Game of the Year Awards 2007

It is probably not presumptuous to predict that 2007, like 1998, will go down in gaming history as a watershed year for the medium. It saw some of the best, freshest, and most ambitious titles to be released in recent memory, with great games spanning all genres and platforms. It would be difficult to love games and not have had some great experiences in 2007; by the same token, it is difficult to pick winners in such a competitive year.

But pick them we must, for that is apparently the way of game journalism, and we begun the daunting process of doing so in the final months of the year. Some decisions were easier than we expected, some considerably more difficult, but we are satisfied with our final picks. You may not be, and we expect to hear about it in the comments. Stay tuned for the Shackers' Choice Awards--until then, sit back and read the Shack staff's own Game of the Year Awards 2007.
-By Chris Remo, Nick Breckon, Chris Faylor, Carlos Bergfeld, Steve Gibson, and Maarten Goldstein.

Table of Contents:
- Game of the Year (below)
- Achievement Awards (page 2)
- Platform Awards (page 4)
- Genre Awards (page 6)

GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Portal
Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Going into award deliberations after one of the most amazing years of gaming in recent memory, we all assumed this category would be hotly contested. As it turned out, nearly everyone on staff selected Valve's astonishing Portal before discussion began, and Game of the Year turned out to be one of the most easily-decided categories.

When we got into some good old devil's advocacy, it became an even clearer choice. Though just about every game nominated here could have in many years been given the top honor with confidence, Portal stands above the rest for its sheer freshness, inventiveness, and uncommonly consistent quality.

Its competitors--all excellent--are largely refinements of existing formulae, either sequels or spiritual successors to past groundbreaking games. Portal, though it exists in the Half-Life universe, is something entirely new to gamers. Building off the proof-of-concept Narbacular Drop--a student project created by Digipen graduates, several of whom now work at Valve full time--Portal gets it all right.

Its physics-driven gameplay completely bridges the rarely-crossed gap between full 3D action gaming and puzzle gaming; its masterfully-told narrative simultaneously conveys the game mechanics and paints an increasingly sinister picture of the game's confining environment, courtesy of the ever-present artificial intelligence GLaDOS; its pacing brilliantly segues from on-the-fly training to frantic "real world" application. Of course, it is all topped off with one of the most memorable and satisfying conclusions in gaming.

Some are likely to angrily contest the choice of Portal on the grounds that its main campaign lasts only a few hours; on the contrary, its brevity only enhances its quality. Never overstaying its welcome, like so many otherwise great games do, Portal is a tightly-packed experience that may very well be the shining examplar of a new format: the video game short story. We did not take Game of the Year to mean "most value for money" or "best package" or "most epic experience;" it recognizes quality, ambition, achievement, and the pure joy of gaming. In a year packed with many incredible games, Portal stood out to us as our 2007 Game of the Year. -C.R.
(Review)

Runner-up: Super Mario Galaxy
Nintendo EAD Tokyo (Wii)

Like our Game of the Year winner, Nintendo EAD Tokyo's Super Mario Galaxy toys with physics and gravity as a core part of its gameplay experience; that may be a coincidence, but what is not coincidental is that both games are also unrelentingly novel experiences, constantly throwing the player into situations that are new not only in the context of each game, but in the context of gaming.

Often considered the true successor to Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy feels like a single-handed rejuvenation of the sadly dormant 3D platformer genre. Even most games that have called themselves 3D platformers in recent years have been closer to third-person action games than true platformers.

Despite the sky-high expectations Galaxy had in the years and months approaching its release, it blew them all out of the water, with bizarre yet somehow intuitive gravity-centric mechanics and dozens of stages, each one seemingly more clever than the last.

Accompanied by a rousing orchestral score, a beautiful and unifying cosmic visual theme, excellent control with understated but effective pointer elements, and an open progression structure, Super Mario Galaxy is a must-play, not just for Wii owners but for all gamers. -C.R.
(Review)

Nominee: BioShock
Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia) (PC, Xbox 360)

A bleak yet vibrant, intense yet thoughtful underwater epic, BioShock by 2K Boston/2K Australia (nee Irrational Games) manages to effectively blend genuinely provocative themes with big-budget action gaming. It is a goal to which many games aspire, but sadly few reach. Art deco architecture, the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand, and a cautionary tale of unchecked human hubris are but a few of the themes explored in BioShock, largely courtesy of creative director Ken Levine.

The crumbling failed utopia of Rapture is gorgeously realized, populated with some of the most memorable antagonists the shooter genre has seen and distinguishing itself from more typical gaming settings. Players looking to delve deep into Rapture's rise and fall could find countless clues, via audio logs, graffiti, and exclamations from its ruined inhabitants. Meanwhile, engaging action gameplay making use of firearms and genetic powers helped make BioShock both a critical and commercial success. -C.R.
(Review, Interview, Spoiler Interview)

Nominee: Rock Band
Harmonix Music Systems (PS3, Xbox 360, PS3)

Harmonix's practice of consistent evolution in the rhythm genre has finally culminated in a glorious $150+ package, and the company deserves high praise for the resultant experience. As a distribution platform, it's a weekly surprise. As a game, it's the most fun you can have with plastic instruments.

