10. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
THQ / GSC / PC
Alec Meer: Pretty much the exact opposite of Call of Duty 4, and yet those are the two games vying for my favourite single-player FPS of the year. I love Stalker for how its unique brokenness entirely suits its unparalled atmosphere of stoic, miserable men, weirdness and horror. It's an FPS that actually offers something like a world, rather than just tunnels and disconnected levels.
Kristan Reed: Port it to PS3 or 360 for gawd's sake!
Jim Rossignol: Broken and brilliant. Stalker provides an idea of where shooters could go next: mixing scripted action with ecosystem AI to create genuinely interesting worlds. If BioShock had taken on the same kind of wide-open-yet-linear structure it would have been a much more interesting game.
Kieron Gillen: I wonder how many other people commenting on this one will use words like "Atmosphere". I'll bet all of them, or at least the ones who aren't making gags. As far as Post-soviet post-apocalypse survival-horror hyphen-heavy first-person shooters based around experimental arthouse sci-films set in nuclear disasters go, it's in a league of its own. And whatever takes Stalker's ideas and runs with them will, I'm sure, be a future Best Game of whatever year it comes out in.
John Walker: This game, as fantastic as it is, reveals a condition in me I was only faintly aware afflicted me. Gaming agoraphobia. Presented with too many directions to go in, and too many options for what to do, and I panic and stand still, wishing for a corridor to run down. This proves that I'm a moron, and nothing else.
9. Team Fortress 2
Kristan Reed: The best online shooter ever. End of story. Brilliant in every single way, from the simple maps, to the visual style and the wry humour. Well worth the wait.
Kieron Gillen: The online shooter, completely rebooted. Going from this to anything else makes everything else just look like identikit macho nonsense. Characters who have characters: who'd have thought it could make such a difference? It's the class-based shooter with real class.
Dan Whitehead: spieslol.
Alec Meer: Most of my time in multiplayer FPSes is spent swearing and slamming my keyboard against my desk. Most of my time in this one was spent laughing. What's really smart about TF2 is that the deathmatch hardcore are generally just as happy in it as talentless schmucks like I am. Truly, this is the game of The People.
Jim Rossignol: Awesome. I'm still stunned by how good it actually is. It'll be interesting to see how many people are playing it in two years time, however.
John Walker: Hurrah! It's the online FPS that made me care about online FPS! I'm a solitary gamer. I like to stalk the streets of shooters alone, a loner with nothing to prove. Other people spoil games by introducing all the properties of other people. I really hate other people. For me, online FPS needs to be everyone against everyone to be interesting. But somehow TF2 eradicates all their worst features, and lets me have an enormous amount of fun despite their presence. Avoiding playing as a Medic or Heavy, I also find that I don't have to work alongside anyone else, and can just get on with supporting my team on my own. I also found, to my delight, that I am often quite good at it, and get to see my name somewhere other than the bottom of the list. And for these reasons I really rather like TF2.
Tom Bramwell: Given the reaction to this, there's probably a confidence boost somewhere in there for 3D Realms - as well as the best multiplayer game of the year. The fact I sit at my PC or console viewing every multiplayer action game in terms of which things from TF2 it ought to include but doesn't is pretty representative of just how much skin we should be shearing from Valve's back with the inevitable pat.
Rob Fahey: I love the look and feel of TF2, but I just haven't had time to get into it (not helped by not having broadband due to a house move in November). Definitely really looking forward to getting my teeth into it in January.
8. Mass Effect
Microsoft / Bioware / Xbox 360
John Walker: Dear Bioware. You know I love you. I mean, how many times can I tell you how much I love you? And you know I'd never want to do anything to hurt you. But Bioware, if our relationship is to survive, you've got to learn to accept change. I really love the game you keep making - it really is lots of fun. But is there any chance at all that maybe, one day, you could make another game? I don't mean other than an RPG - I'm not stupid. But maybe one with a different plot. Please, for us? Love, John.
Kieron Gillen: My character is a butch dyke character ala her out of The Wire and I think she's awesome. Mechanistically, I'm not entirely convinced, but as a modern-incarnation of the Bioware model, it's a welcome addition to the gaming lexicon. And my butch-dyke really is awesome.
Kristan Reed: A brilliant adventure game, no question, with some of the best narrative committed to a mere videogame. BUT. Far too much not-quite-brilliant combat, and some technical glitches take the shine off this absorbing space quest. If you've got the time to pick through Bioware's near-masterpiece, then you'll experience some of the 360's most interesting moments, as it's far more accessible than it initially appears.
Jim Rossignol: Patchy but enthralling nonetheless. I struggled not to scream at the combat on occasion, but otherwise this is exactly the kind of game I wanted to playing in 2007.
Dan Whitehead: With fewer graphical hiccups, a more consistently populated universe and more varied side quests, this would have been my game of the year. No question. As it is, too much of it feels like repetitive padding, while the story missions are short but sweet. It does, at least, have the distinction of finishing strongly, in a year when most of the competition fizzled across the finish line. The final push against Saren managed to be both cinematic in scope and ferociously exciting to play.
