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Crisis has a way of focusing your attention on what’s really important.

It was a terrific year for gamers, with excellent releases in almost every category. As a result, I found myself having a lot of difficulty deciding which titles were the very best.

However, when my Xbox 360 was hit by the "red ring of death," it didn’t take me long to figure out which games I missed most — and, voila, I had a list of contenders for the top console games of 2008.

I didn’t cry for "Far Cry 2." I didn’t break over "Fracture." I decided I could leave "Left 4 Dead."

However, I yearned to return to the Capital Wasteland.

Very best"Fallout3" — Bethesda Softworks delivers a truly engaging experience with this wide-open role-playing game. You play as someone who’s just emerged from an underground vault built to withstand a nuclear holocaust. You encounter a ragtag "society" build in the wasteland around Washington, D.C. You’ll encounter slavers, raiders, mutants and settlers as you search for your missing father. It offers a great story, great game play and great graphics — although the results of combat are quite gruesome. It also does a superb job of letting you play according to your personality — as good, or as bad, as you want to be. Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3. Rated M.

Best rhythm game"Rock Band 2" — Harmonix and MTV Games refined their successful formula by improving their plastic drum and guitar controllers and greatly expanding their song list. The controls are much more responsive and substantial, a direct response to gamers’ concerns about difficulty and durability. The game comes with more than 80 tracks and you can add hundreds more by importing the tracks from the first "Rock Band" or buying others online. There’s something for everyone who likes rock or pop. This is one of the few games that’s truly fun to play by yourself or with friends and family. Unless you prefer Gregorian chants, you’ve gotta love this game. Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii. Rated T.

Best fantasy game"Fable II" — You play as an orphaned hero in a battle of good vs. evil — or evil vs. evil. You decide which. This game from Microsoft offers an open world where you can pick up whatever quests you like, run businesses and raise a family — or just focus on your overarching mission. Your decisions along the way shape people’s reactions to you and even your appearance. If you’re a nasty chap, you’ll sprout horns and send villagers running in panic whenever you enter town. If you do the right thing, you’ll earn a halo and kids will chase after you seeking your autograph. The graphics are excellent. The game play is very smooth. And the quests are varied and fun. Why would that make anyone turn evil? Platforms: Xbox 360. Rated M.

Best shooter"Gears of War 2" — It’s been another excellent year for shooters but this third-person game from Microsoft easily lands the top spot with great graphics, interesting characters, solid campaign and online modes and — best of all — excellent co-op play. Unlike many games, you can’t run willy-nilly over the battlefield blasting foes. You need to use cover and use the right weapon for the job as you face the menacing Locust Horde in its subterranean lair. This one gets bonus points for allowing you to tone down the gore and language. Finally, the "Horde" survival mini-games are absolutely stellar. Platforms: Xbox 360. Rated M.

Best party game"Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party" — There’s really only one way to decide the best title in this category: Throw a party. After a party and one youth group event, I can confidently say that the Rabbids rule. Billed as the first game you can control with your butt, this title puts the Wii’s motion-sensitive controllers and pressure-sensitive balance board to good use. The minigames featuring the ornery rabbitlike creatures aren’t quite as wacky — or as gross — as those in previous editions, but they’re still a lot of fun for a room full of people. In addition, the game is very accessible and entertaining for the uninitiated. Platform: Wii. Rated E.

Best sports game"Madden NFL 09" — Electronic Arts finally made its top football franchise accessible to the masses. Although the ghostly John Madden who appears on some screens may frighten some potential players, the beginner mode addresses longtime concerns about the game’s daunting complexity. However, those who prefer the depth of previous incarnations can still find it — and still play beside their lesser-skilled friends. Everyone wins. Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii. Rated E.


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