GR’s Best of 2006 Awards

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You may have noticed we spend most of the year pointing out all the awful problems in crappy games. In the World of Wordcraft, our 'Slashing' and 'Burning' skills are damn near maxed out, and we're all wearing Large Epic Shoulderpads of the Unimpressed. But we aren't nearly so powerfully equipped when it comes to saying nice things.

We've been practicing with this day in mind, but our efforts have been awkward. Whisky fueled prose like "Graphics so striking you'll need one of those helmets retarded kids wear," and "This game grabs you by the balls and doesn't let go!" were just embarassing in the oh-so-bright light of sobriety.

Fortunately, the following games were so good they practically wrote (and sold) themselves. So without further ado, we'd like to name those titles and give them shiny trophies.

Welcome to GR's Best Games of 2006.

Ye Olde Rules

Since last year's awards only resulted in a couple MBs worth of hate mail, we made few tweaks to our rewards policy, most of which involved minor changes to bribery limits. Otherwise, we still give out awards as we see fit. Rather than plod through both platform and genre awards, we're sticking with genres. It makes more sense, somehow.

Awards are based on a complex formula involving a tuning fork, a keg of Miller High Life, a mysterious green substance and a dreidel. If no worthy recipients could be identified in a certain category, no awards were given. Editor's Choice awards were given to games that did not win in a particular category, but caught the eye of the GR editorial staff and just had to get something.

From soup to nuts, these games exemplify the upper echelon of video and computer gaming over the past year. Only games released during the 2006 year were eligible. Our hats off to the winners!

Travel through time, McFly, and

check out last year's awards!
 

ActionAction/AdventureShooterRhythmSystemsTop 5
RacingRPGSportsStrategyEditor's Choice

The 'Action' genre really lived up to its name this year, with a riot's share of violent, unhinged combatants. But even with some fresh new faces in the mix, a couple veterans clawed their way to the top of the scrum, bringing honor and glory to…the Sony PSP?!

 

ACTION GAME OF THE YEAR!

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Publisher: Konami

Developer: Kojima Productions

Platform: PSP

 

All we wanted was Metal Gear Solid for the PSP. Not trading cards (sorry Acid!), nothing new or fancy, just the chance to play one of our favorite games ever while pooping, waiting for a train, settling down for sleep, or some combination of all three.

Alas, even we are sometimes really, really wrong, because a new and fancy Metal Gear Solid, in this case Portable Ops, is thrice the game a port could ever be, complete with solid online multiplayer, an incredible collection system, and fascinating insights into the past of the Big Boss and everyone's favorite harbinger of doom, the Metal Gear. We've never pooped so happily while waiting to sleep on a train in our lives.

 

RUNNERS-UP!

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror

Publisher: Sony

Developer: Sony

Platform: PSP

Just when we were about to use the PSP solely as a shaving mirror, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror arrived. An original and largely successful translation of the popular Sony franchise to the tiny screen, Dark Mirror resurrected Gabe Logan to surprising results. Here, finally, is a game that proves the PSP is a strong console in its own right—and for that, it is one of the best action games of the year.

 

Dead Rising

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Capcom

Platform: Xbox 360

Everybody knows you can never have too many zombies, but Capcom decided to go ahead and prove it anyway in Dead Rising. Taking full advantage of the 360's power, the sheer size of these zombie hordes will terrify even the most jaded gamers, as they attempt to survive for three days in a besieged shopping mall. We can’t get enough of the zombies, or this undying game.

 

 



 

 

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Adventure is to action as a GR editor is to beer; one is full of, and undoubtedly enhanced by the other, but we are not, strictly speaking, beer itself. The same goes for Action / Adventure games, though the line gets awfully slurry, I mean, blurry.

So perhaps what distinguishes an Action / Adventure game from a plain old action game, aside from a dubious drinking analogy, is scope. Instead of violence in stages, Action / Adventure games give us entire cities, realms and fairy tales in which to meet exotic creatures and characters, then kill, paint, or wedgie them accordingly.

Or maybe that's just the beer talking.

 

ACTION/ADVENTURE GAME OF THE YEAR!

