Special awards for individual platforms
Xbox 360: Amazing Achievements in Achieving Achievements
Winners: The Darkness, BioShock
You've heard the cynics before: "It's just a number. It doesn't really mean anything..."
For the most part, they're right. Why do we spend so many extra hours with our games, attempting to squeeze out that last five or ten Achievement points, when our only reward is going to be 8375 instead of 8360? Because on rare occasions, and only in the cleverest of titles, our hard work is repaid with unexpected moments of sublime discovery.
(Spoiler alert!) Take BioShock. Killing Sander Cohen after he forced you to murder and photograph your victims is satisfying, but taking a photograph of his lifeless corpse and receiving a 10 point "Irony" Achievement for the poetically macabre idea is deeply, deeply gratifying. Likewise, The Darkness reminded us that life is about more than ripping people's hearts out with demonic tendrils. If you want the 10 point "Romantic" Achievement, you'll also need to learn the importance of love... and of spending quality time with your girlfriend before she bites the dust. (End spoiler.)
PlayStation 3: Justified console
Winner: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
It's been a rough first year for the PlayStation 3, one beset by price complaints, delays, disappointing first-party titles and seemingly endless problems with third-party games. But amid all the chaos were two especially bright spots that gave us hope for the console's future. The first was Ratchet & Clank Future, which mixed near-Pixar-quality visuals with the series' time-tested blend of wrench-bashing, gun-hoarding, platform-hopping action. The second was Uncharted, which is what you'd get if Gears of War had been inspired by Indiana Jones and infused with infinitely more charm. Both are graphical powerhouses and stellar games by any standard, and both give you something awesome to brag to your 360-owning friends about. Finally.
Wii: Games that actually look nice
Winners: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and Super Mario Galaxy
Yes, we know Wii is underpowered, ugly, bland, ancient and borderline laughable when compared to 360 and PS3. That doesn't mean every single game has to look like it crawled out of 2002. We were told Wii was roughly the same as two GameCubes. So, is that a lie, or are developers just extremely lazy?
Leave it to Nintendo to prove its own crazy point. Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid Prime 3 look amazing for the system, and the in the case of the former, good enough to pass off as a low-low-end 360 game. If third party games can look (and play) this good in 2008, maybe we'll give two craps about Wii after all.
PC: Best foliage
We’ve seen lots of pretty trees in our day. But they can’t compare to the ultra detailed trunks, branches, leaves and shrubberies assaulting your eyeballs in Crytek’s latest shooter, Crysis. You can riddle them with bullets, blow them up, and even punch them. Just try not to forget about the epic missions involving Koreans and alien technology while you’re banging around in the bushes.
DS: Best use of the stylus
Winner: Geometry Wars: Galaxies
We didn’t think it’d be possible for Geometry Wars: Galaxies to replicate the responsiveness of the 360’s dual analog sticks that allowed for shooting down swarms of shapes and pulling off death defying dodges in Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. But piloting your ship on a 2D plane with the D-pad while directing your fire in a 360 degree arc with stylus, feels great on the DS. Dodging death by mere pixels as you carve your way through clouds of colorful enemies push your twitch reflexes to the max, making Geometry Wars: Galaxies one of the best handheld shooters we’ve ever seen.
PS2: Last man standing
Winner: PlayStation 2
GameCube? Dead. Xbox? Over. Game Boy Advance? Fading fast. Out of all the consoles of the last generation, only the PS2 is still going strong. Strange, considering it was the first one to hit the market (not counting Sega's short-lived Dreamcast). With one of the biggest customer bases of any console in history, however, we can expect the PS2 to stay upright for at least a few more years, and Sony seems more than happy to keep supporting the thing. This year alone, they've produced a new version of the hardware (ceramic white) and introduced a new peripheral - the USB Buzz! buzzers - along with two games that support it. Add a handful of triple-A titles including the stellar Rock Band, and the PS2 isn't doing half bad for a machine that's technically obsolete.
PSP: What's history again?
Winner: Jeanne D'Arc
If you take the strategy-RPG epic Jeanne D'Arc at face value, you'll learn that the French Catholic saint Joan of Arc was granted magical powers by a special bracelet, which enabled her to turn into an avenging goddess in really badass armor. She needed all that power to purge France of the invading English forces, which were almost entirely made up of orcs and evil magicians. She was joined in her crusade by a talking lion and a humanoid dog, who lent their considerable axe-wielding skills to the cause of turning back the hordes of England's demon-possessed Prince Henry VI.
So, yeah, its bizarre mix of historical fact and anime insanity is almost guaranteed to piss off historical purists. So what? Jeanne D'Arc is still one of the best things to hit any console this year, and we call out greatness when we see it. Especially if it's weird.