Here we are then, the final instalment in our Top 50 Games of 2008. It's worth reiterating once again that the list is not intended as a definitive rundown of the 50 best games of the year, but instead reflects votes cast by our staff and contributors based on the games they have played and enjoyed. Here's what you missed:
10. World of Goo
Jim Rossignol: World of Goo made me gasp. There were proper reactions of delight and surprise stirring my cold, dead fun glands. Christ, I don't just want to be seen as one of those need-to-be-hip blogo-critics who big-up indie game for the sake of sticking it to the man, but I can't help arguing this up as game of the year and a kind of statement about the state of game development. As brilliant as World of Goo is when looked at in isolation, the context of its existence is all the more thrilling: it is just two guys, with a bit of help from a third guy, and it's nevertheless better than two thirds of the commercial releases in 2008. This should make the big boys feel ashamed: the fact that they aren't ably beating the no-money bedroom code-monkeys is laughable. World of Goo is a startling piece of game design that sits on the same kind of axis as Portal: puzzle games were our past, and they are our future
Kieron Gillen: Anyone-with-a-heart's game of the year, which proves exactly how many cold-breasted undead writers Eurogamer hires. Put simply, the best character-lead puzzle game since Lemmings. Maybe ever. What I find endlessly charming about it is how physical the game is. The puzzles are less trying to find an actual narrow solution, and more manipulating this mass of stuff. This gives the game a genuine organic flavour. Add to that world-class art design and music, real personality, ridiculous quality control and indie-chic, and this is as good a game that's come out this decade. Looking up the list, there's games which I can totally understand people voting higher - but when we write those all-time lists of best-games-ever, they're going to fade as their charms are surpassed by their sequels. World of Goo is going to be part of the canon. I also suspect it'd have come several places higher if the Wii release had come earlier in the year.
Alec Meer: I often wish this hadn't been preceded by Tower of Goo, because so many people presume that game's one trick is all this has. World of Goo is the maximalist puzzle game, thinking up a dazzling number of glorious twists upon the core concept of object-stacking, and better yet setting it within perhaps the most loveable, beautiful and - amazingly - moving game worlds of the year. Man, it's so hard to be funny about games you love. Erm. Knickers?
John Walker: Halfway through the voting process, Tom told me that World of Goo was wavering between first and second place. From its 10th place finish you can conclude that the people who took the longest to get their votes in are the stupidest. And the ugliest. I take back what I wrote under Professor Layton. Definitely the game of the year. Definitely the only sensible contender for number one. A thing of such utter joy and wonderfulness like I've never known. Sadly I imagine its late arrival to Wii in Europe has meant the PC-phobes didn't play this yet, and thus it has been robbed of its rightful number one place. Saw off the bit of your monitor with this line on it, and glue it onto the bottom so it's in the position it deserves.
Tom Bramwell: I've played it, and it's not my game of the year. It's not even my favourite PC game of the year - that's Trials 2. But it is extraordinarily good for all the reasons these guys have listed, and no less special for years spent tinkering with Bridge Builder, Armadillo Run, Elefunk and other games built on similar premises.
9. Guitar Hero World Tour
John Walker: Okay, here's my plan. We subdivide gaming. Proper games go over here. And plastic toy karaoke games go over there. On that fire.
Kristan Reed: Having officially gone off Guitar Hero for a couple of years, this brought me back to the series with renewed passion. With stuff like "Love Spreads" on it, it's officially my dream music game.
Johnny Minkley: The one-handed lead riff in the chorus of "Some Might Say" on Hard (curiously not replicated on Expert) is peerless in its cock-rock posturing potential.
Rob Fahey: Better instruments than Rock Band 2, but the shine has been taken off a bit by having to return faulty drum-kits and jury-rig squeaking guitar strum bars. Music games live or die by their song list, though, and round my way, Guitar Hero World Tour died very quickly.
Keza MacDonald: No word of a lie, Guitar Hero World Tour is my favourite videogame. Ever. It was Harmonix that got here first, that opened up the rhythm-action genre to its true potential with Guitar Hero and Rock Band, putting the power of making music into the hands of gamers without the talent or opportunity to do it for real. Rhythm-action games give non-musicians a glimpse at the joy of playing music, and Harmonix games harnessed that better than any Japanese developer had yet managed, making it social and personal rather than reaction-time posturing in the arcades. Then along game World Tour, which gives us the chance to turn our pretend instrument skills into real music with the recording studio, and does the Band Game better than anyone else. This game shows me so much love. I've spent almost as long with the avatar creator and the music studio as I have with the career. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's something so incredible about Guitar Hero's transformation from beat-matching game into full-on, recording-capable band studio, something that really speaks about the magic of videogames in general; how they can educate, stimulate and transcend themselves in the hands of enthusiastic players to become something that we'd never have dreamed of just a few years prior.
