The best games of 2008?

Again, it's time to argue about the games that stood out this year.

The video game industry had another good year in sales - Americans bought $3bn of games in November despite the recession (more people staying home and opting for in-home entertainment?) and the industry is on track to reach $22bn for the year (link to)

A professor of popular culture (sounds a fun job) said at the weekend that the whole gaming industry is not only recession-proof, but that it can thrive in times of recession, just as during the Great Depression, Hollywood thrived because it offered a cheap, communal escape from the gloomy times.

But gamers appear to be getting more picky about what to buy especially as the higher prices for next-gen console games sting when you make a poor choice.

There were plenty of games to enjoy but we seem to be demanding more in the way of entertainment as well as just burning up rubber or shooting at enemies.

And so the game that my mates couldn't get enough of this year was EA's Rock Band. Until the also-brilliant Guitar Hero arrived, I had never picked up a musical instrument. Now I'm hooked into having weekly garage band sessions, thrashing authentic-looking drums and guitars to famous rock anthems and fantasising about playing for a major band in front of major stadium crowds.

For a great party game, this is a winner and it's interesting that anyone initially shy of participating soon joins in and finds they can do OK.

I didn't get to try the Guitar Hero equivalent (World Tour) and there may be an argument over which is better, but Rock Band is my standout for the year and I can't wait for Rock Band 2 which is already out in the US.

Here are my other standouts for 2008:

Best PS3 exclusive: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Not just a great game to play, it's so polished, it showed how amazing next-gen console gaming can look.

Best Xbox 360 exclusive: Gears of War 2

Brutal action and beautiful to see - visually stunning and a totally satisfying improved sequel.

Best on Wii: Wii Fit

Showing again while Wii is the family console with every grandmother able to have fun trying to keep agile.

Best Karaoke: SingStar ABBA

They're not my thing but the runaway movie success of Mamma Mia coupled with this shows the band just won't fade away.

Best RPG: Fable II

Charming, funny, deep, addictive. Creator Peter Molyneux wanted something unique and with version two, he delivers.

Best Horror: Left 4 Dead

As disturbing and claustrophobic as the best zombie movie, this relentless monster attack is fun and challenging and came to the genre delivering a fresh approach.

Best online: Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

It may not reinvent the MMO genre but it has all the right elements and makes it such an enjoyable game, it absorbs gamers for many nights into the early hours.

Best action-shooter: Call of Duty: World at War

This solid fast-paced shooter recharges the highly successful franchise with good missions and interesting multiplayer options and hardcore graphics to boot.

Best game to call in sick for: Grand Theft Auto IV

There was no escaping this one. The debate about the seedy aspects of the story masked its genius in being a commentary on consumer culture.

Best Racing: Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (PS3)

For a genre that is highly competitive, this matched the hype and just made us desperately hang out for the full title which may still be a full year away.

Best Sports: NBA 2K9

All passionate sports fans are going to have a favourite here. I'm not big on sports games/simulations but found this a fun realistic experience - which is what counted for me.

Best on PSP: God of War Chains of Olympus

This worked surprisingly brilliantly on the smaller screen, as awesome and engaging as its bigger cousin.

Best graphics: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot

For those of us with big HD TV screens, we finally started to get our money's worth with jaw-dropping graphics.

Best niche game: Mirror's Edge

Unlike anything we've seen, this visually striking and highly original game had more depth than you think when first viewed and it attempts to re-work the platform genre.

Best retro re-visit: Wipeout HD

The old futuristic racing classic that helped launch PlayStation 3 gets a giddy big-screen makeover when downloaded from the online PS3 store and shows how simple original games never lose their shine because they are just about having fun.

Best creative game: Spore

A masterpiece that deserved its many years of hype because it gave us a fascinating way to view life through creating it and sharing it.

Best on PC: Crysis Warhead

An expansion of a great game that has single player and multi-player options you want to play over and over again.

Best Sci-fi: Dead Space

After last year's Top 10 titles like Mass Effect and Bioshock came this intense sci-fi survival horror that was terrifying - aided by superb graphics and thumping bass-laden sound. Check also the game's movie clips released as a separate experience on Blu-ray.

Best on DS: Advance Wars: Dark Conflict

With so much attention on next-gen consoles, I didn't get a lot of time to play DS this year but this strategy game was a personal favourite. DS fans may have other recommendations.

Most innovative platformer: LittleBigPlanet

At very first glance, PS3's much-hyped game looked deceptively like a PlayStation 1 platform game until you explored the hi-def graphics and nice editing tools and level sharing options.

Those who found it their sort of game were charmed and got right into it.

Best long-awaited arrival: Home

Just after Xbox's 360 makeover, PS3's online competition finally arrived just before Christmas, sapped three gigs of space and immediately got dissed by rival Microsoft as being an outdated Second Life clone.

In this mad pre-Christmas time, I'm still yet to give it the exploration time it deserves but here's a sneak look if you haven't had time either.

Other games from this year that I'm still enjoying include Resistance 2 and StarWars Force Unleashed.

So what topped your list?

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald -

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