Okami

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Clover

Platform: PS2

 

Where to begin? Perhaps with the revolutionary "Paintbrush tail" mechanics Clover tied in so brilliantly with the game's painted, watercolor visuals and clever, moving story. Or maybe the fact that Okami is at least fifty hours of the smartest action / adventure gameplay we've ever seen.

Perhaps we should lament the passing of the studio responsible, or applaud them for making the most of their time. We'd scream for Capcom to dissolve all their studios if it meant more games as good as Okami

For now it will have to be enough to say Okami is one of the best games ever made, and easily the best Action / Adventure game of the year. That's pretty good, for starters.

 

RUNNERS-UP!

Bully

Publisher: Rockstar

Developer: Rockstar Vancouver

Platform: PS2

In 2006, crazed pundits tried to start a controversy over Bully. The only problems was that, instead of making a depraved and tasteless murder sim, developer Rockstar created a smart, savvy, humorous game where the violence was accurately juvenile and you actually wanted to attend class. With a perfect teenage sneer, Bully reminded us all that high school was as bad as we remember, and as fun as we had forgotten.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo

Platform: Wii | Gamecube

As solid a hero as ever, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a classic Link adventure, even if you're not technically Link himself. With the newfound ability to transform into a wolf, 2006 was yet another great year for saving the land of Hyrule. Although some of the game’s bacon was admittedly stolen by Okami, there’s no denying that this was one of the most entertaining games of the year. May the Triforce be with you.

 

 

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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.

 

SHOOTER OF THE YEAR!

Gears of War

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: Epic

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.

 

RUNNERS-UP!

Rainbow Six Vegas

Publisher: Ubisoft

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.

 

Metroid Prime Hunters

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo

Platform: DS

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.

 

 

 

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The Rhythm genre used to be a literal one-hit-wonder. But recently, Rhythm games have been developing in all sorts of interesting directions. We can't wait to see where the genre goes in 2008, mainly because of hits like these.

 

RHYTHM GAME OF THE YEAR!

Guitar Hero II

Publisher: RedOctane

Developer: Harmonix

Platform: PS2

 

We know it's only rock 'n roll, but we like Guitar Hero II. It doesn't reinvent the guitar or enmesh its colorful characters in a bonafide rock opera (if only), it just rocks from start to finish.

And no matter your skill level, that's a long, satisfying jam session (now with Practice!) full of classics like Freebird, Misirlou, and Jessica, plus awesome and random tracks like Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight and Thunderhorse. For those about to rock, we salute this game.

 

 

RUNNER-UP!

Gitaroo Man Lives!

Publisher: Koei

Developer: Inis

Platform: PSP

We’re not sure if it was the unique analog control scheme, the original funky music, or the bizarro story, but something in this little Japanese fighting rhythm game brought us back over and over again.  There are a lot of rhythm games out there, but few this funky and good-natured.

Maybe that’s because while most rhythm games are out collecting sub-par music licenses (come on DS… Ashlee Simpson?), Gitaroo Man’s original score tells a story of its own.  By bridging the often overlooked “music-story gap” in rhythm games, Gitaroo Man Lives! is fully worthy of its extraneous exclamation point.

 

 

ActionAction/AdventureShooterRhythmSystemsTop 5
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The way people fight about systems, you'd think you could play them without any games. But even a sexy piece of tech like Sony's monster PS3 is less than a waffle iron without something fun spinning in that fancy Blu-Ray disc drive.

That's why we chose to recognize the systems that gave their owners the most most love, all the way through 2006. You may find it conspicuous that neither the Wii nor the PS3 are present, and this is not a judgment against either system. Both have bright futures (we love waffles), but neither had a 2006 as good as the…

 

SYSTEM OF THE YEAR!

Xbox 360



 

 

The Best RPG of the Year. The Best Sports Game of the Year (and the runner up). The Best Racing Game of the Year (and the only runner up). The Best First Person Shooter of the Year …and the runner up. Starting to get the picture?

Well, if you own a 360, you're getting one of the best pictures possible. Several games, including Gears of War, Fight Night Round 3, and Dead Rising looked incredible. But their beauty was more than skin deep, as each used the 360's horsepower to deliver smoother physics, better animations, or more terrifying zombie hordes than ever before.