Kieron Gillen: My girlfriend is going to kill me if I try to keep another set of drums in our flat.
Tom Bramwell: For me, Rock Band 2's the better software, but only by a bit. Guitar Hero's got better instruments, and by a mile. It's worth owning both games though - whichever you buy first, the solus disc of the other is better value than the same money spent on DLC - but you only need one set of plastic instruments, and for now it's these.
8. Gears of War 2
Microsoft / Epic / Xbox 360
John Walker: Apparently this is better than World of Goo. I hate you, world. So bloody much.
Alec Meer: BEER BIRDS FOOTBALL BEER BIRDS FOOTBALL BEER BIRDS FOOTBALL. At least GoW2 gave blockheads something new for their limited conversational repertoire.
Keza MacDonald: HUUUUURRRRRRRGGGGHHH. [Flexes]
Kieron Gillen: World of Goo is awesome. Everyone should buy it.
Rich Leadbetter: It is what it is: the videogame equivalent to a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster movie - ultra-slick, uber-cheesy and utterly irresistible. I wasn't so keen on the original, but this is hugely improved in virtually every respect. Love it.
Kristan Reed: Gears is always miles better as a co-op game, and the sequel is no different. Sadly, my co-op partner in crime hates macho shooters with an irrational passion, so I'm left with a dilemma: play through it solo and grumble about it, or wait for Tom to recharge his enthusiasm and sing "So Macho" over the headset once again?
Tom Bramwell: Ignore the snobbery. There is so much in here to praise. Take the weapons, because after the first Gears, the only ones I wanted to take with me were the Lancer and either the Longshot or the Torque Bow. Getting me to put those down was as singular an achievement as anything else in shooters this year. Or take the level designs. The variety of layouts, gameplay conditions (the bomb in the dark, the mutant breakout, razor hail) and one-shot cover gimmicks (Rockworm, switchable shields, etc.) put every other cover-based shooter made since the first Gears to shame, rifling through the rest of the genre and looting the best, then doing it better. Or take the one-off levels, especially the fight through the worm. Or take any of the many minor diversions (sniping at patrols springs to mind) that keep you guessing. Or take the brilliantly insane dialogue. And I don't even care about the multiplayer especially, co-op excepted. Admittedly, you could, and should also take out rather a lot as well: the opening hospital section, the Skorge fight, pretty much anything involving a Brumak or a vehicle, and that bit with Dom and his wife. But for all its flaws, this is a phenomenal achievement, the best thing Epic's ever done, and makes Gears of War - one of the most brutally absurd shooters ever - look guarded and unadventurous. I agree that too many games these days are about shooting monsters in the face, but we should always have one, and I vote that Cliff Bleszinski gets to make it. Hold your head high, Mr. B.
7. Left 4 Dead
Kristan Reed: If Capcom wasn't so doggedly determined to stay true to clunky convention, it could have developed those awful Resident Evil Outbreak spin-offs into something more like Left 4 Dead by now - and instead it's been beaten to the punch by Valve and the ex-Turtle Rock crew. This is survival horror in the purest sense, but with the massive added bonus of being able to experience it with your friends. I've always wanted a game like this and didn't even realise it.
Oli Welsh: E3 destroyed my last scraps of tolerance for creature-feature shooters this year. Fallout 3, Gears 2, Resistance 2, Dead Space, Rage, even the inevitably mighty Resi 5 and more merged into a single apocalyptic corridor full of gurning, veiny mutants being shotgunned in the face, and I couldn't muster the will or interest to play anything of the sort, even if it might be a classic. The best thing I can say about Left 4 Dead, then, is that it somehow fought its way through this brown morass into my heart, despite its totally generic presentation. This was partly because it's a superb piece of co-op design, partly because it's so damned quick, and partly because, unlike every other monster-mash in recent memory, it's actually quite scary.
Simon Parkin: It is, in almost every way that matters, the perfect zombie game, one whose effectiveness derives from tight, sensible boundaries rather than sprawling ambition. The four-mission, four-stage framework inspires repeat play and warm familiarity, the experience changing through shifts to AI patterns rather than raw geography. The limited number of weapons and inputs and the small roster of enemy types have allowed Valve to perfect a few ideas rather than half-deliver on many, a wise decision when you begin to understand the precise balance that underpins the experience. Played with three friends it is an exhilarating experience that rewards co-operation over showboating heroics. In this way it works against Xbox Live's characteristic culture of individualism, encouraging teamwork and communication in exchange for survival. It's all the more rewarding for it.