The drums alone justify the price tag, emulating a real musical instrument better than any other peripheral to date. The microphone provides for a constant hilarity, while also serving as the perfect gateway for newcomers. Better still, it works as both a social event and a solo challenge. The lack of a full multiplayer mode holds it back from fulfilling its known potential, but to Harmonix's credit, the feature rarely goes missed--unlike the forthcoming full albums. Where are they, anyway? -N.B.

Nominee: Halo 3
Bungie Studios (Xbox 360)

Players aren't likely to be overly surprised by Halo 3's single-player campaign, which for the most part delivers several more hours of Bungie's dynamic "30 seconds of fun"--it's as good here as it's ever been, which is to say fans will have a blast while detractors probably won't be converted.

What is much more surprising is Bungie's neverending drive to push online functionality as far as possible, both in depth and accessibility. There's four-player online co-op without forgetting split-screen; the expansion of the online lobby system to hook into every part of the game; a ridiculously streamlined and integrated replay, screenshot, and clip-making feature; editors allowing custom gametype creation that goes beyond any seen on a console; and website integration that offers a mind-boggling amount of detail. It's the game Xbox Live was born to host. -C.R.
(Campaign Review, Multiplayer Review, Interview)

Nominee: Crysis
Crytek (PC)

A beautiful, demanding, large-scale, superpower-tinged shooter epic, Crysis is the latest from young but extremely capable developer Crytek, a followup to the studio's 2004 debut effort Far Cry. Checkpoint-driven goals combined with absolutely massive environments (at least until the more linear third act) allow for plenty of free-form exploration and routing without being unmanageable. The game features the ability to boost personal attributes and extensively modify weapons, allowing even further gameplay specialization.

The game's visual grandeur cannot be overlooked (unless your machine isn't up to the game's punishing requirements), taking technical achievement into the less tangible arena of artistic achievement. Crysis is extremely ambitious and, when it is at its best, it delivers. -C.R.
(Review, Interview)

Continue reading for the achievement awards and platform awards.

_PAGE_BREAK_

ACHIEVEMENT IN GAMEPLAY

Winner: Super Mario Galaxy
Nintendo EAD Tokyo (Wii)

The sheer breadth and depth of gameplay to be found in Super Mario Galaxy is indeed an achievement. From beginning to end, along a path you largely choose yourself, there is a veritable cornucopia of platforming greatness--it spans two and three dimensions, tiny planetoids and sprawling fields, rapid cycling through different polarities of gravity, and much, much, more.

It is a mystery how the Nintendo design team managed to come up with so many consistently inventive gameplay elements, particularly given the sheer amount of content in the game, but we are very glad they did; their competitors may be less so. -C.R.
(Review)

Runner-up: Portal
Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Enough about story and writing and pacing and all that boring stuff. Portal exceeded expectations in some surprising areas, but when you get down to it, shooting actual portals already makes for a fantastic game. A combination of platforms and puzzles and physics made for some head-scratching moments, but each chamber never felt insurmountable.

As a bonus, the very nature of the Valve's creation allows for advanced stage challenges and user-created levels on PC, continuing the fun of solving complex challenges while standing upside down. -N.B.
(Review)

Nominees:
Skate - EA Black Box (PS3, Xbox 360)
Crysis - Crytek (PC)
Crackdown - Realtime Worlds (Xbox 360)
The Eye of Judgment - SCE Studios Japan (PS3)


VISUAL ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT

Winner: Team Fortress 2
Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Who would have imagined that Team Fortress 2 would end up looking more like The Incredibles than a Battlefield game?

As ever, Valve was thinking ahead of us all, covering its zany multiplayer game with a perfect wrapper of clean lines and colorful shaders. We knew we were in for something special from the first screenshot of its final incarnation. The gleeful destruction exuded by the game's trailers--which alone deserve an award--truly matched the subsequent gameplay. Art in motion. -N.B.
(Review)

Runner-up: Crysis
Crytek (PC)

Rare is the game whose visual artistic achievements are so intrinsically tied to its technical ones. Most games that strain the boundaries of technical graphics also strain the boundaries of good taste, overloading the player with goofy artwork, unnecessary bloom, ridiculously shiny textures, and so on.

Crytek, on the other hand, leveraged its considerable technical achievements into a genuinely gorgeous final product--Crysis may bring all but the most capable machines to their knees, but if you have the hardware to run it, this is a truly beautiful experience. -C.R.
(Review, Interview)

Nominees:
BioShock - Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia) (PC, Xbox 360)
Everyday Shooter - Queasy Games (PS3)
Super Mario Galaxy - Nintendo EAD Tokyo (Wii)
Odin Sphere - Vanillaware (PS2)


ACHIEVEMENT IN WRITING

Winner: BioShock
Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia) (PC, Xbox 360)

Ken Levine and the rest of his creative team at Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia) created in BioShock's world of Rapture a remarkably evocative, immersive, and personality-infused dystopia. At nearly every turn, there were more clues as to what led to the city's decline, more disturbing scraps of information about its remaining twisted denizens, more anguished accounts from its former citizens.