As the first system to prove that next-gen means more than just better graphics and broken TVs, we hereby proclaim the Xbox 360 the Best System of 2006.

 

 

RUNNERS-UP!

Playstation 2

 

It's not the best system of the year, just the best of an entire generation. And 2006 showed why. Although few PS2 games actually won Best Of awards, the PS2 had more solid games in 2006 than any other system.

Sure, the 360 and PS3 sport features this old codger could never wrap its dentures around, but those whippersnappers don't have Guitar Hero II , Okami, Final Fantasy XII or Bully either. It's nice to know that even broke jokers like ourselves can get a heaping helping of some of the year's best games and still have the cash to, you know, eat.

 

Playstation Portable

 

Are we kidding? No. This is not a punchline. The Sony PSP had an excellent year in 2006 with two of the best action games anywhere and a slew of other quality titles like LocoRoco, Tekken: Dark Resurrection, Gitaroo Man Lives! and Daxter.

We don't know why the system hasn't caught on with gamers, but its 2006 games sure have caught on with us. No joke.

 

 

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After a fast and furious 2005, the racing genre stalled a bit in 2006. The Xbox 360 was the only system with any noteworthy racers, no one else even got off the line. Even if they had, they probably would have been smoked by these two next-gen hot rods.

 

RACING GAME OF THE YEAR!

Test Drive Unlimited

Publisher: Atari

Developer: Eden Studios

Platform: Xbox 360

 

Back in the ‘70s, National Lampoon famously ruminated on the classic question of How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-Wang Squeezed and Not Spill Your Drink. Well wonder no further because the answer involves a girlfriend, a spliff, a beer, and a virtual Hawaiian island in Test Dive: Unlimited. With 100 different cars, next-gen technology and last-gen pricing, this driver easily takes the checkered flag.

 

RUNNER-UP!

Need for Speed: Carbon

Publisher: EA

Developer: EA

Platform: Xbox 360

If you want the thrills without worrying about the spills, Need for Speed: Carbon on the 360 is pretty slick. A tuner's dream, there are about a million different ways to pimp your ride, then go online to play cops and robbers through the neon-lit streets of Palmont. With sweet graphics, tight controls, and easy-to-pick-up arcade racing, Carbon is a crowd pleaser.

 

 

 

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The year in RPGs began with a big bang that slowly fizzled into more of a big bust. There were only a few solid titles among a million mediocre Japanese RPGs, and nothing new from Bioware, Blizzard, or Peter Molyneux. Still, the following nerdy entries would have been outstanding any year, and we take our pointy wizard hats off to them.

 

RPG OF THE YEAR!

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Publisher: Bethesda

Developer: Bethesda

Platform: Xbox 360 | PC

 

Well named, expect to consign about 100 hours of your life to oblivion in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the best RPG of 2006. Roam the staggeringly huge land and you'll soon forget about the plot (not to mention your real life obligations), because the side stories, mini quests and interesting locations make up 90% of this game.

Become a master assassin or a champion of justice, because in the amazing land of Oblivion, you can do pretty much anything you want to. And you do want to.

 

RUNNERS-UP!

Final Fantasy XII

Publisher: Square-Enix

Developer: Square-Enix

Platform: PS2

The Twelfth Coming of Final Fantasy was hyped so much for so long, I’m not sure Square-Enix even needed to release this bad boy, we would’ve still talked about it for months.  Luckily, they did, and we can play this visual masterpiece well into 2007.  With a huge quest, massive character customization, and tons of great writing, this probably isn’t Square’s final fantasy, just one of their finest.

 

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories

Publisher: NIS America

Developer: Nippon Ichi

Platform: PS2

When the whole population is turned into demons and you’re the only one left, it’s usually a bummer.  But when it happens to be the long-awaited sequel to a 2003 sleeper hit, you’ve got nothing to worry about.  Throw in even more strategic depth and cheeky humor than the original, a flying bi-polar frog, a snooty demon princess, gigantic neckties, and exploding penguin soldiers, and you’ve got yourself a hell of a game, and one of the year’s best RPGs.

