Image: Screenshot from Call of Duty 4
Activision
The super-realistic military shooter "Call of Duty 4" won our reader-selected Game of the Year.
By Games editor
msnbc.com
updated 1/2/2008 12:14:39 PM ET 2008-01-02T17:14:39

The readers have spoken, and you’ve told us that you really, really like shooting things.

Your favorite new video game? “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” The super-realistic military shooter developed by Infinity Ward garnered 33 percent of the over 17,000 votes we tallied in our Game of the Year vote between Dec. 19 and Dec 27. 

Not too far behind, at 22 percent, was “Bioshock,” 2K Games’ spooky deep-sea title that earned accolades from fans and critics alike in 2007.

We started out this voting process way back before Thanksgiving. We envisioned this Game-of-the-Year thing kind of like the presidential primaries: Every week, we’d roll out our picks as the best of nine genres. We’d let you vote on the best in each genre, which would then advance to compete for Game of the Year.

As a result, we had the likes of “Madden NFL ’08” taking on “LEGO Star Wars.” Unorthodox? Perhaps. But this was an uncommonly good year for games, with killer titles across nearly every category. Why not see if “Guitar Hero III” could beat out “Mass Effect?” (It didn’t.)

First up? Racing and sports
We kicked off the whole project with best sports games and best racing games. “Madden” was the runaway winner in the former category, garnering 48 percent of the popular vote. To be sure, this wasn’t much of a mandate: Less than 1,000 readers voted in this category.

Racing didn’t fare much better: Only 500 or so readers weighed in on our five choices, electing “Project Gotham Racing 4” as the winner. Maybe we all get enough driving in real life?

Casual games got more of an audience, and “Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree” beat out Nintendo sibling “WarioWare” as the best-of-category. Readers in our forum pointed out that the PC had some strong contenders, listing “Snapshot Adventures,” “Sally’s Salon” and “Chain Factor” as some of their favorites.

Which family fare was best?
For family games, we put “Super Mario Galaxy,” one of the year’s most universally beloved titles, up against the likes of “LEGO Star Wars” and “Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure.” To our surprise, “LEGO Star Wars” bested “Galaxy,” nabbing 47 percent of the vote in that category. “Galaxy” would get another shot in the action-adventure category several weeks later.

It was a great year for fans of the music and rhythm game genre, with “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero III” joining “Dance Dance Revolution Universe” and “Hannah Montana: Music Jam” (you read that right) in our best-of breed lineup. Not much of a turnout for this primary election, and “Guitar Hero” ran away with the top prize.

“Top prize” and “Nintendo DS” are like peanut butter and chocolate. The ubiquitous handheld has sold a bazillion units — and that popularity was evident in our best handheld category. Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass” wiped the floor with PSP games “Syphon Filter: Logan’s Shadow” and “Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions.” Here’s hoping next year brings even more good games for the PSP, which is starting to pick up some great momentum.

Die-hard RPG fans sound off
The action stepped up in the best role-playing game category, where nearly 5,000 readers logged votes. Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” expansion, “The Burning Crusade” was in a virtual dead heat with Bioware’s “Mass Effect” and Red Studio’s “The Witcher.” The talky “Mass Effect” ended up winning the category, but die-hard fans of the genre took issue with our list.

“I cannot believe, no I am SHOCKED that they don’t have ‘Oblivion’ (Xbox 360) on that list?!” wrote Milezinni in our forum.

A reader calling himself Sonoluma posted that “The Burning Crusade” seemed out of place on the list. “It’s an MMORPG whereas the rest of the games are straight-up console RPGs. That being said, I don’t think it belongs on the list regardless of how good it is.”

More heated opinions
Opinions got even more heated in the action-adventure category. Our reviewer, Levi Buchanan, decided to put “Bioshock” in with “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” and “God of War 2,” thinking it might have a better chance against these games than in the super-muscular shooter category.

He also put “Super Mario Galaxy” in the action-adventure bucket, hoping it might have a shot there. That game ultimately came in second to “Bioshock,” which scored 39 percent of the nearly 2,200 reader votes. Sorry, Mario.

A couple of readers were incensed by our leaving off Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed.” Still others couldn’t understand why “Bioshock” made the list — and “Halo 3” didn’t.

“Not mentioning ‘Halo 3’ and ‘Call of Duty 4’ is a travesty,” wrote Drumbeat. “If you’re not including ‘shooters,’ then why is ‘Bioshock’ on the list? I guess this is what happens when Tom Brokaw is reviewing the games.”

(Actually, Tom Brokaw does not review games for msnbc.com. But msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, so I’ll leave that door open.)

And what of the shooters?
“Halo 3” and “Call of Duty 4” got their chance in the shooter category, which logged the most votes by far of any of the genres.

Right out of the gate, “Call of Duty 4” was the favorite, eventually claiming 41 percent of the over 5,700 votes. “Halo 3,” the much-hyped Xbox 360 title was a distant second, with 24 percent. Valve’s “Orange Box” collection of games won the bronze with 8.5 percent of the vote.

Readers reacted strongly in the forums — mainly about the omission of “Bioshock” from the shooter category.

“Even though it didn’t have a multi-player option it was … the best single player shooter of 2007,” posted walmart2. “I can only assume that the list was created by people who didn’t play that amazing game.”

“Bioshock” got its chance in the finals, but it couldn’t hold up against “Call of Duty 4” for the reader’s choice in Game of the Year.

This selection mirrors what’s happening in retail, too: “Call of Duty 4” sold over 2 million units in November, making it the best-selling title of the month.

That two so-called “hardcore” games bested softer fare like “Super Mario Galaxy” and “Guitar Hero III” tells me a lot about our audience. That despite the much-ballyhood expansion of the video game market, passionate gamers — the ones who read year-end lists — are still fans of the good old-fashioned shoot-em-up.

To be sure, casual games definitely made inroads this year. Observe the success of the Wii and that of companies like Ubisoft, which saw a rise in revenues after diversifying its game lineup to include more casual games.

But despite this, it’s clear that our readers prefer shooters. Realistic shooters with gorgeous graphics. Shooters that simulate a tightly wound episode of “24.” Shooters with Big Daddies.

There’s been plenty of disagreement with our “best of” list. But in a year like 2007, one that saw such an embarrassment of riches, it’s tough to find consensus on which game is the very best. Better just to agree that this was a great year to be a gamer — and that it might be a long time before we see another year like it.

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