Keza MacDonald: I really love this actually. The combat doesn't grate on me at all - in fact, I really enjoy it, except the vehicular sections (but then, I'm rubbish at them). I'd be torn between this and Oblivion for my favourite Western RPG evaaar - but then, Fallout 3's coming out next year and that will immediately render all other games ever pointless and rubbish.
Alec Meer: I'm two hours into this so far, and I still haven't seen any lesbian sex scenes. GOD. In seriousness, Mass Effect is how I plan to spend Christmas. Spending a couple of days losing myself in a sprawling, well-written RPG with spaceguns instead of elves is going to wondrous, geeky bliss. Hopefully.
7. Halo 3
Microsoft / Bungie / Xbox 360
Kieron Gillen: Prediction: This will be this year's equivalent to last year's Gears of War entry. My take? Yeah, it's just Halo. But that's in no way a bad thing. For a single-player game, I'd lean towards Crysis. For a multiplayer game, I'd go for TF2. For a narrative experience I'll go for... well, anything. Peggle would beat it. But for an all-round thoroughbred shooter, even in this all-time-best year for the genre, Halo's as good as it gets.
Tom Bramwell: Ooh! While we're on the subject of Gears of War, I hadn't played it much by the time it came to do last year's Top 50 (they beat us in the last three months of the year, you know - "do more reviews! Stop sleeping!"), so I actually did most of my Gearsing in 2007. And I did a lot of it. I completed it on Xbox 360 about five times with various people using Xbox Live. Playing it co-operatively is like watching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace with a friend while making a particularly messy cake. The combat mechanics are so perfectly honed that each encounter is a delight to perfect; the brutality's simultaneously incredibly comic and tactile in a way that really pumps you up. I know I should be writing about Halo 3 here, but I'd rather give Gears some more space. The PC port was terrific, you know.
Kristan Reed: 7? Really? A serious disappointment to me, personally (in single-player terms at least). I don't know which game other people played, but the one in my 360 had a) two exceptionally boring opening chapters, b) seriously underwhelming visuals for some of the levels, and c) gameplay so similar to the previous two that it felt like a join the dots exercise for the most part. It felt like a game that Bungie wasn't allowed to take risks on, and while this made for a very solid game, it wasn't, by and large, very exciting to play. There were a couple of absolutely glorious sections in the middle, and the penultimate level was also good, but apart from that it was the same "30 seconds of fun over and over" formula stretched out, shooting the same old monsters time and again. If all you wanted was more of the same, then I guess you won't be remotely unhappy, but for me it felt (mostly) like the 2001 original with slightly better visuals - hardly the next-gen opus many of us were expecting.
Jim Rossignol: Well, Halo 3 was better than Halo 2. That must mean it was the best game ever, right?
Alec Meer: Played this through in four-man co-op mode on Legendary in a one-day sitting. It was possibly the most miserable gaming experience I had all year. Halo 3: a bit like being repeatedly kicked in the kidney by a woman you once loved, as she shouts that she only ever wanted you for your money anyway. Much as with Halo 2, except then I secretly thought it was just a temporary falling-out.
John Walker: Oh bloody hell. It's one thing to hate every reader on the planet, but now I have to hate my colleagues too? What is this mediocre tosspile doing in the top bloody ten? Seriously. Ep Two and Metroid Prime 3 languish far below, and this most boring and unremarkable of shooters gets 7th? Good grief. I endured with it for hour after hour, excitedly waiting for the remarkable joys I'd been promised, but instead being met with the most familiar and routine shooting imaginable. "We know!" thought Bungie, "Let's have John run down this shitty corridor a second time, because that will make the game last longer!" "I know!" thought John, "Let's despair at what's apparently good enough."
Dan Whitehead: As someone who values single-player narrative over multiplayer mayhem, I can't help wishing that Bungie's storytelling was as gripping as its ability to stage action set-pieces. Tsavo Highway is a fantastic piece of game design but, like the previous Halo games, superb tactical levels are sandwiched between plodding run-and-gun sections, while the story is as incoherent and pompous as ever. Special mention must go to what is certainly the most horribly misconceived final level of any game this year. Master Chief vs Marble Madness Kart Racer? I mean, really?
Rich Leadbetter: Probably my biggest disappointment of the year in that it's essentially a re-run of Halo 2: sublime online multiplayer, but a short, mostly unsatisfying single-player experience. I'm surprised it made the top ten to be honest.
Simon Parkin: Am I the only one who bloody hates it when PC-centric game journalists kick-off on the Halo series like it's shorthand for how shallow and vacuous console games and owners really are? Master Chief has a weight and solidity to his control that Gordon Freeman has never found. The guns have a kickback and recoil that feels just right and each is different enough from the others to warrant application in distinct situations. Sure the narrative has devolved into a blancmange of impenetrable sci-fi claptrap but that 30 seconds of repeated wonder gaming hasn't dulled since the trilogy's debut. And that first opening line, where Cortana says: "You know they let me pick? Did I ever tell you that? Choose whichever Spartan I wanted," while pretty much the only good line in the whole game, is also pretty much best line in any FPS.
