Top 10 Video Games of 2003

Number 10.  –  Silent Hill 3

Outside of being a gapped follow up to the original classic, Silent Hill 3 also boasts the best gameplay the franchise has ever seen, but still remains unimproved with poor combat mechanics. Antiquated complexity is the only real way to explain it but overall, you had more dangerous and agile enemies with more speed yourself playing as Heather. This is a sequel of the original Silent Hill with Harry Mason’s daughter now playable (Silent Hill 2 had a different cast) and is uncovering the mysteries left out from the original game. The game’s strongest asset is its undeniably disturbing story that involves birthing a demon God complete with a scene where Heather throws up the fetus, only for antagonist Claudia to then eat the aforementioned fetus. Heather may not have been the most identifiable protagonist considering she’s usually whining like your typical teenage girl, but this game is too mad not to love. It’s also a nicely executed sequel with one of the saddest and most tragic deaths in gaming history. Also, the soundtrack in Silent Hill 3 is some of the best game soundtracks ever mixing Trip-Hop, ambient, and gothic music into one! Once you listen to the soundtrack as you travel through empty hallways, it fulfills the atmosphere with complete character of its own.

Number 9.  –  Pokemon Ruby/Saphire

Despite the fact that the third generation of Pokemon games are so inferior to the second (because of it’s basic 8 gyms instead of 16, smaller variety of Pokemon, and lack of creativity with this pokemon game) I still have a soft spot for this game.  When compared to Pokémon Crystal, however, Ruby and Sapphire bring a lot to the table. The same goal of battling all eight gym leaders across the region and ultimately defeating the Elite 4 remains the same, but there are some excellent additions to the gameplay that make the world far more interesting. The same battle system from Crystal returns, but with slightly faster pacing and shiny new Pokémon graphics. You can keep up to six Pokémon with you at a time, but battle is typically a one-on-one affair. Each Pokémon has four different attacks to choose from and one ‘type’ such as fire, water, rock, or psychic. Some types are strong or weak against others in a rock-paper-scissors style of gameplay. This tried-and-true game design works well and leaves plenty of room for strategy on your team of six. Defeating opponents gives your Pokémon experience and, as they level up, they become stronger, learn moves, and evolve into new forms. This time around you’ll even have the chance to participate in double battles. Instead of just one-on-one you can battle with two Pokémon at a time. These sorts of fights aren’t especially frequent, but they’re a nice change of pace when they do appear. Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are good games and decent entries in the series. Unfortunately, they’re missing some of the spark and excitement of the earlier titles and the refinement seen in later ones.

Number 8.  –  Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc

If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing Rayman before, get ready for a visual treat. One of the best features of the series is the interesting world that players will journey through. This holds true inHoodlum Havoc with some really creative levels. You’ll run through Rayman’s unique digs and meet some bizarre characters along the way. Some really nice soft focus and lighting effects pop up every so often. Elsewhere, Rayman 3 offers a myriad of extras that are worthy of note. Rather than dish out pointless concept sketches and new costumes as so many games do, collecting the various items that are scattered around rewards you with points, which in turn unlock a stack of bonus mini games once you reach preset point limits. In addition, amusing videos unlock, showing Rayman being tortured in increasingly brutal ways. Admit it, you would, wouldn’t you? One element that is quite a novel progression is the combat mechanic, which gives you the ability to curve your (already detached) fist around corners, giving you the opportunity to knock out enemies even if they’re hiding behind a pillar. Holding down the right trigger allows Rayman to lock on to the target, which allows you to not only strafe left and right and avoid their projectiles, but it keeps the target in sight while you’re moving around. There plenty to admire about Rayman 3, and for the franchise’s millions of fans, it’s going to satisfy their needs for limbless platforming antics. For the platforming connoisseur, you’re going to be reasonably happy with it; it’s pretty, it’s quite a challenge, and is loaded with rewards. But you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that for all its charms, it doesn’t offer enough new ideas, and that its competition is just too strong.

