alt="James Fudge"/>

James Fudge: Others have highlighted how amazing and engaging the multiplayer is in Left 4 Dead. While I agree wholeheartedly, what makes Valve's game so refreshing for me is the narrative conveyed through the action, character interactions and the creative way the AI is handled in the game. Your AI adversary is highly unpredictable, using the openness of the world to its advantage, cutting players off and overwhelming them at every turn. As fellow Survivors, the AI is helpful, provides audio cues to warn you of impending danger, does its best to help fend off the endless waves of Infected, and occasionally pulls your ass out of the fire. The story is, after all, about saving your bacon, and it's so full of emotion, desperation and survival that it is every bit as good as anything George A. Romero could imagine for the big screen -- or perhaps better.



Read on for First Place...


@@
First Place: Fallout 3

(Bethesda Softworks)
target="_blank" class="buybutton">Order Now


Game of the Year, Day Three
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0011_50.jpg"
alt="Troy Goodfellow"/>

Troy Goodfellow: Sometimes it just takes a setting. Like last year's Bioshock, Fallout 3 works because of what it shows us more than because of how it plays. Here we have a convincing alternate future that somehow is dominated by images from our past. It is, in many ways, a sterling example of how, even if Bethesda still doesn't understand characters or dialogue; no developer makes better use of the human urge to explore, to see what's over that hill. But none of this would be enough to make it the Game of the Year if it weren't for the excellent general structure of the game. You stagger out of a vault on a simple quest to find your father, and quickly become the go-to guy for every major and minor task in a ruined capital. The combat is excellent, even if the V.A.T.S. targeting feels like a bit of a cheat, and the quests keep pushing you onward with just enough time to rest and enjoy the scenery.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/alexanders.jpg"
alt="Scott Alexander"/>

Scott Alexander: There are flaws and frustrations here and there, and sure -- it feels a little gamey and artificial at points. But for sheer vision and ambition, these guys put my jaw on the floor.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0010_50.jpg"
alt="Harold Goldberg"/>

Harold Goldberg: "I don't want to set the world on fire." Oh, of course you do. This is sheer creative genius. The Jean Shepherd meets Rod Serling narration. The tongue-in-cheek details like Nuka Cola. The Norman Rockwell look on the characters' faces within the post-apocalyptic world that feels as real as ABC's "Lost." The game-makers have pulled me into a world I'd want to live and fight in, despite its dark aspects. In some ways, that would take too many words to explain; Fallout 3 is "The Minister's Black Veil" of games. "Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gait?" Hawthorne would love this thing.


Game of the Year, Day Three

Post-apocalyptic RPG mayhem at its absolute finest.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0025_50.jpg"
alt="David Thomas"/>

David Thomas: The first hour of this game is weird and boring. The second hour of the game is sort of nerve-rattling and depressing. Then you flip into survival mode and your curiosity will either get you killed or at least keep you playing much longer than you really need to, in order to trip through the basics of the tale. When you first encounter Gob, the ghoulish bartender, you don't know whether you're playing a horror title or some Hunter S. Thompson-inspired freak-out. In the end, little things, like empty cans of soup rattling on a store shelf or the mirthful illustrations of awful behavior in your Pip-Boy 3000 keep you thinking about this game long after you've set the controller aside.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0019_50.jpg"
alt="Marc Saltzman"/>

Marc Saltzman: Rarely does a game get everything right -- from story and dialogue to atmosphere and graphics to action and exploration to sound effects and music. Bethesda's stellar sequel to Fallout 2 is an extraordinarily rich and immersive single-player story with some of the most gratifying combat available, played out real-time or in turns via V.A.T.S. Bullet Time.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0056_50.jpg"
alt="Jason McMaster"/>

Jason McMaster: Fallout 3 outshines all the other games of 2008 for its weird mixture of nostalgia, collecting and exploration. When I bought the first Fallout, I spent hours upon hours with my PC and the Bloody Mess perk cackling with glee. Fallout 3 manages to capture the same sense of humor that made me love the original games while incorporating the V.A.T.S. system for the sickening pleasure of shooting someone in the face in slow-motion. Bless you, V.A.T.S. system, for making me laugh at violence again and again.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0039_50.jpg"
alt="James Fudge"/>

