Did 2008 feel like a mental blender set on puree for you? Did you stay in your foxhole of video-game-playing a bit longer this year as social, political and economic upheaval proved almost inescapable?
OK, maybe that is too dramatic (only for some, I would guess), but it was a weird year.
Political theater was the most intense I have ever witnessed, lots of people were losing their jobs, the city is broke, we have a schizophrenic football team, and, oh yeah, the Phillies win the World Series.
The video-game industry was just as nuts. Nintendo continued to stomp through the sales charts as the Wii and the handheld DS sold a monster 2.04 million and 1.57 million units in November, according to entertainment tracking firm the NPD Group. December numbers, due out in about a week, should be just as impressive.
The battle between Microsoft and Sony, however, never really materialized as the Xbox 360 dropped its arcade system (the no-frills version of its console) to $199 and sold more than twice as many systems as Sony (836,000 to 378,000).
While the PS3 had Metal Gear Solid 4, Resistance, and Little Big Planet in its roster, the 360 had Gears of War 2 and Left for Dead (the PS3 version never made it to shelves in 2008). Many of the other big games could be had on either system. The 360 had the lion's share of those sales.
And name one truly new game that took the world by storm for critics and consumers alike.
It just didn't feel like a heavyweight cage match. Sony was stuck in the cruiserweight class still looking for an extra 25 pounds in order to move up, Microsoft was playing the No. 1 "contenda," and Nintendo was holding all the belts with a superior punch count but no real power.
Then we get to the developers. As I have said, lots of game companies either closed, laid off workers, or severely cut back on production in 2008, and plan for a more streamlined release schedule this year.
Yet, with all of that bad news we still bought more product, with software sales rising 11 percent over 2007, hardware up 10 percent, and controllers and other accessories coming in 7 percent higher.
My theory is that the big games sold more, but there can be only so many of those. All other games didn't do so well over the long run.
Maybe as a gamer I should look at this a bit differently, given that there were plenty of games to play. But as someone who looks at the entire industry more than most folks, I saw a juggernaut rambling down the road that couldn't tell where it is going.
I can clearly see more great games for 2009, but I don't see the next One.
Maybe we will see it at E3, but I fear the economy will have more to say about that than any developer.
Hey, everybody has one. Here are my game favorites of 2008:
1. Fallout 3 (Xbox 360, PS3). This game has more detail than any other RPG for the year. While its quirks can be annoying, making your way through the post-apocalyptic world and unraveling a well-written story take the top spot for me.
2. Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360 version). I'm going to catch flak for putting this one so high. Yes, there was a lot of hype, and the innovation wasn't as much as hoped. But if you can be just a bit creative in the online portion of the game, you will probably still be playing it.
3. Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3). This was much better than I thought it would be. While Sony still hasn't quite figured out how to do an in-depth online game, the single-player game kept what was best from the previous offerings and added some new wrinkles for Solid Snake's last hurrah.
4. Gears of War 2 (Xbox 360). This was not as new as many had hoped, but the tweaks to the old formula of stop-and-pop play made this game feel more natural. With a much meatier story line, along with the huge amount of human and alien meat splattered all around, this was the carnage delight of the year.
5. Left For Dead (Xbox 360). Just when you think the zombie genre had been squeezed to its fullest, someone rejuvenates it. It's a zombie apocalypse again, but this time gamers can play as one of four survivors or the infected whose vomit projectiles are oh so satisfying. Chilling combat and an extremely rattling story line put this one high on the list.
6. Resistance 2. PS3
7. Grid. Xbox 360
8. Burnout Paradise Xbox 360
9. No More Heroes Wii
10. Mario Kart Wii