Without doubt, we all started the year positively salivating at the prospect of seeing a new Grand Theft Auto release.
Many were likewise encouraged by the chance to see Fallout 3, and even when it became patently obvious that StarCraft II wouldn't be ready in time, at least we could take comfort from the knowledge that Diablo III was actually going to get made. Electronic Arts gave us the surprisingly good Dead Space, as well as finally getting in a shipment of Rock Band, and although the local Nintendo distributors went bust we still managed to get Wii Fit and Mario Kart, even if stock was in short supply for a time.
2008 has been remarkably good to gamers, so it's important that we pause for reflection and hand out a bunch of largely nonsensical awards to commend the hard work of numerous developers. So let's get straight into it - here's how we're calling it this year...
The "Big Bang" Award for the largest explosion in a game
We first witnessed the scope of Fallout 3 at a preview in Sydney, but we weren't prepared for the ability to wipe out an entire town. The full-scale nuclear destruction of Megaton at your own hands is nothing short of incredible, so kudos to Bethesda for providing us with one of the most spectacular sights of 2008.
Grand Theft Auto IV may not have had the largest explosions, but there's something inherently satisfying about dropping an endless trail of grenades behind your stolen car and watching cop cars explode in the background. The rocket launcher was pretty fun too, and rigging mob vehicles with explosives is just the icing on the cake.
The "Bloodiest Game of the Year"
No real challenge here - with waves and waves of zombies it can only be Valve's Left 4 Dead. Despite a few concerns about a lack of content, the game is hugely entertaining and the AI elevates it to a new level. The Infected are freakishly fast, and dispatching them is horrifically bloody - not a game for the faint of heart, or anyone with slow reactions.
Dead Space. It's like Aliens vs. Predator but with better weapons, scarier monsters and a gloomier atmosphere. Thanks to the hard work of Electronic Arts, you can even be dismembered! Whilst it's not quite as frightening as the initial hype suggested, it's still something you probably don't want to play for the first time at night. If you're after gore, you won't be disappointed.
The "Hyper Drive" Award for the most hyped game of the year
We did expect more from Spore. Will Wright had us completely hooked with promises of a "SimEverything" that we'd still be playing years from now. Whilst this probably isn't the case for many people, Spore was still proof of a concept that we've wanted to see for a long time. Although the Creature Creator was impressive, it couldn't quite hold together a game that just didn't seem deep enough, and lacked cohesion. Throw in some excessive DRM for good measure and you're bound to disappoint a lot of people.
Lost via Domus. Whatever happened to the TV series? Is anyone actually still playing this game? Are they still on the island? The correct answer to these three questions is: nobody cares.
The "Rocket in your Pocket" Award for the largest or meanest weapon in a game
Isaac may be stuck on an alien-infested ship and afflicted with a speaking disorder in Dead Space, but at least he has his trusty Plasma Cutter. This fearsome weapon is potentially cooler than the lancer from Gears of War and we can't wait to see how EA develop it for the inevitable sequel.
Whilst BioShock introduced us to impressive water effects, Far Cry 2 has now provided us with a new generation of flammable potential. To facilitate this, the Flame Thrower will allow you to set fire to the environment and smoke out the bad guys. It's a great concept and is integrated well with the story - the rest of the game may be somewhat flawed, but setting fire to stuff will always be fun.
The "Fluffy" Award for the cutest game of the year
LittleBigPlanet's damn sack people are just too adorable. Sony and Media Molecule have spent a long time making sure that as a player, you actually care about the fate of a bunch of pixels floating about the screen. Most of this is down to the charming character animation and superbly detailed levels, and the ability to create your own mayhem and share it with the world just adds to the appeal.
Another PS3 exclusive here, it's Pixeljunk Monsters. The crisp HD graphics, awesome sound effects and whimsical musical score show off a hugely entertaining and addictive tower defence game. We still don't even know what type of a creature the main character is, but it doesn't matter - Monsters is charming. As a PSN download, it's cheap too.
The "Miss Cyber" Award for the best looking female character
We're sure there's a bunch of World of Warcraft players who think their Night Elf toons are pretty hot, but we're going with Elika from Ubisoft's reboot of Prince of Persia. Not only is she attractive (in a purely artistic way, of course) but she's smart too - she'll follow you around without getting trapped, and save your life when you run out of talent. Nice to see a bit of equality in video gaming for a change.
Was there a Tomb Raider released this year? So there was. In that case, it has to be Lara Croft. Moving on now...
The "Numb Butt" Award for the most addictive game of the year
There were plenty of fantastic single-player titles released this year, but we can't help but think that whoever purchased World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King has probably played it for more than six to ten hours. Blizzard wins here in a category that will probably require about a billion dollars to unseat them from. Whatever your opinion of World of Warcraft, you have to hand it to Blizzard - they know how to hook people. Now, where's that time machine so we can go back to 2003 and buy some shares?
Left 4 Dead once again deserves mention here - it's just too much fun and way too addictive for anyone who doesn't mind losing an entire weekend battling zombies. Note to Valve - we want more content, please!
The Gameplanet Community Game of the Year
As voted on GP Forums, the Gameplanet Community Game of the Year is Grand Theft Auto IV. Congratulations Rockstar, you've produced a game with a mind-blowing level of complexity and certainly the most detailed city in gaming history. Grand Theft Auto IV isn't without fault - there aren't enough missions and it runs out of steam once you complete them, but looking beyond that to simply enjoy the scope of what hundreds of developers have spent several years creating, you can't help but be impressed. We can't wait to see what you come up with for a sequel - if it's anything like San Andreas was to the Grand Theft Auto III franchise then this certainly won't be the only accolade you'll be getting from us.
Bethesda have done a spectacular job with Fallout 3. Creating a sequel to one of the most loved PC games ever was always going to be a challenge; you have to not only create a post-apocalyptic world, but also populate it with accurate and faithful characters and missions that will satisfy a demanding fanbase. Fallout 3 could have been an absolute disaster. Bethesda could have single-handedly annoyed existing Fallout and Fallout 2 communities and alienated new gamers by getting any number of aspects wrong, but they didn't - they've exercised caution and developed an extremely likeable game true to Fallout canon.
That's it for 2008 - all eyes are now on the 2009 line-up. Gameplanet would like to thank our readers, our contributors and all of the local distributors and publishers who have supported us this year. We have big plans for 2009 and look forward to more content, more competitions and more of everything you expect from New Zealand's largest gaming community. Happy holidays!