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20. Condemned 2: Bloodshot
Kristan Reed: Were it not for a couple of dodgy levels, this would have been even higher on my list. Monolith really built on the promise of the original with what must go down as one of the ugliest, most harrowingly brutal action games ever made. Beating up deranged tramps with pipes has never been so much fun.
Dan Whitehead: I haven't played this, but I thought the first game was laughably stupid and squandered a potentially interesting forensic adventure on clumsy hobo-mashing amid Silent Hill's leftover texture maps. It seems the sequel simply ramps up all the stuff I thought was idiotic first time around, so I'm in no hurry to find out if it's truly one of the twenty best games of the year. Is it? Is it really?
John Walker: The first Condemned was so dull. Kristan and I will one day have to fight about this in a disused car-park, attacking each other with rusty pipes and road signs, until either one of us is dead or has killed enough innocent tramps to be satiated. So yeah, I didn't get around to this.
Simon Parkin: Monolith stole the blueprint of hell and with it designed Condemned 2. A grotesque game both visually, thematically and ideologically, it trades the threat of violence and white fear that was so effective in the first game for its dumb and brutal reality, making what was terrifyingly implicit and making it plainly explicit. The linear path, forcing you to behave in monstrous ways without rhyme, reason or wit makes this the gaming equivalent of torture porn. Meritless.
Rich Leadbetter: Nobody's managed to match the brutality of melee combat quite as well as the creators of Condemned. This is a fine sequel, soiled somewhat by the utterly bizarro space aliens 'climax'.
19. Tomb Raider Underworld
Kristan Reed: Aha! Another chance to throw Lara to her death. Excellent! This is miles better than Legend. By building on the more exploratory approach of Anniversary and giving the series the best game engine by a mile, Crystal Dynamics delivered what amounts to the first 'proper' new Tomb Raider since 1999's Last Revelation. Apart from that ridiculous swimming bit near the beginning, it's got everything you want in a Lara game - great controls, taxing puzzles and oodles of atmosphere. Inevitably the combat's still rubbish, but hey.
Johnny Minkley: What a dreadful way to open a game. The first hour or so before you get to the island and the first major temple is tedious, clumsy, embarrassing nonsense. The running and gunning on the boat - are you having a laugh, Crystal Dynamics? But after that, it hits its stride and I really enjoyed the vast, multi-faceted puzzles - an impressive evolution of the core TR experience and a fine balance between challenge and reward.
Ellie Gibson: In retrospect, I still think I gave this game the right score, but I should have been more vocal in my review about the good bits. As a long-term Tomb Raider fan, I suspect I tend to take the better aspects for granted these days. Underworld is a good game with some great high points, especially if you love Lara, and I'm sorry I didn't convey that better.
Simon Parkin: Some critics have misconstrued Underworld's precision and polish for soullessness and yes, there are times when the design's meticulous order robs its world of credibility. But really this is a game of supreme competence, executed by a developer that understands its heroine and the laws of her universe in full. The game suffers in some ways by comparison to newcomer rival Drake's Fortune, both in terms of script writing and gunplay, but Lara's latest contains enough jewels of its own to be an expedition worth undertaking.
John Walker: The entire world has gone bats*** insane. Look at the reviews for this, and the reviews for the dreadful Prince of Persia, and then bang your head against a wall until you're dead. This is the best Tomb Raider has ever been, and I'm losing my mind over people's false memories of the original games, and the lack of recognition for the astonishing architecture and puzzle design here. It's epic. The story is complete toss, which is a colossal shame after Legend set things up so nicely. But this is a game about solving puzzles the size of hillsides while fluidly and beautifully leaping about. That POP could get higher review scores while being so loathsomely stupid as to be a series of tediously connected boss fights, and Tomb Raider could have the balls to include not one single boss encounter but instead replace them with elaborate and ingenious challenges and not get championed, makes me want to set fire to all of gaming.