Rob Fahey: After a year of wondering what would replace COD4 as our multiplayer game of choice, Left 4 Dead might just be that game. Fast, visceral and capable of pulling out genuinely heart-stopping moments no matter how well you know the levels, it's a great game whose longevity totally belies its limited amount of content.
Christian Donlan: Great game, I'm sure, but the fact that you can see team-mates through objects meant I spent a lot of time walking into walls. Just me?
Jim Rossignol: Survivors or Zombies. Continuous controlled panic, or sustained intentional griefing. It's a game of two halves, and they're both covered in the hot fluid of excellence. Mmm, that was an unsavory metaphor, but it's appropriate: you are exploding dead people and it couldn't be more entertaining.
John Walker: Finally the co-op game I want to play. The online-only game that I have an interest in. Such exquisite design and so brilliantly gruesome, with the proper terror of a horror movie. And the Witch. Oh goodness me, the Witch. It's just pure entertainment, coupled with the smartness that made Portal so dramatically great. While Portal's story was up front and unavoidable, L4D's is getting a bit under-recognised, and it makes me a bit sad when people say it doesn't have any. Read the walls, and listen to what the characters are saying. There's a lot going on in there. And of course, more importantly, it's a game that lets you tell your own stories, loudly in the pub later that day.
Kieron Gillen: Gauntlet meets Doom, basically. Which, basically, means it's amazing. It's perhaps telling that the co-op shooter which had the most courage in its convictions - that is, basically just becoming a co-op game - proved to be the most appealing. And then there's the inspired Versus mode, which shows that an asymmetrical combat game can be as accessible to anyone who fancies a go as John Walker's mum's genitalia. Bonus points for being one of the funniest games of the year too. In fact, almost as good as World of Goo.
Alec Meer: Probably the best zombie game of all time, though I worry slightly that I'm not still playing it. It's realised its deadhead-slaying essence expertly, but I suspect it's going to live or die on extra content in a way that no multiplayer FPS ever have before. What I love it for most, oddly, is what it's given to the gaming lexicon. Vomiting people at Christmas parties are labelled boomers, unsmiling photos of skinny long-haired girls are tagged 'don't startle the witch...' on Facebook. Valve are masters of creating gaming catchphrases, as we saw with Portal last year.
Dan Whitehead: I love Valve and I love horror, so it was always a safe bet that I'd love Left 4 Dead. What surprised me was how much I loved it. So much, in fact, that it's my favourite game of 2008. On the most basic level, it's just a phenomenally well-designed shooter, as you'd expect. It also makes zombies really f***ing scary again, something I thought was pretty much impossible after years of Resident Evil's shambling obstacles-on-legs. But mostly I fell in love with Left 4 Dead because of the story factor. As Kieron shrewdly noted, this is a game with no story but the one you make up each time you play. It is, perhaps, the way that gaming can finally extricate itself from aping Hollywood stories and forcing players to play along. Left 4 Dead gives you a fixed path and a broad scenario, then mixes all the pieces up and allows the player to inject the human drama, in a completely organic manner. It's absolutely brilliant, and unquestionably one of those games that I will never, ever trade in.
6. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2
Activision / Bizarre Creations / Xbox Live Arcade
Rich Leadbetter: The most fun I've had with a videogame in ages, ergo my pick as game of the year. Nigh-on perfect gameplay, plenty of variety, a genius-level multiplier system, best leaderboards ever, superb audio, wonderful 1080p visuals... I honestly can't find fault with this game whatsoever. 'Kudos' (groan) to Bizarre for making score attack games relevant again.
Dan Whitehead: It's quite exciting that I could probably have filled my top ten entirely with downloadable games this year. It may just be a delivery system, but there's something very liberating about removing boxed copies and physical distribution from the equation. Downloadable games have become simpler, more streamlined and more interesting than most of their physical cousins, and Geometry Wars 2 is the perfect example. In theory it could have been made on the Atari 2600, yet it's as thrilling and modern as anything else on this list. It also made me hate everyone on my Friends List for being better at it than me.
Oli Welsh: The only game that matches Mirror's Edge in the sensory-feedback stakes in 2008, and that's no surprise. But my favourite thing about it was the ever-present score in the top-right corner, effectively giving a structureless game human levels, taunting you into clawing your way up your leaderboard of friends. Framing your sister for murder can't match that for motivation.