James Fudge: If Fallout 3 proves anything, it is that with the right combination of creative talent, you can go home. While Fallout 3 had no chance of appeasing hardcore Kool-Aid-drinking fans of Interplay's brand of Fallout, Bethesda did a capable job of creating a world and characters that were representative of what we would expect from a civilization wallowing in the shit for hundreds of years. Vats also deserves an honorable mention for turning what would have been a glorified first-person shooter into something far more strategic. Yeah, as an extension to the Fallout universe, Fallout 3 was a worthy addition, even if some are secretly playing it and publicly deriding it for all that it doesn't do right.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0001_50.jpg"
alt="John Keefer"/>

John Keefer: Fallout 3 did an incredible job of bringing back the visceral emotion I had when playing the original Fallout games. My initial trepidation of a first/third-person view quickly melted away because of the deep story and interesting gameplay. Yes, it did drag in spots and felt a bit derivative in others, but overall, I found myself compelled to dive deeper and deeper into the game, and even replayed portions to see how the story changed based on my actions. The game really does deserve the accolades it has received here.


Read on for the Game of the Year runners-up, in descending order of votes received?

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Mirror's Edge

(Digital Illusions CE)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

Keep the Faith, baby. And we kept her running for her life.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0019_50.jpg"
alt="Marc Saltzman"/>

Marc Saltzman: Without weapon in hand, the exhilaration you feel by being chased up a flight of stairs with bullets whizzing past your ears, onto a building rooftop with nowhere to go but down, is remarkable. This first-person experiment delicately balances action, puzzle-solving and exploration. Toss in a great story, crisp visuals and a "Run Lola Run"-inspired soundtrack, and it's a heart-pumping adventure you won't soon forget.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0018_50.jpg"
alt="Kyle Orland"/>

Kyle Orland: I fell sharply on the "love" side of the love/hate divide on this highly divisive game. My tolerance for constant restarting is higher than most people's, so the constant failure that's inherent to the design didn't annoy me much. Anyway, it was more than made up for by the sheer feel of joy and speed and flow when things go right and you're flying effortlessly across those beautiful, stark white rooftops. I expect I'll be working on my Time Trial times on this one for quite a while.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0013_50.jpg"
alt="Scott Jones"/>

Scott Jones: It has its problems, and it's short (that's what she said), and it frustrated the hell out of me, but I got a weird buzz from playing this game. Maybe it was the Portal-ness of it. Or maybe it was all the stark white rooms with green ceilings. I am still obsessively playing the Speed Run, trying to beat Gus Mastrapa's times.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0059_50.jpg"
alt="Ryan Kuo"/>

Ryan Kuo: Mirror's Edge -- inspired perhaps by the gritty physics of the original Prince of Persia -- makes the game world breathtakingly physical, and the frustration bone-breakingly visceral. In doing so from the first-person, it shows gaming to be an uncanny, hallucinatory experience. Soaring across rooftops and sliding down the sides of buildings in the game feels like a lucid dream. DICE also deserves props for building a true dystopia from bright, primary colors and corporate cleanliness.



Dead Space

(Electronic Arts)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

In space, no one can hear you scream -- just squeak like a girl.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0052_50.jpg"
alt="Russ Fischer"/>

Russ Fischer: My top vote belonged to Fallout 3 for a long time, and while I've got dozens of hours sunk into that game, there's an incontrovertible fact that argues in favor of Dead Space: It's the only game this year I couldn't wait to play again. After blasting through the story for review, I later went back to it by sneaking sessions in between the other games in the fall glut -- you know, the stuff I was supposed to be playing. I wanted more of the atmosphere, more of the weapons and action, more of the fact that a game doesn't have to break new ground left and right to provide ample reason to play.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0008_50.jpg"
alt="David Chapman"/>

