The great irony of being a game journalist is that the busier you get with your career, the less time you actually have to spend playing games. But this year, something strange happened. I found myself logging a ridiculous amount of hours with a controller in my hand.




Yes, just like old times.




Since August, I've probably spent as much time gaming as I did back when I was still sitting around in my underpants, eating pizza, playing games and wondering how in the world one goes about breaking into the game-reviewing business.




The main culprit: "BioShock," 2K's so-good-I-still-can't-believe-it first-person shooter. Though it shouldn't be a surprise that "BioShock" is my resounding choice for game of the year, I've pulled together a list of nine other games well worth your time, money and sore thumbs.




Bon voyage, 2007. And here's to an even better 2008.




1. "BioShock"




(2K Games; Xbox 360, PC)




Once in a great while, a game comes along that's so utterly unusual, so different, that it ushers in an entirely new era for the medium. Quality standards are forever raised. Expectations for what a game can be, for what it can do, are forever expanded. "BioShock" is such a game.




At a time when I was feeling burned out this year, when I felt I had nothing new to say about any of the video games on my desk, "BioShock" slapped me across the face and woke me from my stupor. Each time I descended into Andrew Ryan's malfunctioning underwater utopia &

I've finished the game three times now &

I felt frightened and fascinated.




With it's should-I-harvest-or-rescue ethical quandary, rich back story and demon-in-a-diving-suit Big Daddies, this is not only the game of 2007, but the industry will have a tough time topping this one for years to come.




2. "Super Mario Galaxy"




(Nintendo; Wii)




So what if it takes years for Nintendo to squeeze out a new "Mario" game? "Galaxy" stands tall as proof that it's always worth the wait. The game's down-is-up innovative use of gravity, along with a remarkably intuitive Wiimote control, quite literally sucks you into its orbit and keeps you there for days.




The later levels will challenge even hard-core "Mario" fans &

sweaty palms are guaranteed. And the series' chipper, brightly colored aesthetic? Just when I think I've outgrown it, I find myself falling for it, hard, yet again. More than just a game, Nintendo has created, to my mind, a legitimate piece of pop art.




Bottom line: I loved every minute of it.




3. "The Orange Box"




(Valve; Xbox 360, PS3)




There are a great many reasons to purchase "The Orange Box." For $60, you receive an outrageous amount of content, including the 3-year-old (but still superb) "Half-Life 2," a pair of epilogues to "Half-Life 2" (which, when taken together, provide another 10 to 15 hours of game play) and "Team Fortress 2," one of the best multiplayer experiences of the year. But what really makes this disc worthy of a purchase is the puzzle-based first-person experience known as "Portal." It is quite unlike anything I've seen. The final hour of "Portal" will haunt you for hours after you've powered down your game machine.




4. "God of War 2"




(Sony; PS2)




Although it's a PlayStation 2 game, the glorious return of the bald/angry Kratos proved that the last-generation machine can still put out a game that's as good as &

if not better than &

most of the so-called next-gen games out there. And the opening set piece for "God of War 2" is possibly the most intense 20 minutes of any game this year.




5. "Rock Band"




(MTV Games; Xbox 360, PS3)




While Activision was busy making sure the "Guitar Hero" franchise maintained the status quo, Harmonix &

the creators of "Guitar Hero" &

was putting together the mother of all rock 'n' roll games. With a drum kit, bass and lead guitars, and a microphone, you and three pals can go from being mere guitar heroes to bona fide rock gods. It's expensive, sure, and hooking it up properly means stringing a bunch of wires and equipment around your living room. But this is probably the most fun you'll have with any video game this year, bar none.




6. "Ratchet Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction"




(Sony/Insomniac Games; PS3)




Insomniac Games once again provides pretty much the only bright spot for the PS3 in 2007. (It made the terrific "Resistance: Fall of Man" in 2006.) Ratchet, the fur-covered Lombax, and Clank, his wisecracking robot friend, are the most appealing dynamic duo in games today. The game is rife with crackerjack writing, dazzling graphics and quirky weapons, such as the Groovitron, which causes your enemies to involuntarily disco dance.




7. "Crackdown"




(Microsoft; Xbox 360)




One of the most underrated games of the year, this unassuming superhero simulator drops you into a crime-riddled futuristic city and challenges you to restore order using your ever-growing super powers. Collecting orbs hidden around city &

they're the ticket to increasing your powers &

will leave you with a chronic case of OCD. You can hijack cars, as in "Grand Theft Auto," but why bother when it's so much more fun to leap and bound across the cityscape under your own steam?




8. "The Legend Of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass"




(Nintendo; DS)




Picking up where "The Wind Waker" leaves off, "Phantom Hourglass" tells the ongoing story of Link and his pirate pal, Tetra. The game not only features the series' trademark puzzles, dungeons and overworlds to explore, it also includes a novel but effective touch-centric control scheme. Truly one of the great portable games of all time.




9. "Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock"




(Activision; Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS2)




The latest installment in the "Guitar Hero" series doesn't really innovate &

even those boss battles against Tom Morello and Slash feel tacked on and unsatisfying. But the Grade A soundtrack, featuring the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Sex Pistols, among others &

coupled with the new Gibson Les Paul peripheral not only make for a killer combination &

stands as proof that Activision, which now holds the series' reins, clearly knows how to do a "Guitar Hero" game right.




10. "Metroid Prime 3: Corruption"




(Nintendo; Wii)




This is what I call a rear-view-window game because, while it didn't exactly make a great first impression on me, weeks later I found myself loading it up again, digging deeper and finding much to admire and enjoy in Samus' latest outer-space battle. "Corruption" answers the can-the-Wii-do-a-first-person-shooter question with a near-deafening "yes."