Christian Donlan: One of the few games on this list I'll probably still be playing in ten years, barring getting hit by a bus. Good as it is - and it's pretty amazing - the really striking thing about Geometry Wars 2 is how much of the experience is down to the community and the leaderboards. Take Live away, and the game wouldn't be half as good.
Simon Parkin: The six modes shepherd you around the game in a cyclical way so that you never grow tired of the mechanics: each mode emphasises a different mechanical nuance, trains a different muscle and, like a balanced work-out, improvement in one area has benefits across the whole. The game's true genius though, the reason we all kept playing for well over a month (a long time in videogames, especially small ones), lies in the leaderboards. To have your closest rival friend's score on the play screen at all times, like it's the only thing that matters because it is the only thing that matters, gave me thumb fatigue.
Kieron Gillen: Seriously, you have no idea how good World of Goo is.
Tom Bramwell: Or Gears of War 2, apparently, you goo-humping monsters. As for Geometry Wars 2, it's eaten more of my time than anything else on Xbox Live Arcade this year, and continues to do so - largely thanks to Christian's ridiculous Pacifism score of 125,000,000, which I can barely type let alone attain. The six-chambered fun gun of modes is enough to sustain it for hours of peaks and troughs, too. Easily my favourite XBLA game since Pac-Man Championship Edition and, curiously enough, for similar reasons.
Jonathan Blow / Xbox Live Arcade
Tom Bramwell: I've been having a friendly argument with a pal about this. He maintains that every room is a mechanism with only one key, and turning it didn't make him feel clever or skilful, that there's no grace and style to any of the solutions, and that he finished it "largely because I wanted confirmation that J Blow was a self-obsessed [twit]". I was surprised, because while I can see all of his points, my experience was very different. I enjoyed deciphering the mixture of visual information and gameplay conditions to turn most of Braid's lonely keys, and knew I was going to finish it when I realised I had the tools to solve any puzzle in the game the first time I encountered it. The music's lovely, too, and rewarding players with jigsaw pieces for an actual puzzle was worth a smile, even if it was probably another layer of indulgent metaphor.
Kristan Reed: When people of a certain vintage go all misty-eyed about games from the 80s and early 90s, it's because they really don't make them like they used to. Except now they do, thanks to the marvels of cheap digital distribution and studios willing to take a chance on wistful 2D games with an ethereal atmosphere and cunning level design. Games like Braid, LBP, echochrome, N+ and LostWinds sate that retro desire that always burns away without having to be disappointed once the rose-tinted specs come off.
Kieron Gillen: Before Braid came out, I found myself talking to a developer friend late at night. We'd both got hold of the pre-release version of Braid, and we'd both had the same experience. We sat down and had a quick play and thought... actually, yes, this is clearly very good, but I'm going to have to come back when I can give it my full attention. Compared to most games - and most action games, especially - it's not one you can just have a little fiddle. Braid demands your full brain. And if you give yourself over to Braid, it will reward you. It's the game which provoked the most pretentious purple prose of the year. And the strangest thing about all those references which were thrown up - they were all true. Braid contained all those elements. It's rare that a game just as precious and pretentious as the writers who chart games appears. I'm even surprised it's not higher.
Simon Parkin: It's a game that can be played just once and then never played again till it's been forgotten. In this way it recalls LucasArts's best Adventures, games that could be ruined with a peek at a guidebook, whose wonder and thrill derives from the release of pent up infuriation at the moment you solve an irksome riddle for yourself. The puzzles are ingenious, even beautiful in their construction. The way the time travel idea is developed over the course of the game demonstrates a growth of ideas that games many times its length never manage. The writing that garnishes the experience, while florid and ambitious, has mostly been criticised because it is different. Naysayers be damned, this is an exemplary indie-game, created by two lovely men, and this fruit of their hard work and dedication offers cause célèbre more than any other release in 2008.
Alec Meer: One of far too many games I lost my saves for when some rotter broke into my house and made off with my consoles a little while ago. This means I'm yet to see the elements of it that people are most raving about, but I'm planning to sit down with it again for a bittersweet Boxing Day.
Dan Whitehead: I'm almost afraid to pontificate any further on this bite-sized masterpiece, lest more people call me pretentious and make me run home crying, philosophy texts ostentatiously tucked under my arm, my beret set at a disdainful angle. Such philistinery does nothing to take the shine off this absolutely great game, however. Braid works as a superb platform-puzzler. It works as a cunning twist on ages-old gameplay conventions. And it works as an example of how it's possible to use gameplay as more than just a hollow distraction, to inject ideas and thoughts and abstractions into the button-pressing. At a time when the bull-necked thugs of Gears of War and their hilarious marital woes are heralded as compelling examples of more adult storytelling, truly ambitious artistic projects like Braid are made even more rewarding.