 

ActionAction/AdventureShooterRhythmSystemsTop 5
RacingRPGSportsStrategyEditor's Choice

The sports genre moves like a hunting crocodile, which is to say, not much at all. It just sits there, barely breaking the surface, looking like a bump on a log until WHAM! It catches your head in its jaws, death rolls, and by the time you get your bearings its 5:30 am on a Wednesday. We love it when that happens, that's why we're giving these games awards.

 

SPORTS GAME OF THE YEAR!

Fight Night Round 3

Publisher: EA

Developer: EA Chicago

Platform: PS3 | Xbox 360

 

Still one of the best games for the 360 and undisputed heavyweight champ for the PS3, Fight Night Round 3 is harder to drop than Jake LaMotta. With staggering visuals, sweet controls and a bevy of legendary fighters, this game wins on the scorecards and by knockout at the same time.

 

RUNNER-UP!

NBA 2K7

Publisher: 2K Sports

Developer: Visual Concepts

Platform: PS3 | Xbox 360

Proof that “Next-gen” isn't just about buttery sheens, clay mannequins, and high definition layers of sweat, NBA 2K7 looks real and plays like it, too. A Pixar movie’s worth of smooth animations drive the realism further down court, pleasing both our critical eyes and jaded gamer thumbs. Finally, there’s enough depth here to keep the jams sky-high until the next great basketball game from 2K Sports.

 

Winning Eleven 9

Publisher: Konami

Developer: Konami

Platform: PS2 | Xbox

Striking an impeccable balance between realism and light, responsive gameplay, Winning Eleven 9 lives up to every bit of hype it's not getting. Increased A.I. pressure, a clean interface and sweet controls will make you thank the designers for putting together such a well thought out gameplan, and the long-awaited addition of online play (Hear that, FIFA?) takes the slickest soccer franchise global. This world cup overfloweth. Asi me gusta!

 

 

ActionAction/AdventureShooterRhythmSystemsTop 5
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There was no need to plan your RTS purchases carefully in 2006, because several of the choices were no brainers. That is, until you opened the boxes and installed the games, at which point things got very brainy, and by brainy we mean addictively fun.

 

STRATEGY GAME OF THE YEAR!

Medieval II: Total War

Publisher: Sega

Developer: The Creative Assembly

Platform: PC

 

In no other game is the thunderous clash of armies so…  clashy. Rewrite history from the dark ages to the discovery of the new world in Medieval II: Total War. With an overland campaign as deep as Civilization, and real time battlefields with literally thousands of soldiers, Medieval II easily takes the strategy game of the year award, probably by cutting off the head of the 2005 winner and mounting it on a pike as a warning to other games.

 

RUNNER-UP!

Company of Heroes

Publisher: THQ

Developer: Relic

Platform: PC

Relic flexed their unique talents on the tired World War II setting and brought it to life (followed quickly by mass death) with the gritty Company of Heroes.  From the fully destructible environments to the historically accurate campaign and lightning fast RTS gameplay, this war always had us coming back for more. Oorakasha!

 

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War – Dark Crusade

Publisher: THQ

Developer: Relic

Platform: PC

In possibly the best PC game deal of the year, Relic crammed this so-called ‘Expansion pack’ with complete standalone functionality, two new factions, and new campaigns for each of the seven total factions – for only thirty dollars.  If you’re still not convinced, get this: one of the two new races is made of evil-space-zombie-robots. Trust us, resistance is futile.

 

 

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Editor's Choice awards are for games that either don't fit into conventional genres, or are just so damn cool we can't not reward them. Some of the following are weird, others shockingly robust, and all worth your time and money. Let the freak show begin.
 

God Hand

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Clover

Platform: PS2

God Hand did two things this year.  It showed that an excellent, fun game could be had for a budget price, and it updated the classic brawler formula, using customizable combos and a neat right-stick dodge maneuver to recapture the magic of pummeling punks by the dozen. 

Plus, its snarky sense of humor, bawdy characters, and a caffeinated soundtrack round out one of the more absurdly enjoyable games in recent memory.  Amid the joy of suplexing a bad guy in a purple gorilla suit you may just forget that the studio of geniuses that made the game is now gone forever.

