A good vintage: Gaming roundup 2008
Thanks to innovation, imagination and a stream of killer sequels, the past 12 months have been packed with top titles. Rebecca Armstrong reports on the way we played in 2008
Wednesday 31 December 2008
From aerobics to free running, drumming to driving, battling the gods to playing at being a deity, 2008 has been a good vintage for games. With no console launches, publishers have had to rely on creativity – and sequels – to boost sales rather than relying on the buzz created by new platforms.
Nintendo continued its quest for innovation with Wii Fit (£69.99), a title that combined the fun elements of Wii Sport with an impressive piece of hardware in the form of the Wii Fit board. Using motion and weight sensors, this hi-tech slab gives gamers their BMI readings and encourages them to leave the sofa to take part in virtual step classes, ski-jumping competitions, running groups and yoga sessions. Since its launch in March, demand has been so high that stock shortages have been the norm. The jury's out on whether Wii Fit will end up turning players into buff gym bunnies but it's a great package that has sold more than 9 million copies so far. Mario Kart Wii (£39.99), with its wheel controller and high-speed action has been a triumph while Steven Spielberg made his gaming debut with Boom Blox (£39.99), a Jenga-style family title he made because, he says: "I am a gamer myself, and I really wanted to create a video game that I could play with my kids."
On the DS, three titles showed the way in which video games are evolving. Korg DS-10 (£29.99) is a sophisticated piece of software that packed the musical power of a Korg synthesiser into a DS cartridge. Professor Layton and The Curious Village (£29.99) combines the cerebral teasing elements of Brain Training with a coherent narrative and elements of exploration. Its aim? To lure casual gamers into a more structured world of entertainment studded with educational puzzles. Finally, Boxing Day saw the launch of 100 Classic Books Collection (£19.99), a collaboration between Nintendo and Harper Collins that apes the functionality of electronic books such as Amazon's Kindle and Sony's e-readers – but for a fraction of the price.
Despite taking a back seat to the touch-screen charms of the DS, in March the PSP was given a shot in the arm courtesy of God of War: Chains of Olympus (£14.99). The first hand-held version of the excellent gods-bothering console series, Chains of Olympus is an accomplished action adventure that punches above its weight. Meanwhile, the hand-held market was changed forever when Apple launched its App Store for the iPod Touch and iPhone 3G. According to Greg Joswiack, vice-president of iPod and iPhone product marketing: "The iPod Touch is the future of gaming. Our competitors are scrambling." From free puzzle titles to costlier versions of big-name games – Super Monkey Ball (£4.99), Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D (£3.49) – and part-versions of new releases such as Spore Origins (£3.99), it's obvious that if 2008 was big for Apple gaming, 2009 will be huge.
The annual battle between Pro-Evo (PC and all consoles, from £29.99) and Fifa (PC and all consoles, from £29.99) was as closely fought as ever, with supporters in each side cheering on their chosen champions. And a relatively new rivalry – Rock Band vs Guitar Hero – became more intense with the release of Rock Band 2 (Xbox 360, £49.99 excluding instruments) and Guitar Hero: World Tour (all consoles, £149.99), the first Guitar Hero title to feature a full band. Neither title comes cheap and since both require a considerable amount of floor space, it will be interesting to see how sales of plastic axes and dummy drums continue next year and beyond.
Killer sequels were out in force in 2008 with second helpings of exquisite action RPG Fable (Xbox 360, £39.99) and the bloody and battle-scarred Gears of War (Xbox 360, £44.99). Call of Duty: World at War (PC and all consoles, from £34.99) offers another dose of Second World War action, this time based in the Pacific, while the second World of Warcraft expansion pack, Wrath of The Lich King (PC, Mac, £24.99), sold 2.8 million copies within 24 hours, making it the fastest-selling computer game of all time.
Those looking for something different were also well served in the last 12 months. The most ambitious has to have been Spore (PC and Mac, £39.99), designed by gaming luminary Will Wright, which allows players to create a species, guiding it from single-celled organism to space-travelling civilisation. Despite heavy-handed digital rights management software, the game is epic in its scale and a delight for armchair megalomaniacs. Mirror's Edge (PC and all consoles, from £34.99), a sleek free-running title also released by EA was less well received despite being the first big game dedicated to parkour.
Sony's LittleBigPlanet (PS3, £44.99) was another true original, blending traditional platform elements with a hugely creative design ethos which made this a video game like no other. Customisable to the nth degree, its hero, Sack Boy, is fast on the way to becoming a gaming icon, despite the game's delayed launch. But LBP's tardiness was nothing compared to the late arrival of Home for the PS3. The Beta version of this Second Life-alike social networking hub finally saw the light of day in December. Whether it can eclipse Linden Lab's finest remains to be seen but it's certainly a console first.
"Grand Theft Auto is going to break all records," said then-senator Barack Obama of the launch of GTA IV (PC, PS3, Xbox 360, from £34.99). "Now, it isn't intended for kids." He wasn't wrong, on either front. This year's stand-out game sold 3.6 million copies on its first day and is unashamedly adult, from the multi-layered story arc to the grim reality of life in America's cities, the endless violent altercations and the streetwalkers living a life of vice. Rockstar's genius lies in making games that are gritty, grown-up, intelligent and every bit as involving as great cinema. GTA IV is no exception and has exceeded its predecessors in both scope and sophistication. It's about as good as gaming gets, but with God of War 3, Alan Wake, Halo 3: ODST and BioShock 2 slated for release in 2009, it could be a very happy new year too.
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