Gamasutra's Top 10 Games Of The Year
All picks are the editors' alone - we're not trying to tell you what you should like, only our collective opinion. Any title released for console, PC, or handheld during the year was eligible, and we are initially listing only the games from #10 to #2 in this post.
[UPDATE: #1 pick added, as seen in our end-of-year retrospective.]
10. Puzzle Quest (Infinite Interactive - Wii, PS2, XBLA, PC, DS, PSP)
One of the quietest hits of the year, Puzzle Quest's industry importance was felt in a number of ways, from truly establishing the Western presence of its publisher, D3, to receiving one of the most successful word of mouth campaigns in 2007, and managing a staggering number of multiplatform releases for such a small developer, through smart external partnerships.
As a game, too, its acumen showed through both in its deceptively deep mechanics and, most blatantly, in its audience-widening marriage of casual and hardcore play. Rarely does a game come along that can ease casuals into the deeper potential of strategic play, while also managing to convince the hardcore to spend hours with something that, outside its fantasy garb, they've convinced themselves isn't "real" gaming.
Truly one of the landmark achievements of the year, and one that gives us great hope for Infinite's next puzzle outing.
9. Pac-Man CE (Namco Bandai - XBLA)
We've already selected Pac-Man CE as the Top Downloadable Game of 2007, and as we commented in that article:
"The original Pac-Man is simply one of the best games ever created. And, in this world of enhanced remakes, the Japanese developers at Namco Bandai worked with Pac-Man's father Toru Iwatani and created something incredibly special - a remake that improves on the original.
With all the flavor and excitement of the original, the multiple new modes - many of them with explicit time limits and related high scores - layered even smarter strategic gameplay upon the peerless original. And with smart art direction, the title looks amazing in HD. Tremendous."
8. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction (Insomniac - PS3)
Insomniac's second PlayStation 3 title is a spectacularly polished, playable platform adventure title - which is notable precisely because it iterates so well on an already-winning formula.
R&C Future has some of the most dynamic, high-quality art we've seen on the PS3 so far, and some clever variety built into the newest version of the franchise which has always prided itself on smooth, accessible gameplay.
The game is practically worth picking up alone for the wonderful weapon gadgets, which pack more creativity into just the weapons than many games have in their entire gameplay system. Bravo, Insomniac.
7. Persona 3 (Atlus - PS2)
Breaking ranks with a long dynasty of traditional Japanese fantasy RPGs, Persona 3 stands out in that its largest setting -- the one wherein you build your character, strengthen your ranks and move the story along -- is nothing more supernatural than an ordinary high school.
There, with a fascinating duality between a mysterious "dark hour" and the light of day, most of the key RPG elements take place through building relationships with your schoolmates and taking care of school responsibilities.
This normalcy is tidily contrasted with the more sinister, fantastic elements of the game, and set against stylish character designs and a peppy, electronica-infused J-Pop soundtrack.
6. Crackdown (Realtime Worlds - Xbox 360)
Crackdown's major successes as a game come in the way that it blends elements together to make a fresh, compelling whole. Even its main failure -- narrative -- is a sort of success-in-disguise (all of the dialogue is 100% irrelevant to succesfully playing the game; the ending is so bad it's good.) But what's great about Crackdown is that it takes the dirty anarchy of Grand Theft Auto and injects it with (unintentional?) lightheartedness thanks to its super-powered characters.
It's an injection of vitality into a genre that otherwise consists of one 800 pound gorilla and a pile of also-rans in a dump bin at GameStop. Exploring Pacific City (and hunting for power-ups) is actually more engrossing than actually battling crime -- bolstered by the endless uniqueness of the environments and how your character's leveling up allows greater access to rooftop vistas.
The seamless co-op play, which allows you to team up, kill, or just ignore each other and chat while wreaking havoc across town from one another, adds another layer of fine-tuned, technically-complex pleasure. It's sandbox in the true sense, in that it allows and encourages you to find your own fun -- as the YouTube videos can attest.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo - DS)
While the so called "wink waker" cel-shaded look might have been more controversial than video game art should ever be, the expansive blue skies, green islands and paper doll characters were right at home on the DS, where the latest installment in the Zelda franchise is possibly the cleverest and most engaging use yet of the touch screen.
Delightfully playful and intuitive, Phantom Hourglass has the feel of a real adventure. Charting a course on the high seas, sketching your own maps or drawing your boomerang's path with the stylus is a brilliant new take on classic Zelda mechanics -- just like the boss fights, which feel positively cinematic as they span both screens.
