I’m sorry, but my second favourite game of the year is in another castle…2. Braid (Xbox 360)
Of all the games in this list, Braid is the one I’ve found the hardest to write about. Its place in such company is assured – indeed, when I began the process of compiling my favourites, there were only ever two games in contention for the title of “Best of 2008”. Yet describing why that’s the case is something I’ve struggled with, perhaps because Braid itself defies easy explanations.
Braid is so much more than just a retro 2D platformer with a time rewind gimmick. It’s very clever and, as with most things labelled genius, a little pretentious. It’s full of knowing winks and sly references to some of gaming’s defining moments. It doesn’t patronise the player with explicit tutorials, but instead encourages us to learn. It speaks to us through veiled metaphors and cryptic allusions. It rewards us for solving its puzzles by giving us a piece of yet another puzzle, which when completed merely gives us something else to puzzle over. It’s a sublime exercise in intertwining gameplay mechanics with narrative themes into a coherent whole.
It also contains a surprise ending (or is it beginning?) that, for me, ranks as the best “twist” ever, not just because I didn’t see it coming, but for the manner with which it simply floored me on an emotional level. I was just absolutely gutted.
Braid is a staggering achievement and perhaps the most important game of the year.