Ah, the 00s. The golden age of gaming. Don’t listen to the old fellas who glorify the 90s. Or the 80s. Or any other decade. It’s the 00s where the magic happened. The formative years for the millenial generation. The post-gen-x years. The decade where gaming came into its own full swing, fully established smack dab in the middle of popular culture, no longer restricted to the nerdy, smelly, awkward fringes of society. Yes, it’s true, this was the continuation of a process that began in the late 90s and was mostly due to the marketing of Sony’s Playstation towards a broader, less niche-y audience. But it was the 00s where the Wii happened, where social gaming became a thing, where iOS pushed those little $1 games onto everyone’s smartphone.
Beyond that, it’s the decade where Call of Duty and its competitors drove “hardcore” gaming into the market of super-success that was only reserved to movies before. The face of gaming changed dramatically over the past decade. And since I have never touched World of Warcraft, I will not even talk about that game here.
And another one of Valve’s defining moments. Portal was not a long game, but a big game it was none the less. Clever writing, clever physics puzzles, no combat. A strange mixture for game played from the 1st person perspective. Portal proved that quirky titles that relied on wit and puzzles could sell. And also provided a ton of insider jokes for gamers and makers of ironic T-shirts.
This is about more than a game. Half-Life² was the hour that the face of PC gaming changed forever. It was the game that Valve ever so cleverly bundled with its Steam client. For many at the time it meant having to connect their gaming rig to the internet permanently for the first time. Steam wasn’t welcomed by many people back in 2004. But it was there and there to stay.
Half-Life² itself was one of those games that had been in development for a very long time. It should prove to become one of the 00s defining moment in gaming. Applied physics engine, refined facial animation, and of course, the Source engine made it into an unmissable title. Besides those technical aspects, Half-Life² paved the way for interactive storytelling without such old fashioned devices like cutscenes, leaving the player in full control all of the time. Half-Life² at this time has become another timeless classic, a true masterpiece of the medium.
8: Far Cry 2
What’s there still left to say about Far Cry 2? It’s one of the most open open world games. A game that defies traditional gaming structure. Getting to a mission across the vast map is as much fun and as dangerous as any mission in and on itself. After awhile the game opens up, allowing the player to choose how to approach the game on the fly, going from all-out-guns-blazing to silent sneaky stealth in a matter of seconds if wanted.
To top it off, Far Cry 2’s Africa is huge and beautiful to behold. It’s a dangerous place, with gun toting mercenaries hiding behind every other bush. It’s an experience quite unlike any other. In a setting that very few other games dare to tackle, and arguably one of gamings best renditions of the Black Continent.
7: Silent Hill 2
This, too, was a game of the 00s. Released in 2001, Silent Hill 2 is the game that to this day defines the Silent Hill series. Without Silent Hill 2, this franchise would arguably not be where it is today. A venerated giant of horror gaming. Silent Hill 2 is a freakishly good game, with a surprisingly deep story, featuring elements that are rarely - if ever - seen in mainstream gaming. It’s a very personal horror story, rich in symbolism and hidden meanings.
For whatever reason, not even the Silent Hill series itself pursued that line of narrative design any further in the subsequent titles, but this second installment still remains one of the most gruesome, most horrifying and touching examples of horror games out there.
6: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
This is a big one. At the time, San Andreas was the biggest game world yet. Instead of the traditional one-city game worlds previous Grand Theft Auto games, San Andreas gave the player a whole state to explore, not just one city. San Andreas mixed things up quite a bit. Three cities, backwoods locations, roleplaying game elements, a wide variety of mission types, a plethora of minigames and the Rockstar typical quite a bit too long main questline made San Andreas into a juggernaut of a game.
While San Andreas wasn’t quite as overly stylish as the predecessor of Vice City, it offered so many things to do, and that made it the purest, most vast escapist experience offered by a GTA game. As such, it remains one of the 00s biggest and best titles. Of course a special hat-tip belongs to the game that started it, to GTA III. But San Andreas was so much bigger, so much larger, offering such a completely engrossing experience, that it represents the pinnacle of open world criminal mischief gaming.
