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.