A 2008 Retrospective – The Year of Gaming in Review
Written Thursday, January 01, 2009 By Dan WebbView author's profile
It’s easy to say that 2008 was the best year for the gaming industry ... probably because it was, but I suspect that you won’t quite realise that until sometime in the future. It wasn’t just a year of highs though; the year certainly brought with it its lows as well, but in terms of gaming, the year can’t be matched.
Of course, 2008 was the year that saw the first iteration of the Grand Theft Auto series on current generation technology, and whilst on the whole generally lauded by the gaming press, the response publically was not as positive. The game on face value is a fantastic cinematic experience which is no doubt why the gaming press lapped it up, I mean, who else has created a living breathing world of that calibre? No-one. However, despite that, we’re still not sure that the vast majority of the gaming public were as prepared for the new direction the series went in as Rockstar would have liked.
Officer, the fish was this big!
GTA IV wasn’t just a groundbreaking title in terms of gaming, but the entertainment industry as a whole. Its first day sales were in excess of $500 million with about 3.6 million copies shifting straight off the bat... all of this in April as well. Who said the gaming industry needed Christmas to shift games? That notion is long gone but still publishers rely on it too much and sometimes the choice and complete onslaught of games in the run up to Christmas can also damage some of the most interesting concepts in terms of new titles. Of course I’m talking about Mirror’s Edge.
DICE’s newest franchise, a first person parkour title, was the victim of this rush of games with initial sales not meeting expectations. We can’t help but think that if it had been released in a quieter month, that Mirror’s Edge could have made a bigger impact. The game itself is a brave and well crafted masterpiece with the gaming press giving it more favourable reviews than bad, but how can this new, untried and untested franchise stand up to the likes of Call of Duty, even if, as we think it is, a much better title. It’s a classic David versus Goliath analogy but this time Goliath stomped the shit out of David.
2008 will be looked upon by EA as favourably as years gone by; not only did two of their new franchises hit and become great titles, but they also saw FIFA take the crown off the long standing PES. It also saw EA owned studio, Criterion, set the standard for post release support for a game with Burnout Paradise. As far as getting their image back on track goes, I think they couldn’t have planned it any better; hell, they even supported the year’s best multiplayer title, Left 4 Dead.
Well, my fish was this big, so neeerrrr!!
Ubisoft and Microsoft were also in good spirits this year as they generally performed well again with their big budget titles selling well, in other words, Fable 2, Gears of War 2 and Far Cry 2. Gears of War 2 and Fable 2 not only enjoyed good early sales but they also touched home with the critics as well. The scores for Fable 2 are even said to have brought Peter Molyneux to shed tears of joy as well, awww, how sweet! Even the change in approach from Rare with Banjo-Kazooie doesn’t seem to have done the series much harm as the latest figures are predicted to be just shy of half a million, with Lips within touching distance of that figure also. Win, win for Microsoft then.
2008 was also the year that we saw Fallout creep back in the limelight, this time with a new company to spearhead it and who better than RPG kings, Bethesda. Fallout fans may have been a little bit upset that original creators Interplay were not behind it, but I’m sure even the most cynical of them can put their hands together for the fine job that Bethesda did with it. It even picked up our Game of the Year award this year, and rightly so.
Who can resist those bright blue eyes?
Of course, it wasn’t all good, but then again, it never is. 2008 saw its fair share of disappointment with Too Human and The Force Unleashed failing to meet expectations, whereas Quantum of Solace seemed to shock punters in a good way. The year also saw some of the bigger gaming characters return, some in worthy sequels, a la Miss Croft; and some not so good, a la our blue hedgehog friend. As well as the decent and well supported Burnout Paradise, 2008 also saw Codemasters continue to drill home the fact that they’re the industry racing kingpins with the fantastic Race Driver: GRID.
You almost forget how long 2008 was in some respects, it seems an age ago that Devil May Cry 4 and Ninja Gaiden 2 turned up on our consoles, but in fact that was last year also. Ninja Gaiden 2 may be the last in the series with Team Ninja getting involved in a bit of hand bags at dawn debacle, but Devil May Cry seems to be beating as strong as ever ... even if you did retread the same ground twice and fought the same bosses on multiple occasions, we still loved it.
All in all, 2008 seemed to have its fair share of great titles for everyone with all genres being catered for. It would be careless of me to not mention Lost Odyssey in this retrospective considering the game was one of the hidden gems of the year, but it’s physically impossible to mention every game, whether great or mediocre.
Final Fantasy, now on Xbox 360
2008 was also a good year for announcements with the biggest coming at E3 and possibly the most shocking. Yup, that’s right, Final Fantasy XIII is making its way to the 360 for the first time ever in a simultaneous Western release. It’s a real big coup for Microsoft as they moved to strengthen ties with Square Enix. However, they’ve got a lot of making up to do because Square’s Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery were nothing incredible and you could say, we’ve been waiting a while now for a big Square Enix title. Final Fantasy wasn’t the only Sony exclusive coup for Microsoft this year either as they announced that Tekken 6 is also making the step across. It’s an expected move with multi-platform games these days and seems to be the only thing that makes sense for third party studios. Why Konami and Metal Gear are reluctant to do it is beyond me? There is more money on two consoles than one. Ha, who said there’s no loyalty these days?
Whilst the rest of the world slumped in the economic crisis, the gaming industry boomed ... well from a consumer perspective anyway. Sales were up, sure, but that doesn’t really tell the full story. People, including myself at one point or another, suspected that the economic crisis wouldn’t upset the apple cart within the gaming industry but it’s definitely making waves behind the scenes. Every week a new studio is having troubles; either laying off staff or even closing down full stop; developers such as Factor 56, Free Radical, Midway Austin, Midway Chicago and Ensemble Studios have all felt the thud as the shoe strings tighten.
Job cuts were a necessity.
Even the powerhouses of the industry are cutting costs to secure their long term financial position; the likes of Sony, Microsoft and EA all resorting to cutting costs with job cuts. Lucasarts and THQ are a couple of mid-sized publishers who have felt the strain too as they attempt to cut down on expenses by closing studios and making redundancies. Is the global economic crisis going to send any of the big boys belly up? Of course not, but they’re not going to be as generous on the green light till normality is restored. I do suspect however that you’ll see smaller publishers and more independent studios become a victim before we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, even now, rumours and job cuts are suggesting that Aspyr and Brash are already finding it tough to cope. All that pretty much debunks the theory that the gaming industry is recession proof, although as a consumer, chances are you may not notice it; that’s the truth of the matter.
It doesn’t matter where you look in 2008, there was sure to be a title that will please and annoy gamers in equal measures. There is one thing for certain, and that’s that we’ve never experienced such a heavy year in terms of quality titles before. We’re used to a handful of games being labelled as must buys, but this year has brought more than ever ... and that’s without even looking at Sony and Nintendo’s exclusives which were equally as well crafted and popular (MGS4, LittleBigPlanet, Super Smash Bros & Mario Kart Wii). The fact is, that in our opinion, 2008 WAS the best year for gaming, although it was a tad crowded in most respects, and chances are you’ll be hard pressed to find a year that produces so many gems in such a short period ever. If there is one thing we’re asking for next year, it’s definitely a more structured release schedule, but other than that, 2008 was the year gaming stepped up and started to be recognised for the powerful medium that it is ... and long may that continue.