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Best of 2008 Awards: Best Racing Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Racing Game

  • Burnout Paradise
  • Mario Kart Wii

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As much as I love Mario Kart and as great as I thought last year’s particular rendition of the game was, let’s face it, it’s not really in the running here.  Mario Kart is fun but this iteration was probably even less innovative than the GameCube installment.  There’s nothing wrong with that mind you, and I had plenty of fun with it, but come on, it’s up against Burnout Paradise.

Mario Kart Wii’s biggest new feature was probably its motion controlled steering, which nobody who actually cared about winning every once in a while actually used.  On the other hand, Burnout Paradise took an already awesome racing series, took a rather spectacular leap into an open-world setting, and made it significantly more awesome in the process.  Seeing your Miis cheering from the sidelines of the race courses, while awesome and much-appreciated, just can’t compare.

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Rarely does an open world game truly feel like it needs to be open world to me.  Most of the time all it means it that you have to walk farther to get to where you need to go instead of being able to select it from a far more convenient menu.  Sure Burnout Paradise should have given up some of its realism for a restart option, but it used its open world setting to its fullest.  Just driving around randomly at top speed for no reason was immensely entertaining.  Every street had its own records to set.  Every stretch of road contained its own challenges.  Showtime mode is addictive in its simplicity and can be played at any time the player desires.  The game is filled to the brim with fun stuff to do and is one of the most refreshingly fun racing games to appear in quite some time.

On top of all that, the developers have produced what has to be one of the more impressive efforts of post-release support for a game seen outside of the Rock Band platform.  The sheer amount of cool free stuff they have released for the game combined with the paid content that is quickly forthcoming has kept this game relevant and continually fun and fresh for far longer than it would have otherwise.  The motorcycle content alone could have been its own $10 download and few probably would have complained.

Plus, we’re getting our restart option now too.  And for free.  It’s nice when a developer listens to its fans.

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Review – Mirror’s Edge: Frustration Has Never Been This Much Fun

Mirror’s Edge had me from the moment I first saw a glimpse of it. It was a game made just for me. Platforming, racing, a unique art style, and innovation all wrapped up into one tidy package that I knew on first sight I just had to own.

It’s really a shame that the developers weren’t as confident in their concept as I was. In their defense, I suppose it is hard for the creator of a gun-obsessed series like Battlefield to quit weapons cold turkey with a drastic change in tone like Mirror’s Edge. Old habits die hard, right?

Well, yeah, apparently.

The combat in Mirror’s Edge is so clearly the weakest link here that it’s really hard to understand how they could justify it being included at all. With a little tweaking it would not have been hard to make running the only option when faced with foes. Running is certainly the most fun option.

There are numerous sections in the game where Faith is being chased by a group of enemies who are constantly on her tail. One wrong move and she’s toast. She must rely on her reflexes, her skills, and her runner’s instinct to get out alive and outrun her pursuers.

mirrors-edge-sniper_kick_webMoments like those are where the game really shines. The tension hums in the air. Your heart beats faster, fingers gripping the controller in white-knuckled suspense. Inevitably, a few minutes later, this epic chase scene will be followed by running right into the waiting laser sights of far too many armored goons with impeccable aim and nothing even resembling mercy.

Of course. It makes perfect sense that my unarmored, fragile, female protagonist who’s profession relies on her to run everywhere should stop cold and take the enemies down in combat.

Yeah, perfectly logical, that.

Combat is not the only stumble in Mirror’s Edge. There are a number of other nitpicks that could be brought up to drag it kicking and screaming even further away from that ever-elusive goal line of perfection. But among all the things that went slightly awry with this game, the forced combat sections stand out by far as the clearest failure. A clear signal, at least to me, that the developers didn’t quite realize just how awesome their game already was sans fisticuffs.

mirrors-edge-scr1 Perhaps those clever, devil-horned marketing types who couldn’t fathom selling a first-person game without a gun made the decision. Perhaps the developers realized perfectly well what was going on but just didn’t have time to fix it before the ship date. Perhaps the creators were simply afraid of a lack of variety and couldn’t come up with any other way to change things up.

In any case, the damage has been done.

mirrors-edge-slide_webI can deal with most of Mirror’s Edge’s other stumbles. Overly frequent deaths at missed jumps and failed attempts are a small price to pay for not having another completely needless time-manipulation mechanic slapped on the game like so many other spineless platformers these days. A short length is disappointing but hardly signals a death knell in this age of shiny-but-short that we seem to have careened into headfirst thanks to our high-maintenance, testosterone-fueled game consoles of choice. Hell, the time trial mode included in this game might well be the most fun part of the package and it’s highly replayable and, dare I say it, more than a little addictive.

What it all comes down to is that Mirror’s Edge is quite clearly a valiant stab in the dark at a genre many, including myself, wouldn’t have thought possible before its release. If you had asked me half a year ago whether a first-person platformer would be fun I would have had violent flashbacks to horrible Half Life 2 jumping puzzles and then ran screaming away in the other direction screaming, “Oh, God, no!”

me2But here we are and Mirror’s Edge isn’t half bad. Color me surprised. I hope to look back on Mirror’s Edge in the future and say that the best thing about it was that it taught the developers how to make a good game in this style and the sequel ended up being the better game by leaps and bounds. That may well be exactly my thoughts a year or two from now. I look forward to the day.

In the meantime, Mirror’s Edge as it stands isn’t a total loss. You just have to go in with a mindset of forgiveness. Know ahead of time that it’s not perfect, that it requires patience, and that you’ll probably want to change the difficulty to easy to keep yourself sane.

But if you do all of those things, Mirror’s Edge has moments unlike any other game out there. It has thrills like a roller coaster and the most amazingly visceral player-protagonist connection yet seen in gaming, not to mention a gorgeous art style and a story world that at least has promise.

Not bad for taking a blind run at a genre that didn’t exist.


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