Tom Bramwell: I have a soft spot for platform games that take you on an acrobatic cruise through gorgeous, untouched mysteries of the past, and then miraculously deposit you in just the right position to proceed once all the requisite buttons have been pushed and idols slid into their mossy holes. There's a lot of stupid rubbish in Underworld, but nobody outside Crystal Dynamics still manages the above - even the excellent Uncharted.
18. Boom Blox
EA / Wii
Oli Welsh: No game in 2008 caused me more physical pain than Boom Blox. My right arm basically locked up for a week. I will forgive it for being a superb puzzle-action game, totally intuitive, brilliant in single or multiplayer, and making better use of physics in gameplay than any "next-gen" release I can think of. I don't know how deep Steven Spielberg's involvement was, but even if it's purely by association he must be applauded for having a clearer understanding of the point of interactive entertainment than most game developers. Props to EA too, for not condescending to the Wii's hardware and audience the way every other third-party did - and, frankly, Nintendo itself at times.
Ellie Gibson: The most pleasantly surprising game of the year, for me, and one of the few Wii titles I would rather play than eat tumours.
Tom Bramwell: Since we let the Reader 50 go first this year, I'm tempted to moan about nobody voting for this, but I'd rather tell people to buy it. Apart from the ones I was paid to do, this is the only Wii game I've played for more than ten hours in the whole of 2008. It's probably dirt-cheap by now, too (yep: 15 quid or so). Go on, take a chance.
17. Mirror's Edge
Johnny Minkley: I lost patience with trial-and-error gaming many moons ago; but as smash-joypad-on-floor frustrating as Mirror's Edge can be, there's something uniquely thrilling and uplifting about a flawless run-through, which was enough to help me through the pain of repeated failure. I've seen better stories in Dear Deirdre's Photo Casebook, though.
Kieron Gillen: I'm going to be interested to read my peers' take on why this is lovable.
Kristan Reed: Certainly one of the bravest big-budget games to emerge this year, but the occasionally flawed execution left most of us punctuating our admiration with exasperation. Still, if games like this, Dead Space and Bad Company are what we can expect from the 'new' EA, the next few years should be interesting.
Oli Welsh: There's plenty wrong with Mirror's Edge - or at least, plenty that's not to everyone's taste, this being as narrow-minded and nit-picky a platformer as, say, the original Prince of Persia. But for sheer visceral, tactile, immersive, Pavlovian pleasure - making actions feel good to perform, in other words, which is surely as important a part of videogames as any other - it was in a class of its own this year. The sound and visual effects are incredible. I could just kick doors open all day.
Christian Donlan: So many problems but so many reasons why they don't matter. Banging through those red fire doors is probably by itself one of the highlights of the year for me. (But it has been a slow year).
Keza MacDonald: This is a very personal favourite. It's at its best when you're simply free-running, in the zone, picking out routes across white city rooftops. Mirror's Edge captures the urgency and exhilaration of running away better than film or videogame I have ever seen before. I very much hope for a sequel that puts the idea in a better context.
John Walker: Still waiting for the PC version. Waiting waiting waiting. WAITING.
Rich Leadbetter: Conceptually and technologically brilliant - I love Mirror's Edge. It would be great to see Capcom adopt a similar approach for the inevitable Strider reboot.
Tom Bramwell: I only got round to playing this properly after I'd put in my games for this list, or it would be higher, because I would have voted for it. The story's cack, the pacing's all over the place and the indoors bits are often dreadful, but it's one of the only games this year that wrote us a new mechanical dialect and did a few interesting things with it. Sitting around trying to figure out new Time Trial routes has occupied a ridiculous amount of my Christmas holiday. Also: I didn't have a phobia of trains before, but I bloody do now. Thanks DICE.
EA / Maxis / PC
Dan Whitehead: One of the year's biggest disappointments for me. I played it through once, half-heartedly started a few more games before admitting to myself that the Creature Creator was the most fun part. The odds of it becoming The Next Sims seem incredibly slim.
