5. Dead Rising
Xbox 360, Capcom, Gamepage.
Luke: Punish zombies any which way you like for as long as you like. Capcom are legends in my eyes anyway and in Dead Rising, they've come out with the game I've always wanted to play. Stick Dawn Of The Dead and Dynasty Warriors in a microwave and this would be the result. Maybe
John: High point: Watching my housemate run over 2000 zombies in twenty minutes with a car.
Mathew: I hadn't thought about this game once before I tried it at E3, but the minute I killed my first zombie by hitting it with a pot plant I was sold. Sure, it's got its share of horrible, arrogant flaws (the tiny text, the save system) but it is the zombie game and the most gleeful example of the potential of the new generation of videogames. Keiji Inafune, I salute you, sir!
Tom: Dead Rising is a very funny game anyway, but particularly funny is that if you cut it all into bits (as is its wont, I suppose), you've basically got crap controls, crap bosses, crap missions, crap AI, crap script and a crap save system. The reason it works is, as much as anything, that urge to be in this situation. Secretly all right-thinking fat geek males want to be in a post-apocalyptic scenario full of slow-moving squidgy mutant-dead. It's because we fancy our chances. Holing up in a shopping centre, waiting for the cavalry, trying not to get shot in the face by the cavalry, trying to undo the Saved By The Bell plot machinations happening over by the popcorn stand. It's disappeared off beyond schlock and set up camp using a tent made of expired money-off vouchers. We wish we were there. Just as important, there's always something to do, find or laugh at, and for once it actually is a living city; if you miss something, you'll just have to play it again one day. Something that, whenever I let my mind slip back into thinking about it, I've a very real desire to just disappear off and do. GTA used to be the game where we all swapped anecdotes; this year it was this.
James: Capcom making our dream come true. The one about smashing the undead in the face with a frying pan, anyway. It doesn't matter that the save system was a little broken and the text hard to read on a SDTV, knowing Capcom's attitude to zombies, there'll be another along in a minute. And another. And another. Quick, hand me that shotgun.
Alec: Trashy and stupid with awful boss fights, but I love that the game Daily Mail readers believe all videogames to be like finally got made.
Kieron: It's hard to go wrong when you've decided to make a game about bludgeoning zombies to death with frying pans. Capcom didn't.
4. Final Fantasy XII
PS2, Square Enix, Gamepage.
Kieron: They're still making Final Fantasy games? How quaint.
Dave: This isn't fair. I've been holding out for the PAL version.
Kieron: No, seriously, what the hell is this doing here? I appear to have found myself in the midst of a nest of Final Fantasy fans. Message to command: Drop Napalm on my present position so I can wipe out this hive of villainy.
Simon: Reviewing videogames like Final Fantasy XII is empirically harder than reviewing film. Not only must you consider the cinematics, pacing, costume and set design, casting and acting, camera work and location choice of Square Enix's latest world - but also its interactivity and mechanisms for role-play. The game's brilliance casts bright, perspicacious light on the stagnating genre, illuminating and accusing the flaws of its so-called 'modern' peers and pointing to a future for RPGs that could scarcely have been imagined before its unveiling. Its building blocks are as old as videogame time but the orphan who made good was never such a magnificent or wonderful role to play as in this game.
Tom: Don't you basically just hit stuff and buy potions?
James: For many reasons, there's a lot of games on this list I'll admit to not having played this year. If I was going to, in an Amazon pre-order review-style, pick one of the best of those to rave about, it'd have to be FFXII. Any game that both revolutionises the genre and guarantees my obsessive exploration for hundreds of hours gets my vote.
Oli: The Japanese RPG redefined: endless, painless, supple, subtle, radical and traditional all at once, and proof, alongside Okami, that PS2 can still host the world's most beautiful games.
Luke: In essence an MMO with an actual story (and a decent one at that) for people that aren't quite ready for the seedy underworld of online gaming. The best Final Fantasy since VII in my opinion.
3. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Wii/Cube, Nintendo, Gamepage.
Kieron: They're still making quaint Zelda games? How quaint.