David Chapman: Even though I've always been a fan of the genre, it's been a while since any survival horror game really lived up to the "horror" part. Dead Space took that to a new level, from the grotesque Necromorphs lurking around every corner to the faint voices heard in the background that tease your sanity. After the visceral fun of lopping off alien limbs, you have to watch these things still coming at you. It's good to know that there are still reasons to be afraid of things that go bump in the night.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0030_50.jpg"
alt="Paul Semel"/>

Paul Semel: I knew even before finished it the first time that I'd want to play it again. Such is the hallmark of a great game. But then, what did I expect from a sci-fi version of Resident Evil? A trigger-happy variation on Silent Hill? A scary version of Gears of War? Dead Space also illustrated just how important sound can be to a game, something that's often lost among visually-oriented game fans. Granted, the story could've been better, but since I spent most of my time on the edge of freaking out, it didn't really matter.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0017_50.jpg"
alt="Evan Narcisse"/>

Evan Narcisse: Even though this game scared me to half to death, it gets the nod because of what it represents. Dead Space showed that original ideas -- from a huge company like EA, no less -- can still find traction in a market where sequels and copy seem predestined. It also put the horror back in the "survival horror" genre, with strong attention to atmospherics and tone. Dead Space stripped away a lot of the barnacles from both the genre and company.



World of Goo

(2D Boy)

Game of the Year, Day Three

An indie developer and a downloadable game. So what? Awesome!
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0052_50.jpg"
alt="Russ Fischer"/>

Russ Fischer: Even if this gem were not the product of a basement studio (or a coffee shop studio, as the case often was), it would still be one of the most entertaining and impressive games of the year. The backstory just makes the success more delicious. Do I highlight World of Goo because it represents that game journo sweet spot where hardcore mechanics, writing and basic gameplay all come together in perfect harmony? Of course. But that harmony also means the game is unfailingly entertaining, and that's the bottom line.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0022_50.jpg"
alt="Blake Snow"/>

Blake Snow: Sign Painter is the new GLaDOS, and it's the freshest game released in two to three years, indie origins and downloads be damned.



Burnout Paradise

(Criterion Software)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

A terrific racing game released early in the year. Highly addictive.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0064_50.jpg"
alt="Dan Hsu"/>

Dan Hsu: Before fans got a chance to get burnt out on Burnout, developer Criterion Games changed the formula from a track-to-track progression to a system that would feel more at home in Liberty City. Sure, it's now a little clich?d to "GTA" a game, but the open-world style works so well here. Pick and choose your events, find collectibles to smash through, discover hidden shortcuts and ramps, and just try to blink once in a while in this thoroughly addicting and eyeball-shearing racer.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0013_50.jpg"
alt="Scott Jones"/>

Scott Jones: I feel bad for games that come out in January. (Another great January game: PixelJunk Monsters -- not as pretty as Eden, but more fun to play.) Burnout Paradise was f***ing great. But it feels like it came out in the year 51 B.C. Poor, godforsaken January games. Go back and look at the game again. Playing Burnout Paradise makes me feel like I'm having ice cubes dropped down the back of my shirt. There's your box-cover quote, EA. Happy now?



World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

(Blizzard Entertainment)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

More of the same, but better story, better music and more accessible.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0045_50.jpg"

alt="Dave Long"/>

Dave Long: Blizzard's incredible online world expanded again in 2008, this time to a place many fans already knew well from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Prince Arthas, the man who would become the Lich King, is one of the best characters within the Warcraft universe. He's the hero who lost his way, and in the process set off cataclysmic change in his world while becoming one of its greatest villains. The continent of Northrend is packed with exciting, well-written quests that sucked me right back into Warcraft's compelling mythos. The visuals are upgraded substantially, and the brilliant art direction of this massive multiplayer world never fails to astound me. I never expected this to be my favorite game of 2008, but nothing else offers so much awesome gaming within such an incredible world -- and I haven't even seen half of the new stuff yet!

