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Box of the video game Fallout 3

Big-name sequels dominated much of 2008, but it was the original titles that stood out.

Unbound by weighty expectations of past namesakes, "LittleBigPlanet" and "Braid" top my list of the best games this year. Although they didn't have the name recognition of "Grand Theft Auto 4," these two titles did more to change how players look at games.

And in the end, 2008 was another stellar year for the evolution of video games as an art form.

1. "LittleBigPlanet" (PlayStation 3): No other title changed the way players look at games more than Media Molecule's platformer. Outstanding level design and the ability to create and share your own levels makes this project revolutionary. Finally, the process of making games is a two-way street and gamers can now be creators.

2. "Braid" (Xbox Live): Jonathan Blow's indie title is a masterpiece. Gallons of digital ink have been spilled trying to decipher the game's ambiguous ending. But equally as important are the time-bending puzzles that are lovingly crafted. "Braid" is an ambitious fusion of the literary and the ludic.

3. "Fallout 3" (multiple systems): Bethesda Softworks' "Fallout 3" may share the same look and feel as the fantasy-driven "Elder Scrolls: Oblivion," but calling the post-apocalyptic epic a rehash is an injustice. "Fallout 3" is more than that. It's a deep, involving role-playing game where players can make substantive changes to the world around them. Few titles were as delightful when it came to exploration and discovery.


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4. "Grand Theft Auto 4" (multiple systems): Rockstar North's open-world game is ambitious. With its reimagined Liberty City, the team succeeds in creating a world as detailed and engrossing as the Big Apple itself. Although the serious plot and missions are a misstep, the developer could make up for it with more downloadable episodes next year.

5. "Metal Gear Solid 4" (PS3): The finale to the "Metal Gear Solid" series is a fitting end to the size and scope of the series. For better or worse, Hideo Kojima and his team have created one of the most cinematic experiences on the console. As always, there are new stealth gameplay elements to master along with a story that satisfyingly ties up the loose ends in the franchise.

6. "Prince of Persia" (multiple systems): Ubisoft Montreal's reset on the classic series borrows heavily from "Ico" and "Shadow of the Colossus." A romantic adventure of sorts, the title takes risks, letting players explore a desolate and corrupted world with Elika in a quest to seal the dark god Ahriman in a temple.

7. "Resistance 2" (PS3): With one memorable level and a ho-hum story line, Insomniac's sequel won't wow those looking for an engrossing single-player campaign, but if you're looking for great multiplayer modes, this is the title to get. "Resistance 2" has the best co-op gameplay this year with its leveling and class system. And yes, it's even better than "Left 4 Dead."

8. "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" (Wii): Although the enthusiast press may not have liked many of Nintendo's offerings this year, the Japanese company did come out with this breakthrough title. This fighting game is chock-full of video game characters and modes that will keep the most hard-core fans mashing their way to victory.

9. "Gears of War 2" (Xbox 360): Epic Game's sequel doesn't change its shooter formula much, but it doesn't need to. The gameplay is solid. What it does give players is one of the most soulful experiences with some of the best level designs this year.

10. "Burnout Paradise" (multiple systems): Criterion Game's racing title may have come out in January, but the developer has constantly been updating the game for free. Now, with motorcycles and new vehicles, this is a title that has evolved fantastically over the past months and will continue to grow in the new year.

Reach Gieson Cacho at 510-735-7076 or gcacho@bayarea newsgroup.com. Read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/ videogames.