Actually, a great game. But funnily - much like Gears of War - does seem a little bit of a dinosaur. Or maybe more a dying art. There's so much craft in every aspect of Twilight Princess, and realising that no-one else is doing - or, to be fair, is even capable of doing - similar work, makes you think you're living in some, well, some twilight. And when it's gone, we'll miss it terribly.
They're still making quaint Zelda games? How wonderful.
Kristan: What better reason to buy a Wii? What better reason to dust off the GameCube for one last hurrah? What better reason to get back into gaming? In a year when true classic games have been at a premium, Nintendo's long-awaited sequel reminds us why we love videogames, and why we keep coming back for more. After an admittedly slow start, the game offers such a relentlessly solid run of fantastically enjoyable sections that you don't mind the fact that the game is so huge. In fact, a couple of temples down the line you just want more and more. It's a bit like when I really got into San Andreas - another game with a shaky introduction that just kept getting better all the time and understood that progression should bring rewards. It's less progressive and ambitious than Oblivion, but has way more charm and provides a timely reminder why linearity doesn't have to be a dirty word.
John: Were it released a month earlier, I think this would have had a chance at number one. I've never engaged with Zelda before. I had fun on the GBA, but grew quickly tired of Wind Waker. And for my eternal sins, never gave the earlier games a chance. So I suppose I'm somewhat influenced by this being My First Zelda Love. While the early fishing is unforgivably dreadful, nothing else in the game has come close to being less than great. It's a masterpiece of design, beautiful and constantly expanding, reinventing itself with each new addition, and while I find bosses a tedious and disingenuous farce, here each has been fair and easily passed. Hooray for fairy boys!
James: Formulaic. That's formulaic in the sense that Zelda consistently builds on a traditionally successful underlying structure: get the item, solve the dungeon, defeat the boss, fill a heart container, ad infinitum. The satisfaction of constant reward happily married to the Wii's unique control scheme. Best launch title ever? Of course, the question you're inevitably asking: how much will I get for selling a mint Gamecube version on eBay. Pah! Get out of here. You disgust me. (A straight £25-30 quid for a couple of years then a gradual dip in price for some period before reclaiming its value is my guess.)
2. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
PC/Xbox 360, Bethesda Softworks, Gamepage.
Alec: A splendid hybrid of the depth of single-play RPGs and the confused wandering of MMOs. Shame about the pudding-faced characters, though.
Mathew: A game so good I've refused to play it more than a couple of hours, as I could feel the addiction I had to living a life that wasn't my own when I played Morrowind starting to take hold. I might book a holiday and install it again, though...
Kristan: Oblivion blew me away like no other game this year. I don't recall any other game giving me so many possibilities at once, and allowing me to forge my own path - all of which I wanted to do at the same time. I really couldn't give a flying fig about the perceived flaws with the level-up system, because - to be honest - I didn't even notice. I was too busy wandering around this vast, beautiful world, going off on one fascinating quest after another and shaping the game around what I wanted to do, rather than the other way around. So much of what this game offered was breathtakingly well executed, feeling more like a grand realisation of what an adventure game should be in 2006. People should get away from the tired notion of pigeon holing it in to the "rat punching" RPG category, because Oblivion is so much more than a game about slaying goblins and gaining XP. It's a game about freedom and possibilities, and one that offers so many hours of entertainment, it feels ungrateful to nitpick. The 360's finest hour so far, and the best reason to own the machine in my opinion.
Dan: Sure, the gameplay beneath the shiny shiny exterior may not be all that revolutionary, and the bulk of the dialogue soon begins to grate, but compared to the enormity of the experience and the enticing freedom to truly Choose Your Own Adventure, this is a game worth making the next gen leap for. It's nerdy as hell, often overwhelming in scale, but where else do you get to fight to the death alongside Sean Bean? Well, apart from a Sheffield pub car park, of course...
James: Confession time: I still haven't played this. Perhaps I shouldn't have promised I'd get round to completing Morrowind first.
Keza: Typically, I have a fifteen-hour limit on games, even ones I really like. Nothing holds my attention for very much longer. My game time clock in Oblivion currently stands at 104 hours and I STILL haven't finished it. If ever a game was worth fifty quid, this is it. I love it unreasonably. But if I start listing things I like about it then we'll be here until next Christmas, probably; I've been enthusing about it all year...
