Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Best Games of the Last Decade

The Best Games of the Last Decade
Dec 11, 2007

As we turn down the home stretch of 2007, the Internet is bound to start buzzing with year-in-review articles. And we're no exception. In the coming weeks we'll be unveiling our Game of the Year awards, which will surely include more than a few looks back at the year that was.

But before we make history, we figured it would be worthwhile to remember it. From Zelda to Oblivion, from Liberty City to Azeroth, the greatest games of the past ten years have thrilled players while slowly but surely making a lasting impact on the pop culture landscape. Spanning several generations of consoles and introducing a variety of brand new genres, here are our picks for the best games of the last decade.

Note: Because the nature of this kind of list is inherently exclusionary and incendiary, we've included a list of other titles that we strongly considered for each year. An argument can certainly be made for each of these games as well. Please, easy on the hate mail.
Gran Turismo

The racing game genre can be comfortably split into two historical sections: the clunkers that came before Gran Turismo, and every racer that's tried to emulate it since. Polyphony Digital's driving masterpiece introduced the gaming world to hardcore tuning, realistic physics, and replays so eerily lifelike they could make a bad race look great. With an unheard-of 166 car lineup and depth equivalent to a solid RPG, it remains the most influential racing game of all time.

Other games of the year: Final Fantasy VII, Total Annihilation, Age of Empires, Goldeneye 007

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Welcome to gaming's second official Golden Age. 1998 was chock full of incredible, groundbreaking titles, every single one of which could easily make a case for Game of the Year honors. But there can be only one, and it's simply impossible not to choose Link's massive, legendary N64 journey. From its revolutionary targeting system to the sprawling Hyrule Field, Ocarina of Time remains the defining game in the Zelda mythos. And that's not just Yahoo's opinion - it's the highest-rated game ever according to both Metacritic and Gamerankings.

Other games of the year: Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, StarCraft, Baldur's Gate, Grim Fandango

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

Trying to choose the best game of 1999 gave us fits. Noses were bloodied. Friendships were ruined. A chair actually went sailing through a window. But after cleaning up the rubble, it became clear that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was the single best game of the year. Next to Madden, this might be the most innovative sports game ever. Its control scheme and gameplay system have been ripped off by scores of developers. People who had no business getting within 100 yards of a skateboard took to it like grip tape to a deck. Yes, the competition was fierce, but the game that launched one of the longest-running franchises ever deserves its due.

Other games of the year: Everquest, System Shock 2, Half-Life: Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament, Rollercoaster Tycoon, Soul Calibur

The Sims

We had no idea what to make of Will Wright's digitized dollhouse when it first invaded our PCs, but after countless hours spent poring over wallpaper, redesigning living rooms and, of course, forcing our beloved babies to mercilessly mingle, eat, work and pee, we knew it was a big deal. In addition to its profoundly addictive gameplay, it was one of the first serious efforts to bridge gaming's gender gap, proving a major hit with boys and girls alike. Truly no one escaped the clutches of The Sims in 2000 and few have escaped since, as it's currently the best-selling PC game of all time.

Other games of the year: Deus Ex, Diablo II, Perfect Dark

Grand Theft Auto III

Talk about another tough call: 2001 brought home some of the biggest games ever to hit consoles, including such luminaries as the original Xbox killer-app Halo and the monstrous Metal Gear Solid 2. But when you talk about size, quality, and cultural impact, the conversation begins and ends with Grand Theft Auto III. Incredible, open-ended gameplay? Check. Seamless transition between on-foot and in-car action? Check. Trailblazing soundtrack? Check. Never before had an action game offered so much freedom, fun and brutality in one controversial package. Welcome to the jungle, Rockstar.

Other games of the year: Halo, Black & White, Metal Gear Solid 2, Jak & Daxter

Battlefield 1942

A year o' plenty, 2002 offered terrific experiences spanning every platform. No game, however, was more instrumental to the decline of general productivity than Battlefield 1942. Its contributions to online shooting are immense; capturing spawn points and trudging through land, sea and air in one cohesive game world was simply not part of the landscape prior to 2002 (Codename Eagle, the little-known game BF 1942 was based on, being the exception). Though hampered by a bland single-player experience, its multiplayer was so addictive and revolutionary that it's one of the most commonly referenced PC games ever.

Other games of the year: Warcraft III, Metroid Prime, Neverwinter Nights, GTA Vice City

Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic

By the time ace role-playing game developer Bioware turned their considerable talents towards Microsoft's Xbox, they has already created a lasting legacy with legendary PC RPGs like Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Shifting away from Dungeons & Dragons in favor of George Lucas' licensed universe proved to be a fantastic decision; the original Knights of the Old Republic remains the best Star Wars game ever made and one of the chief reasons to own an Xbox.

Other games of the year: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Call of Duty, Beyond Good & Evil

World of Warcraft

By 2004 many gamers had invested in home consoles and let their PCs slip into a state of semi-consciousness. That turned out to be a costly mistake, as both World of Warcraft and Half-Life 2, two of the best PC games of all time, launched a mere nine days apart. The former, though, would turn into a cultural phenomenon, introducing hordes to the Horde with its brilliantly streamlined interface, simple yet gorgeous delivery and almost frighteningly addictive gameplay. Three years after its initial release and it's still far and away the cream of the MMORPG crop.

Other games of the year: Half-Life 2, Doom 3, GTA: San Andreas, Halo 2

Resident Evil 4

This was really a two-horse race, but even Kratos' bloodthirsty tale of vengeance couldn't quite hang with Capcom's innovative, awe-inspiring Resident Evil 4. Switching the camera from the classic third-person behind view to a more engaging over the shoulder shot was inspiration at its finest, turning what some had considered a weakening survival-horror franchise into the most gripping game in ages. But more amazing than the awesome control, mood, environments and bosses was the fact that it initially shipped for the third-place console of its day, the Nintendo Gamecube.

Other games of the year: God of War, Shadow of the Colossus, Battlefield 2

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

There are big games, there are huge games, there are epic games, and then there's Oblivion. The fourth official installment in Bethesda's critically-acclaimed open-ended role-playing series was so unbelievably large, you could drop 100 hours without moving the main plot forward whatsoever. Heck, you could spend a day just picking flowers to turn into potions. Oblivion improved upon every facet of earlier Elder Scrolls games with better combat, better visuals and a better interface. And there was no better game in 2006.

Other games of the year: Okami, Gears of War, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

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