While not without its flaws, there is a reason why so many threads debating the BioShock's revelations and implications surfaced in the weeks and months following its release. -C.R.
(Review, Interview, Spoiler Interview)

Runner-up: Portal
Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

It is a testament to Portal's script, largely driven by Erik Wolpaw of Old Man Murray fame, that the constant narration by the rogue AI GLaDOS remains simultaneously informative, worrisome, funny, and sinister throughout the course of the entire game. The increasing feeling of impending disaster, and eventual the climactic conclusion, are brilliantly executed.

Portal created one of the most memorable characters in gaming history, and it was done entirely via monologue--certainly, this is an achievement. -C.R.
(Review)

Nominees:
Mass Effect - BioWare (Xbox 360)
Half-Life 2: Episode Two - Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Sam & Max Episode 201: Ice Station Santa - Telltale Games (PC)
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulation - Capcom (NDS)


TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT

Winner: Crysis
Crytek (PC)

The PC has always been the vanguard of envelope-pushing technical achievement, but Crytek's tech team clearly went above and beyond the call of duty in its successful attempt to reset the state of the art. Amazing levels of detail, subtle but effective post-processing, impressive destruction physics, and breathtaking scale all tie together.

The recommended system specs may have limited Crysis' audience, but there is no denying its impressive technical work. -C.R.
(Review, Interview)

Runner-up: Halo 3
Bungie Studios (Xbox 360)

PC gamers have long argued that the features found in Xbox Live have been available for years (and for free) on the PC. Fair enough, but few games on any platform deliver so much out-of-the-box online and community-driven functionality in such an elegant, streamlined, accessible way as Halo 3.

A single lobby system--which already set the Xbox Live standard in Halo 2, and is far more impressive here--allows friends to share in every aspect of the game, including four-player cooperative campaign, online matchmaking and custom games, map and gametype editing, replay-viewing on more. The degree to which this is all linked into Bungie's website makes the technical achievement all the more impressive. Meanwhile, Bungie's servers are tracking every online game you play, allowing you to browse tactical overviews of mind-boggling detail. -C.R.
(Campaign Review, Multiplayer Review, Interview)

Nominees:
Skate - EA Black Box (PS3, Xbox 360)
Uncharted - Naughty Dog (PS3)
Assassin's Creed - Ubisoft Montreal (PS3, Xbox 360)
NBA Live 08 EA Canada (PC, PS3, PS2, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP)

Keep reading for the rest of the achievement awards.

_PAGE_BREAK_

OUTSTANDING MULTIPLAYER

Winner: Halo 3
Bungie Studios (Xbox 360)

Even before Halo truly put the company on the map, Bungie has always prided itself on unique and fully-featured multiplayer experiences, and Halo 3 represents the culmination of those efforts. In addition to the huge array of gametypes already offered by default, the combination of the gametype editor and the Forge map editor allow for a seemingly neverending list of possible multiplayer experiences. Then, of course, there is the four-player co-op.

And thanks to Xbox Live, the game not only retains both its split-screen and online components, you can also combine the two. All in all, the completeness of Halo 3's multiplayer suite sets a high watermark, both on the Xbox 360 and for multiplayer gaming as a whole. Also: Rocket Race. -C.R.
(Campaign Review, Multiplayer Review, Interview)

Runner-up: Team Fortress 2
Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

As we all know, games can be broken with the most minor of tweaks, or fixed with the smallest of patches. That being said, Valve's elegant refinement of the Team Fortress dynamic is an oft-underrated achievement. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the developers tricked it out with the equivalent of chrome rims, polishing the gameplay to a flashy brilliance.

Every combat class has a distinct style for players to toy with, and each map is a character study. Best of all, it has given Counter-Strike a long-overdue break from the throne of the PC Quick Match of Multiplayer King--and because that category doesn't exist, here it sits. -N.B.
(Review)

Nominees:
Rock Band - Harmonix Music Systems (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2)
Warhawk - Incognito Entertainment (PS3)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Infinity Ward (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars - Splash Damage (PC)


ORIGINAL DOWNLOADABLE CONSOLE GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Everyday Shooter
Queasy Games (PS3)

A triumphant vindication of the idea that console-based digital distribution still allows for a small team to deliver a personal, low-budget game to the masses, Everyday Shooter is the work of a single developer, Jonathan Mak of Queasy Games. In the infinite sea of Robotron derivatives that floods Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, Everyday Shooter is sublimely unique.