Kieron: The strangest thing about Oblivion is how quickly its critical standing in general gaming discourse dropped. For about one month it was being talked in Best-Game-Ever terms but then, well, a disenfranchisement set in. That it's "only" 2 in the chart speaks volumes. The disenfranchisement itself was strange - even from the very beginning, its primary flaws were obvious (botching its levelling so allowing you to accidentally break the game, mainly) and widely discussed. But the when its standing fell it wasn't actually a backlash. It was just it falling out of conversation. We stopped talking about it. But even if it wasn't quite what we wanted - that is, the best game ever - it was still a triumphant experience and absolutely top-five-of-the-year material. And, for the record, about twice the game Morrowind was.
1. Guitar Hero
PS2, Harmonix, Gamepage.
Tom: It's no Psychonauts, I'll tell you that.
John: I dunno. Really? I just don't get what's so special. It's got a great controller, and some non-shitty songs. It's a dance mat in your hands. It's fun to compete against friends. But what else? Why so great? Everyone bangs on about RAWKING OUT, but I was over Wayne's World a decade ago. Meh, I'm glad everyone's enjoying themselves, but I'm left sat in the corner staring in confusion.
Mathew: Described as a "rock star" simulator rather than a guitar simulator, it's as true as a description as possible, as it feels just as superb to blast through "Sharp Dressed Man" on easy as it does to struggle through it on expert. Plus! When you play it on easy, you've got more leeway to gyrate your hips and posture for "the ladies".
Simon: It's horrible, ugly, rock pastiche - as if The Darkness distilled their mock 'n roll USP into polygon and pixel and let you play as them; the rawk cliché weeps from every bottle of thrown piss and toilet-themed loading screen but, y'know, maybe parody's not such a bad frame of reference for a game that has you strap a plastic toy to your torso and pose idiotic for five minutes in front of your TV. Guitar Hero made 10-year old Japanese Bemani mechanics actually work on a Western audience at last and, for further widening the boundaries of what mainstream videogames can mean, who wouldn't be ever grateful?
James: Nothing more than a priapic totem to masculine fantasy. Just as it should be. The kind of game that causes spellcheckers to have a fit, because it needs you to spell rock with a capital 'AWWWWW'.
Kristan: Oh look, another 8/10, and another personal fave. It may well be a simple rhythm action game at its core, but, my god, what an inspired peripheral? Transforming what would have otherwise been a mild curiosity (like Harmonix's equally great and under-rated Amplitude and FreQuency) into a global phenomenon, the sight of goonish individuals gurning their way through More Than A Feeling will live long in the memory. The track listing, while not initially chock full of obvious favourites, has more than enough big hitters and hidden gems that have now entered gaming folklore. What was more surprising about Guitar Hero was its ability to appeal to the uber hardcore at the same time as attracting the non-gaming audience, but rather like Singstar, it won't really realise its true world-dominating potential until it becomes a product you can choose your own tracklisting online. But for now, with its low-budget cover version approach and charming simplicity, it definitely goes down as one of the most important games of the year - and unquestionably one of the most effortlessly enjoyable.
Alec: The only videogame I've ever played with my mother.
Kieron: Where to start?
The absolute sense of pure joy which consumed me upon plugging it in at the start of the year, and how a whole day was just consumed in a riff-frenzy? How "More Than A Feeling" is so good that I somehow talked The Escapist into letting me write 2500 words about it for them? How I suspect it managed to extend my relationship of the beginning of the year by a couple of months, as no matter how bad it got, we could always play Guitar Hero together and lighten the mood? How it was the only game she ever completed? How it was the only game which had friends turning up after closing time, banging on our door, demanding a go? How I found myself playing against a man in a Gorilla suit at a party, and losing? How it somehow marries the pure skill of something like Robotron to the social lubricant of Singstar to the faux-fantasy-fulfilment of Football Manager (except a better class of fantasy) to the atmospheric immersion of Looking Glass at their best (always remember: there's Thief alumni over at the Harmonix studio)?
Oh, don't start me talking. I could talk all night.
Keza: If you don't like Guitar Hero, you have NO SOUL.
For more end-of-year excitement, look out for our Readers' Top 50 voting form in the near future.