Here we are at number one. So without further ado, this is my pick for the best game of 2008...
1. Far Cry 2 (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
From start to finish, Far Cry 2 continued to surpass and subvert my expectations like no other game I played this year. It began with a taxi ride homage to Call of Duty 4, ironically enough the type of linear, scripted FPS Ubisoft Montreal clearly didn't want to make. And it ends in a manner that is a remarkably brave design decision and yet the only logical conclusion the developer could have pursued.
In between, Far Cry 2 excels at providing the opportunity for spontaneous, free-wheeling gameplay moments that no one else will have experienced in quite the same way. To me there's just something enormously satisfying about knowing that the choices I made carried weight and consequence in how events played out.
Just the other night, I accepted a buddy mission from Hakim; he'd been mugged, didn't want to tell me why, it was enough to know that he wanted the guy dead. So I took a boat from the Marina Bar down to the safehouse along the coast from the brewery and just northeast of the camp where my target was located. Inside the safehouse I met up with Frank, who said he'd get my back if I needed it, and decided to sleep until nightfall.
With my camo suit on, I was able to slip through the jungle in the dark and sneak up on a ridge overlooking the camp. Through my monocular I could see a figure between foliage that looked like it was my target. I pulled up my dart rifle, peered down the scope and... I felt dizzy, my vision blurring uncontrollably. Damn malaria!
After popping a pill, I looked down at the bottle to find it empty. I'd need to find somewhere to get more drugs soon, but it would have to wait for now. Once again, focused on my target through the dart rifle scope. It was dark, I could barely see him through the leaves, but it had to be him. I'd take him out with a headshot then easily slink away into the night without drawing any attention. Hakim would be pleased.
I fired. He dropped, instantly. Success.
Wait. Why am I not seeing the "Mission Complete" pop-up? Shit. I killed the wrong guy. Shit. I pull up my dart rifle again and scour the scene. Where is he? Where did he go?
Next I hear voices, and shouts. Looking up, I can see two guys moving towards me, checking the area. I switch to my grenade launcher and - so much for stealth - fire. Click. Shit! I forgot to restock on ammo at the Marina. I hurl a molotov down the hill to impede their search, then turn tail and get outta there. Hakim's guy can wait just a bit longer.
Moments later, I've made it back to my boat, having narrowly avoided a patrolling jeep on the road near the safehouse. I start her up and head east back towards the Marina to resupply. Except I never make it there. Two enemy boats appear ahead, one of which scores a direct hit on me with its mounted grenade launcher. I leap from my burning boat before it explodes and swim for it. As I reach the shore, I slump to my knees and black out...
My eyes open to see Frank grabbing me, dragging me through the jungle and handing me a pistol. I jab my second last syrette into my arm and duck behind a tree. We're trapped in a small clearing midway between the safehouse, the brewery and the camp. There are guys everywhere, swarming in all around us. Frank's crouched next to me, firing at anything that moves. I lob my last few grenades in one direction, then turn to take out the guys on the other side with my pistol.
It's chaos. Utter chaos. Bullets are flying everywhere. Voices are yelling everywhere. People are dying everywhere. The patrolling jeep from earlier comes screaming through the trees and in the panic, Frank and I are separated. I somehow manage to find a grenade on the ground and lob it at the jeep. The resulting fire exacerbates the chaos as it spreads across the clearing.
Diving behind a fallen tree, I use my teeth to pull a bullet from my forearm and jab myself with my last syrette. Peering out, there's probably 4 or 5 guys left now, judging by the number of voices. I can't see them though, so I wait for them to open fire. I can't see Frank either. This is not going at all to plan.
I spot one guy crouching behind a tree and manage to take him out with a pistol headshot. Picking up an AK-47, I take out two more guys before another exchange of gunfire and a scream tells me Frank's still out there somewhere. Then I spot his flare. Frank's down.
I reach his writhing figure quickly, but I've got no syrettes left. Shit. This is all my fault. If only I'd been more careful. Why didn't I remember to collect extra ammo? Why did I not show more patience when lining up my shot at the camp? Why did I think I could outrun those two boats?
Maybe I could make it to the safehouse and come back with more syrettes, I begin to ponder before I realise Frank is desperately urging me to give him my pistol. Shit. Shit. Shit. "It's the only way," Frank cries. I pull out my pistol, point it at his head and look away.
Maybe you have similar stories to tell, but no one else had this experience of Far Cry 2. It was the result of my own decision-making and the dynamic, reactive nature of the game's AI combining to produce a totally unscripted scenario as relentless, thrilling and visceral as anything found in more orchestrated FPS. The fact that it could have happened in countless other ways is what gives it its power as an interactive experience.
Of course, Far Cry 2 isn't perfect - no game is. I'd loved to have seen the two factions actually fighting in the wilderness, for example. But for me, if Call of Duty 4 marked the pinnacle of the conventional FPS, Far Cry 2 showed us a bold, new future for an open world FPS. It's my game of the year.