Described by its creator as an "album," Everyday Shooter fuses gameplay, music, and visuals into a satisfyingly synaesthetic amalgamation, tied together by a clever take on level pacing. Each stage features a unique feel based on the accompanying layered guitar tracks--like every other part of the game, composed by Mak. You need to play Everyday Shooter. -C.R.
(Interview)

Runner-up: Pac-Man: Championship Edition
Namco (Xbox 360)

While there was little surprise in seeing yet another outing for Namco's perennial pill muncher, we were taken aback by how clever and unexpectedly addictive Pac-Man Championship Edition turned out to be.

Timed challenges, new mazes, and a level-like progression as more pills appear on-screen bring an entirely new appeal to the classic title, making this one of the best original downloadable titles on consoles last year. -C.F.

Nominees:
Super Stardust HD - Housemarque (PS3)
Calling All Cars - Incognito Entertainment (PS3)
Warhawk - Incognito Entertainment (PS3)


BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Winner: Super Mario Galaxy
Nintendo EAD Tokyo (Wii)

The Wii's spacious digital disc has finally freed Nintendo's Koji Kondo from the confines of MIDI orchestration, putting a full symphony at the veteran composer's disposal. The result is a dynamic, joyous score, full of catchy beats and triumphant themes. Beginning with the first level, it's impossible to deny the spine-tingling magic that Kondo and lead Galaxy composer Mahito Yokota have produced, and every following stage is an exercise in musical variety to match the visual diversity.

The character of the score permeates so completely through the game that interface elements often turn into subtly interactive musical elements, and the soundtrack often syncs to Mario's running. Galaxy arguably contains Kondo's best work to date, which is saying quite a lot. -N.B.
(Review)

Runner-up: Everyday Shooter
Queasy Games (PS3)

Jonathan Mak's raw but often soothing, ambling but thematically focused, guitar-driven score to Everyday Shooter is very much unlike most game soundtracks, both in content and in presentation. It is a far cry from the overblown symphonic scores and typically computer-esque electronic soundtracks of most games, but it also does something that is sadly rare these days: it genuinely fuses with the gameplay.

Clearly taking some cues from the work of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, Mak's layered tracks form the backbone of each stage of Everyday Shooter, pulsing and expanding with the trippy backgrounds and providing a crucial part of the game's immersion. -C.R.
(Interview)

Nominees:
BioShock - Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia) (PC, Xbox 360)
World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade - Blizzard Entertainment (PC)
Mass Effect - BioWare (Xbox 360)


STUDIO OF THE YEAR

Winner: Bungie Studios

While independent studios are increasingly becoming absorbed by the ever-consolidating group of major publishers, Bungie pulled off a baffling maneuver earlier this year--it achieved independence from owner Microsoft. Founded in 1991 and becoming a fully-owned subsidiary in 2000, Bungie is somehow again able to completely call its own shots, and allocate its development resources as it sees fit.

Some would say that a studio of Bungie's success and clout explain why it was able to split off from its corporate parent--true to an extent, but those factors also make it all the more remarkable that Microsoft was able to be convinced to let the studio go, retaining only a minority stake. We wait with bated breath for what the company will develop as its next major project, which is almost certainly not Halo. -C.R.

Runner-up: Valve Software

There is little dispute that Valve is one of the most consistently high-quality developers around--this year alone, The Orange Box contained some of the best gaming experiences on multiple platforms--but the independent studio has also demonstrated considerable success outside the world of development alone.

Its Steam delivery service has become the de facto digital distribution platform on PC, and with the release of The Steam Community it has continued to extend its stabilizing roots throughout the world of PC gaming, slowly bringing more shared functionality and standards to an often lawless platform. With the disappointing launch of Games for Windows Live, Valve is introducing the closest thing PC gamers have to a unified online platform, and it's free. -C.R.

Nominees:
Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia)
Telltale Games
Harmonix Music Systems

Continue reading for the platform awards.

_PAGE_BREAK_

PC GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Portal
Valve Software

It is our overall Game of the Year, and it is also the standout experience on the platform that we know is its true home. Mouse control allows for those depressingly intimidating speedruns you watch on YouTube, and modability allows for post-release custom levels.

Portal is something you should play on any of the platforms for which it was released, but if you can play it on PC, make that a special priority. -C.R.
(Review)

Runner-up: Crysis
Crytek

A spiritual successor to Crytek's debut effort Far Cry, now owned by publisher Ubisoft, Crysis returns to the large-scale, island-set shooter genre, a genre of which the German developer seems to be the sole current proprietor.

Its massive environments, weapon customization, and ability-enhancing nanosuit allow for a considerable variety of approaches in achieving its objectives, and gorgeous visuals--providing your rig can handle it--top off the experience. -C.R.
(Review, Interview)

Nominees:
Half-Life 2: Episode 2 - Valve Software
Team Fortress 2 - Valve Software
BioShock - Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia)
The Witcher - CD-Projekt


CONSOLE GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Rock Band
Harmonix Music Systems (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2)

Relegating our recognition of Rock Band to a mere music category seemed unfitting, and awarding it over other strong, platform-dominant candidates was proving a hotly contested subject.