Oli Welsh: Spore's strength and weakness are the same thing - all the stuff it left out, all the stuff you can't do. It's half as interesting as it might have been, but twice as easy to enjoy, and it will reach ten times as many people this way. Never underestimate Will Wright's common touch; Spore did more to popularise and encourage creativity in videogames than the game which did all the shouting about it, LittleBigPlanet. The game that came with it isn't a classic, but it is a perfect vehicle, and it will probably still be selling long after everything else on this chart has faded from memory.
Jim Rossignol: Sorry, internet. I still love you, but you are so wrong about Spore. It was a beautiful thing. Okay, so it wasn't actually a great game, and the space endgame was nob, but as a lump of ideas and an example of what games might be, it's double exciting. In fact I think that, like The Sims, this game probably isn't actually for gamers at all - as was illustrated by my girlfriend's intense interest in manufacturing and evolving pink monsters. Wait - does that mean she's telling me something?
Kieron Gillen: An odd one. A confused and confusing design that I'm quietly amazed managed to come out of a major American developer. It's fundamentally a 4-8 hour process where you generate your creature followed by a 20-40 hour space-based wandering game of adventure, exploration and terraforming. Depending on your instincts and your nature, the time varies. Some just make ridiculous creatures. Some watch YouTube videos of a penis creature dancing. Some play the bally game. Some wonder what could have been. Some look in wonder and enjoy the thing that's rare enough to exist. It's quite the game. There's been a lot that's like parts of it, but there's never been anything quite like it as a whole.
John Walker: I liked the Creature Creator. I made a bonking couple.
Ellie Gibson: I just can't be bothered, sorry.
Alec Meer: It isn't exactly the same as the marketing said it would be therefore it is the worst game ever made. Anyone who dislikes Spore is entirely justified in doing so, much as I'd beg to differ. Anyone who hates it, however, is a bad-tempered meanie who fell lock, stock and smocking genome for the hype.
Tom Bramwell: Hindsight can be a painful thing when you write reviews on the internet, but reading back over my Spore review, I don't really disagree with myself. Approach it sceptically, expecting it to thrill and amaze you with its ingenious hooks, and you'll be disappointed, because you're the hook. If you invest yourself in each feature, the flaws rarely bother you. I started a game again the other day and found myself chased around the Creature phase and bludgeoned within half an hour. Spinning back to hurl some abuse, I discovered I'd been bumped off by my old sofa monsters, the Settee Alpha 5% Discount. I miss the week I spent reviewing Spore more than any other this year, for all the pain that followed. I'm sorry if you had a bad time with it by comparison.
15. Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Nintendo / Level-5 / DS
Keza MacDonald: This game made me feel so clever, feeding me easy puzzles for a while before hitting me with something absolutely fiendish and leaving me unable to sleep until I'd figured it out. And it was lovely to play a game with a notebook and pen sitting beside me. I'm also one of the people who found the story and art style endearing rather than contrived. Despite Layton's mildly troubling tendency to collect children.
Kieron Gillen: Another awesome title!
Tom Bramwell: You and your themes. Every year.
Simon Parkin: Professor Layton takes the Sunday newspaper supplement brainteaser and nestles it into a Ghiblian narrative, proving that mini-game compilations, when placed in the right metagame, can be more intriguing and compelling than the grandest long-form epic. The watercolour aesthetic and eastern European soundtrack take videogames into fresh, welcome territory. This is the kind of village encountered in dream, the two-dimensional layout of half-memory, filled with curious, often senseless inhabitants. Then the game ends with a climactic twist that impresses upon your mind more than any of the constituent puzzles that led to its revelation. Spellbinding.
John Walker: Okay, no matter what drivel gets voted higher than this, that enough people voted for Prof. Layton to get him to 15 makes me love my colleagues. What a completely charming and wholly entertaining thing it is. A collection of brainteasers, riddles and puzzles, held together by a bonkers story about murders and missing cats. It's still a bit weird that Layton felt the need to bring a young boy with him, without the game explaining how they were related, or indeed ever having a reason for the kid being in the game. But let's gloss over that. Oh, and here's how to spot a stupid, lazy review (or internet cartoon) of this game. They reviewer writes, "You know, it's a bit hard to take it seriously when everyone you meet just randomly makes you solve a puzzle before telling you anything!!! I mean, imagine if you asked someone for directions, and they replied by asking you to work out the number of cubes in a diagram!!!!!" That the game fully explains this with the ending is not the bigger deal, oddly enough. It's that the game constantly makes mocking references to this throughout! It's like people who say they hate Starship Troopers because it's so pro-war and fascist.
