Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (Xbox 360)
For very much the same reasons that I enjoyed Braid, I really took to the new Banjo-Kazooie. The wide-eyed nature of building stuff and hoping it would work was like a smaller, more controlled version of LittleBigPlanet. The pure LEGO-like joy of building a giant green dragon and taking it into a kart race was one of the pleasures of my drunken Christmas.
James Small

Braid (Xbox 360)
Jonathan Blow/Number None
Predictable, I know, but this is one of the few games that really captured my imagination. From the whimsical music to the slowly engaging story, everything is pitched just perfectly.

The game allows casual and hardcore gamers to dip into it as and how they please. It, frankly, puts Fable II's claims in that arena to shame.
James Small
In every way, Braid is the work of an auteur. It doesn't care if everyone "gets it" immediately after playing it once, which is a small yet important distinction. Literary critics didn't throw up their arms after reading "Absalom, Absalom" and dismiss it as "pretentious" without any explanation, and I long for the day that most professional video game critics engage in the same discussion.

That's not a slam against game reviewers, but it's not often that there's a game that doesn't completely fit easily into the genre mold of a similar game released just a few weeks before. Braid's narrative is complicated, multi-layered, and inseparable from its equally unique gameplay.

I was watching my girlfriend play World of Warcraft the other day, and it shocked me to see the game actually use time as a currency. She had to pay a set amount of in-game gold to go on a "flight path," but then had to sit there as a giant clock occupied the center of her screen, meticulously counting down eight minutes.

Braid is the antithesis to that philosophy. Every single puzzle was designed with the utmost grace; each of the worlds fully explores what can be done with the time mechanic presented to you, and then moves on without repeating itself. People disappointed that there will be no extra levels appear to miss the point, -- the game is a focused three hour-ish experience that never makes you think about a puzzle mechanic the same way twice.

There was an occasion where I was stuck on a puzzle, then thought about it all throughout work the next day, and was able to rush home afterwards and solve it. The game is both challenging yet instantly accessible in both its mechanics and narrative. Consider the significance of the stars, and how they relate to the story, what you'd have to go through to figure out how to get them all yourself, and what bearing that has on the story.

What personally makes it a "game of the year" for me is that I obviously enjoyed the game. I could write a rambling wall of text about that game (and perhaps just did). But really, it's great, and a tiny part of me dies whenever the hive mind of the internet refuses to play it simply because it's $15 -- $15 for what could be the greatest gaming experience they have had in years.
Brian Ellis
It's all about the time potions 'n' shit!
Matthew F. Foley

Burnout Paradise (Xbox 360, PS3)
Criterion Games
Burnout Paradise was the only current-gen game to have cracked my personal top 10 games of all time list, and it just happens to make it on there at number one. Bear in mind, this is a list that goes all the way back to the Commodore 64.

I had never played a Burnout game before this, but I tried the demo and bought the game the next day. Since then I have logged 400 hours, and with DLC queued up for well into next year, I'll be playing it for a long time to come.

It's a game that I'd describe as a platformer whose dude just happens to be a car. Until I made this connection, I couldn't work out why I loved it so much. I usually don't like driving games at all. But the open-world nature, the stunts, the routes, and the co-op multiplayer challenges having you do all sorts of ridiculous tricks and leaps through objects make me view it as a platforming game first and a driving game second.

But regardless of what you call it, it's the most fun I've had sitting on the couch in years.
Marc "Mar" Bell

The Club (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Bizarre Creations
The Club has been called a lot of things; a shallow third-person shooter being one of them, but I refused to dismiss it as quickly. Its arcade like nature luckily caught my attention and it doesnÕt often happen that a company renowned for its racing games decides it should attempt to translate the sensation of speed in a shooter. I was curious to see what theyÕd achieve with their so-called experiment and besides: any development team that carries a striking name such as ŌTeam ShitstormÕ is bound to make a compelling game, right?

Those who thought the A.I. was terrible while mindlessly rushing through every level, quite frankly missed the point. The Club isnÕt a game where you simply kill generic dimwitted enemies, as the entire objective of each and every level is to attain the highest possible score. ThereÕs actually a puzzle element to it (much like in a traditional shoot Ōem up) to achieve that goal and it raises the stakes by forcing the player to execute his actions as fast as possible. Each consecutive kill causes the combo meter to tick down slightly faster than before, thereby encouraging the player to ramp it up accordingly (especially in the time-bound Survival Missions). This hardly turns into an exercise in frustration for those who appreciate arcadey gameplay, because the majority of the levels are carefully balanced so that itÕs rarely the gameÕs fault if you didnÕt achieve the desired results. Plus: Bizarre provided more than enough variety throughout the entire game since each level presents a new route to memorize, not to mention that as far as I know itÕs polished to the extent that thereÕs no way to cheat your way to the top of the leaderboards.

Much like the MirrorÕs EdgeÕs Time Trials, The Club practically requires utmost perfection. Knowing your environment and where your opponents, the multiplier-extending Skulls Shots and the Bonus Enemies (which provide huge bonuses when multiplied) are located is just as important as accurately wielding your gun. A simple reload or the slightest hesitation (do I want to shoot this guy in the head from afar or stop wasting time by hitting other body parts whilst I approach him?) at the most inopportune time can take a toll on the high-score youÕre aiming forÉ Just like that on a whim, and yet this is why the game kept me hooked for hours on end. Furthermore, Race Missions really add to the intensity of it all: not only do you have to keep all of the above in mind, but you also have to quickly run to the next checkpoints while planning when to shoot the separate time-increasing targets, as you must complete numerous laps. The game admittedly isnÕt as tough as IÕm making it out to be when opting for the lower difficulties, but in my opinion youÕll only get the most out of The Club when selecting Insane. Which Š despite its perhaps intimidating name Š actually has a fine-tuned and reasonable learning curve.

In one way itÕs a shame that Bizarre Studios is now a property of Activision (though I wish them well), as they seem hell-bent on exploiting established franchises ever since the Blizzard merger. SEGA also owns the rights to The Club on top of that, so I doubt weÕll ever see a sequel for this underappreciated little gemÉ I fully recommend the game regardless of this unfortunate situation however (itÕs dirt cheap in almost every store by now), and skeptics can always download the excellent demo from the Marketplace or the PlayStation Store before taking the plunge.
Michael Diderich

Fable 2 (Xbox 360)
Lionhead Studios
What other game this year gave the player as many moral options--good? bad? the middle path?

Fable II has an enormous amount of content and replay value. You can finish the game as the good guy and have fun, but then go back and play it as the bad guy and have a totally different game experience. No matter how I played this game, it was fun, and with the new expansion coming out it that fun will continue.
Steven Lambe

Fallout 3 (PC, Xbox 360, PS3)
Bethesda Game Studios
There have been a lot of great games to come out this year, but a few stand out and deserve to be recognized. Gears of War 2 almost seems a shoo-in, but it isn't quite GOTY material. I would suggest that Fallout 3 is where you want to look. The game takes a series that is a decade old and completely changes the gameplay, yet retains that classic feel. It's like 1998 sucker punching you in the jaw with gaming goodness, condensed into a vault-sized lunchbox of joy.
Matthew Owens
Bethesda surprised me by putting out a Fallout sequel that was better than expected in almost every way. Really, there can be a lot of negative points made about the game, but it's mostly just nitpicking.
Erkki Lindpere