PC Gamer's Hottest Games of 2008
2nd Jan 2008 | 12:41
What is PC gaming? Don't laugh; it's an important question. The point of playing on a PC is to experience variety, at your pace, in your own way.
The PC isn't dominated by a big hardware manufacturer. It doesn't depend on a single box. And it's open for all to be a part of. Anyone can build a PC using any hardware they like. Its development community stretches across the globe, from massive 120-man teams with multi-million dollar budgets, to a guy in his bedroom. Anyone can play a PC game. Anyone can make a PC game. And they often do.
As we began our search for the great games of 2008, we realised the scope and scale of what lies ahead. Put simply, the industry that supplies us with so much pleasure is rapidly diversifying. At the top end, the big names continue to pump out huge, technically sophisticated blockbuster titles.
At the bottom, one-man-bands create something fun and release it without fanfare. And in the middle, newcomers, chancers and developers bored of the status quo get together to upset the balance, searching for new audiences and new ways to grip players. We have the casual MMO developers. The indie graphic adventure artists. The puzzle professionals.
2007 saw developers stretching themselves a little with a smattering of new ideas and fictions: BioShock, Stalker, Portal, Tabula Rasa. Mainly, though, they fell back on the same old series: the Command & Conquers, the Unreals, and the Quake (Wars). In 2008 there's a different feel: like the PC's biggest developers want to force a change across the board.
Games like Borderlands, Left 4 Dead, Rage and Spore all have the potential to be huge hits, both critically and commercially. But they're examples of big developers rejecting their old franchises and producing something new. It would have been easy for Maxis to knock out another Sims: instead they want to produce SimEverything with Spore. id Software could have pumped out a new Wolfenstein or Doom: instead, they're going mad for Mad Max in Rage.
In 2007, the platform's most inspiring and playful moments came not from mainstream, big-budget action shooters, but from the weird and the obscure. Games like Peggle, Switchball, Garry's Mod, Armadillo Run and Toribash.
This year, we think we know two major indie hits already: Multiwinia (the multiplayer sequel to '80s-inspired strategy shooter Darwinia) and Braid (a brilliant Mario-esque platformer in which manipulating time plays as much a part as jumping up and down).
And then there's the game which kicks off our monstrous preview of the year: Football Manager Live. Not the most glamorous, the most high-tech or most fashionable game out there, admittedly. But just about the most British, and one that has a fearsome potential to build a gaming community (and rake in the sort of cash) only World of Warcraft can match. If even one in ten football fans try it, it'll become absolutely enormous.
And who knows, we might even see Duke Nukem Forever...
PC Gamer UK has picked out its hottest games of 2008, the list totalling an impressive 110 titles. The carnage commences with the first ten below, and we'll be adding to the list over the coming days.
The Agency (ETA: Winter)
An online espionage-themed shooter, promising co-op play and persistent character development. If they make it as fun to be an enemy ParaGON as a goody UNITE agent, this could be the PC spy game we've all been waiting for.
Age of Conan (ETA: Spring)
Funcom's first MMO since Anarchy Online and rated M for barbarism, Conan wants to be the first adult MMO, with exciting-sounding guild-based siege warfare. Alas, 2007's beta was rapidly taken offline, and it's been delayed another six months.
Aion (ETA: Summer)
"Believe in Angels. Believe in Demons. Believe in Aion." Using technology from Crysis, this new MMO lets us play as either angels or demons as heaven and hell go to war. Best bit: you can fly thanks to a pair of fluffy, spine-mounted wings.
Alan Wake (ETA: Winter)
Alan Wake is the man who would be (Stephen) King: a horror writer living out nightmares in a sleepy white-picket-fence town. After the disappearance of his fiancé, Alan retires to Bright Falls hoping to get over his writer's block. No such luck: his nightmares follow him there. So far, so Silent Hill.
But Alan Wake, and the town of Bright Falls, are built on the very latest technology. We've seen the developers summon hurricanes to batter and bruise the tiny town, turn daylight on and day off Truman Show style, all while Wake is fleeing 'things' shrouded in shadow.
The only question is whether the developers can marshal their impressive technology around a creepy ghost-town ride without resorting to cliché. Given that Remedy's last game was the hilariously tongue-in-cheek shooter Max Payne, we kind of hope not.
