5. Crackdown | Microsoft Game Studios
The year saw an awful lot of weighty, important games that emphasized player choice and moral ambiguity. And then there was Crackdown (Xbox 360), a gleeful action game that took no prisoners. You played as a genetically enhanced cop fighting the good fight in a city where criminals rule the streets and due process is for wimps. Powering up your character to absurd levels was part of the enjoyment — by the end, you’re hurdling city blocks — and no other 3-D game has ever captured so accurately the spirit of classic sidescrolling run-and-gun games. Crackdown was jacked up and dumb, the moral and intellectual equivalent of pro wrestling, but it was also the most purely fun game of the year.
6. God of War 2 | Sony Computer Entertainment
Has any video-game hero ever been quite as angry as Kratos, the Spartan lead of God of War? When the first game ended, he had slain Ares and assumed the god of war’s throne. But you know how some people are: no matter how much they have, they’re never happy. For Kratos, that meant another trek through Greek history, dispatching mythical figures like Icarus and Theseus with a fury that seemed to rend the earth itself. Games don’t often come as polished or as tightly constructed as God of War 2. It provided a fitting farewell for the PlayStation 2.
7. Ratchet And Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction | Sony Computer Entertainment
Bad enough that Ratchet and Clank keep having to save the universe, but this year they had to save the PlayStation 3, too. After a year of bad press and no games, the beleaguered console needed salvation. It came in the form of a fuzzy Lombax named Ratchet and his robotic pal, Clank. Tools of Destruction wasn’t a radical departure from previous Ratchet and Clank games, unless you count the lush graphics that set a new standard for smoothness and clarity. But the formula — tight platforming gameplay combined with ludicrous weaponry and non-stop wisecracks — was exactly the refreshing and unpretentious blast of fun the PS3 needed.
8. Half-Life 2 Episode Two | Valve
We’ve reached the point where the success Valve has had with the Half-Life series is starting to work against it. Each new adventure is expected to be great. When Valve delivers, as the company did yet again with Episode Two (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC), it seems unremarkable. Of course Episode Two ruled! That’s just what Valve does in its Wonka-like dream factory. Half-Life 2 Episode 2 offered indelible imagery, like the Combine army marching across a distant highway that stretched from horizon to horizon. The climax — an extended driving and shooting sequence with Gordon Freeman fending off waves of attacking Striders — may have been the series’s best moment yet.
9. Super Mario Galaxy | Nintendo
What do Super Mario and Curt Schilling have in common, besides a softly rounded midsection? They’ve both lost a little off their fastball, but they can still dazzle you with the off-speed stuff. In terms of pacing and flow, Super Mario Galaxy (Wii) doesn’t quite measure up to the best the series has had to offer, but its innovative use of 3-D gamespace ought to inspire legions of copycats. And after disappointing Wii debuts for Link and Samus Aran, it was nice to see at least one of Nintendo’s starting rotation hit the strike zone.