Top 10 Video Games of 2004

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? After doing reviews and Top 10 lists on Wrestlemania, it’s now a great time to go back and complete the 2000’s list. 2004 was such a huge year in gaming for having so many sequels coming into the market and wet everyone’s beak. So many advertisements for upcoming games were really making gamers and non gamers anticipated for top notch entertainment and somehow many of the games (especially in this Top 10) exceeded it. All of the sudden, big bugged titles became a standard of having huge environments or worldly-like atmosphere. PC Games, Playstation and Xbox were offering us this really neat direction in gaming while Nintendo never came into this this trend and were barely surviving in the market. Because many of the games released in 2004 were really huge (both hype and virtually), it really took the gaming world by storm by grasping many of its audience in not only feeling like playing a video game or a movie, but really entering a huge world that feels lively. I really noticed it in games released in 2004 and it’s really impossible to talk about each of the 10 games in the lists’s atmosphere as a praise to get into them. If anything, 2004 should be the year of atmosphere because since GTA III launched the sandbox genre, the trend really made our games so much better and it’s the reason why gaming in 2004 was an awesome year in gaming!

Number 10.  –  Fable

A tremendous RPG from the mind of Peter Molyneux where he created a fantasy world where Players’ every action determines their character’s skills, appearances and moralities. Life stories are created from childhood through adulthood and on to old age in choosing the paths of righteousness or dedicate their characters’ lives to evil; observing as they transform into reflections of their actions and decisions. As players’ characters develop, the world reacts to them and their actions. This was around the time where Western-RPG’s were actually working extremely well on console and it’s thanks to Xbox giving us that PC Gaming experience right in our living rooms. Fable just had amazing visuals that is breathtaking as we all get sucked into this stratosphere. From the guild to the graveyard, Fable is both beautiful and extremely disturbing as you adventure on all of Albion. Yet, it doesn’t play or feel like any other RPG as you can interact with the world, make any choices you want, and EXP is used for spending for new powers and abilities, not just leveling up. You really feel connected to nearly everything the game delivers and yet we blame Peter Molyneux for not delivering on what he promised because we want more. Fable is not the greatest RPG of all time, let alone, not the best RPG on the Xbox, that honor goes to KOTOR still holding that title. It has no chance of living up to the hype that has surrounded it for so many years but it is a solid title for Xbox fans who want to have a different title outside of Halo 2 that has been hyped up throughout 2004.

Number 9.  –  Halo 2

A lot you Halo fanboys would place this game at number 1, but I beg to differ that Halo: Combat Evolved is a better single player experience. Part of Halo 2’s drawback is the mediocre story and the Arbiter’s campaign is just so long and boring compared to Master Cheif’s adventure in Halo 2. And let’s not forget the anti-climatic cliffhanger that still makes me cringe… “Sir, Finishing This Fight.” But even despite how much the campaign is left to be desired, t’s pretty rare that I continue playing a game after I beat it, and even the multiplayer modes in most games get old fast. I just can’t stop playing Halo 2, though, and it’s been out for a long, long time (in gaming years, that is). I’ve beaten the single-player game on every difficulty level, and I’m currently playing through the Legendary co-op mode with a buddy. It just doesn’t get old, especially when you’re playing on the toughest difficulty. Man, those Brutes can be a bitch. Like most people, though, it’s the Xbox Live action that gets my heart racing. Sure, it’s tough to find the exact gametype and map that you’d like, but the matchmaking system does a good job of keeping the playing field relatively even. I was most impressed with the party system, which makes it incredibly easy to meet up with a buddy and play together all night. After a while, more players will begin to come onboard, allowing you to set up custom games. Congratulations, Bungie, you’ve succeeded in creating a nation of Halo 2 addicts! In addition to the new environments, Halo 2 game offered up several huge changes to the core gameplay, the biggest of which was the addition of dual-wielding. At first, it just seemed like a kick-ass gimmick, but after a few hours of playing it became obvious that it added some needed strategy to the proceedings. Should you toss grenades or charge your enemies with guns a-blazing? The game also introduced vehicle jacking, which allows you to kick your enemy out of his ride, then use it to satisfyingly run him down. Is there a better way to embarrass your foes? 

