The year's best games don't have anything in common, other than they're all great. One game includes a human sacrifice. Another is a workout video. And one is the most fun children's game in years. Most retail new for $40 to $50, although you can find several of them in used-game stores for as little as $20.
1) In God of War for PlayStation 2, you play as a warrior who must kill hundreds of Spartans and Ares, the god of war, a huge guy with feet bigger than houses. The game's designers came up with a wondrous world, featuring beautifully drawn towns, watery environs and even the guts of a big concrete monster.
Most important, it is addictive to play as Kratos, a muscular bald guy who thrashes Cyclopes, giant snakes and other creatures with chain-whips and a sword. If you can deal with the horrifying sacrificing of a human, plus a sex scene and topless women, then God of War could keep you playing for days on end. It's rated M.
2) Resident Evil 4 for GameCube and PS2 is a masterpiece of a horror game. You play as a man who must defend himself against zombie-like farmers who may not be zombies. It's an epic adventure that makes me feel as if I'm being personally attacked in a virtual experience -- quite a feat. It's rated M.
3) Call of Duty 2 for Xbox 360 provides gloriously detailed towns in which you, playing as a World War II soldier, blow up tanks, shoot Nazis, drive tanks and fire giant guns at planes. If you don't own an Xbox 360, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is nearly as great and available for Xbox, PS2 and GC. Both titles are rated T.
4) Burnout Revenge for Xbox and PS2 not only allows you to race on splendid-looking roads, but it makes you bump other cars off the road with cool slow-motion effects. It's rated E 10+.
5) Destroy All Humans! for Xbox and PS2 is laugh-out-loud funny. You play as a warped little space alien dude who comes to Earth to blast green goo into people's rears. The funny part is dialogue heard from 1950s Earthlings, satirically repressed women and Eisenhower-era men in hats. Missions are fun, such as flying a space saucer. It's rated T.
6) Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit for Xbox and PS2 is the most entertaining children's title in years. You play as a chipper man and his dog, using vacuums to suck up little animals and depositing them in safe places. It's big, colorful and fun, even for adults. It's rated E.
7) Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for Sony's handheld PSP system is beyond gritty, forcing you to kill cops, pedestrians and fellow gangsters. But if you cloak your morals to play it, the methods of gaming are astonishingly well-done. It's rated M.
8) Area 51 for Xbox and PS2 takes place on an intricately painted Earth, where aliens have come to kill. Narrated by your conspiracy-troubled trooper character (voiced by David Duchovny of "The X-Files"), the best part is when you stumble on a government movie set that represents the faking of a moon landing. It's rated M.
9) Mercenaries for Xbox and PS2 is put out by LucasArts, which also issued its best Star Wars game to date this year, Star Wars: Battlefront II. But the more engrossing of the two is Mercenaries, the story of a woman who shoots, and sneaks around battles, for cash. It's rated T.
10) Yourself!Fitness for Xbox is a great workout title in which a physical trainer puts you through gym-like exercises and yoga routines. Made with help from Prevention magazine, it's more concise and helpful than almost every workout I've seen on DVD and TV. It's rated E. The Xbox version works on Xbox 360.
Doug Elfman is an award-winning columnist who is also the TV critic at the Chicago Sun-Times.
New to you -- used game of the week
Playboy: The Mansion is one of the only two adult-oriented games to have come out for the Xbox. Advocates of adult games had hoped it would spark yet more sex-based games, rather than just violent games for adults. But its Sims-like adventure, though catchy, doesn't live up to the hype, with tame lap dances being as dirty as things get.
The dirtier, and funnier, adult-oriented game for Xbox is Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude, which places the gamer in the goofy role of a lying loser in college, getting young women to go to bed, though it has incredibly slow load times.
Playboy can be had in used-game stores and online for $20 and less, while Larry is still fetching $25. Playboy is rated M for strong sexual content, use of tobacco and/or use of alcohol, and nudity. Larry is rated M for strong language, strong sexual content, use of tobacco and/or use of alcohol, nudity and mature humor.