Jeff Jensen
December 18, 2009 AT 05:00 AM EST

1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Treasure hunters have given videogames their most iconic heroes. Lara Croft. Mario and Luigi. The guy from Zork. Onto that Mount Rushmore we now chisel the stubbled mug of Nathan Drake, the rakish soldier of fortune at the center of this interactive Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The gameplay demands that you do more than kick ass like Indy. You have to think like him, too, whether strategizing a museum heist or solving puzzles amid Tibetan ruins. The propulsive plot is unpredictably gonzo. The goal: Find Marco Polo’s lost treasure. The enemies: a Serbian war criminal…and yetis. The final destination: the fabled city of Shambhala.

Uncharted 2 is deliciously overstuffed, powered by dynamic storytelling and amazing graphics. You’ll be dazzled by the set pieces, but what you’ll remember most is having experienced a real story, rip-roaringly told.

2. Assassin’s Creed II
Grand Theft Auto as historical fantasy. You play a Renaissance-era killer — part of a mythic secret society of assassins — who runs along rooftops, hangs with Leonardo da Vinci, and subverts insidious conspiracies in a deep, gorgeous imagining of 15th-century Italy. It’s an open-world masterpiece.

3. The Beatles: Rock Band
By superimposing the Fab Four’s legend (moptopped lads to sonic pioneers to breakup artists) on its trademark career mode, Rock Band allows us to meet the Beatles anew — by actually being the Beatles. (Who knew Ringo Starr’s job was so difficult?) An exhilarating, surprisingly poignant simulacrum of Beatlemania. Now give us the Stones, please.

4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
The extraordinary first-person shooter that dares to ask: Exactly how far are you willing to go to save the world? Liberate an enemy-occupied Afghan city? Yes, sir! That thing you have to do in the Russian airport? Say it ain’t so, G.I. Joe. My choice still haunts me. A game that leaves you shocked and awed.

5. Batman: Arkham Asylum
A lavishly produced, wholly original entertainment, not some half-assed superhero-movie tie-in. Arkham Asylum excels by blowing out the Dark Knight’s videogame-hero potential — gee-whiz gadgets, mad fight skills, puzzle-cracking brain (but no gun) — and by creating a vividly creepy setting that’s teeming with run-amok rogues, including a Joker who is chillingly voiced by (no joke) Mark Hamill.

6. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10
It may be tricky to play this game now and not think about Tiger’s scandalous follies, but that shouldn’t diminish its achievement. The golfing great’s newest Wii simulation is a sports-genre masterstroke, a hole-in-one beauty that maximizes the platform’s online capability and motion-detecting technology. Play the game’s Pebble Beach course, and the weather will mirror that day’s conditions at the real-world Pebble Beach. Wiggle your wand and Tiger wiggles his putter. Strictly golf-speaking, of course.

7. Forza Motorsport 3
You expect next-level physics, graphics, and scenery from the plethora of racing games that come out each year. But empowering players with unprecedented choice and creativity by giving them 400 customizable vehicles? A time-travel option that lets drivers rewind and fix mistakes? Forza 3 is so ridiculously souped-up and complete, you may not need next year’s model.

8. Left 4 Dead 2
A cheeky B-movie chiller brought to R-rated life, distinguished by a remarkable attention to character and Southern-(dis)comfort locales. I love the dilapidated theme park — so very Zombieland. After The Beatles: Rock Band, the year’s next-best ”With a Little Help From My Friends” game, because you’ll definitely need them to survive the unending undead onslaught.

9. Wii Sports Resort
The sequel to Wii Sports is a collection of athletics-themed challenges — waterskiing, archery, Frisbee golf, table tennis, etc. — rendered in the Wii’s Weeble-wobble Mii animation. No, it’s not sexy. It’s a tropical carnival of all-ages whimsy, guaranteed to keep a goofy grin on your face for hours and hours.

10. Scribblenauts
An ingenious little game that becomes as big and wild as your imagination (and vocabulary) can allow. As bubbleheaded Maxwell, you must clear 200 levels of absurdity — crossing monster-infested expanses, solving a murder mystery, feeding Santa Claus — by inputting words that magically conjure up tools. Said implements could be anything. Weapons. Kitchen appliances. Black holes. Albert Einstein. God. Seriously — anything, as long as you can manage to spell it accurately. And they say videogames are rotting our brains…

The Worst Games of the Year

1. Sexy Poker
Play cards. Win a hand, and anime babes will strip. Not offensive, just a profound abuse of creativity. And anime babes.

2. Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust
This witless Hollywood spoof lured smart actors like Jane Lynch. Must’ve been a huge paycheck.

3. Watchmen: The End Is Nigh
A mediocre superhero-movie tie-in that deserved to be exceptional given Watchmen’s ”best comic ever” rep.

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