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0001_50.jpg"
alt="John Keefer"/>

John Keefer: It may seem like a copout to mention an expansion pack to the best-selling game of all time, but when that expansion pack offers a better story, a more engaging environment and a more gradual learning curve that appeals to its more casual fan base, this really is a no-brainer.Wrath of the Lich King offers several quest lines and game experiences that will have you on the edge of your seat as you make your way up in levels. The locales are rich in ambiance, and they are made even better by some incredible mood music. Throw in a new character class with a starting zone that is perhaps one of the best-crafted entry stories to date, and you have another strong reason why Blizzard continues to be the king of the MMO.



LittleBigPlanet

(Media Molecule)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

Sackboy scored points with many gamers, if not Scott Jones.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0008_50.jpg"
alt="David Chapman"/>

David Chapman: Let's face facts. At its core, LittleBigPlanet isn't much more than a glorified tech demo. But I'll be damned if it isn't a fun one. The unique, overly cute but still photorealistic look of the game sticks out in a world filled with texture maps, cel-shading, polygon counts and all sorts of other technobabble about which the layman really doesn't give a damn. Instead, all they see here is that a group of people have somehow breathed life into an inanimate sack doll. The game invites players to do the same. Creativity takes the forefront, courtesy of a ridiculously robust level editor that's so simple an 8-year-old could use it. Finally, by inviting the world to share its creations, the world of LittleBigPlanet will never actually feel "little."

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0018_50.jpg"
alt="Kyle Orland"/>

Kyle Orland: Sure, there are some problems with the hit detection and the controls are a little floaty, but LittleBigPlanet makes my list for its sheer ambition in handing control of the game-creation experience over to the players. They've built an extremely accessible, extremely robust level creation tool that's already resulted in some highly imaginative creations (see: LittleBigTetris, the Gradius level) and likely will continue to for years to come. Plus, it gets props from me for creating a two-player co-op platformer system that actually works for both players!

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0025_50.jpg"
alt="David Thomas"/>

David Thomas: If I can figure out why this wasn't my Game of the Year, I will quit being a game journalist and become a game developer. Other than its very peculiar difficulty ramp -- it goes from really easy to thumb-achingly difficult in a heartbeat -- this seems like a perfect game. So, why haven't I played it more? Why don't I sit and build levels all night? Maybe it's because I am playing Fallout 3. Or maybe it is something else. This is the game that out-Nintendoed Nintendo this year, but lacks that last bit of emotional tug you need to really bond with it as a game. Sackboy overexposure? Maybe. Handicrafts not as cool as Media Molecule hoped? Probably.



Spore

(Maxis)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

It may not have been what was expected, but it evolved.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0019_50.jpg"
alt="Marc Saltzman"/>

Marc Saltzman: This is where Creationists roll their eyes and turn their backs. This clever evolution simulation is as ambitious as they come: Creating and nurturing a single-cell organism from tide-pool to intergalactic traveler is mind-blowingly cool -- and can only be pulled off by the stroke of mad genius that is Will Wright. Spore is really five games in one (but with a common thread running through each stage), with strong community sharing features and limitless customization. Just when you think you can stop playing, it sucks you back in like a long-nosed, purple polka-dotted Streeb out for a light snack.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0010_50.jpg"
alt="Harold Goldberg"/>

Harold Goldberg: To me, it was well worth the wait. While LittleBigPlanet was in very, very close contention for the best-of-make-your-own-stuff award, Spore just edged it out. It was cute early on, but it was also more. It was about exploration and survival of the fittest, which is as important a fable as you can get in a filthy recession such as ours. Then, there was the ooh/ahh factor, which I didn't think I'd feel because Spore had its bugs. And yet, I sat there with happy and sad smiles on my face throughout. And then, there's sharing all that cool stuff crafty folks have invented. The possibilities seem endless for Will Wright's magnum opus. It's a carnival of evolution that's well worth the barker's price of admission.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0011_50.jpg"
alt="Troy Goodfellow"/>