Number 7.  –  Soul Calibur II

The original Soul Calibur on Dreamcast was hailed as the best game on Dreamcast and the best fighting game of it’s time. Soul Calibur II has a lot to live up to. But Soul Calibur II didn’t live up to the original, it exceeded it beyond my wildest dreams. Everything from the original returns here but with new significant additions. Most of the fighters from Soul Calibur make a return in some form or another, so Mitsurugi maniacs (like yours truly) will find it a comfortable fit from the outset. The fencer Raphael is an intriguing new character, complete with lighting fast strikes and a smooth, flowing style. Talim is another Taki-type, a two-bladed speed demon. Yunsung is essentially an upgraded version of the missing Hwang, Tekken alum Yoshimitsu gets theSC treatment, and Cassandra plays like Sophitia’s little sister. Tack on three unlockable characters (who were non-playable in the Japanese version of the game) and you have a pretty sweet lineup. Plus there’s Necrid, Todd McFarlane’s offering, who has some cool moves but doesn’t really fit in stylistically with the others. Speaking of which, the biggest difference between the three home versions of Soul Calibur II is that each comes with an additional character unique to that console. The Gamecube is arguably the winner here thanks to the inclusion of Zelda’s geeky elf, Link, who comes equipped with all the bombs and arrows you’d want. Xbox owners get another McFarlane creation in Spawn, who’s a pretty solid character and even has limited flying abilities. The PS2 gets the shaft in Heihachi from Tekken, who has some good melee moves but just isn’t nearly as cool as the other two. Fantastic fighter by every stretch of the imagination and it’s something that all skeptics of the genre should reconsider in playing.

Number 6.  –  The Legend of Zelda:
The Wind Waker

Remember those people who ripped on this game, with its silly cel-shaded graphics and timeless art-style? Those guys were douchebags. Some of them are still around, but they’re just an attention-starved minority. These days, The Wind Waker is considered a modern classic, a game as pleasing to the eye as it is to the thumbs. The HD remake is coming soon, but honestly, it’s not all that necessary; its visuals hold up better than any “realistic” game of its era. Hell, I bet it will hold up better than most games of this era. Admittedly, the sailing does get a little bit tiresome after a while, but there’s no denying the majestic feeling you get the first time you set sail and ocean theme kicks in. This game strived to do things different in the Zelda universe – travelling by boat made for different challenges while travelling the world, and made exploration seem almost endless.

With that said, it takes a lot of patience to enjoy the sailing. I enjoy it quite a bit, but even I get sick of it after a while. Wind Waker also introduced some interesting takes on old weapons – the grappling hook, and the deku leaf are familiar-yet-different weapons. Even if the sailing doesn’t appeal to you, I’d argue that Wind Waker has the best combat in any Zelda game to date. The swordplay was very fluent and very fun. Also, the temples in this game were unique compared to other Zelda titles. They were also extremely well made, which is definitely the norm in Zelda games. These gripes may keep WW from claiming the top spot, but the bad is definitely drowned out by the good. The gameplay, music, the surprisingly well-paced story, and (of course) the visuals are all stellar. And maybe once the HD remake is released, this kid’s game could be bumped up to number 1. You know, as long as Nintendo replaces that fetch quest with a proper dungeon.

Number 5.  –  Jak II

Let’s get this out of the way, the game is so goddam hard and it’s disappointing that they went for a GTA-sandbox gameplay instead of the Banjo-Kazooie formula that made the original Jak & Daxter a classic. So why does this game make it on the list? Having Jak to meet the future is bare none some of the most interesting sequels ever seen in video games, from making a silent protagonist who adventures for collectables to a badass character to rebels against an empire and a horde of mutants called Metal Heads.  It’s not only Haven City that you can explore, there are many other areas in which the Dynamic Duo can travel to. Outside of Haven City you have different regions invested with Metal Heads waiting to ambush you. There’s a forest area as well where all seems too quiet. You can even travel to the under belly of the city in the sewers and discover ancient treasures not uncovered for centuries. Though they abandoned the collectable aspect of the game into mission objectives, a great feature of the game is the weapons like the spread gun (red eco mod), blaster (yellow eco mod), blue eco mod (machine gun), and the peace maker (Dark Eco Mod) that creates a powerful electrical blast which takes down pretty much every enemy you blast it at.