John Walker: STILL WAITING FOR THE PC VERSION.
Rob Fahey: Probably the most overtly clever game I've ever played. We call lots of games "clever", but this one practically turns up at your door with horn-rimmed glasses, a PhD from Cambridge and a condescending attitude tinged with pity. If it wasn't also so damned lovely, you'd flick spitballs at the back of its bloody clever head.
4. Fable II
Microsoft / Lionhead / Xbox 360
Johnny Minkley: I was saving this as my big 'Christmas game', since I've only managed to squeeze in a few hours so far. And then I went to Lionhead to interview Molyneux with Christian Donlan and was swept away in the spoiler avalanche that was their Fable love-in. I'm just going to have to drink myself amnesiac.
John Walker: I hate dogs. Can they make a version where you have a pet cat?
Kristan Reed: A little too accessible for its own good, but the addition of co-op play clinches it for me. Well done Lionhead for actually managing to deliver on the hype.
Christian Donlan: Lionhead chose to preview this in very discrete chunks which didn't seem to be that obviously connected, so I went into Fable II thinking that the bits and pieces I'd seen might not come together particularly gracefully. Crikey. People say it's short and get annoyed when it breaks all the rules, but in terms of not just creating brilliant content, but ensuring that a majority of players will actually get to see most of it, this leaves other games looking a little stupid.
Keza MacDonald: COR BLIMEY, LIL' SPARRA, A TEN? LAWKS!
Kieron Gillen: World of Goo is just amazing.
Tom Bramwell: "They're using a giant worm!"
Dan Whitehead: Fable II thoroughly deserves top marks. At least, it does in principle. So many of the ideas at play here are so brilliant and obvious that you wonder why games haven't latched onto them earlier. The fact that experience is a more valuable commodity than health in a genre driven by quicksaves and healing potions, for example. Yet the game never quite gets the balance right, making it far too easy to build up massive reserves of gold and XP. For every step forward, Fable II takes two sideways. It's also glitchy and buggy and only starts to get interesting once you reach the end of the main story. I'm happy to call it one of my favourites of the year, but my affection is ultimately based on empathy for what it attempts rather than inspiration from what it actually does.
Simon Parkin: The technical issues with the game are infuriating, not because they spoil the experience but because they dominated conversation about it, conversation that would be better spent discussing its triumphs rather than its shortfalls. The choices may be limited, the interactions simplistic, but buy into this world and its systems and you'll leave a richer person, and not only in terms of virtual real estate.
Tom Bramwell: Sometimes I'm in the mood for games that want to smack my head in. Sometimes I want games that let me smack their heads in. Sometimes I want to smack my friends. I don't have to be in any sort of mood to play Fable II, and it actually cures me when I'm in a bad one. Molyneux's debt is repaid.
3. Grand Theft Auto IV
Kristan Reed: I love it and hate it in equal measure. Love the ambition, the script, the music, the ambience and the scope, but hate some of the heinous checkpointing and nagging social aspect. One day a GTA game will emerge that doesn't needlessly demand you drive halfway across an enormous map to start a mission, and then I will be a happy camper.
Oli Welsh: I had to do live television because of this game, which was the single most terrifying experience of my life. I wore an orange jumper, repeated myself, and died in the middle of a sentence. Since then, I haven't been able to play it.
Jim Rossignol: Rockstar takes the piss. While the rest of game development struggles to make their voice actors say their lines correctly, and can't quite fulfill their visions of grandeur, Rockstar creates a game with acting on par with HBO's finest, and conjures the illusion of a modern living city that is more convincing that anything else in the galaxy of games. I mean just look at it: they made being an Eastern European immigrant thug in New York seem appealing! Not just appealing, but funny, compelling, even desirable. Magic is at work here. Or amazing, well-funded game design. One of the two.
Simon Parkin: It was the game that everybody started but, reportedly, few finished, if Microsoft's drop-off rate stats are to be taken at face value. This dash to experience Liberty City, to see the world and to be able to pass judgment on it quickly and urgently meant that most voices commenting on the game, from the highest critic down to the lowliest forumite, were often shallow at best. Now, months later, time has mellowed the extremist views, drawing players towards a moderate consensus that this is, in most ways, an extraordinary gameworld, one that houses, in some ways, an extraordinary game.