Number 8.  –  Sly 2: Band of Thieves

Round the early-2000s, many 3D Platformer sequels had dared to make a drastic changes from the series like Ratchet & Clank introducing the RPG elements, Jak series is a sandbox game, and Super Mario Sunshine had a waterhose in its gameplay. Sly Cooper and the Thevious Racoonous was old-school platforming at it’s best and if the series were to survive, it had to change to the times. None of us could ever imagine you could do so much more with the stealth action genre and somehow make it work extremely well with the sandbox genre. With so much open space, players have better chances of hiding and running away from enemies using their environment.  While the story in the first game was more of a means to the end, the story in this game constantly evolves and doesn’t follow a pattern many of these type of games do. As a result, the story will keep you interested and engaged with our three heroes, Sly, Bently, and “The Murray” now as playable characters! Each of these characters has their strengths, weaknesses, and special abilities used in certain parts of the map or mission. Sly 2: Band of Thieves is how you do a sequel. Personally I still have a very soft spot for the original the but the sequel was a huge step forward for the series. Add in amazing production value, a style of gameplay that has yet to be replicated, and the wonderful ending which doesn’t end like you think a game like this would, and you got a game that’s more than its kiddy visuals would lead you to believe it is. There are some issues with the camera and grinding for coins & bottles but these are minor complaints. Sly 2: Band of Thieves is a title that every PlayStation fan should have in their collection.

Number 7.  –  Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines

This is the closest we’re ever going to have video game RPG’s to be similar to the table top Role-playing games. Of course this is based on the table-top RPG with the same name, but never have I felt that a game needs as many replay values to get the full experience. Right from the get-go you have multiple species of vampires that all have their powers and abilities and pros and cons, so many quests and side-quests that have decisions that really changes the experience, and unbelievable experience that no other video game since could ever match up to this game’s quality. You can really tell that the developers had their heart into it and if only Activision didn’t rush all those who worked on this game to be released on the same date that Half-Life 2 was released, it would have been a much better game and it would have had more copies sold. I love the fact that not once did I have to worry about how many enemies I have to kill, but how many objectives I need to succeed in order to gain an upgrade for a power and ability. These are some of the reasons I wished RPG’s today could follow and it took the right steps into role-playing in a video game.

Number 6.  –  Jak 3

The changes that Naughty Dog made in Jak 2 from the original Jak & Daxter was a daring decision in which there was no going back. Unlike the games before it, Jak 3 had no major selling point to hang its hat on, outside of being the supposed last in the series. It didn’t really make near as much noise as the first two titles then. Instead, Jak 3 forged its legacy through action. Whereas the first Jak game was often a fairly standard 3D platformer with a lot more horsepower, and the second suffered from some growing pains in the form of pacing and mechanical issues, Jak 3 was a remarkably tight experience, with few flaws to pick. It’s safe to say that if you played the previous title, you’d be floored with the massive improvements and augmentations made from that game to this one. First of all, while Haven City was quite large within Jak II, it is dwarfed in comparison to the size of the Wastelands, which are at least five times its size. This is also bolstered with an expanded number of transportation from Jak II to Jak 3. Players are now given a large number of dune buggies to navigate the large expanse of desert property, but that’s not all. You’ll also have access to riding animal mounts, hang gliding through the skies from a mountain stronghold and even a return to hover board riding to traverse the areas of the game. Many of these machines will be used to fulfill missions or sidequests, all of which flow much more naturally than the previous title. In fact, it’s entirely possible to spend a number of hours exploring your environments, collecting items and other artifacts that can be used to unlock mini-games, secrets and other game features. Jak’s received a number of upgrades as well, reflecting the massive number of changes that he has gone through over the course of his adventures. For instance, while he still has access to his Dark Eco powers (courtesy of Jak II), our hero will also gain Light Eco powers from the Precursors. Activating them transforms Jak into a Soul Reaver/Raziel-like translucent being that can glide over distances, regenerate health, and slow down time, amongst other powers. Unlike the previous game, Jak can trigger either Light or Dark powers at will, as long as he’s collected some amount of corresponding Eco. His firearms have also received substantial upgrades as well, with three separate levels of firepower split amongst four weapon classes. It’s actually fascinating to determine exactly where some of the influences behind the weaponry came from. For example, the electricity gun looks like the proton streams from Ghostbusters, while the homing bullets are direct from The Fifth Element. There so many improvements and excitement going all around in this very title which is truly remarkable. The only drawback that I have with the game (and what Jak II has over this title) is the fact that the story was all over the place and went a bit too far. Needless to say, if you’re going to send a franchise into the sunset, this is the way to go. Jak 3 manages to instill a sense of resolution, especially if you’ve played the series all the way through. It also implements a number of substantial changes and gameplay additions that will appeal to any action or platformer fan. While I’m still sad to see the series go, I’m looking forward to seeing where our two heroes might pop up in the future. If you’ve got a PlayStation 2, you should hope to receive this wonderful conclusion to a great franchise this holiday season.

