Another really hard question. With the types and mechanics of video games so varied across the board choosing a “best” when all games aren’t even doing the same thing is kind of difficult. Several friends picked Batman: Arkham Asylum as their choice. Not a bad selection with its solid fight mechanics, fun detection mode, and tons of things to find, explore and do. It is an interesting amalgamation of mechanics that when taken in aggregate create a rather (sorry to any GWJers) create a rather compelling package. But, if I’m being honest, the gameplay for all of its bells and whistles boils down to an elaborate key hunt. Sure there are lots of little treats to distract you on the way but the game, gently but not without some force, leads you by the nose. Of course this is true in just about every game and straying to far from a directed experience doesn’t necessarily make for better gameplay. Arkham Asylum is the best interpretation of Batman gamers have ever seen and a stellar example of what solid gameplay is all about. But it isn’t my choice.
When I think of games whose gameplay have captured my imagination and challenged my skills in a meaningful way two games come to mind: Crysis and Red Faction: Guerilla. Bizarre choices I know but the open world combined with clear objects were the perfect brew of freedom and directed experience. For Crysis this mostly involves the first half of the game without aliens. The variety of modes in your suit combined with the freedom to pursue your object however you see fit was just about a sublime an experience an FPS junky can have. Red Faction: Guerilla might not have the most stunning narrative in the world but like Crysis the open environment and freedom to pursue your object however you see fit. What is telling about both games is that they sort of fall out when those choices are taken from you. The beauty of the gameplay in either is in the choice and freedom and when the game tries to direct how you play things get a little ugly.
Red Faction: Guerilla (this vid is long but provides a nice example of some freeform destruction)