Talking about Dark Eco, Jak has a new ability which is his Dark Jak form. In this transformation our hero controls his dark powers in which he has increased strength, powering his attacks to take down stronger enemies. His Dark Eco meter needs to be completely full before he’s able to use it and he gains Dark Eco from each felled enemy. His time in Dark Jak mode is timed and once the meter is empty you revert to your regular state. Once you use a finisher though (like Dark Blast and Dark Bomb) your meter will be completely drained and, once again, revert to your regular state. Included with this are special attacks; as Dark Jak, he has a slam attack (Dark Bomb) that explodes the area and enemies around; a spinning attack in the air that shoots arcs of Dark Eco everywhere (Dark Blast); the ability to enlarge his size and power (Dark Giant) and invincibility (only available through cheats after accumulating a certain amount of Precursor Orbs). Complaints aside, I still really love the game. Jak II has an engaging story, memorable characters, good (if not sometimes frustrating) challenge, great platforming, good action, great environments and great music. In my opinion, I still think the first game is the best in the series, but I still appreciate the changes made in the game and enjoy it for what it is.

Number 4.  –  WWE Smackdown:
Here Comes The Pain

Here Comes The Pain was the fifth installment of Yukes-made wrestling games and was one of the best. Here Comes The Pain had the largest roster at the time, with 65 superstars and divas at your disposal. Not to mention that this is my second favorite roster in any wrestling game considering that this is Goldberg’s debut in gaming and the last time Rock and Austin were the main roster. Outside of the roster, this is really the last REALLY great wrestling game of all time considering that the Smackdown vs. Raw games afterwords became slow-paced and a lot of fun-factor was removed from Here Comes The Pain. This game took all the flaws from the previous Smackdown games and just made it a wrestling game that’s closest to perfection. It remains those features of special modes like Hell in a Cell, Hardcore matches going backstage and out of the arena, and all the other match types seen on WWE programming, but Here Comes The Pain added the First Blood match, the Elimination Chamber match and, 3 Stages of Hell, of course, the bra and panties match. THQ and Yukes also continued to improve on already good areas of their franchise that never carried on to any other wrestling game. They made the famous interactive backstage environments even more interactive (from flying a helicopter, riding a motorcycle & forklift, and traps), and has made new environments, like the Times Square area. The gameplay also saw improvements. The controls were polished and updated to flow better and allow for much smoother gameplay thanks to the new grappling system. Grappling is a function that last year’s Shut Your Mouth began to overhaul a bit, but Here Comes the Pain completely renovates the game’s grappling functionality. The new system actually contains four different grappling types; they are: submission, quick, power, and signature. This adds so much variety for players to make each of their matches different from another with a wider range of moves for each and every wrestler in the roster.  Here Comes The Pain was not only the best of the SmackDown games, but was arguably the best wrestling game not only exclusively on the PlayStation 2, but seen anywhere in any gaming system! Not only that but, the season mode is perhaps the best that we’ve ever seen in gaming! You’re always in a certain storyline with a rival and you’ll never expect any of the outcome to happen next. Best yet is that  season mode leaves the player to chose dialog which leaves into a certain match type, decide which wrestler stays on Smackdown or Raw or excluded out of the roster, alternative route of the story, and pick what you want depending on your superstar’s stats as a mid carder, main eventer, or Champion. You had an option to go through the story the way you wanted. We’re talking about some of the best customization ever seen in a video game, over a thousand moves offered, and variety of almost everything that you dream of an interactive wrestling experience, I’ve await so long for a better wrestling game and still to this day Here Comes The Pain remains the best wrestling game that I’ve ever played and quite possibly the last great one as well!