Number 5.  –  Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

After the atrocity known as Metal Gear Solid 2, Hedio Kojima finally given us an apology letter to all of the MGS fans with Metal Gear Solid 3. I can say without a doubt that MGS: Snake Eater is better than its predecessors in nearly every way imaginable, including the ending, which totally blew me away. This is actually the prequel to the original Metal Gear where this title goes all the way back to where Big Boss (the antagonist of the game) started the whole series all the way back to the 1960’s set in Cold War Russia in a one-man mission to prove America’s innocence from nuking Russia. We never knew what Big Boss (or Naked Snake as he’s called in this timeline) was like but this game shows us that he’s every bit like Solid Snake (his clone), but more fragile and relatable. After three installments to the series, this one here takes a revolutionary step to the stealth action genre. This was an innovative direction for the stealth gaming genre (as a whole) where the player is left with only one weapon and must scavenger for not only for new weapons, gadgets, tools, and other items, but must also think about their own survival for food and recovering for health. Each and every part of the game, the player can find anything lively like animals to kill as food, enemies to take out for ammunition, and so much more! Sometimes when you get poisoned or injured, you can go play doctor and heal any damages and intoxication which is really revolutionary! You really feel like your an one-man-army and this game makes you feel like this is all about survival with the limited resources you have. Hell, even every aspect of the game offers the player different challenges like a sniper duel with The End, sneaking into enemy base, blending with the jungle, wasting an army of Soviet soldiers, and so much more. The main draw point of the game is the relationship between student and teacher, having Naked Snake dealing with his betrayal with The Boss who’s now sided with the Soviets. You can really feel the intensity that this once deep friendship has turned into enemies from the war between East and West. The theme of the story really shows how politics can change peoples lives as we draw near to the end of the game, we can feel that it has to come to the end between the both of them. Seeing such fantastic depth in these characters completely blew me away; some of them feel so life-like it’s quite frightening. The fright is only proof that Hideo Kojima and the rest of the staff at KCEJ are without a doubt the best at what they do. They (along with Polyphony Digital) were the first to push the PlayStation 2 to the limits and they will be the last. The only drawbacks with this game is the fact that there is no camera control which is heavily needed for big environments that this game has from getting caught countless times. This is why Snake Eater today is considered obsolete and you should instead get the Subsistence remake (for PS2) or the HD Collection (for Xbox & PS3) to get the real experience of Metal Gear Solid 3.

Number 4.  –  Half Life 2

No matter how old this game gets, it still feels like it was just made yesterday. Probably because Valve hasn’t changed their games graphically since this title was released, but the stratosphere always engages the player effortlessly. This is unlike any other First-Person Shooter before it because of the puzzles that are still challenging today, character facial expressions that get you the impression that they’re really talking to you, and where the adventure takes you to is so gratifying that it’s worth coming back to again and again. Who knew that getting out of Black Mesa would have been a very wonderful world to behold. Part of the grasp of the atmosphere is that you can really interact with many of the game’s environment like destroying any object, characters and creatures have a life on its own, and the gravity gun that allows the player to carry any object (regardless of weight and size) and shoot it back at your field of vision with full velocity. It wasn’t the first in most aspects, but it did everything so damn well that, as a whole, it and the Source Engine were absolutely stunning. The storytelling didn’t require long cut-scenes – the characters spoke and interacted in real-time with unprecedented believability. The physics and Gravity Gun were a blast. And it all looked amazing – the Source Engine holds up seven years later, and that’s pretty damn impressive. Half Life 2 is not a game that explains very much, that is true. We still are left with a cliffhanger and two installments of Half-Life 2 that still doesn’t have a proper ending. However, it was so impressive that it convinced Valve to spawn future games using the same engine with titles like Portal, Team Fortress 2, Half-Life Episodes 1 & 2, and even Gary Mod for making modding so much simpler with high revolutionary visuals. Hell, Half Life 2 also make it possible for Steam to be a successful online-gaming store that forever chanced the face of PC gaming. Though there are a lot of games that I consider the best ever, but I can’t name a whole lot that were game changers that reshaped the whole industry and Half Life is definitely one of those titles! It captured our attention and since then it has never let go!