Rob Fahey: I watched my flatmate play this for weeks without ever having the slightest compunction to pick up the controller myself. I know it's beautiful, accomplished, mature and superbly polished, and I'm very happy that it exists and that it is those things - but it just looks staid and po-faced to me. I nod in appreciation and move on, rather than actually wanting to jump in and play.
Keza MacDonald: I have never enjoyed a Grand Theft Auto game before. Presented with an open world in which I can do anything I want, the last thing on my mind is driving cars and shooting men. Frivolous violence doesn't do anything for me, nor does crude humour. Then, along came Grand Theft Auto IV, and I couldn't do anything but play it for weeks. It's amazingly well made, detailed and broad in scope, yes, and great fun, but it's GTA IV's hidden intelligence that got through to me. It has dark humour and sharp wit that shine through the cheap laughs and over-the-top situations. Niko is believable, and so is his world. For every moment of pointless violence that made me wince, there were six or seven missions in which I felt genuinely involved. The final portion of the game, especially, had me as emotionally involved as any game has. Certainly not what I'd expected from a GTA game. This is something I'd show to anyone who doesn't believe in the potential of videogames. It's a staggering technological achievement.
Kieron Gillen: From a PC perspective, the questionable performance throws a long shadow over this particular triumph from Rockstar. But otherwise... well, it does manage a scale which no other game this year really managed to compete against. It was living proof of what an enormous development budget could allow in terms of creating a place to live and play. Nevertheless, there's a nagging sense - a little like last year's Assassin's Creed - which makes you wonder what a developer more interested in creating that stimulatory environment would have done with it all. They create a city which, ultimately, doesn't really act like a city in any significant way. Something nags, y'know?
Ellie Gibson: It's no Diner Dash.
Dan Whitehead: While I think there's a contrary element to a lot of the criticisms thrown at GTA IV - and the series as a whole - it's hard to deny that there wasn't much that felt new or fresh here. The attempts at crafting a less adolescent story also stumbled slightly, by making it hard to reconcile the sympathetic character of Niko with the bloodshed of the game itself. And yet the whole is still a triumph, of sorts. Even though most of the missions are simply "drive here, shoot them, drive back" the framework still resonates because of the excellent character work and dialogue. One of my most memorable missions simply involved driving a car to a location, but it was made thrilling and important because I was also transporting the corpse of a fairly major character. I'm not sure where they can go for GTA V, but I'm hoping Rockstar leaves crime alone for a while and tells different stories using this amazingly versatile world creator they now have.
Alec Meer: Breaking down GTA to its fundaments and rebuilding them, rather than taking the San Andreas route of simply adding feature-creep to what was already there, was the right choice. I'm not entirely convinced it shook itself up enough to deserve all the breathless accolades, but it's certainly made a case for characterisation, dialogue, detail and animation that the likes of Bethesda should be paying close attention to.
John Walker: I'm still trying to figure out why this is not only the first GTA game I've been able to stomach playing, but also a game I completely adored. Even going back to play the original top-down GTA, I found myself recoiling against the violence and hate at its core. (And please let me stress, I'm in no way condemning this.) Even Vice City's cartoony world made me feel unpleasant when I played it. But GTA IV was compelling. And I think I know what it might be. Sympathy. In no way can I sympathise with anyone from previous GTA games - surely the person I'm playing is the character I should be shooting at, the one I should be trying to stop? But Niko Bellic was different. I couldn't identify or empathise with him, but I could feel sympathy for him. The horrors he had faced had dehumanised him, explaining his sociopathic nature, while also offering the sense that there could be redemption for him, and there was hope in relationships. That's what made the double-cross so much worse, and sends Bellic deeper into his depravity. I don't know whether Rockstar are going soft, or whether this was a happy accident, but they finally made the GTA game for me.
Tom Bramwell: When we did our Editor's panel thing at the Eurogamer Expo, one of our excellent readers followed me out and asked me to justify giving this 10/10, because he'd emptied it so quickly. I knew what he meant. As I said to him though, the reason it's so quickly exhausted is that you stampede through it, bingeing on it, until it's done: the story missions, the radio interludes, the comedy clubs, the Assassin's Creed stuff, the Gone in 60 Seconds stuff, the stunts, the pigeons. It's all gone in about 30 hours or less. You spent 30 hours playing it. I did it twice, as it goes. My game of the year, narrowly from Trials 2, Braid and Gears of War 2. Rockstar spent more money on this than anyone has spent on a game in history, and didn't just make San Andreas 2. Do you honestly not want to see what they do with the proceeds?