14. Rez HD
Q Entertainment / Xbox Live Arcade
Christian Donlan: If you can't afford your own brain haemorrhage, this is still probably the next best option.
Rob Fahey: I'm not sure if it's the HD update, or simply the fact that I own a bigger telly and better speakers now, but Tetsuya Mizugichi's trippy mixture of Tron, Panzer Dragoon and trance really did seem even better the second time around. By far the game I'm most likely to fire up on Live Arcade when I've got ten minutes to kill.
Kristan Reed: Still one of my favourite games ever.
Dan Whitehead: One of the best arguments for downloadable gaming is that it means truly great classics can find a new audience through impulse purchases. Having games like Rez, N+ and Puzzle Fighter tucked away on my 360 hard drive gives me the warm fuzzies.
Kieron Gillen: You can take the writers out of Edge magazine, but you can't take Edge magazine out of the writers.
Simon Parkin: When I asked Kieron to offer some feedback on my review of the game, he took a long look, a deep breath and offered: "Yeah. The commission screwed you. It's Rez, for f***'s sake." Rez communicates so much of what makes videogames brilliant: the awesome spectacle, the otherworldly, esoteric visuals, the interactive soundtrack and the high-score chasing compulsion of repeat play. So to articulate what makes Rez a triumph is to try to encapsulate in words the very medium's potential. Perhaps I failed in that aim, but this game, on this system, at this point in time, articulates all that is wonderful about videogames better than almost any other.
13. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Blizzard / PC, Mac
Oli Welsh: So it's just an expansion pack. For those who don't play MMOs and don't grasp the orders of magnitude involved, let's be clear: Wrath of the Lich King has more stuff in it, made to a higher standard, than any other videogame release this year. It also improves on its source material more dramatically than any of the year's blockbuster sequels. From the compact boss-rush dungeons to the hilariously potent class design to the incredible world, soaked in spectacle and atmosphere and compelling quest arcs and storylines, Lich King surprised and delighted for months on end. Blizzard made the rest of the MMO industry (and much of the rest of the games industry) look stupid this year. A marvel.
Kieron Gillen: World of Warcraft expansions make me a little sad. They come out, Alec raves about them and I know I'll never get to play them without putting the hundreds of hours to even qualify for the experience. There are many great games that I know I won't play. Wrath of the Lich King is, I suspect, one of the one's I literally can't.
Alec Meer: To bust through my overwhelming ennui for WOW, after years of playing and eventual disillusionment, really takes some doing. Lich King may have had to rip a worrying amount of the multi out of multiplayer to achieve its feats of world-building and inventiveness, but nonetheless it dragged me back and had me raving about this quest or that set-piece with an enthusiasm I'd honestly never believed I'd have for WOW again.
Rob Fahey: You can talk about the great dungeon design, the still-lovely visual style, the steady steps towards bosses that demand more skill than gear - or you could complain that it's all too easy and that Blizzard doesn't care for people who play 22 hours a day and urinate in bottles. For me, though, the crowning achievement of Lich King is that it's actually incredibly good fun as an RPG experience - with varied quests, lovely progression and a rich, textured world filled with stories you actually want to explore. Whatever else it may be, it's the pinnacle of Blizzard's already legendary world design and storytelling, which easily makes it one of the finest games of the year.
12. Rock Band 2
EA / MTV / Harmonix / Xbox 360
Rob Fahey: A great song-list and the absolutely wonderful ability to import your RB1 songs onto the hard drive make this into the best music game of the year, for me. We use GH World Tour instruments to play, but the GH disc itself hasn't been on my 360's tray since Rock Band 2 came out.