Number 3.  –  Star Wars:
Knights of the Old Republic

Though we all had to suffer through the Star War prequels through the 2000s, the only great thing that has happened to the franchise in the decade was the Star Wars video games. It’s a no brainer to consider KOTOR the best game of the whole franchise because never had we ever imagined a Star Wars RPG or a Wester-RPG to work well on consoles, but here it is!  In terms of experience, essentially Knights of the Old Republic is the first successful Western-style console Role-Playing Game of the modern age. There have been attempts at it (Morrowind sticks out as a recent example) but they’ve been very much afterthoughts, little more than a PC game with the controls mapped onto a joypad. KOTOR isn’t like that at all. KOTOR takes the design beliefs of the Western RPG form and then works out how to present them best for playing whilst sprawled on a sofa in your living room.

The westernised RPG model differs from the eastern, as seen in such things as Final Fantasy, in several definitive ways. Mainly, rather than following a relatively linear path, you’re given a degree of freedom. Your character may have a destiny, but the details are very much your own to create. For example, depending on how you choose to progress – either being nice or nasty, essentially – you can lean towards the light or dark sides of the force. It actually does pose moral dilemmas. Some evil actions are deeply attractive. Some are just utilitarian. Some acts of good are intrinsically very stupid indeed. All this adds to a game where you feel your actions have a direct effect on your experience and the experience of the world. Combat is similar to the Baldur’s Gate games, in that you give orders to your individual characters who will then carry them out in a pseudo-real time manner. That is, there’s all manner of calculations behind the scene, but you don’t have to be party to them. Equally, you have the option of pausing time at any point to alter your tactics and try something else. Thermic Detonators are always a good one. This is the very game that made Bioware a household name in the gaming industry and if you though Xbox’s only highlight is just Halo: Combat Evolve, you’re proven wrong.

Number 2.  –  Beyond Good & Evil

Beyond Good & Evil is the surprise critical smash that, sadly, everyone seemed to ignore. It is a shame it didn’t do well during the 2003 holiday season, but price drops in the first half of 2004 led to a lot more people getting a chance to play it, which is a good thing. BG&E is a fantastic game that you can find for cheap these days, and it is absolutely a must play. If you look back over the history of gaming there are very few female leads – the ones that we know are all busty babes with no character depth. BGE broke this trend, smashed it in fact, when character Jade came out as an intelligent tomboy who uncovers the truth about the world using her camera, stealth skills, a few kick-arse moves, and, shockingly, intellect – perhaps this is a reason why it didn’t sell: cup size has proven to be the main driving force for many-a title.  What with Jade being a photojournalist, you can imagine that the camera is quite a key feature in the game: not only do you use it to capture incriminating evidence, but you also use it to take photographs of animals. Scattered throughout Hillys (and space) are a whole variety of creatures whose photographs will earn Jade cash (in the form of Pearls), which can then be used to upgrade your vehicle and make other essential purchases.

Don’t get confused here though, Beyond Good and Evil is not just about taking photographs, it’s also an action game reminiscent to Legend of Zelda. There are many sections where Jade must sneak past the enemy, or – in what is most frequently the case – bash all sense out of them with her staff, and there are even levels where her trusty hovercraft comes into play. You’re also have a companion with you who’s willing to help you in battle and solve puzzles making the group dynamic great. It’s amazing how intuitive everything feels: the controls will come as standard to all adventure players, camera manoeuvrability is picked up in seconds, and there are even stealth aspects… that works!

Switching items between characters is simple, and being able to upgrade/downgrade their health is a fantastic idea. Then there are the hovercraft sections thrown into the mix: in these you must traverse the world and battle leviathan-like monsters. Of all the facets of the game and their controls, there is nothing that can be found frustrating or awkward – simply put; it’s a perfect system. Beyond Good and Evil is a game that focuses on character depth and involvement rather than voluptuous bimbos and their minimalistic storis. It’s an intelligent, refreshing, well-balanced, and entertaining piece of genius– essential for adventure fans. Please do not be put off by the whole ‘photographs speak louder than action’ message: this is truly an action-packed title, just with a bit more class.