Oli Welsh: In retrospect it's surprising that Halo 3, such a momentous event of a game, was over so quickly. But I guess it shouldn't be: by definition, an event is a finite moment in time, after all. Whatever. It was one hell of a fortnight. It's a great game by any yardstick, but what makes Halo 3 special is the completeness, integration and polish of the whole package, especially stuff like the theatre mode, and the astonishing bungie.net. It's an incredibly full-featured software and services suite, the Microsoft Office of gaming. You wonder if Bungie will be able to repeat it out there in the cold hard world, without the teat of the world's richest technology company to suckle at. For me personally though, it was about co-op. I've always loved co-operative gaming and it's so often left out or treated as a poor cousin; outside of MMOs, no game has ever respected it like Halo 3 has. Playing through the phenomenal Ark and Covenant levels - the first on Heroic with one friend, the second on Legendary with three - was quite simply the most fun two hours I've ever had playing games.
Rob Fahey: With the exception of World of Warcraft, probably my biggest time sink this year. I've played through the wonderfully balanced single-player repeatedly, both on my own and co-op; and the multiplayer remains, for me, the absolute pinnacle of pure FPS gaming. The sheer level of polish that's evident in the balance of weapons, vehicles and map layouts is stunning. It may not be the most visually impressive or innovative game of the year, but Halo 3 has just the right pinch of magic to ensure that people will still be playing and enjoying it for years to come.
Keza MacDonald: Isn't Halo passé now? Please! For God's sake, when will it be passé? I think Halo 3 might be a metaphor for Things I Don't Like About Games. It's a big-budget wank-fest for stupid people and exactly the sort of thing we don't want defining the industry. That said, Bungie has done an absolutely incredible job in giving its fan-base what it wants - the finesse and attention to detail in the online multiplayer, the Forge and the movie editor beggar belief, and I am compelled to give it tremendous respect for that. Halo 3 is very well designed, with superb audio and visual set-pieces and unparalleled online integration, and it's definitely a step forward for its particular genre. It's just a shame that I don't actually like it at all.
Matt Martin: Only played it cos I got it free.
6. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Kieron Gillen: No one was expecting this to amount to much, but that every single person who's mentioned it has raved about it has secured it a position at the top of my special "Games To Play When There's No Work Around in January" list. I mean, I hear it's the sixth-best game of 2007 and everything.
Jim Rossignol: Probably my surprise game of the year, since I was expecting nothing from it. Certainly more dramatic than any other shooter in 2007, and with some neat, inventive sequences - the C-130 air support section suddenly made a rail-shooter interesting again. If that isn't a major achievement then, well, meh.
Simon Parkin: Anyone who's finished the game on Veteran difficulty will have seen behind the curtain and realised just how held together by rubber bands, sticky-back plastic and invisible trigger points the game is. But even knowing that, even having almost punched through my house at some points thanks to the ridiculous unfairness of the AI and spawning code, this is still one of my games of the year. The set-pieces are awesome and awful (in the classic meaning of the words) for how accurately they replicate contemporary war footage. And beyond all of that it's the first FPS to beautifully implement levelling and a rewards structure in its online multiplayer, the effects of which will be felt forever.
Kristan Reed: After years of doing exciting but predictable remakes of Allied Assault, Infinity Ward finally shook off the shackles of WW2 and brought the whole cinematic shooter concept bang up to date. Like a complete mentalist, I played (and reviewed) the whole thing on Veteran, culminating in a torturous eight-hour obsession session on the brutal penultimate level. There are so many highlights in this game it's incredible - easily a GoTY contender.
Tom Bramwell: You did what to a goat?
Alec Meer: The best straight shooter of the year, and joyous proof that games don't need to resort to icky quick-time events if they need a way for the player to engage with a cutscene. There's nothing wrong with being on rails so long as you're allowed to lean out the window from time to time. Also, I've got a bit of a man-crush on Captain Price.
Matt Martin: Online game of the year for me, but also a great single-player experience with great set-pieces. The combat feels brutal and blunt, as it should, from the tinkle-and-panic of a grenade dropped in a tight space to standing behind a wall-mounted machine gun spraying clumsy death. And there's nothing more satisfying that battling gung-ho Americans online and shouting "Allah u Akbar" after you've shot them in the face. That winds them right up.
Oli Welsh: An amazing ride. Like one of its own flashbangs, Call of Duty 4 leaves you reeling and thunderstruck. The graphical execution, atmosphere and set-piece set-ups are flawless, and in levels like Death From Above it takes the creepy, militarist propaganda of war games to places so dark you have to think it's intentional, so big props for that. Shame it's all built on some fundamentally lazy and cheating game design, but since you can't think for all the noise, I don't suppose it matters. Right?