Monday, December 31, 2007

Best games of '07

On the final day of 2007, let's look back at the best games of the year.

1. "Bioshock": It's got a dazzling story, set underwater and involving a social experiment that has gone terribly wrong.

It's a first-person shooter, but it calls on the player to make moral choices. It's a lot different than most of today's bang-bang games, which typically have little consequence -- beyond how many pieces you can blow the bad guy into.

2. "Halo 3": The most hyped game of the year marked the end of a trilogy of great games.

Its opening-week grosses rivaled that of blockbuster films and made a fictional video game character (Master Chief) into a household name for the first time since Lara Croft of the "Tomb Raider" series. Some critics didn't think the third edition did enough to satisfy. I thought it was brilliant.

3. "Rock Band": This next evolution of "Guitar Hero" includes lead and bass guitars, drums, a microphone and a varied catalog of songs to perform. Get some buddies, add another guitar and a few singers, and check out the best multiplayer game of the year.

I'd like to see future "Rock Band" titles include other genres of music, like country and R&B, even rap.

4. "The Orange Box": You get five PC games in one, each painting a pretty bleak and descriptive picture of Earth after it has been devastated by aliens. It was too much quality gaming in one box to leave off this list. And call it the PC title of the year.

5. "Super Mario Galaxy": Yes, it's simple to play. Yes, the storyline is a retread (Mario saves the world). But bouncing around the galaxy with everybody's favorite plumber is still fun. And Nintendo managed to make him feel fresh again by changing his environment.

6. "Madden 08": A huge improvement over recent years.

Better news is that EA Sports promises to concentrate on atmosphere next year, to make the experience feel more realistic. Hopefully, that includes bringing back John Madden and Al Michaels to handle play-by-play and some pre- and post-game shows.

7. "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare": A great shooter in a year of good ones. You play as a U.S. Marine and a British S.A.S, fighting in real locations around the world. Everything looks authentic.

8. "Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass": The best handheld game of the year showed up on the Nintendo DS. How in the world did Nintendo put this much "game" in a handheld? Lead character Link battles pirates at sea and land, searching for hidden treasure.

9. "Mass Effect": You're the only human agent in a galaxy-wide police force that doesn't trust humans. You're also fighting a threat that could destroy life as you know it. Full of "Star Trek"-like moral choices and exploration. Beautifully drawn, too.

10. "College Hoops 2K8": This is college basketball done about as well as I've seen. This was the best-looking sports game of the year, with realistic sound effects and lifelike players and coaches.

System of the year

Microsoft Xbox 360: Although it was threatened by Nintendo Wii and a faster-charging PS3 -- which is finally getting the software it needs -- Bill Gates' favorite box persevered.A lot of this had to do with the release of several great exclusive games (like "Halo 3"). And it helps having the best online experience for a console, by far.

Duds of the year

"Beowulf"; "Tenchu Z"; "Transformers: The Game"; "Star Trek: Conquest"; "Vampire Rain."

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