2. Fallout 3
John Walker: I'd love to tell you what I think of this, but I can't play it for more than ten minutes without it crashing to the desktop. Or permanently freezing in VATS mode. Or having an actor so awful I have to gouge my ears out with a pair of scissors. I hear it's great, and it seems to have been voted awfully high. I wish I could have a go.
Kristan Reed: Game of the decade for me, without a shadow of a doubt. No game has ever had me playing 14 hours straight every day for a solid week and left me breathlessly wanting more. As I keep explaining to anyone who'll listen, it's not a game that grabs you immediately. There's so much to see and do, that it only gets better and better the deeper you delve into it, with so much love lavished on every part of the game world. Somehow Bethesda managed to craft a game which satisfied most of my wants: the plot, characters, exploration, tense atmosphere and degree of choice made it an inspiring (survival horror-esque) adventure game, the wonderful VATS system and the array of enemies made it an intense shooter, the ingenious Perks system satisfied my obsessive RPG leanings, while the hacking game even made it an absorbing puzzle at times. With a quite spectacular game engine and meticulously crafted living, breathing game world satisfying the graphics whore in me, it almost never let me down. Now, if only Bethesda could only animate the NPCs with a little more conviction we'd all be happy. Games as ambitious and well-realised as Fallout 3 come along a few times a generation. An absolute masterpiece.
Simon Parkin: If Oblivion was the kind of on horseback adventure that could only have grown out of a pastoral, pre-industrialised civilisation, then Fallout 3 is the kind that could only have come from the other end of humanity's technological trajectory. This post-nuclear fallout world is beautiful in its ruin, the shoots of life sprouting from the rubble of a collapsed American dream. The systems that Washington clothes are barely a step on from those found in Oblivion, and the story shuffles along to an uninspired conclusion. The game's wonder then lies in its details and verisimilitude: the bottle-cap economy, the clicking radioactive rivers, the abandoned gas stations and supermarkets, the open air cinemas and broke-backed flyovers. Fallout 3 is a revelation, one that we hope will never be realized in our world, but one, which we cannot help but revisit nonetheless.
Jim Rossignol: I did pretty much start killing anyone in Fallout who tried to treat me like an RPG protagonist. "Fetch X from Y? DIEDIEDIE!" After beating the first quest-dispenser to death with my fists and still making progress, I realised this game might be for me after all. After I'd decapitated some dogs and slept under a bridge I understood that my violent hobo fantasies had no better outlet. Thanks, Bethesda.
Alec Meer: Enjoyed this a whole lot more second time around, when I stayed away from the shonky core quest and focused on unchecked exploration of the endless wasteland. It's a shame the production values are so woeful and that it defaults to vaguely unsatisfying combat too much of the time, but that we get a vast, fascinating world to explore that isn't either yet more high fantasy glades'n'caves or gritty, hooker-filled urbanscapes is something we should all be celebrating. I can't help but feel Bethesda made some unbelievable cock-ups with it, but at the same time they've created an incredible structure for modders to run wild with. I can't wait to see what Fallout 3 PC has been made into in about six months.
Dan Whitehead: I've only just started into this monstrous epic, but it's already clear that Bethesda hasn't lost its knack for constructing clever tesseracts of overlapping mini-adventures in such a way that you feel like you're the first person to stumble across a side quest, secret location or curious little story. It's a shame that many of the technical gripes from Oblivion remain unaddressed, and I could do without being so crudely herded around the city by impassable piles of rubble, but there's no denying this is a big juicy steak dinner of a game.
Sony / Media Molecule / PS3
Johnny Minkley: I have nothing useful to add that hasn't been said elsewhere, so I'll simply say: if you haven't already, check out the astonishing user-created Ico level. The future's bright for this one.
Dan Whitehead: I'm honestly quite surprised to find LBP at the top of the heap. Few games made me grind my teeth more in 2008. It looks lovely and is bursting with charm and clever ideas, and has Stephen Fry's rich mahogany narration, but...it's just not very good at being a platform game. Is that just me? The floaty ambience, unpredictable environments and crude checkpoint system all made it a bit of a chore to get through, as far as I'm concerned. Platforming requires precision, and that's something that LittleBigPlanet just doesn't have. It's as woolly as its star.
