Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword (PC)
Please, make the addiction stop! Civilization IV: Warlords, the first expansion for Civ IV, made my "Best of the Rest" last year and Beyond the Sword tops this year's list. The funny thing is I'm not a Civ fanboy, nor am I even that great of a player (Full Disclosure: I still play on Noble level), but Civ IV is a game I can come back to over and over again. Beyond the Sword added much-needed mechanics for culture-prone and passive-aggressive players, with enhancements in espionage and other concepts "beyond the sword." Oh, and just to keep last year's tradition going: Firaxis (2K, Take-Two), please get the rights to Alpha Centauri back from EA and give us a sequel!
Overlord (Xbox 360, PC)
Is it worth $60? Absolutely not. But if you can find it for $30 or less, Overlord is an overlooked semi-precious gem. The game can be glitchy and has clear design issues, but you can see the vision Triumph Studios had in development, and for the most part the studio accomplished its goals. Overlord is a game that would benefit from a very direct sequel using everything created for the first game and just adding new levels with more polish in concept and execution.
Crackdown (Xbox 360)
The Halo Beta didn't interest me so I just didn't pay much attention to Crackdown. About a month after The Halo Beta was over I finally got around to playing Crackdown -- and it was awesome. Sure, the narrator spouted lines randomly for no apparent reason, but the game itself was great summer fun. Just like Overlord, Crackdown would benefit from a sequel -- sadly, we may have to wait a while.
Puzzle Quest (Every system under the sun)
As Peggle is to Plinko, Puzzle Quest is to Bejeweled. Finding just the right mix of RPG and addictive puzzle action, Puzzle Quest's missions and ancillary elements create an experience that every person should own on their handheld for trips -- or on a console for 10-minute breaks. The real question: Is Puzzle Quest the beginning of the casual game hybrids, or is it just an anomaly?
Carcassonne and Catan (Xbox 360)
Want MOAR! High-quality video game versions of excellent European board games are, well, excellent.
Winks to The Darkness (Xbox 360, PS3), Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (PS3), Lost Planet (Xbox 360, PC).
- Heavenly Sword (PS3): Somewhere under this movie there was a game. Goddess of War this is not ... more like Heavenly Rental.
- Eternal Sonata (Xbox 360): Chopin can take his existential emo-whining and shove it. A fun battle system was met with a game where the developers got lazy halfway through and allowed the writers to commit intellectual self-fornication.
- Project Sylpheed (Xbox 360): Those of us waiting for the successor to Wing Commander are going to have to keep waiting.
Playing the many, many releases from late October through the end of the year.