Troy Goodfellow: Overrated? Yes. Overhyped? Absolutely. But we shouldn't let our disappointment with what Spore isn't get in the way of appreciating what Spore is. It is not a textbook on evolution. It is a game in which almost any creature can make a go of it. It is not a meta-commentary on the development of games. It is a series of excellent mini-games and sandbox play. It is not as great as The Sims. It is a triumph of imagination and daring. It is not as deep as its PR promised. It is much deeper than its detractors suggest. Spore takes sandbox play to an entirely new level, unlocking the creative energies of millions of gamers. There has never been a more user-friendly editor and it's easy to see where new bits to the game can just be plugged in. Spore is like one of those board games with basic rules -- and you know EA will be announcing chrome rules and errata every six months just to keep things fresh. But ironically, the game becomes less compelling for me once it decides to follow the rules of a game (the civilization and space stages). I'm not even sure that Wright is quite sure of what he's created. All I know is that I can make a religious lizard with a top hat.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0001_50.jpg"
alt="John Keefer"/>

John Keefer: If people can get past their fixation on the DRM and set aside what they feel this game should have been, they'd find an engaging game that really does have Will Wright's vision firmly embedded in it. From the evolutionary process to making friends (and enemies), the game really forces you to think in-depth about strategies for beating each mini-game and evolving to the next level. Coupled with the enjoyment of creating creatures and the downloadable content, this game should keep its target casual audience enthralled for quite some time.



Rock Band 2

(Harmonix Music)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

Game or music maker, it kept us coming back.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/alexanders.jpg"
alt="Scott Alexander"/>

Scott Alexander: Calling it Game of the Year isn't exactly important, because Rock Band 2 is not a game -- which is why it is so wonderful. Rock Band is a platform. Rock Band 2 refined that platform in subtle but important ways to create the best, friendliest party game ever made.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0003_50.jpg"
alt="William Abner"/>

William Abner: I have a slightly different perspective on Rock Band 2 than most: I never played the original or found the time to play Guitar Hero. I never reviewed the games and didn't want to pluck down the extra money on a plastic toy guitar. I'm an adult. I play PC games. But I'm a music junkie, so it was only a matter of time; these games are tailor-made for a guy like me: I can't play an instrument outside of the triangle, but I'm arguably the best air guitarist in the Midwest. I finally took the Rock Band plunge with this sequel and was hopelessly addicted from the moment I started the guitar tutorial. The sequel to Rock Band is a better game from top to bottom, not only with better solo features for those who can't rock with a group, but also a significantly better default track list. "Let There Be Rock," indeed. I've played so much Rock Band 2 that my fingertips are numb. That's normal, right?



Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

(Mythic Entertainment)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

It goes to places Warcraft doesn't, and has developed a strong following.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0003_50.jpg"
alt="William Abner"/>

William Abner: There were warning signs that Warhammer Online wouldn't live up to its massive PR-driven hype: several delays, a trimming of huge chunks of city content and so on. In the end, Mythic delivered one of the best MMOs to date. The realm-vs.-realm combat gives you incentive to play beyond the normal human drive to "get another level." You can play WAR however you like: as pure PvP, strictly PvE, in Scenario battles with other players, or dabbling in every area of the design. I've been playing Warhammer in one form or another for 20 years, and this is a fully realized version of Games Workshop's fantasy world (part of it, anyway). From the gritty realism of Altdorf to the jagged cliffs of the World's Edge -- Mythic absolutely nailed it.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0056_50.jpg"
alt="Jason McMaster"/>

Jason McMaster: Admittedly, Warhammer Online didn't grab my attention right out of the gate. I had recently ended my longtime love affair with World of Warcraft, and the thought of playing yet another MMO was starting to make me nauseous. I might not have played the game at all, if not for the fact that my friends would not shut up about it. Warhammer Online is anything but your average MMO. The PvE is flat, but I challenge you to find a company that understands PvP better than Mythic. If you're a fan of real PvP, (i.e., not WoW), you owe it to yourself to at least give WAR a try.