Kristan Reed: Allowing you to import the Rock Band 1 tracks was a genius move. Charging legitimate users for the privilege was greedy. Just follow Sony's lead with SingStar next time, lovers. The track listing felt a bit lacklustre next to World Tour, but still one of the most fun games you'll ever play if you're vaguely into rock music and don't mind making a tit out of yourself.
Keza MacDonald: I have loved rhythm-action videogames for most of my gaming life, and never dreamed that I would see the day that I'd have two full band-based rhythm-action packages to choose from, each with hundreds-strong song libraries and ludicrously well-thought-through peripherals. I'm so happy about it.
Kieron Gillen: I spent the year playing the first Rock Band with my girlfriend and whichever miscreants ended up passing through my house. We are Captain F*** and the Love Con and we are incredibly awesome. When I wake up tomorrow morning, a copy of Rock Band 2 should be there. I hope it's awesome. I hear it is. It's the twelfth best game of the year and everything.
Simon Parkin: There is no game that I've played more this year, especially with friends, especially while having the best of times. Harmonix reveal their pedigree in an assured update to the best music game currently on the market. As a piece of software it's superior to the new Guitar Hero in almost every way, from the slick, clean interface to the boisterous drum samples themselves. The tour mode is something of a slog, and as a barrier to unlocking the game's full roster of songs it is perhaps too steep, but otherwise Rock Band 2 is the greatest co-op music game on the market and that you can import songs from previous games points toward a happy future for its followers.
Ellie Gibson: Waiting for that Scooch DLC pack.
Tom Bramwell: The Xbox 360 exclusivity, the pricing, the ridiculous contention that it doesn't compete with Guitar Hero: these things seem at odds with what this game is about. But of course I play it every weekend. Harmonix also deserves to be recognised for designing a sequel that overcomes almost every flaw in the original except for the instruments.
11. Burnout Paradise
Kristan Reed: Hello Criterion. I love your game. All the modes are fun, the graphics are spectacular, and the post-release content has been excellent. I just wish (x1,000,000) I could restart my failed races without having to drive across the flaming map. Love, Kristan.
Jim Rossignol: This kept me entranced for hours. It was partly the sense of speed and freedom, but also the mesmerising certainty that you were going to crash horrendously at some point. It was almost a disappointment when you were good enough to stay on the road. Carving a random path through back streets and alleyways felt pretty masterful too. Great stuff.
Kieron Gillen: As Far Cry 2 was to the FPS, Burnout Paradise is to the racing game. Brave, dramatic, exciting. And that they're basically giving away the entire game as the demo for the forthcoming PC release makes me love them all the more.
Ellie Gibson: I love Burnout and I thoroughly enjoyed this instalment. I maintain that the free-roaming map system is fundamentally infuriating, and there ought to be an option to skip straight to the start of races. But the smashing-cars-into-other-cars element is still just perfect.
Dan Whitehead: It took some getting used to, but Paradise quickly became my hands-down favourite racing game of the year. Incredible and innovative online play, a superb approach to DLC and gameplay that is just plain fun. There are few games where I'd bother to hunt down scattered items for an Achievement, but I'm pathetically proud of finally tracking down the last crash barrier, some six months after first starting the game.
Rich Leadbetter: A game that pushes boundaries in so many ways, Burnout Paradise is an excellent release. In terms of its technology, its online modes, its bonus downloadable content, there's little to match it this year in the racing genre. Can't wait to play it again on PC at 1080p60.
Tom Bramwell: As Oli pointed out the other day, it's not been a great year for racing games. But you won't find too many people arguing about this appearing all the way up here. If the new-look EA wants to curry more favour, it could do worse than to throw Criterion some of its other IP to work with. Road Rash, perhaps? Or, hell, the Strike games. Or in fact anything. But especially SSX. Also, judging by the tech in this, Criterion could get Crysis working on a GameCube. Stunning.
Tomorrow, the top ten.