Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
We agonized over what to call this genre for hours, fussing about perspectives, ancient genres (Gradius is a shooter, man, Gears of War is third person action) and tactics before realizing we could call these games three scoops of strawberry ice cream, and they'd still kick just as much ass. So allow us to introduce a lethal third-person shooter, brilliant first-person shooter, and ingenious tactical-third-person-unless-you're-aiming-shooter, a.k.a. the best 'Shooters' of the year.
Platform: Xbox 360
Before Gears of War shipped, nothing felt very next generation, aside from the price tags of our new systems and TVs. Sure, the games looked better, but they felt like the same old things (I'm looking at you Saint's Row), while the same old thing just looked a lot worse.
Then Gears of War hit and blew our expecations wide open. With stunningly cinematic graphics, interesting play mechanics, and more testosterone than a bull shark in a feeding frenzy, this game defined the 360 as the most powerful machine on the market, and the home of next gen power.
Sure, Gears of War has its share of problems - short bus A.I. and disappointing online multiplay, but it also features astounding production values, and superb cooperative play. It isn't perfect, but it is the best shooter of the year.
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platform: Xbox 360
If Rainbow Six Vegas wanted into a best-of list, it wouldn’t take the front door. No, Vegas would use its cool inverted rappelling moves to silently breach through an open window, sneak up behind the “best of” list, and fire a bullet into its head.
Vegas might have even had a shot to be the head of the shooter category, if its single-player campaign hadn’t come up short in both story and variety. But for all the praise heaped on Gears of War’s “sticky” duck and cover mechanic, Vegas did it much, much better. The clear winner in online multiplayer and in control mechanics, Rainbow Six Vegas might not have got the top spot, but it didn’t miss by much.
Usually, games that come out at the beginning of the year get the shaft. It's like Fear Factor - you never want to go first. That is, unless you're going to do something so incredible it'll be worth talking about (and playing) for a decade, much less a few measly months. Metroid Prime Hunters does just that, by bringing excellent FPS gameplay to a handheld console.