5: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Another gem from the GameCube. It’s a gorgeous game, that stands the test of time simply due to its unique art style that went for a cartoonish look instead of the more realistic approaches of most other Zelda games. Wind Waker is not flawless, there’s the arduous Triforce-piece treasure hunt section that goes on for way too long, while the meat and potatoes of the main questline is a bit too short, with too few meaningful things to do on the game’s many scattered islands. Yet still, it’s the most unique Zelda game there was.
While there still are the series’ token dungeons and gadgets, the open sea setting, the sailing and the neat art design make it more of a timeless classic than Ocarina of Time, at least in my own humble opinion. Sadly the style didn’t win the series a lot of fans, so the subsequent titles mostly abandoned the gorgeous cel-shading in favor of more traditional art styles, which eventually made the more recent Zelda games quite less memorable than this entry.
Speaking of unique experiences, here’s another one. An odd one. At least on paper. If anyone would have said that a game set in an art-decor underwater utopia that’s thematically riffing off on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was to become one of the decades biggest hits, that person would have been declared mad in an instant. Bioshock defied the odds. It was quirky, creative and absolutely stunning to behold. A work of art truly. It was a game that refreshed the formula of System Shock 2 for the modern age, with some additional spices added to the mix. Terrifying, beautiful, brutal and mesmerizing. A game that has a special place in many peoples’ hearts. The Big Daddies, the Little Sisters, the weird superpowers.
Bioshock wasn’t necessarily a game changer, yet it did leave a trail of influences across the board. Some games more or less openly aped it, others took hints from certain art styles and musical selections. Bioshock is a true classic, and one of gaming’s greatest moments. Not just because of summoning bees to fend off your foes.
A long time in the making, the Ukrainian survival shooter was a rough edged, bug ridden beast when it finally arrived on the store shelves in 2007. While the core mechanics weren’t very polished, this was a game that shone with style and atmosphere rather than clever game design. It offered things to truly hardcore gamers that few games did before for some time. Lots of guns. Different ammunition types. A huge game world, meticulously hand crafted. A rough and punishing difficulty. And also some of recent gaming history’s most disturbingly scary levels. Things go bump in the night of the Zone.
The dread, the isolation STALKER communicates is something that few games pulled off right. It might be broken in some parts, but overall, it’s one of the most unique and memorable experiences to be had in gaming.
2: Metroid Prime
Nintendo’s doomed GameCube might have been the underperforming runt of the last console generation, but at the same time it was the platform that had some of the most interesting and fresh games. Metroid Prime is one of them. Transforming the beloved Metroid formula from 2D to 3D without losses. That’s no mean feat, and Retro Studios pulled it off marvelously. Bound to the GameCube’s rather unorthodox controller that lacks a second thumbstick, Metroid Prime’s controls are something people love or hate. Compared to “pure” shooters they appear cumbersome, but the action-adventure style lock-on-to-circle-strafe feature isn’t just a cop-out, it’s very well utilized here.
Metroid Prime might not have been as influential as other games on this list, but none the less it proved to be one of the decades stand out titles for various reasons. It was a huge game. A successful leap into the third dimension of an “ancient” franchise. And a Japanese-American co-production that actually worked. I for one hope Nintendo will go back to making games like this one of these days.
Halo is an obvious choice for one of the 00s best games. It served as proof that consoles could sell first person shooters. Even more so, it proved that consoles could in fact thrive and survive with first person shooters. On top of it all, Halo delivered a story that borrowed heavily from various high- and hard-sci-fi sources, mixing it down for the masses without losing the source material’s potency. Also, Halo served as the blueprint for shooter controls and game design unsurpassed for years to come.
Love it or hate it, Halo rewrote the rules of the gaming landscape, big time. And it aged comparatively well. The AI is still outstanding. The shooting still solid and polished like few other games ever managed. The level design might be a bit hit and miss, but that never really mattered. Even a decade later, Halo still stands the test of time.