 

 

LocoRoco

Publisher: Sony

Developer: Sony Japan

Platform: PSP

The most recent graduate from the Katamari Damacy School of Quirky Japanese Games, LocoRoco was far from a straight A student, but still one of our favorites. With a ridiculous plot, lava lamp graphics, sweet music and infectious personality, you can't help but like this game, and we can't help but give it an award.

 

 

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

Publisher: Square-Enix

Developer: TOSE

Platform: DS

Usually a booger is only worth a few precious seconds of a GR editor’s day.  When that booger can drive a tank, it’s worth hours.  Combining bright, colorful graphics from the Dragon Quest series, tons of depth, and those awesome tank fights, this one didn’t fit well into any other category, but it’s still worth a pick for your DS.

 

 

Viva Pinata

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: Rare

Platform: Xbox 360

Here is concrete proof: mix Pokémon and Animal Crossing, and you'll never have free time again. Viva Pinata is simple and friendly enough to be played by a child, but deep enough to be enjoyed by adults. Fast-paced developments keep you hustling as you court and raise your favorite animals in a verdant garden of gaming eden. And to think some people beat these poor animals with sticks.

 

 

Tekken: Dark Resurrection

Publisher: Namco Bandai

Developer: Namco

Platform: PSP

Using a fusion of techniques from Tekkens 3 and 5, this wee brawler has a hell of a Kung-Fu grip. With tiny loading times, a plethora of worthwhile modes and super-tight gameplay, Dark Resurrection reminds us it’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. We gladly throw it a bone.

 

 

 

 

 

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Alright, here we go, the five best games of the year! These are the games that put us through twelve packs of Mountain Dew a night, the ones that ruined our relationships with our imaginary girlfriends, and made actually writing about video games (and therefore getting money to buy food) nearly impossible. They undoubtedly made us more violent, less social and much weirder, and for that we would like to thank…

 

Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror

Publisher: Sony

Developer: Sony

Gabe Logan hasn’t always been at the top of the action franchise hero list. But then he re-emerged for the PSP like a shining knight of stealthy killing in Dark Mirror.  Long, involved, and wholly complete, Dark Mirror invigorated its ailing system and made our thumbs ache with celebration. 

A big, sweeping, epic of an action game that pays attention to the important details, Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror brings old school to the new console.  And for that we, and the PSP, should be grateful.

 

 

Metroid Prime: Hunters

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo

Before Metroid Prime: Hunters, the prospect of ever playing a great first-person shooter on a handheld seemed as likely as picking solid gold out of your ear, or finding a tiny Indian in your cupboard.

Every previous attempt had been a grotesque failure, the kind people find in tubes in science fiction movies. Metroid Prime: Hunters then, is a total anomaly. It isn't just the best of its kind, it's the only survivor.

 

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Publisher: Konami

Developer: Konami

While the DS may be home to the best handheld shooter, the PSP is home to a pride of great action games, and this is the king of the beasts.

Strong in every phase, if Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops were bent on destroying the world, no one would be able to stop it. This isn't just good for a handheld, it's one of the best games of the year.

 

Gears of War

Publisher: Microsoft

Developer: Epic

Like a shot of pure testosterone, Gears of War takes you from your normal, nerdy life to a gnarly hell-scape where you and your macho friends roid rage all over the faces of evil alien scum.

With chainsaws mounted on guns, gruesome death sequences, and the most sinister scenery this side of the Old Testament, we wouldn't want to live in Gears of War, but it's a hell of a place to visit.

 

AND NUMBER 1? (DRUMROLL PLEASE…) >>

 

 

ActionAction/AdventureShooterRhythmSystemsTop 5
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Okami

Publisher: Capcom

Developer: Clover

Platform: PS2

 

Other decisions nearly gave us ulcers, but this one was easy. Okami was the best game of the year by a long shot for two reasons (don't worry, they're really big ones):

Not only did Okami's profound and striking watercolor visual style look great even on HDTVs, the developers also integrated painting as a game element in both their revolutionary magic system, and their sweet and smart doozy of a tale. That's the kind of stuff you notice in great books, not video games.

The other reason is just as pervasive and powerful, but much less abstract; Okami is ingeniously crafted to keep you from ever getting stuck or frustrated, but without feeling too easy or boring.

Good game, Clover.