Number 3.  –  The Sims 2

Call it blasphemy to put one of the best sequels ever made over another best sequel ever made, but The Sims 2 seriously improved over the original by every stretch of the imagination. What once was the most unpredictable video game phenomenon ever to occur (The Sims) had a sequel that was more creative, educational, and even more enjoyable to interact! The Sims 2 improved over the original by introducing our Sims to age, pass on to generation to generation (family tree), reaching Sims goals, new objects to interact with, have full camera control, being able to place objects in more than one direction, and hundreds more! Sims 2 was so good, that going back to the original made it look like bare bones in comparison. The most significant addition to the Sims’ complexity as personalities comes in the form of their Aspirations – as well as the usual wants and needs of daily life, the Sims now have more idealistic desires, such as buying a nice TV, getting married, teaching their children to talk or simply a quick game of SSX 3 which is there to keep players busy from getting bored. They have one general aspiration in life – family, romance, popularity, wealth or knowledge – and from this one general aim spring hundreds of varied individual desires which really help define the Sims as individuals. Satisfying these desires will help them to become happy, balanced individuals, and also of course lets you buy them rewards.  We also have a variety of other complications to get to grips with – many new mannerisms (some of them slouch, some of them like to read newspapers in the bath, some of them scratch themselves inappropriately), more complex Sim-to-Sim interactions, closer family relationships and, most importantly, several different stages of Sim-life. From Sim-babies they become Sim-toddlers, at which point they have to learn to walk and talk and potty train to become children, who later become hormone-addled spotty Teens and, eventually, progress into boring old adulthood before retiring to Elder status. Sadly, this also means that Sims can die – and an addict like me would say that it’s often before their time. Just like the original Sims, if you want a better experience of the Sims 2, you’re going to have to buy the expansion pack that came later on after Sims 2, but it was worth it! Sure the expansion packs were more or less the same expansion packs from the original but what matters is that we’re all playing it better in full 3D and so many more features never seen before! I cannot recommend this game enough. It remains uniquely personal, terrifyingly addictive, and it’s worth getting ahold of under any circumstances!

Number 2.  –  Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal

There’s a part of me that says that this is the best thing I’ve ever played, and another part of me that says Going Commando still is the best Ratchet and Clank game of the series. Either way, that should tell you how awesome Up Your Arsenal truly is!  While you don’t need to have played the previous two titles, fans of the duo will definitely be amused at what’s happened to the galactic heroes since Going Commando. Now that Ratchet and Clank have saved the universe twice over, you’d expect some amount of fame and fortune to come to them. Everything introduced from Going Commando remains here in this installment; the leveling up weapons and health system, the mini games and puzzles, platforming, blowing enemies away, gladiator stages (a whole entire level), crystal collecting, and so many more, but it’s done in a bigger scale. It’s all reintroduced here and if it’s not broken don’t fix it.  Ratchet & Clank 3 is just so big and engulfing though; while you can blast right through it and simply complete the story, you’re more than likely going to want to stop for a while and sniff the roses. The level design and views are often breathtaking, and the more often you stop to appreciate it, the more chance you have of spotting secret hidden locations of weapons caches and platinum bolts. Gameplay isn’t isolated to exploring and shooting either, being mixed up with several additional mini-game-like features found throughout that varies from the destructive gameplay. Meanwhile, Up Your Arsenal varies from the previous two titles in the series in a few ways. Perhaps the most radical feature is the division of the title into a single player adventure and a multiplayer component. Yes, Up Your Arsenal is completely online, with the standard capture the flag and deathmatch modes found in most multiplayer titles. It also features Siege mode where teams try to defend their bases while acquiring new territory (known as nodes) and attempt to destroy the bases of their opponents. This mode, usually found in PC games, is a great addition to console multiplayer, and possibly the best online game for the Playstation 2. Supporting the online action is USB headset support to talk to your teammates or talk smack to opponents, as well as an absurd level of detail thanks to the in-game stat tracking. This doesn’t take into effect buddy listings, clans and clan challenges, or experience level quickplay death matches. This level of detail has never been seen before in a PS2 game and Insomniac Game truly outdid themselves in creating a game that really pushed the PS2’s limits to new grounds! Neither the multiplayer or the single player is better than the other, they were equally entertaining to play and it succeeds in doing its job well! I can’t imagine anyone to have a PS2 collection and not have Up Your Arsenal in it because it deserves to be in there! It’s always a tough call to tell which game in the Ratchet and Clank series is the best, but if fans argue that Up Your Arsenal is the best of the series, that should tell you why it’s worth playing!

