The Best Gaming Moments of 2008 - Joe

I may have to cheat a little bit here because I actually have two moments which really stand out to me as my favourite moments in gaming from 2008, both from entirely different games and platforms.

The first one is easily Mass Effect, which I didn’t play until it came out on PC earlier this year. I don’t want to give any spoilers away on that game, but let’s just say that the entire mission on Virmire near the end had me on the edge of my seat. There are several sections where you have to make some permanent choices about your crew and yourself.

In that instance what thrilled me was the feeling of permanence that BioWare had imposed on me by making me decide not just who might live or die, but also what they would die for. Those of you who’ve played the game to completion will know what I’m talking about and how dramatic and powerful the game is, especially at that point.

If we’re going to stick to just one game though then I’m going to have to go with another, slightly lesser known choice of game. Braid-achu; I choose you!

The Best Gaming Moments of 2008 The Best Gaming Moments - Joe levels up

Braid is one of the most ironic moments of the year for me because although I spent most of the year playing fantastic 3D games in established franchises which I have loved for a long time, it turns out that the game I loved the most is a 2D console platformer.

Created by indie game developer Jonathon Blow, Braid is a ingenious little adventure which tells the story of a young man called Tim who must traverse a series of complex puzzles in order to find his princess. The twist though is that the princess may or may not really exist and the narrator of the story might be a lot more unreliable than you’re accustomed to expecting.

The gameplay is complex and the puzzles, all of which focus around Tim’s ability to control time, are fierce and brain-breaking. Despite how perplexing Braid can be though (and there really are some awful brow-furrowers in there) it always manages to handle itself with a indomitable, yet subtle sense of humour that thrives in the oil-on-canvas environments which are as much What Dreams May Come as they are Mario Bros.

Unusually though the single moment of Braid which stands out for me isn’t a big boss battle or the moment I beat the game, it’s the very first puzzle I came across – and I’m being vague because I can’t actually remember what it is. All I can remember though is how solving that puzzle made me feel.

The Best Gaming Moments of 2008 The Best Gaming Moments - Joe levels up

I’d not heard anything about Braid before release, so when I came to actually play the game it caught me happily off-guard and unprepared, like all good things should. I was naked of preconception and totally at the mercy of this painterly masterpiece.

Solving that first puzzle (and really it doesn’t matter what the puzzle was) reawakened something in me that I hadn’t felt in a long, long time. A sense of amazement, like I’d just woken out of a decade long sleep and seen daylight for the first time; my bleary eyes shocked but unable to tear away. The time-control, the way the narrative was delivered to players as optional side-rooms full of verse and delirium – even the way that the game begins with no main menu or tutorial, all of this combined made my brain nearly bubble over.

As a games journalist its easy to get worn down and jaded from a constant exposure to fun, but playing Braid made me suddenly feel like I was seven years old again and playing The Secret of Monkey Island on my Amiga. Just like when I was a kid and used to get my brother to play alongside me so he could help, I started calling everyone else in the office over to play Braid with me. It became a team effort, with Jamie dashing maniacally down the stairs (read: sliding down the banister) for each puzzle and up them for each email.

Braid isn’t perfect and I honestly doubt I’ll ever replay it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the type of game you only need to experience once. It’s fresh, new and so beautiful it feels more like a dream than a game. Most importantly though Braid provides a feeling of re-discovery and wonder in an industry that’s too often full of repetition and brown.

The feeling I had was so powerful it still occasionally makes my eyeballs swim when I think about it – and I don’t know how to ask for more than that from a game, or anything else.
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