4. Rock Band (Harmonix/MTV - Xbox 360, PS3, PS2)
Some have and will continue to find fault in Rock Band for being 'just' Guitar Hero with drums and a microphone, or 'just' a follow-on to territory that Konami tread many years before, but Harmonix's achievements have always been less about innovating rhythm game techniques, but refining them.
Chained star-power note streaks, interface enhancements that both relocate its elements to more logical peripheral placement and redefine them more elegantly (an apparently new in-house standard it shares with its iPod sister, Phase), and note charts that capture the feeling of the music as much as timing are just part of what puts it ahead of the rest.
What very much separates it from the pack now is its performance presentation -- characters with genuine sex appeal that look and play like stars and smart camera work that make the game as much a joy to watch as to take part in -- and the human element that makes group play, when executed well, as much a thrill as an actual night on stage.
But, more than anything, Rock Band's greatest promise is its potential, as it works to position itself not just as a game, but as a new interactive format of music to join vinyl, CD and MP3, with hints of future simultaneous album releases and tools for aspiring garage bands to bring themselves into our living rooms.
The forthcoming Titan v. Titan battle between MTV's cross-media muscle and Activision's newly available Universal Music Group library via new partner Vivendi will be a thrill to watch in the years ahead.
3. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo - Wii)
The thing that makes Super Mario Galaxy special was that Nintendo managed to pull it off at all, in a sense. In a series that carries such high expectations that Super Mario Sunshine is talked about by otherwise rational gamers as if the developers personally ran over their puppy, coming out with a game that's (pretty much) universally adored is an achievement in itself.
But how did Nintendo EAD Tokyo manage that? The obvious answer lies in stripping away the complexities that lead to the dislike of Sunshine. More careful examination reveals that it's the consistent look and feel of the game, the perfect playability, the consistently doable and enjoyable challenges, that make it special. It is not possible to say enough good things about the control. It is crucial to point out that, even offered increased disc capacity, Nintendo dropped voiced cutscenes.
But maybe what makes Galaxy great is the abandon with which Nintendo has embraced abstraction. Mario has mostly taken place in the Mushroom Kingdom -- but even that vague concept is jettisoned for a string of constructs that only vaguely approximate real environments, at their absolute most concrete.
This game is wholeheartedly a game, and doesn't shy away from it -- more, it embraces it. In the first level of Future, Ratchet may traverse an amazing futuristic city. Mario traverses challenges -- nothing more, nothing less.
2. BioShock (2K Boston - Xbox 360, PC)
Not just the darling of the mainstream media who were thrilled to finally pack Ayn Rand references into a video game article, Ken Levine's ambitious vision for the haunting, richly-realized underwater city of Rapture raised the bar for game worlds. BioShock showed us a city that lived and by its principles, and each detailed, decaying remnant tells a piece of the tragedy.
Not only does Rapture illustrate the consequences of pride and overidealism, but its remaining citizens do, too, the consequences stamped into the mad eyes of each eerily-masked face. Most of all, BioShock allows the player to decide how like them -- or not -- the mysterious protagonist becomes.
1. Portal (Valve - Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
This year's biggest surprise could have easily sidestepped the limelight as "bonus content" on Valve's The Orange Box compilation, but the revolutionary Portal became a cult favorite almost immediately -- and for good reason. The brain-bending, portal-shooting, first-person puzzle gameplay was a feat in both creative innovation and technical grace, and it would be worth a mention on these merits alone.
But what rocketed Portal to the top were all of its peripheral details. Some of the cleverest writing ever seen in a game helped thread sharp -- and often touching -- humor through an environment that could be alternately adorable, hilarious and sinister in turns. Admirably, none of it's forced on you -- Portal treats the player with dignity and without over-instruction, proving that, in a year that saw plenty of overwrought epics, sometimes the most effective storyline doesn't need to try so hard.
Most impressive of all, Portal achieved victory handily in an area where all titles attempt, but few attain -- creating emotional engagement with the player. Game companies aim to coin fan favorite characters and creatures year after year, and yet the inanimate Aperture Science Weighted Companion Cube -- after appearing in a single scene -- achieved iconic status seemingly overnight, as did Jonathon Coulton's unforgettable "Still Alive" ending scene, sung by the equally memorable GLaDOS. The cake may or may not be a lie, but Portal is truly the year's best.
[Do you agree or disagree with these picks? Feel free to sign on and comment below. We've now compiled all of our lists with additional reader comments in the full Gamasutra Best Of 2007 retrospective. Already-posted lists include Top 5 Downloadable Games, Top 5 Most Affecting Characters, and Top 5 Overlooked Games, Top 5 Trends, Top 5 Developers, Top 5 Freeware Games, and Top 5 Poignant Game Moments.]