Number 1.  –  Grand Theft Auto: San Andres

Here it is, folks! The best game of the 2000s! There are just so many things that makes this game so great that I don’t even know where to begin! It’s wondrous to see that Grand Theft Auto III revolutionized the sandbox genre into big popularity and San Andreas just packaged the player with just everything you can imagine! The setting, characters, atmosphere and story all appealed to me at what I thought was the typical “gangsta” way of life. The protagonist, Carl Johnson was your typical Grand Theft Auto main character. He was someone who has come from nothing with the aim of making a name for himself and had recently returned to San Andreas after his mother’s death. From the beginning, you could feel yourself getting to know the characters inside out. Fellow members of the Grove Street gang were Sweet, Big Smoke and Ryder. These characters provided a feeling of close family, once you had won them over in the beginning of course. The cast of characters was huge and included people such as The Game, James Woods and Ice T to name but a few who voiced characters in the game. The improvements which San Andreas had featured from Vice City weren’t hugely noticeable but, there weren’t many changes needed to the gameplay. Players could create stereotypical drive-by shootings, dramatic leaping out of a moving car and stunt driving moves. When you compare the gameplay at that time and games now, it may not seem revolutionary or definitive but, at the time, everything came together brilliantly like a gun-toting American visiting Ammu-Nation. As I have already mentioned, the setting was an excellent part of the game. It places us back to Los Angeles 1990s and the very essence of being in this game’s atmosphere really feels like we’re back in the 90s!

Many believe that GTA’s missions are mostly all the same. Drive here, kill these guys, get chased and lose the chasers. I don’t believe this is the case with San Andreas at least. There are several missions which come to mind when you think of San Andreas. ‘Are you going to San Fierro?’ is one that springs to mind in which CJ has to burn all of the Truth’s drug supply before the police come. As far as missions in games go, this one is extremely strange. ‘End of the line’ is another which many gamers will remember as the final mission in which a traitor is finally brought to justice in tremendous fashion. Not only are the missions excellent, but also the smallest things keep you entertained.  To be honest, at times it seems San Andreas is almost an action-RPG. Virtually every little thing Carl does affects some aspect of his skill. Going to the gym and pumping iron enhances his strength, making his fists far more lethal. Frequently firing guns makes him more proficient at aiming them, while spending lots of time driving vehicles improves his ability to stay on the road. Add in little things like Carl’s ability to get into relationships with certain female characters and the number of barber shops, tattoo parlors and clothing stores that allow players to customize nearly every aspect of his appearance and this game has far more depth than most action titles.

Some of the new abilities added to this game includes being able to rob houses (which requires planning – you can’t just walk in and take anything), buying properties, gambling in the casinos to earn money (or lose it), swim in water (rather then instantly drown), get a haircut or tattoo to your liking, change clothes and appearance and recruit gang members to control parts of the cities or your properties. The targeting system in the game has been improved and is now modeled on that in Rockstar North’s uber-violent but very cool game, Manhunt. This means you can now lock onto a single enemy, and remain locked while moving around him or her to avoid attacks. The range of weapons is impressive with everything from your fists to shotguns, knives to machine guns. Another area which has been ramped up, and once again inspiration has obviously come from Rockstar’s Manhunt is the stealth in the game. It is possible to hide from police or enemies in the shadows, or behind buildings and objects. While Los Santos is absolutely massive, and about twice the size of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in terms of area and missions, the game eventually moves onto two more cities, San Fierro which is based on San Francisco and finally Las Venturra which is based on Las Vegas. One element I was concerned about prior to playing this game was the need to eat and work out. Fortunately these concerns soon vanish as you realize that the need to eat is more a need to fill your health bar, while working out at the gym helps CJ learn some new moves. Something else which really surprised was the inclusion of a 2-player mode. I haven’t played this much yet, playing the single-player game is lengthy enough, but the time spent in 2-player was always a blast. Naturally, the game takes a slight hit on the graphics in 2-player mode, but not dramatically. Customization was a large chunk of the game as well with tattoos, haircuts, clothing and body size all being able to be customized by the player. Even though the graphics at the time were not what they are today and the tattoos looked poor, it was still great fun to do. Choosing how your CJ should look was an excellent feature by Rockstar, especially the gym mini games and when you opted to ride a bike it helped you become fitter. All great features in a great game!

Sure, this game is far from perfect like having to deal with glitches seen once in a while, the game world is go big that it would take you a while to reach one side of the map to the other, and some of the missions were a bit frustrating, but not once was I ever bored with this game! Is there anything that GrandTheft Auto: San Andres doesn’t do? It’s like going to a thanksgiving feast and offered so much food that you can’t finish it all in a single day alone. It’s a game that begs you to keep coming back and the more you play it, the more you’ll enjoy it, I guarantee! Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas meets every expectation and then some. I think it’s important that no-one forgets where San Andreas made its name with a lowly ‘gangsta’ CJ who became a huge success through hard work, determination and some hilarious missions. Looking back on the game I still believe that the charm it had in 2004 still exists and is why some gamers still play the game from time to time. I know from time to time I play the game and I am still as much in love with it now as I was when it was first released! I can easily say that there hasn’t’ been another game that satisfied me more than Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas did and since then I’m still playing. 

 

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