Drew Thompson's Top 5 of 2006
1. Gears of War (Microsoft, Xbox 360, Rated M). With gorgeous graphics, stunning sound, and visceral gameplay, this sci-fi shooter mows down the competition. Dramatic camera angles add to the cinematic intensity. When you run, the image shifts back and below you, pointing upward and shaking as if the "cameraman" is filming a wartime documentary - and running for his life right behind you. But ten-hut, soldier! You're a home theater enthusiast, so it's your sworn duty to get into Gear.
2. Guitar Hero II (RedOctane/Activision, PS2, Rated T). Unleash your inner Eddie Van Halen! Killer co-op modes let you play lead while a fellow fretmaster jams on bass or rhythm guitar (and each of you can choose your own difficulty setting). Or, go head-to-head to see who's the master of shred. Tracks include everything from the rookie-friendly riffs of Mötley Crüe's "Shout at the Devil" to the tricky licks of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird."
3. Dead Rising (Capcom, Xbox 360, Rated M). Even the musically challenged can make good use of a guitar. Here, along with other objects (like baseball bats, frying pans, and potted plants), you'll use it to bludgeon the flesh-eating freaks that infest the shopping mall you're trapped in. Despite a frustrating save system and subtitles that seem small even on a 60-inch TV set, this Dawn of the Dead-inspired zombie-fest will get a rise out of you.
4. Fight Night: Round 3 (EA; PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360; Rated T). The Xbox 360 version's graphics are so lifelike that you'll rely on the appearance of your boxer rather than an onscreen gauge to determine how banged-up he is. In fact, you'll never want to take your eyes off this Fight - but a good subwooofer will make you wince with every bone-crushing blow. This is one of only a few games that truly deserve to be described as "next generation."
5. F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon (Vivendi; Xbox 360, coming in March for PS3; Rated M). This downright frightening first-person shooter's eerie ambient sound and its host of horrors will have you crying for your mommy. And if you thought that the little girl who crawled out of the well in The Ring was creepy, wait until you get a glimpse of this game's ghoulish gal.