PC Gamer's games of the year

Great Moments in the History of Goo

1897 - Pearle B. Wait invents Jell-O.

1968 - Smucker’s combines peanut butter and jelly in one delicious jar.

July 1998 - Ben Stiller unveils a fashion-forward use for his self-created goo.

March 1999 - Fabio struck in the face by a rogue GOOse.

April 2007 - Nicole Kidman describes being slimed at the Kids Choice Awards as “sexy in its own way,” validating a depraved fantasy that has haunted us for decades.

October 2008 - Maybe it’s a throwback to our first encounter with Jell-O, poking the lime-green mound on our plates and watching it shudder for minutes like some kind of transparent and delicious beast, but World of Goo is one of those games that’s fun and rewarding from the very first level. Pushing and pulling goos into wobbly structures - defying gravity with every link upward - has a built-in satisfaction to it, and World of Goo keeps pilingon the cool with trickier levels, new mechanics, and witty missives from the mysterious Sign Painter. World of Goo’s got physics that feel juuust right, a low frustration quotient, and tons of replayability. In fact, it’s more than just a puzzle game - it’s the Feel Goo Game of the Year.

Best racing game - GRID
Developer: Codemasters
Publisher: Codemasters
Reviewed: 86%, Sep ’08

Second place? Dandy. Bronze? Comfortable. A sub-podium finish? Money in the bank. Winning is great, but given the chance to ad-clad our autos for easy cash, we’ll take it. GRID’s flashback system builds a buffer for mistakes and AI lapses - crashes and spinouts can be cured by cueing up instant replay and winding back your car a few seconds to let you retry botched turns and powerslides. Fenders are mended, and you get to feel a little like Marty McFly - everybody wins. Event variety across a persistent career makes it all work: earning money while managing sponsors and recruiting a teammate makes for pleasant metagaming. And did we mention the elegant lighting, realistic car-deformation physics, fragmenting chassis, and sublimely accessible handling?

Best adventure - Sam and Max: Season Two
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Reviewed: 90% (What’s New, Beelzebub?), July ’08

We’d hoped that someday, someone would revive the greatest anthropomorphic animal duo since Moose and Squirrel, but never dared to dream that Telltale would bring us not one, but eleven new Sam and Max adventures over two ripping seasons chock full of intrigue, danger, and travel to exotic locations from the Bermuda Triangle to outer space and even Hell itself (the latter a notable omission from the Nancy Drew series).

Although you can jump cold into any episode of Sam and Max: Season Two and have yourself a laugh, it’s nothing like starting from the first episode and watching the intricate hydra-headed plot unfold - sort of like The Bourne Identity, only with a mean lagomorphs and a dog in a floppy suit. And that the season two finale - What’s New, Beelzebub? - was one of the funniest episodes in the series yet bodes well for the future. For keeping the spirit of the classic PC adventure game alive, for proving that episodic gaming can be more fun and a better deal for gamers, and for keeping the wit razor-sharp, Sam and Max: Season Two gets our nod for best adventure game.

Best strategy - Sins of a Solar Empire
Developer: Ironclad
Publisher: Stardock
Reviewed: 91%, April ’08

Most real-time strategy games make you feel like a general leading an army in battle, but precious few imbue you with the awesome power of the supreme leader of an entire empire during a full-scale war. Sure, the Total War games let you both command an army and manage a country, but they have to pull you off of the real-time battlefield and into a turn-based game to do the latter; Sins does it all in one smoothly zooming, great-looking (but not requirement-heavy) engine, without ever stopping the action.

Not only that, but Sins’ deceptively lethargic pace allows it to successfully blend mechanics usually reserved for turn-based games - planetary colonization and development, trade routes, culture, and diplomacy - into the real-time gameplay without overwhelming players. It’s that seamlessness and sense of scope, combined with the innovative and evil anonymous bounty system that lets you sic pirate raiders on other players (even allies), that makes Sins of a Solar Empire a unique experience in strategy gaming.

Sins of a Solar Empire wowed us early in the year with its interstellar-scale warfare and epic battles between fleets of hundreds of fighters, frigates, cruisers, and massive capital starships. It still wows us today with its ability to keep us glued to our seats until 4am until we finally conquer that last enemy planet.