Number 1.  –  Ratchet and Clank:
Going Commando

Given that Ratchet & Clank was rather unflatteringly held up as Jak & Daxter with guns, it hardly seemed fair when Naughty Dog’s Jak II: Renegade borrowed a futuristic location and flying cars, and mixed heavy weaponry and traditional platforming to great effect. Doubly so when you consider the quantum leaps Ratchet and Clank made over its predecessor’s narrative, structure and sense of humor. Compared to Jak II, Ratchet & Clank 2 is a much more straightforward sequel. There’s no massive deviation from the previous game here – just smaller, subtler changes and a new and larger selection of planets to consider that’s almost reminiscent to Banjo-Kazooie (which we all greatly miss). But although Insomniac Games refrained from throwing the whole thing out the window and starting again with a blank canvas, their platformer grows to reveal itself as a far more thoughtfully resurrected package, and shows us that while Naughty Dog had to build an entirely new premise to stage the Jak series, there’s still a great deal of life left in the R&C universe.

On the surface, the game play the same as the previous game, but it’s stored with new features that made it some of the best sequels ever. The newest feature in the game is the Nanotech Leveling System. It is an RPG element in which you upgrade your health and weapons with experience points by defeating enemies. Once you’ve gained enough experience points and filled up their growth bars, you will level up one unit of your health or upgrade a weapon into a more powerful one. For those who hates level grinding, rest assured that this new feature will make you feel totally rewarded. Leveling up weapons (though it does take time) doesn’t feel at all like busy work, it’s all natural as you shoot away enemies and then get rewarded for a better weapon. Each level is a different planet in the galaxy that you travel in. While they run the gamut of traditional game levels (fire, ice, desert, industrial, etc.) they are beautifully drawn and wonderfully designed. From time to time, you’ll frustrate yourself trying to make a leap that was never intended to be made, but for the majority of the game you won’t fight anything other than the game’s intended enemies. In addition to traditional platformer-style levels, there are alternatives scattered throughout the game.

The game is full of side-quests in which completing them earns you a number of bolts such as the ever-so-popular gladiator arena battles (where you take on various challenges like defeating all enemies or fighting a boss), hoverbike races, spaceship combat, Giant Clank on the moon, and those open-world crystal collecting stages all made them wroth coming back time, and time again! After you’re done with the game, there is still plenty to do. The most time-consuming of the extra features is collecting skill points, hidden bolts, and even going even further with leveling up your health and weapons with harder enemies and challenges when you restart your play through in challenge mode. These are all the features that all Ratchet and Clank games that came after that follows the same formula and features that resolves back to what this game has started. Insomniac has came a long way from Disruptor and Spyro trilogy to making one hell of a game. This game is a testament to how fantastic Insomniac’s vision was, and seems to relish its success while still paying proper homage to its benefactor, Naughty Dog (with Jak II advertisements subtly and not so subtly placed throughout). This game is cute, clever, and tough, offering about as much variety as can be found in a single game.

However, when it’s all said and done, what really puts Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando over the top is the game’s writing. Simply put, this game so funny that I found myself laughing at nearly all the cutscenes. The game features a great cast of characters, with only one (the new-age hippie mystic) who overstays his welcome. Players who like an entertaining story to break up their platforming and shooting should be pleased, even despite the fact that there’s no drama between the two like the previous game. But best of all is how unpredictable the story gets – at first we expect to just capture the thief who stole the corporation’s experiment to questioning if the corporation is evil or not. This is a game appeals to anyone (shooter fans, kids and adults, platformer fans, action-adventure gamers – anyone!) This is no doubt some of the best exclusives that ever entered the Playstation 2’s library and it’s some of the biggest highlights on the console. Some say that Ratchet and Clank is 3D platformer’s Mega Man and no doubt Going Commando is 3D Platform game’s Mega Man 2. If nothing else, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando should serve as a blueprint for future sequels in the gaming world. It’s proof positive that developers can make a game that’s bigger than the original in nearly every way while tweaking the core mechanics and making it better at the same time. 

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