What makes a good video game? Strong visuals are important. Good controls are essential. A well-crafted concept helps too. These days, most games can boast at least two-thirds of that criteria.
So, then what makes a game great? Feeling. Emotion. Surprise. Interaction. Even addiction. Playing a great game causes you to stay up all night, even knowing you have school or work the next morning. Playing a great game compels you to push your reflexes and brain harder and faster. And playing a great game forces you to experience and imagine.
It's a magical feeling when a game offers all these elements. Knowing that by turning on the TV and the console, instantly you are no longer just sitting on the couch in your home but instead are a galactic warrior. Or an undersea explorer. Or a fuzzy alien. Or a hero. Or even a villain.
So here are the titles we deemed the best experiences of 2007. Admittedly, we didn't play everything (because that would probably be impossible), but of the titles that did cross our paths, these are the ones that resonated most. Our favorites in order:
Best of the Year
BioShock: Adventure games don't get any better than BioShock. What makes it so good is that it's more than just a game; it's a complete experience. So immersive is the action, so remarkable are the environments, it takes only a few minutes of gameplay for BioShock to invade your mind and make you feel like you are indeed wandering through a 1960s-era failed undersea utopia populated by crazed zombies and freaky little girls who carry chemicals to enhance your biological superpowers. Besides the extensive details, like the period props and costumes, great score and brilliant art direction, the story and concept of BioShock are better than most movies. And with so many rooms to explore and so many creepy elements to this masterpiece -- part horror flick, part sci-fi novel -- complete escapism was never so easy or fun. (Rated: mature.)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare: Spectacular, edge-of-your-seat warfare is served up with a great story and even better visuals in the latest of the Call of Duty franchise. Reinvented as a modern conflict (unlike the series' WWII-based previous titles), COD4 is the war game that all other war games want to be: a perfect blend of action and realism with visuals that are unbelievable. Besides the technological perfection, COD4 also boasts a well-crafted story full of unexpected surprises. (Rated: mature.)
Assassin's Creed: The stunningly rendered visuals and natural, fluid controls make Assassin's Creed a remarkable achievement in gaming. Epic, broad and sweeping, Creed's well-written missions (set in the Middle Ages) and the main character's stunning free-run abilities make this the best title of the year in the crowded Grand Theft Auto Open-Ended Story genre. And it's also inspired by true events? Take that, Mario! (Rated: mature.)
Super Mario Galaxy: Sure, the story is familiar (help Mario save the princess from the clutches of the evil bad guy), but this time gamedom's favorite little plumber does more than just run through castles and jump over Koopas. He now soars from planet to planet in a colorful masterpiece. Easy to control and with a nice variety of puzzles and action, owning SM Galaxy should be mandatory for Wii owners who like a good time. (Rated: everyone.)
The Orange Box: Five amazing games in one -- at the regular next-gen price of $59.99 -- make the Orange Box the best value of the year. Games don't get more original than the cerebral puzzles of Portal; the fun, stylish, multiplayer action of Team Fortress 2; and the intense story and action of Half Life 2 and its two sequels. It's got something for everyone at prices that can't be beat. (Rated: teen to mature.)
Halo 3 is technologically flawless but no longer one-of-a-kind like its predecessors. But the ability to save replays of your favorite multiplayer battles and view playback from a number of different angles is unparalleled. Rock Band combines guitars, drums and a mike to help get your friends into the act in the wildly popular musical simulation genre. Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation is a console-based flight simulator like no other. Soaring through the skies has never looked so real, or been so exciting. Cooking Mama Cook Off is a quirky way to interact with the Wii (really peel that potato and chop those onions!) that offers real-life cooking tips and is perfect for gamers of all ages. Lost Planet is an amazing sci-fi action game that landed way back in January but remains one of the best with its complex plot and stunning snow planet visuals.
And the Worst
Because the "tilt the controller the way you want to fly" control scheme was unresponsive and just downright frustrating, Lair is unplayable and is easily the worst game of 2007. (Steering the giant dragon is like trying to herd a dozen kittens using a salad plate.) A ton of developers worked really hard on the story and technology (as shown in the numerous making-of videos included on the disc), all to be undone by the poorly executed controls. Move over, Jaws Unleashed, here comes another impossible-to-control, massive waste of time. (Rated: teen.)
Fusion Frenzy 2 was a collection of casual games that were so poorly designed they were a chore to play. Scrubbing toilets is more fun. 300: March to Glory was a boringly generic hack-and-slash that wasn't anywhere near as cool as the movie. Tenchu Z should have been called Tenchu ZZZZZZZZZZ because it was so mind-numbingly boring.