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Virtua Tennis 3 & The Orange Box

4. Virtua Tennis 3

With so many great games appearing in the latter half of the year, it's easy to forget that there were some absolute belters early on. Virtua Tennis 3 was a UK launch title for the PlayStation 3 and was far and away the best game on the console for a very long time. Unfortunately for Sony fans, the Xbox 360 version was even better.

With VT3 Sega got just about everything right. The graphics were stunning, the player licenses well considered, the controls intuitive and the gameplay entertaining. Whether playing in single player career mode, against a mate sitting next to you on your sofa, or a stranger in another country, VT3 is a riot and horribly addictive.

At first it may seem like you can succeed just by hitting the top spin button, but as you progress you soon realize that you need to be constantly thinking two shots in advance. If you're looking for a game that you can just pick up and play, but that also has depth if you persevere, VT3 is well worth a look. The year's other sports titles simply couldn't match it for fun. Just don't play Andy - he's too good!
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3. The Orange Box

Surely putting so many quality games in one box is cheating? Maybe, but even discounting the inclusion of Half-Life 2 and Episode One, the genuinely new games enclosed in The Orange Box represent three of the best gaming experiences you're likely to have had all year - and all for the price of one game!

Where to start? Episode Two, continued many of the gameplay themes started in Episode One, with the delectable Alyx Vance a regular foil for the ever silent Gordon Freeman. Valve also added a number of new elements, including the ingenious Strider busting Magnusson device and the frankly terrifying Hunters. Taut and perfectly tuned, the pacing was near impeccable and the series continues to set the standard when it comes to in-game acting - an oft-overlooked quality.

If that weren't enough there's Team Fortress 2 and Portal, either of which could stake very strong claims for a place in our hotlist on their own merits. TF2 manages to provide a perfectly balanced multiplayer experience. The cartoon graphics are both effortlessly cool and beautifully functional, and having a class for everyone's skill set prevents the alienation normally experienced in traditional Deathmatch titles. Meanwhile, Portal could well be the most innovative game of the year, with a superb puzzle dynamic and an irreverent charm that made plush companion cubes a cult Christmas gift on the other side of the Atlantic. An unmissable collection.

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