1. Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)
Perhaps the greatest argument to date that games are about more than wish fulfillment -- for who'd wish to be a vault exile in an expansive, exhausting wasteland? And yet Bethesda's vision of the American dream languishing in nuclear post-apocalypse is as compelling as it is haunting.
The bar was high for Bethesda after the much-vaunted Oblivion, lauded for its freedom of choice -- and Fallout 3 topped it, offering an unprecedentedly exhausting array of options and a rarely-seen level of subtlety.
There's just so much to do and see that Fallout 3 becomes that rare game that asks the player to wonder what life would feel like in such ruthless circumstances, offering an impressive level of immersion and placing the burden of careful thought -- and, sometimes, emotion -- behind every tactical selection and progression decision.
Bethesda's Fallout 3
Despite its flaws, the larger swath of experiences to be had throughout dwarfs the main storyline, and the vast wasteland begs to be lived in.
The individual staff of Gamasutra and its sister publication, Game Developer magazine, each chose our personal favorite titles that didn't make our team top 10.
Leigh Alexander (News Director, Gamasutra)
Metal Gear Solid 4 (Konami, PS3) Tying up all those loose ends was a feat in and of itself, while so many moments of gameplay brilliance went overlooked because of the format.
PixelJunk Eden (Q Games, PS3) Compelling, frustrating, utterly satisfying audiovisual genius.
Chrono Trigger DS (Square Enix, DS) The RPG genre's most venerated installment gets perhaps the best remake ever seen on DS.
Eric Caoili (Associate News Editor, Gamasutra)
Space Invaders Extreme (Taito/Gulti, DS/PSP) An arcade classic with new mechanics, new audio and visuals, and new life breathed into it.
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer (Chunsoft, DS) Only for gamers who love a challenge, Shiren the Wanderer is the finest Eastern-developed roguelike, finally brought to the West after 13 years of dungeon crawling in Japan.
I Wish I Were The Moon (Daniel Benmergui, Flash) "I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her..." from Italo Calvino's "The Distance of the Moon," the short story that inspired I Wish I Were The Moon.
Simon Carless (Publisher, Gamasutra)
Fable II (Lionhead, Xbox 360) A wonderfully realized living game world, with plenty of quirks, but even more heart.
N+ (Metanet/Slick, Xbox 360) Delightfully pixel-perfect retro action, with super-addictive online scoreboards.
Pure (Black Rock, Xbox 360/PS3/PC) Marauding into the ATV-drivin' genre and showing its predecessors the super-addictive gameplay they missed.
Jeffrey Fleming (Production Editor, Game Developer magazine)
Korg DS-10 Synthesizer (AQ Interactive, DS) Cheaper and more powerful than the original all-analog Korg MS-10 (circa 1978) and thankfully free from any "gameplay".
Lost Odyssey (Mistwalker, Xbox 360) Delivers the same shivering intermingling of wonderment and melancholy that we remember from the old days without pandering to childish nostalgia.
Siren: Blood Curse (SCE Japan, PS3) The reduced difficulty level and Americanized presentation of Blood Curse makes it easier for the uninitiated to discover what the rest of us already know: Siren is the raw horror of seeing our own tangled neural pathways externalized.
Christian Nutt (Features Editor, Gamasutra):
Yakuza 2 (Sega, PS2) The underrated and overlooked gem of Sega's current development efforts returns with another compellingly adult and sophisticated tale -- with visceral punchy-kicky and unmatched verisimilitude, particularly for a PS2 title.
Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (Square Enix, PSP) You say fan service, we say "brand extension done right" -- a compelling prelude to the original game, and, perhaps more importantly, gameplay design that's perfectly tailored to the PSP platform.
Gears of War 2 (Epic, Xbox 360) More of the same? More or less. Expanded in scope, and with expert polish and great gusto, boldly reminding us the value of dialing in your focus and embellishing only what you know you can get right.
Chris Remo (Editor At Large, Gamasutra)
Far Cry 2 (Ubisoft Montreal, Xbox 360/PS3/PC) Its gameplay can be unfriendly at times, but Far Cry 2's design is appealingly risky, and the experience pays off player investment in spades.
Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar North, Xbox 360/PS3/PC) It's not revolutionary after its last-gen predecessors, but Rockstar North's latest provided plenty of sandbox fun, a compelling plot, and heroic attention to detail.
Sins of a Solar Empire (Ironclad Games, PC) With its debut effort, Ironclad successfully balanced RTS and 4X gameplay to make a game that is both of massive scale and eminently playable -- no mean feat.
Brandon Sheffield (Editor-in-Chief, Game Developer magazine)
Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (Nintendo, DS) Slickly presented, this iteration finally took its audience into account, aged up a few years and maintained the same precise gameplay -- with a hint of luck -- that the series is known for.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Backbone, Xbox 360/PS3) Unattractive looks aside, the heart of SSFIIT is beating stronger than ever.
Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe (Midway, Xbox 360/PS3) I never considered Mortal Kombat a "real" fighting series, but the system differentiates from existing 2D-oriented fighter -- and this game in particular emphasizes arcade-style fun over everything else.
Jeff Beaudoin: "From the list, it is obvious that Gamasutra prizes innovation over series extension. I am glad they aren't afraid to go in this direction, rather than making another cookie cutter list that consists of some arrangement of GTA4, GOW2, MGS4, Fable 2, and Fallout 3. Having the staff picks was a good way to showcase these games while avoiding having to give them one of the top 10 spots."
Seth Burnette: "I would say that Fallout 3 was my favorite this year by far and probably will continue to be on into '09. World of Goo was a fantastic surprise. Braid was another good one and while it could be a bit pretentious, it was a great way for Jonathan Blow to finally put his money where his mouth is, so to speak. I hope to see more successful 'uppity' indie game developers like him work at chipping away the status quo."
David Tarris: "Bethesda had the greatest burden of proof of any developer I've seen. They had to prove themselves to not only the fans of Oblivion who wondered if they could top their masterpiece, but the fans of Fallout as well. The bar was high, but they exceeded it."
Tom Newman: "Thanks for giving proper credit to Persona 4. This may be the best PS2 rpg, most certainly in the top 5. While many Japanese developers have been lacking in the innovation category, this game picks up the slack. Having the player form rather mundane relationships with other npc's in order to level up battlefield stats and gain new abilities turned out to provide an emotional attachment to the charachters in the game I have not felt since first playing FFVII on PS1. All the Shin Megami games are outstanding, but this is a gem among gems."