Alone in the Dark (ETA: Spring)
Something wicked wanders New York's Central Park at night, and is not just the doggers. Alone in the Dark offers a new breed of horror thrill: its free-roaming horror adventure focuses on fighting demons with improvised weaponry. Why fight a monster with a shotgun when you can fill a bottle full of bullets and bodge a molotov cocktail?
Or, for secondary school thrills, combine the antiseptic spray from a health kit with a cigarette lighter and create your first flamethrower. And those flames spread realistically, thanks to a bleeding edge physics-led fire model. If the fire should spread, it will.
Even more interestingly, the developers are hoping to 'episode-ise' their game. No, don't expect to fork out extra for a barely disguised expansion pack: each self-contained level is meant to be finished within an hour or so, giving you natural places to pause. Think of it as a DVD box-set that you play.
American McGee's Grimm (ETA: Summer)
Released in 24 episodes over the next year, Grimm is a retelling of kids' stories by a developer renowned for his twisted tales. We'll meet Rapunzel, Snow White and co - just not as we might have imagined them before.
APB (ETA: Winter)
This could be the biggest thing since World of Warcraft. It's a carjacking-and-crime MMO, built by one of the creators of the original GTA, Dave Jones. You have every right to be sceptical, but this team knows sandbox gaming.
Assassin's Creed (ETA: Spring)
How do you get out of the politically awkward fantasy of playing a Hashashim murdering Christian crusaders in the holy land? Simple: pretend it's sci-fi, and hope no one twigs.
Assassin's Creed casts you as a devious assassin named Altair, travelling between the cities of Acre, Jerusalem and Damascus in the 11th century. Hop, skip and jump across the rooftops, use the vantage-point of windowsills and ledges to scout your target, before moving in for a silent, brutal kill. Escaping means sneaking into hay bales and darkened doorways.
And the sci-fi? There's a strain of techno-conspiracy running through the game, including hints that you might in fact be a direct descendant of the lead character, Altair, living out his escapades via genetic memory. Spooky.
The good news is that this is already a bona-fide hit on the 360, with some of the most impressive locations we've ever seen. Thankfully, we'll be getting a far prettier version with PC-appropriate controls soon.
Bionic Commando (ETA: Winter)
1988's NES platform classic Bionic Commando has reappeared from nowhere. The star: one bionic arm. You're able to extend it to swing from buildings, or grab enemies about the throat, and even throw massive objects across the broken Ascension City - the ideal middle-ground between a gravity gun and Spider-Man's webs. Early videos look hot, with excellent use of physics to create train-sized domino effects for improvised kills.
Borderlands (ETA: Summer)
Guns: lots and lots of guns. Millions of them, in fact. That's the banner feature of Borderlands that's going to embarrass all those other first-person shooters.
Borderlands is a mix of open desert buggy-driving and fast-paced shooting that's coming to the PC this summer.
You and three friends bomb around a ruined landscape in souped-up dune buggies, chased by angry mercenaries while protecting threatened colonies from cracked-rhino-hide aliens - the Kraytt. You do so with this: an epic selection of randomly generated weaponry.
Remember how Diablo dropped an almost constant stream of items into your world, for you to coo over, or sell? That's what Borderlands is attempting, in a fast-paced shooter.
After every gun-fight, you'll find yourself rummaging through dropped weaponry, scouting for that one special side-arm, the pistol you'll be proud to wear, the rifle you can sling on your back with a scope the length of your arm.
Brilliantly, you can see without even picking it up just how powerful and useful a gun might be. Got a long barrel? Then it's accurate. Got a underslung grenade launcher? It's right there. Old, rusted, liable to break? you'll see the wear and tear. What's the size of the clip? What ammo does it take? Do the go-faster stripes along the barrel match your vest?
It transforms your ownership of the experience. In the four-player co-op mode your roles change depending on your choice of gun, rather than any specific character class. Do you sport a sniper rifle? Then you stay at the back, spotting targets and taking out hidden threats. Or maybe you want to lug around a rapid-fire sub-machinegun?
Your team will want you up front, getting up close and personal. The choices even cement relationships: no one likes a ninja looter. But everyone loves a bigger gun. Start coveting arms now. Borderlands looks brilliant.
Well, that's your first ten of 110 - check back soon for more entries in PC Gamer's big '2008's hottest games' list.