Deadlocked on many fronts, we finally found a way out--an easy way, but ultimately, the right way--by handing it a trophy for overall console excellence. It's a consistent experience across several platforms, while really achieving platform status in its own right. -N.B.

Runner-up: Super Mario Galaxy


Nintendo EAD Tokyo (Wii)

Mario, Mario. You're stuck in second place this year, my friend. You're the Luigi of our Game of the Year Awards. Perhaps the cooler brother, but forever pigeonholed as the co-star. I fought for you, Mario. I wanted you to make it. I wanted you to have your day in the sun. And who wouldn't, after your cloudy showing in Sunshine?

This was your year, a perfect year, a banner year for the big N, and you shouldn't have to sit in the shadow of other giants after conquering your own. So even though you may not be first place in our minds, for your magnificent return to form, you sit first place in my heart. -N.B.
(Review)

Nominees:
Halo 3 - Bungie Studios (Xbox 360)
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption - Retro Studios (Wii)
Skate - EA Black Box (PS3, Xbox 360)
God of War II - SCE Studios Santa Monica (PS2)


XBOX 360 GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: BioShock
Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia)

We've already told you why we love BioShock as a game. But despite being a first-person shooter, and one with a strong PC heritage at that, BioShock was a surprisingly great, and consistent, experience on Xbox 360. In some ways, its systems even felt particularly suited to a controller, and the 360 audience responded by making the game a deserved success. -C.R.
(Review, Interview, Spoiler Interview)

Runner-up: Portal
Valve Software

We really liked Portal a whole lot, and we were thrilled to discover that it made the transition to Xbox 360 with nary a major problem.

Though some other of the other Orange Box offerings didn't make it to consoles unscathed, the Xbox 360 edition of Portal looks and runs great--the 360 provides the control demanded by its tricky puzzles and the presentation demanded by the dry-witted GLaDOS. It's not quite like using a mouse, and the capacity for custom levels isn't here, but it's still a top-notch experience. -C.F.
(Review)

Nominees:
Crackdown - Realtime Worlds
Call of Duty 4 - Infinity Ward
Halo 3 - Bungie Studios
Rock Band - Harmonix Music Systems


PLAYSTATION 3 GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Rock Band
Harmonix Music Systems

The PlayStation 3 boasts plenty of solid games, but few stand-outs. The fact is, Rock Band is the best game on the system, and thus deserves another turn at the podium. And what more can be said of the gem-scrolling rock simulator at this point? We all thought it was a late April Fool's joke, but Harmonix made us believe, and largely succeeded in completing a deceptively ambitious project. -N.B.

Runner-up: Call of Duty 4
Infinity Ward

Not only did the fourth game in Infinity Ward's long-running series break free of the World War II shooter mold, but it also coincided with a large stride forward in gameplay. Its multiplayer component made it a strong consideration across many categories, while the sometimes inspired but ultimately uneven single-player campaign held it back from attaining GOTY status. -N.B.
(Interview)

Nominees:
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction - Insomniac Games
Everyday Shooter - Queasy Games
The Eye of Judgment - SCE Studios Japan
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - Naughty Dog

Keep reading for the conclusion of the platform awards.

_PAGE_BREAK_

Wii GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Super Mario Galaxy
Nintendo EAD Tokyo

Super Mario Galaxy was a shoo-in for this category since it was announced, but it bears mentioning that the game really did considerably exceed our seriously massive expectations--this is quite a feat for a bunch of jaded game journalists.

Taking the system to new visual heights, integrating its pointer-driven controller in a useful but not obnoxious manner, and simply providing one of the most joyful and endlessly surprising game experiences of the year makes it the clear choice. -C.R.
(Review)

Runner-up: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Retro Studios

Despite Mario's victory, Retro Studios' conclusion of its well-loved Metroid Prime sub-franchise was not far behind. It was the first of a devastating one-two punch on Wii in late 2007 that served to remind hardcore gamers that they were not forgotten.

First-person control on the Wii made a big leap with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, proving the genre's viability on the system. The game itself featured yet more of the wonderfully tuned shooting/exploration/platforming combo that was so expertly brought into 3D with the original Prime, here in full force with excellent pacing, lush environments, and plenty of memorable moments. -C.R.
(Review)

Nominees:
Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition - Capcom
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure - Capcom
Super Paper Mario - Intelligent Systems
WarioWare: Smooth Moves - Intelligent Systems


NINTENDO DS GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Nintendo EAD

Nintendo's long-running Zelda series has gained a reputation in recent years for being in a creative rut, even as it maintains its impressive standard of quality. As such, it was a relief that this portable incarnation proved to be much more of a kick in the green cloth pants than the last home console entry was.

Using the DS hardware to capably take on the expressive cel-shaded style of The Wind Waker gave the game a strong identity, while the much-improved sailing component and inspired stylus-driven puzzles contributed on the gameplay side. Triangulating the location of buried treasure by mapping and connecting coordinates is fresh and fun, and the overall adventure is substantial for a portable system. -C.R.

