SB 2008: Most scrutinized games

December 10, 2008

Some games receive a lot of attention. Whether it be forums, arguments with friends, or extensive coverage of how well the game innovates or changes the way games will be made in the future, certain games were on everyone’s lips.

Snackbar’s “most scrutinized games” aren’t anyone’s personal favorites, per se, but the games that have most affected the changing landscape of how games are made (many consistent themes arose this year) and the ones that spurred the most thought and discussion.


Spore helped to push the issue of game celebrities as Will Wright got a little program called the Will Wright minute and he got on National Geographic and other mainstream outlets that paid a lot of attention. It also pushed games in the public mind as tools for creativity. Was it actually fun to play as a game? Many said no. Many also did not care.

Spore also amazingly is the center of an entirely unrelated issue. What Metal Gear Solid 4 did for cutscenes is nothing compared to what Spore did for DRM. DRM hit mainstream and heaps of Amazon ratings went down, down, down for this megahit. And other EA games with harsh DRM such as Mass Effect, Crysis Warhead, and Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. Far Cry 2, a game not even made by EA, featured the following review comment: “Hey, thanks for reviewing the game, not the DRM.”

Honorable mention: Little Big Planet. Different game, same issue: not fun to play, but very fun to create and explore. Not nearly as many copies sold and a bit strange of a venue: little cute sack creatures where you can make levels and it’s only on the Nintend…the Playstation 3, the least friendly system to families on a budget.

Warhammer Online

Ever wonder what would have happened if Pepsi had failed? As MMO after MMO shrunk or shut down this year, World of Warcraft looked like it was going to remain as the only face in town. Fortunately, a significant challenger arose with the established fantasy world, financial backing, and experience to pose an acknowledgable threat–Warhammer Online.

World of Warcraft isn’t going anywhere, and Warhammer Online is no Pepsi (yet), but it’s undeniable that its ideas have influenced the MMO landscape as a whole. At first it simply seemed a challenger, but Blizzard’s need to address WAR’s features (or existence) combined with the ensuing arms race that both MMOs have since embarked upon is a good sign for any MMO player: competition and change is more rampant, and both Warhammer and Warcraft are the better for it.

Honorable mention: Wrath of the Lich King and WoW’s other updates. Corpse runs at doublethe speeds and questing that requires less eating and drinking? Blizzard is getting the point.

Metal Gear Solid 4

Many had a Playstation 1 and 2. Fewer have a Playstation 3. Regardless of which Playstation systems anyone owns, few if any, have not heard of Metal Gear Solid 4.

And those cut scenes! Love ’em or hate ’em, Metal Gear Solid 4 is now the focal point of discussion of the use of cut scenes in video games, and the debate over how, why, or even if games should use cut scenes continues, even if it’s calmed down.

Grand Theft Auto IV

No PR disaster or “Hot coffee” mod to speak of, so the public gathered fewer pitchforks for this one. Most critics thought GTA IV wasn’t quite “Oscar-caliber”, but its storytelling methods were taken seriously enough to merit commentary in Newsweek and even the Wall Street Journal. Not bad!

Left 4 Dead

There were a ton of shooters out this year, of course, many of which were very good. But none of them were so different as to make a game based around co-op instead of just including it, and then to go on to make a large community and have large sales. Left 4 Dead also generates lots of war stories–the random player-matching isn’t the only thing leaving you with a new experience every time.

I elaborated more on why Left 4 Dead moves co-op forward here.

The World Ends With You

It seems like the DS and its releases were under the radar for most of the year, presumably to a lack of terribly interesting titles. A notable exception was Square Enix’s The World Ends With You, which really worked to make sure of the DS’s capabilities and to try to be a bit fresh in theme and characters.

For those who like JRPGs, it was nothing to be excited about. For those that do, it was extremely encouraging to see a company like Square Enix make a game that made so many bold moves.

Fallout 3

Anticipation for Fallout 3 was immense because of the unique world and features of its predecessors, and the intellectual rights being sold to Bethesda, makers of Oblivion. It was feared Fallout 3 would simply be “Oblivion with guns” and not quite a revolution.

While it was only Oblivion and guns for some, to some it was more; Oblivion’s style of interaction worked even better for Fallout 3 because it’s more interesting to see how groups would form and people would behave in a post-apocalyptic world in Washington D.C. than it is in a fantasy world with swords, magic and elves. The shopkeeper is selling stolen swords? Then you spy on him? Or finding a guy holed up in a barricaded building with nothing but alcohol, two women that don’t care for him, and the choice to get one of them to follow you to find a new life outside traditional domestic slavery?

Fable II

Fable II’s extensive anticipation largely had to do with one of its slightly eccentric creators, Peter Molyneux.

Did it deliver? That depends on whom you ask. It did so many things right, like making complex, accessible combat that made the game feel harder than it is (when has a game done that?) and an unprecedented level of freedom for an adventure game.

Still, most people hated the dog and the fact that farting got you more than it should. That entendre may have been entirely accidental, but anything else in Fable II is not.


This was an unprecedented year for a variety of quality downloadable games, and none provoked more discussion than Jonathon Blow’s Braid. Braid was mentioned on NPR and Blow went on to be interviewed about art, systems, and game aesthetics in many places, including venues that normally wouldn’t cover it such as the mainstream Onion A.V. and the enthusiast Game Informer.

Blow says just about no one “got it”; many were satisfied with what Braid’s text mentioned. Soulja Boy irked the sensibilities of rabid gamers everywhere when he essentially called the game stupid and pointless.

Pretentious or just ahead of its time? Overanalyzed or not, most still enjoyed Braid for its enjoyable music, art, and puzzles.

Other honorable downloadable games of the year include: World of Goo, N+, Multiwinia, PixelJunk Eden/Monsters, The Last Guy, Mega Man 9, Castle Crashers, and Bionic Commando: Rearmed, for starters.


The list above didn’t have Audiosurf. This year saw the release of Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero: World Tour. The extent of the discussion there was “How durable and awesome are those drum kits?” and “What are the track lists?” If those were the only good music games this year, one might say the rhythm and music genre is getting stale; it’s competition was limited to High School Musical 3, Rock Revolution, and other wannabes.

But Audiosurf, much earlier this year, rocked music to the core. Here was a game that could play any song you ever plug into it in a variety of game modes with different objectives, and it was all pretty much made by one guy.

Also, ten bucks and leaderboards for every song ever done in every single mode.

It came out a quieter time of the year for releases and on a quieter platform, but the seeds have been planted and some assumptions overturned.

Other honorable mentions

Persona 4: forty bucks, new, over 90 on metacritic, and it’s only on the Playstation 2. It hasn’t had time to garner discussion; perhaps a few months from now it will seem like this should have been on the list instead.

Mirror’s Edge
: Everyone got excited about the video they saw before release. We held our breaths and were ultimately disappointed. Anyone who knows anything about the game industry wanted Mirror’s Edge to succeed. Also, there were those arguments.

World of Goo: 2 guys. Twenty bucks. Extremely awesome. No DRM. Still heavily pirated.