The Orange Box (Valve, 360/PC)
It's embarrassing how much better at this than everyone else Valve is. Oh sure, there's an exquisitely polished story-based first person shooter skillfully ported to the 360 (Half-Life and episodes), a groundbreakingly brilliant puzzle game (Portal), and a multiplayer online game that doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out (Team Fortress 2), but just as important is the perfect quality of the packaging. There's designer commentary for most of the games, giving you an insight into the creative process. There's wonderfully creative achievements that add hours of gameplay (and that's just the bit where you have to drive the gnome around in the car.) Heck, even the main menu is cool. What can I say? The Orange Box is the best all-around package there is, and it is awarded the Best Everything of 2007.
BEST ESCAPE SEQUENCE:
Halo 3 (Bungie, 360)
I still haven't decided whether the wild high-speed drive across the disintegrating ringworld at the end of Halo 3 is quite better or worse than the wild high-speed race down the length of the Pillar of Autumn at the end of Halo 1. But they're both pretty awesome, and in the end that's what matters.
Mass Effect (Bioware, 360)
Mass Effect is an insanely ambitious space RPG that had a rough development process, so Bioware deserves all the more credit for coming through where it mattered most. Everyone knows the old chestnut about Chekhov's gun and foreshadowing. Well, in Mass Effect, not only is the mantelpiece covered with guns, but the mantel is also a gun, and so is the whole house, and in the ending of this game they take down every last damn one and fire it. Especially after you get to Ilos, everything clicks into place beautifully and the story just gets more and more awesome and over the top and full of crowd-pleasing moments right up to the end. And most importantly of all, it actually wraps things up, at least to the extent possible given the scope of the game, instead of just suddenly stopping and telling you to go buy the sequel. This is the most satisfying ending to a game in recent memory and so Mass Effect wins Best Ending of 2007.
Midna, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo, Wii/GC)
So Link, our hero, is nobody too special. He's an ordinary teenager living in his beloved peasant village out in the boondocks of Hyrule, hanging with his girl and paying the rent by ropin' steers down at the ranch. Then just as the player has been lulled into complacency by all this domestic bliss and is vaguely wondering when this game's going to get off the ground already, shadowy creatures plunge the kingdom into twilit darkness, discorporeate all the villagers, kidnap his friends, his girl, and his horse, and finally as a parting insult turn him into a dog and throw him into a dungeon.
(Would that technically make it a kennel? Never mind.)
Then as if the day hadn't been weird enough already, Link is promptly afflicted with a baffling homunculus creature called Midna, who's intent on using him to accomplish some sort of obscure political goal of her own. The Zelda games, at least since Ocarina of Time, have always given Link some sidekick who reads dialog for the mute hero and can be relied on to deliver endless inanely obvious instructions ("Hey! Listen!") until the player wants to throw the controller through the TV set. Midna is theoretically the heir to that tradition, but she's a class all her own. She has her own agenda and her own distinct lack of respect for Link's predicament, at least at first, and she's disinclined to tell you anything unless it benefits her scheme. But as the story moves along, Link and Midna forge a special bond through all manner of crisis and adversity. She has reasons for what she does and her story is genuinely touching. Midna looks original and acts original and is original, and so she's the Best Character of 2007.
Runner-up: Wrex from Mass Effect. I love that guy.
BEST SPACE PIRATES:
Rogue Galaxy (Factor 5, PS2)
It's a grave injustice that there are so few competitors every year for this award. What is more cool than pirates in space, for crying out loud? But Rogue Galaxy was so charming that I don't feel bad at all about handing it the gold. Now if we could talk about those ending boss battles, Factor 5...?
Wii Virtual Console
Granted, Microsoft got there first with Xbox Live Arcade. But the Wii Virtual Console is explicitly designed around delivering classic games from the past: Sega Genesis/Megadrive, 3DO, Nintendo and Super Nintendo, and the N64. One tragic difference between video games and other media, such as books or movies, is swift and unremitting platform obsolesence. If you want to read a classic novel such as A Tale of Two Cities, you can pick up a book that was printed a hundred years ago and just read it. On the other hand, if you've just gotten into video games for the first time in your life by buying a modern console and you want to play a classic game like Starfox 64, that's just too damn bad... until now. Nintendo is making the lost games of the past easily accessible to the masses and for that, they've had the Best Idea of 2007.
Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, Wii)
I defy you to select a galaxy to travel to and not at least mentally be going "WHEEEEE" as Mario sticks out his silly little arms and zooms off into space.
Crackdown (Realtime Worlds, 360)
Crackdown was a bit of a sleeper hit earlier this year, gaining its success through the pure fun of its gameplay: leaping at will through an enormous open city, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, and blasting the heck out of the city's criminal element any damn way you please without trivial details like "plot" or "narrative" getting in your way. It's fun enough by itself, but the multiplayer mode -- which is simply the single-player mode but with two people in it, again simply allowed to do anything they damn well please -- is something else entirely. A good friend and I decided to create a traffic enforcement game. I'd drive the panel truck at unsafe speeds the wrong way down the freeway, and he'd stand on top of it with the guided missile launcher making the world safe for democracy. For being actually fun, unlike a lot of multiplayer games, Crackdown gets the Best Multiplayer of 2007.
Runner-up: Ace Combat 6, in particular the co-op multiplayer mode. While this was clearly an afterthought in development, the two co-op maps are still incredibly fun. Given that most of the single-player game teams the hero up with the same sidekick, it's a real pity that the whole game can't be played through in this fashion.
I know I've overlooked some excellent games, but heck, it can't be helped. What were your faves of the past year?