Civilization Revolution

(Firaxis)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

A turn-based strategy classic comes to console in magnificent form.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0025_50.jpg"
alt="David Thomas"/>

David Thomas: How many times can you remake the same game? Every time I bump into another Civ game, I think, "Wow. They did it again." Like the Ramones of game development, Sid Meier and his rotating backup band have found a formula that works and stuck with it. Anyone who thought that you can't really port a PC game to the console just needs to look at Revolution. It's simpler where it needs to be, goofier where it can be, and streamlines play to keep all the classic Civ strategizing in scale with slouching on the couch.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0064_50.jpg"
alt="Dan Hsu"/>

Dan Hsu: One of the best, most critically acclaimed series ever deserves a wider audience, and Civ Rev (the more syllable-friendly way of calling it) made that happen. It brought PC-style strategy to consoles in a way that makes sense without offending the existing fan base. Very little was lost in the translation, while a lot of streamlining even made the original games seem cumbersome. It's been over a decade since the console audience last saw a decent Civ game (Civilization II for the original PlayStation). This update was long overdue -- and luckily for all of us, it delivered in a big way.



Saints Row 2

(Volition Inc.)
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Game of the Year, Day Three

Many said it was better than GTA IV. Not here, but still a great game.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0003_50.jpg"
alt="William Abner"/>

William Abner: Saints Row 2 is street-level chaos in a box. While you can make the argument that Grand Theft Auto IV is the more "mature" design, you cannot convince me it's a better game. I play Saints Row 2 at lunch with a good friend of mine who is in the Navy. He works a desk job, and we meet up on Xbox Live every weekday at noon for 50 minutes of complete mayhem: spewing sewage on buildings, stealing cars, drag racing -- we don't even have to follow the storyline or do any of the officially sanctioned activities or missions. Saints Row 2 does everything it can to make sure you are being entertained every moment you have the controller in your hand. It's in many ways what playing games is all about ... if you're old enough.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0009_50.jpg"
alt="Tom Chick"/>

Tom Chick: This is the paragon of open-world city-havoc sandboxes. It's a pitch-perfect example of a game that accomplishes exactly what it intends to accomplish. It's crass and generous and spectacular, stuffed with stuff to do -- usually involving the liberal application of chaos. Like the first Saints Row, it out-Grand Theft Autos the best of them: Mercenaries, The Godfather, Scarface, Bully, Grand Theft Auto itself and even Crackdown. If there is a better-realized vision of a city as a massive free-wheeling incendiary playground, I haven't seen it. And the fact that I can play almost every corner of Saints Row 2 cooperatively is almost obscene. Really, Volition? You're going to go that far above the competition? That's just showboating.



No More Heroes

(Grasshopper Manufacture)


Game of the Year, Day Three

Experimental, irreverent and challenging for the audience. Brilliant.
src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0045_50.jpg"
alt="Dave Long"/>

Dave Long: Suda 51's first true commercial success might not be his best game, but it's my favorite. Few developers have the guts to take on their audience, but Suda turns the knife on us after sticking it in deep. The game pokes fun at gaming clich?s almost to the point of masochism, while offering absurdly over-the-top hack-and-slash. Wrestling moves are the Wii-waggling reward for a job well done. And man, I love the bosses. They're all nuts, but Travis always comes off as being a little bit crazier -- maybe just like us? This game sticks in my head more than any other from 2008, because there are so many inspired moments -- jerking off to power up your sword, geysers of blood, mowing the lawn, the training guy, Raspberry Chocolate Sundae -- heck, even saving the game is just plain old stupid fun, the way videogames are meant to be.

src="http://www.crispygamer.com/_img/authors/50px/writer0016_50.jpg"
alt="Gus Mastrapa"/>

Gus Mastrapa: Nobody makes games as experimental, irreverent and chock-full of obscure pop culture references than Suda 51. And if they did, they still wouldn't have the cojones to play with the form of videogames the way he does. Santa Destroy is an open world with nothing to do. And that's a totally purposeful comment on American sprawl (not to mention the expectations of American gamers). And still there's no lack of variety in No More Heroes. The game is peppered with brutal one-on-one lightsaber fights, goofy motion control mini-games and tons of homages to old-school gaming. In a time when so many games take players on predictable adventures, No More Heroes doesn't just take the road less traveled -- it drives off the cliff, floors it 15 miles through bat country, then plows through the front window of an erotic cake shop.

Read Day 1 and Day 2 of our 2008 Game of the Year coverage.

What's your pick for Game of the Year? Sound off in our Groups.