Simon Parkin: Oli pointed out in his review that, despite LittleBigPlanet's many triumphs, it was nothing like as perfect a platformer as Nintendo's Super Nintendo classic, Yoshi's Island. Of course, believers argue that it's so much more than a mere platform game, that it is in fact, a platform in and of itself, a tool for users to realise the inventions of their imagination. But, as a tool, surely its work is best demonstrated by the game Media Molecule created using it? If that's the case, then the question becomes: can the game's users transcend its inventors' creativity to turn a great game into a classic one? Limitless potential is of no use until it is somehow realised and, while the YouTube videos of fantastic contraptions inspire "how on earth did they..." gasps of wonder, for me, this is a game still only pregnant with potential. That the responsibility for the game's greatness rests on us and not on the developer is unusual, and for that reason the endless plaudits make me uneasy. Whatever the end result, this is a game I've thought about more than I've played, and, as they say, actions speak louder than words.
Tom Bramwell: The reason it's top - for the benefit of those who haven't read about how this list works - is that it was high up in the vast majority of top-ten lists submitted by staff and contributors. It only topped a few of them, but the number of people who write for Eurogamer that chose to play it and subsequently loved it was higher than any other game. In that sense it's a worthy winner. I almost feel guilty that it wasn't on my list at all, but it leaves me completely cold: the platforming is overburdened with self-conscious presentation its imprecise controls and frustrating checkpoints fail to justify, and the editor was too slow and complicated for my pathetic brain to bother with. I've nothing but admiration for what it represents, and - as Johnny notes in his comment about the Ico level - what it's inspired. But I've nothing else, such as a soul.
Ellie Gibson: A deserving winner, for the Stephen Fry voiceover alone.
Tom Bramwell: Well, okay, I love Stephen Fry also.
Kristan Reed: Pretty much everyone I've spoken to seems to agree that LBP makes for a fairly boring single-player experience, but becomes absolutely mesmerising in co-op with the right player. There are so many cute touches, so many fiendishly designed levels and an art style to die for. It's no surprise to see this end up at the top. It's not beyond criticism, though. The online lag is ruinous most of the time, and the added inertia on the jump mechanic makes it needlessly fiddly when the going gets tough. I'll never bother with level creation, but I'm so glad it's there. Seeing what people have come up with is a brilliant way to keep me coming back for more - as is the brilliantly replayable nature of the level design.
Christian Donlan: Make crabs out of floral-print material, wedge in some dynamite, wire it to a trigger: voila! Exploding floral-print crabs. After that discovery, the single-player levels were pretty much dead to me.
Jim Rossignol: I've only had a scarce few hours with this game, but it has completely captured my imagination. I think it's the fact that it feels so solid, so tactile, is at the centre of its appeal - you're rapidly convinced of the grasping and manipulating stuff in the game world. And it's just too cute.
Keza MacDonald: This, played co-op with the right person, is the most fun I've had with a game all year. The first time I played it I ended up spontaneously hugging the person next to me out of sheer joy. It's such an infectiously lovely game; just looking at Sackboy's gurning face makes me happy. It shows us to be the creative, joyful souls that we gamers are, not expressionless grey people shooting men in the face.
Kieron Gillen: I can't help but wonder - if a game's based around user-generated content, and the fact you're on a console means that you can't actually let gamers generate their content without half of it being deleted because it infringes some copyright or another... isn't that just a fundamentally flawed concept? And World of Goo totally gives you awesome levels without having to worry about someone else doing it for you.
John Walker: All I've read about this is that the platforming is rubbish, and you have to make your own if you want to play a decent level. And World of Goo is at number ten. No. That's not okay. Last year's number one game was Portal. Just to remind you.
Rob Purchese: LittleBigPlanet lets one dress up. I was a zebra for a while. Then a skeleton. Then in a female bathing outfit. And to my surprise these costumes were replicated in the game!
Rob Fahey: I'm surprised that this is number one, but also quite happy. It's not a gamer's game, and the creative end of it is sufficiently complex that most people will probably never get into it - but these things aren't failures. LittleBigPlanet sets out to give people fun, social experiences, to make them laugh and challenge them to work together, and for those few whose creative talents are great enough, it gives them a wonderful toolset. It's a resounding success on all of those levels. It's not my personal favourite game of 2008, but it's certainly the most interesting - and on that basis alone, I'm happy to see it top this chart.
Oli Welsh: God knows why Sony thought an experimental 2D platformer would save the PlayStation 3. It didn't. It did, however, save 2D platformers, which in the long run is probably just as important. It's such a happy little riot, especially in the fantastic four-player co-op. And how nice to have an inherently social game that's neither about discussing character builds on forums, teabagging your rivals, or making an exhibition of yourself with a novelty controller when drunk; a game where other people are just part of the landscape. The editor does too much and tries too hard, but you don't need to use it yourself to feel the benefit. You just need to press play and run and jump. For joy.