Runner-up: Puzzle Quest: The Challenge of the Warlords
Infinite Interactive

Even if you think you don't like puzzle games, this one may shock you. The DS stylus and Puzzle Quest are the perfect match, nailing the interface for the Bejeweled-like gameplay on a portable. You will find yourself trapped constantly playing the adventure-quasi-RPG-Diablo-item-hunt mode whenever a free moment comes up.

It sucks you in. Your life will be changed forever. Tell your family that you'll miss them before picking this up. You will. -S.G.

Nominees:
Contra 4 - Konami
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground - Vicarious Visions
Picross DS - Jupiter
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations - Capcom


PSP GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Crush
Zoe Mode (Kuju Entertainment)

One of the year's most refreshingly innovative titles, Crush has players constantly switching between 2D and 3D perspectives as they explore environments and attempt to solve puzzles by literally crushing the level from different angles, which can cause all sorts of paths and platforms to appear.

It sounds complex, but it all makes sense within the game thanks to simple controls and devious level design that combines simple tasks with some genuinely difficult brain teasers.

Brilliant in both concept and execution, Crush delivers an experience that is perfect for the PSP hardware. -C.F.

Runner-up: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Konami

Not just content to finally bring the long-lost Castlevania: Rondo of Blood to North America, Konami opted to redo the entire 2D game with a slick 3D look and toss in a PSP edition of its well-known sequel, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, for good measure.

Symphony of the Night got the primo treatment as well, adding content from the import-only Saturn version along with new English localization, complete with new voice acting.

With two classic Castlevania titles looking and playing better than ever--one of which North American fans aren't likely to have played--and the original PC Engine version of Rondo of Blood included for purists, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles marks some of the best both the franchise and the portable system have to offer. -C.F.

Nominees:
SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Tactical Strike - Slant Six Games
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness - Nippon Ichi Software
Puzzle Quest - Infinite Interactive
Jeanne D'Arc - Level-5


PLAYSTATION 2 GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: God of War II
SCE Studios Santa Monica

As evidenced by God of War II's first stage, a sprawling level-long battle against a towering colossus, SCE Studios Santa Monica took special care to ensure Kratos' sophmore outing went far, far beyond his action-filled debut.

Filled to the brim with a number of memorable moments and pushing the PlayStation 2 harder than many thought possible, God of War II isn't just 2007's best PlayStation 2 game; it's one of the best games on the platform. -C.F.
(Interview)

Runner-up: Rogue Galaxy
Level-5

Level-5's swan song for the PlayStation 2 continues the developer's pedigree of highly-polished, content-packed RPGs.

As Jaster Rogue and friends explore the game's many large planets with nary a load time, the game's action-based combat keeps players entertained while its lengthy narrative and numerous side quests--including the optional Pokemon-like Insectron tournaments and an item creation mini-game--keep them coming back for more. -C.F.
(Review)

Nominees:
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 - Atlus Co.
Odin Sphere - Vanillaware
Rock Band - Harmonix Music Systems

Continue reading for the genre awards.

_PAGE_BREAK_

SHOOTER GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Half-Life 2: Episode Two
Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

Valve's Half-Life 2 episodes may feature campaigns of single-digit hour counts, but Episode Two demonstrates the company has no intention of letting that gameplay duration translate to a lax development attitude.

Episode Two is arguably the most consistently well-paced Half-Life game yet, adding numerous new gameplay ideas to the mix, improving the series' already successful elements, opening up the environments a bit, and ending in a hell of a bang. It is an intense and exquisite gaming experience with a number of excellent firefights. -C.R.
(Review)

Runner-up: Crysis
Crytek (PC)

On the other end of the shooter spectrum from the highly directed Half-Life 2: Episode Two is the much more open Crysis. It constantly allows you to change up your style of play, from roof-jumping sniper to shotgun-wielding Rambo-wannabe to stealthy Predator-like stalker.

When Crysis is at the top of its game--that is, in the first two thirds, before it starts to settle more into rails--it has some of the best shooting around. -C.R.
(Review, Interview)

Nominees:
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption - Retro Studios (Wii)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Infinity Ward (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Halo 3 - Bungie Studios (Xbox 360)
BioShock - Irrational Games (2K Boston/2K Australia) (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)


ACTION AND ACTION/ADVENTURE GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Nintendo EAD (NDS)

Not just impressive for a portable game, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is an excellent adventure all around. The series' blend of clear goal-driven gameplay with a large, explorable world makes for good pacing; the excellent arsenal of weaponry sees new functionality with the stylus control; new types of puzzles and navigation surface thanks to the stylus; and the world is brought to life in charming fashion thanks to the Wind Waker-esque styling. -C.R.

Runner-up: God of War II
SCE Studios Santa Monica (PS2)

In an age of increasingly cynical expectations for games and exceedingly gratuitous violence, it takes a to label a game as brutal. That said, we can think of no better word to describe God of War II. Its fights are brutal and unforgiving affairs, both in terms of difficulty and in the actions players exact upon their foes.

