The gaming year that was

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The Independent Tech

The game world started off heading down a familiar path this year. Fans of videogame nasty Grand Theft Auto were waiting with bated breath for the fourth instalment, as anti-violence groups spat vitriol about something they hadn't even seen yet.

Mega-franchises waited in the wings for their hardy annual appearance - American football title Madden celebrating its 20th year cheering up shoulder-pad fans with the latest updates to players, teams and, of course, stadium advertising. Tiger Woods was lined up for yet another appearance, Fifa 09 and its arch-nemesis Pro Evolution Soccer were ripe for round-ball updates and, of course, the endless SingStar threat to neighbourhood sanity poured forth.

Xbox 360 chugged along, adding some sweet exclusive titles to its line-up - Gears of War 2 saw chainsaw-equipped firearms in the hands of babes once more, and Fable 2 proved that its crack-addictive gameplay would survive into the sequel. PlayStation 3 continued to grow up, as developers learn to take full advantage of the grunty Cell Engine processor to push Blu-ray graphics further than ever.

The two formats are running head-to-head with a lot of titles released on both, but it's the exclusive games that make the difference and both had more than their fair showing. PlayStation 3 fought back with the stunning first-person-shooter Resistance 2 , and kept pushing Buzz quiz games and karaoke titles, culminating in SingStar Abba for those who really want to punish their housemates.



Wannabe musos were also well-catered for with Rock Band 2 , plus a fair few Guitar Hero titles. Nintendo's Wii Music was, to put it bluntly, a bit too childish and silly to count.



But it was online gaming's pushing at the boundaries of content that marked the real way forward - the "once you've finished, bin it"' philosophy no longer exists as extra value abounds with downloadable levels, immersive and fluid online gameplay and social networking features. Xbox upgraded its live experience and Playstation finally rolled out the much-delayed Home just last week.



And the runaway success that is Nintendo Wii used its cutesy uniqueness to convince fatter folk across the globe that its ground-breaking exercise hit Wii Fit would have them bikini-clad and oozing hotness.



The game industry is one of the few set to weather the global financial crisis, according to the accountants, as we hunker down on the safety of our couches to avoid the stockbrokers we're expecting to come raining from corner offices in tall buildings.





So to the best of the year ...



1. Spore

Not a console game, but so massive it can't be ignored; Sims creator Will Wright's look at life from single-celled organisms to space-

exploring civilisations and everything in between is simply stunning. Users make their own critters, and can then share them online - making a melting pot of creativity that took many in the industry by surprise with its runaway popularity, even before the game itself was released.



2. Resistance 2

Nathan Hale returns in this PlayStation-exclusive FPS gorefest as humans battle for their very existence against the evil and numerous Chimera.

Stunning graphics and exceptional storytelling, combined with wicked

weapons and unbelievable numbers and types of enemies (including the

300-foot-tall Leviathan) make this a favourite. And online its 60-person

campaign mode is untouchable.



3. Metal Gear Solid 4

PlayStation grunt at its finest, following the original PS One title to fruition with impressive and lengthy hi-res cut scenes bringing movies and games one big step closer together. The game itself is a behemoth

that leaves no doubt as to whether Hollywood and Gamesville can work as

one.



4. Mirror's Edge

Something totally new is rare in the game world, but Battlefield developer Tom Farrer's "first person runner" which pits data couriers against The Man in an overly regulated society is daringly different and

glaringly good. Players run across rooftops, parkour-style, jumping and swinging between buildings in a huge, stark city environment. Not for

vertigo sufferers.



5. Fable 2

This Xbox 360-exclusive DIY tale is a non-linear monster, letting

players dictate the tale themselves. Make your character nice, and karma

will cuddle you and everyone in the game will think you're swell. Go the other way, and your evil will see you feared and hated, giving an entirely different experience.

This article originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald - http://www.nzherald.co.nz

But where's Fallout 3? And Gears of War 2? Leave your suggestions and reasons below and we'll post a revised list in the New Year.

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