While its best moments are left for players to discover on their own, few encounters are more satisfying or shocking than when Kratos repeatedly slams an ornate metal door against a boss's ever-softening cranium. -C.F.
(Interview)

Nominees:
Crackdown - Realtime Worlds (Xbox 360)
Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition - Capcom (Wii)
Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction - Insomniac Games (PS3)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - Naughty Dog (PS3)


ROLEPLAYING GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: The Witcher
CD-Projekt (PC)

Dwarf cock! CD Projekt's lengthy RPG opus is a perfect combination of riveting, off-beat dialogue and engrossing scenarios. The character of Geralt does for RPGs what Duke or Max did for shooters, giving us a dark persona to get behind as we high-tail it around a rainy, imperfect world. You won't see Mass Effect's prissy Captain Shepard getting drunk and fighting zombies before settling into bed with the local honey pot. -N.B.
(Review)

Runner-up: Mass Effect
BioWare (Xbox 360)

BioWare spent a long time working on its original sci-fi opus. It falls short in part, but succeeds with its major brushstrokes, presenting a cinematic picture that is largely unprecedented in gaming. The first scene of dialogue will have you wondering why no other RPG looks and works this smoothly, while the last sequence of the game will have you hoping for a more consistently-polished sequel. -N.B.
(Review)

Nominees:
Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer - Obsidian Entertainment (PC)
Rogue Galaxy - Level-5 (PS2)
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 - Atlus Co. (PS2)
Jeanne D'Arc - Level-5 (PSP)


PLATFORM GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Super Mario Galaxy


Nintendo EAD Tokyo (Wii)

There have been but a handful of great 3D platformers in the decade since the release of Super Mario 64--even most of the games that call themselves 3D platformers tend to be essentially action games with some jumping thrown in for good measure. Thankfully, Mario returned to show the rest of this shameful segment how things are done.

Super Mario Galaxy understands the joy of platforming, that finely-honed sense of control and the negotiation of environments it allows, and it goes absolute apeshit with it. Not only is this one of the finest platformers ever released, it incorporates elements from just about every type of platformer ever released, including the 2D ones. Bravo. -C.R.
(Review)

Runner-up: Portal


Valve Software (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)

It is hard to decide exactly to what genre Portal belongs--and therein lies one of its many charms--but it is certainly as much of a platformer as it is everything else, and it handily outshines nearly all of its competition there. Featuring one of the cleverest game mechanics to be seen in years, Portal's physics-driven spatial puzzle-solving essentially incorporates first-person platforming, something that is rarely attempted and even more rarely done well. Here, it is exceptional. -C.R.
(Review)

Nominees:
Crush - Zoe Mode (Kuju Entertainment) (PSP)
Mercury Meltdown: Revolution - Ignition Banbury (Wii)
Eets: Chowdown - Klei Entertainment (Xbox 360)

STRATEGY GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: World in Conflict
Massive Entertainment (PC)

Massive's multiplayer-focused, action-RTS hybrid takes all the fun of being a Battlefield 2 commander and doles it out to every player. In doing so, it not only innovates in the genre, but also emphasizes teamwork in a way that few games have. And to its credit, despite the heavy reliance on team players, jumping into an RTS has never been this easy, or this instantly--and consistently--gratifying.

While Supreme Commander innovated in the realm of mechanics, World in Conflict challenges what a strategy game can be. And judging by how rewarding a massive last-second nuclear detonation is, or how enjoyable a simple coordinated flanking maneuver proves, that's a challenge safely won. -N.B.

Runner-up: Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
EA Los Angeles (PC, Xbox 360)

Although the latest Command & Conquer RTS doesn't really break much in the way of new ground, it does provide exactly what a C&C lover would want in spades. All your favorite units and all of your favorite terrible acting in those laughable cut scenes are back in equal measure. It could be called a step back from Generals as far as "fun factor," but it's a good ride, and a high-quality experience throughout. The gameplay speed slider is always welcome too. -S.G.

Nominees:
Supreme Commander - Gas Powered Games (PC)
Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword - Firaxis Games (PC)
Medieval II: Total War: Kingdoms - The Creative Assembly (PC)


MASSIVELY MULTIPLAYER GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
Blizzard Entertainment (PC)

Say all you want of Blizzard's behemoth--it's still the best flavor of MMO available. The Burning Crusade may have only amounted to a few sprinkles on top, but those sprinkles made it seem like an all-new dish for a little while, which is really all you can ask of any expansion. And though the best flavor of ice cream may dull in taste over time, every few months, a craving is inevitable. Give in. -N.B.

Runner-up: Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar
Turbine (PC)

Beginning with perhaps the smoothest launch in MMO history, Lord of the Rings Online has offered a surprisingly pleasant alternative to those burned out on other fantasy offerings. Turbine has somehow created a world that feels friendlier than World of Warcraft, while also remaining a distinctive experience, which is no small feat considering the challenge of overlapping material. Worth a look. -N.B.
(Interview)

Nominees:
Hellgate: London - Hellgate Studios (PC)
Tabula Rasa - Destination Games (PC)

Keep reading for the conclusion of the 2007 Games of the Year.

_PAGE_BREAK_

ADVENTURE GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Sam & Max 201: Ice Station Santa
Telltale Games (PC)

After successfully completing the first full season of episodic gaming, Telltale is back for more with Season Two of Sam & Max. Episode 201: Ice Station Santa ranks among the dog and rabbit duo's best adventures yet, with a suitably surreal plotline, new locations (amen) and characters, and increasingly sharp writing and puzzle design.

A spate of technical additions along with the continued improvements to design and presentation provide more evidence that the second season will be even better than the first, despite Telltale currently carrying the episodic flag alone. -C.R.

Runner-up: Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Capcom (Wii)

A few years ago, we would think of games like Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros' Treasure, sigh, and mutter, "They just don't make games like that any more."

That's why, for old-school adventure gamers, Zack & Wiki feels like getting reacquianted with a long-lost friend.

Broken up into stages, the game emphasizes exploration and creative solutions to its various puzzles. Savage monsters standing between you and a shiny treasure? Throw a rock at a snake to distract them, then drug their food with a sleeping mushroom while they're not looking.

Best of all, most of this is accomplished by performing the actual motions with the Wii Remote. Unlike many games, these motions don't feel gratuitous or tacked-on, they feel like a natural extension of the gamplay.

An old-school Myst-flavored adventure game on a console--who'd have thought? -C.F.

Nominees:
Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations - Capcom (NDS)
Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened - Frogwares (PC)


MUSICAL GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Rock Band
Harmonix Music Systems (PS3, Xbox 360, PS3)

Harmonix was born to win this category. It's in the company's blood. If it's not replicating a full band dynamic in a video game, it's creating music-based games for your iPod. Rock Band is the ultimate representation of this mentality, the best musical video game yet.

How can they top this? Where do they go from here? Considering we knew nothing about Rock Band around this time last year, the potential is scary. -N.B.

Runner-up: Everyday Shooter
Queasy Games (PS3)

Everyday Shooter may not be a rhythm game in the traditional sense, but it is certainly a musical game, a rhythmic game. Creating or playing along with music is not the object of the gameplay, but music is intrinsically connected to the gameplay in a way that even many traditional rhythm games do not achieve. (Play it.) -C.R.
(Interview)

Nominees:
Guitar Hero 3 - Neversoft Entertainment (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PC)
Jam Sessions - Plato (NDS)
Every Extend Extra Extreme - Q Entertainment (Xbox 360)


DRIVING GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: TrackMania United
Nadeo (PC)

Anyone who is a fan of racing games should be thrown in jail for not experiencing TrackMania United. Easily one of the most purely fun racing games in ages, TrackMania doesn't just settle for fun multiplayer racing. In addition, there are great platform and puzzle (!) modes along with an easy to use track editor.

The developers embrace the track-making community so much that additional community created tracks are actually downloaded within the single player campaign for you to try and rate. The original TrackMania and the free TrackMania Nations are well worth checking out as well. -S.G.

Runner-up: Project Gotham Racing 4
Bizarre Creations (Xbox 360)

There wasn't a whole lot left to add to the already-excellent Project Gotham Racing series, so Bizarre delivered another very solid game in Project Gotham Racing 4. Graphics have been further improved, resulting in an even more gorgeous game, and the addition of bikes works very well. The reworked kudos system, which allows you to buy cars and tracks with the points you score during the game, finally offers a nice incentive to drive properly. -M.G.

Nominees:
Forza Motorsport 2 - Turn 10 Studios (Xbox 360)
DiRT - Codemasters (PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
Stuntman: Ignition - Paradigm Entertainment (PS3, Xbox 360, PS2)


FLIGHT/NAVAL SIMULATION OR COMBAT GAME OF THE YEAR

Winner: Silent Hunter 4: Wolves of the Pacific
Ubisoft Romania (PC)

A strict World War II-era submarine simulator isn't something you ever expect to be accessible, and even given many realism relaxing options, Ubisoft Romania's Silent Hunter series is really no exception. However, with a few hours of trial-and-error, Silent Hunter 4's stunning graphics and tense scenarios are sure to win any sim fan over.

The US-focused Wolves of the Pacific eclipses its predecessor in terms of graphical quality, offering truly awe-inspiring views of dangerous battle fleets and tempting Japanese cargo ships. It's all about charting a patrol and hunting down prey, adapting to each encounter and attempting to maximize damage, while simultaneously hoping making it out alive. The best PC simulations can be more fun when you're in danger of being destroyed, and Silent Hunter 4 is no exception, with impressive damage models and crew management interfaces. Highly recommended. -N.B.

Runner-up: IL-2 Sturmovik: 1946
1C: Maddox Games (PC)

One of the best combat flight simulators developed now sports over 300 planes and hundreds of missions. It's still a little hard on the eyes, but from a pure simulation point of view, it doesn't get much better than Maddox Games' IL-2 series. -N.B.