As the end of the first decade of the new millenium draws to a close, I am more and more asking myself, “What the hell happened to the past ten years?”
The simple answer, of course, is that they were wheedled away in the wee hours of the morning, sore thumbs mashing plastic buttons, trigger finger blazing, glazed eyes absorbing each plot twist, each grisly death, each dramatic cutscene with relish.
Perhaps the most controversial form of new media, video games are demonized by some for their often violent nature and dark themes. They’re praised by others (I am among them) for revolutionizing the way we entertain ourselves.
Rarely do they ascend to the plateau of high art, but they don’t need to; there’s no denying the intrinsic value of just sitting back and letting oneself drift into a alternate reality, if only for a few hours.
It’s uncontestable that the past ten years have seen a revolution in the form. We’ve gone from the relatively low-res 3D graphics of Nintendo 64 and the first Playstation to near-photorealism with the newest and most advanced systems. Storylines are growing deeper, gameplay is becoming more intuitive, and generally speaking, video games have become so engrossing that the best ones are often hard to put down, much like well-penned suspense novels.
Following are my top picks of the decade across five comon categories. I’ll submit that any list such as this is highly subjective, and I welcome your feedback and opinions.
First-person shooter: “Half-Life 2″ (Valve, 2004)
Of all game types, the market for first-person shooters is probably the most saturated, and for every good one there are probably ten bad ones.
But every now and then an FPS comes along that everyone can agree on, a game that has some surprises in store for even the most jaded gamers. Half-Life 2 was one of those games.
Though the original Half-Life was a tough act to follow, the sequel broke new ground in graphical realism, in-game physics, and innovative combat and weaponry. Breakneck shooting action is countered by relatively complex physical puzzles. The story of Gordon Freeman, a research-scientist-turned-zombie-killing-badass, is one all video game nerds can relate to on some fantastical level.
Runners-up: Halo: Combat Evolved; Resistance: Fall of Man; Bioshock
Role-playing: “Fallout 3″ (Bethesda, 2008)
Role-playing games are generally reserved for the most hardcore gamers, and Fallout 3 is no exception. You could easily put 40, 50, 60 hours overall into this game, and you’re almost guaranteed to lose track of time during each session.
The story revolves around an unnamed survivor of a worldwide nuclear conflict, who escapes from a protected “vault” only to be thrust into a chain of event that can only be described as earth-shattering.
The player wanders through a post-apocalyptic morass in and around former Washington. D.C. (now known simply as “The Capital Wasteland”). Enemies include ruthless raiders, nightmarish, mutated creatures, and warped superhumans armed with chain-guns and sledgehammers. Good luck.
Players must exercise thrift and cunning to survive as they scavenge for food and conserve ammunition. The game is largely open-ended, meaning players can either act as saviors or renegades and choose between good and evil— and see their choices reflected in-game.
Runners-up: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic; Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; Fable
Action/adventure: “Resident Evil 4″ (Capcom, 2005)
Special agent Leon Kennedy has been commissioned to rescue the president’s daughter, but he has no idea what he’s getting himself into.
She’s been kidnapped by a cult group somewhere in Europe, and Leon must overcome an unflagging lineup of dangerous enemies, puzzles and stopping blocks to finally bring her home safe.
The dense plot unfolds slowly and dramatically as Leon snakes his way through three main worlds wrought with enemies wielding all kinds of deadly weapons. Gargantuan boss creatures dot the landscape, as do vendors offering special weapons, upgrades, and healing agents.
This game incorporates elements of shooters, RPGs, and survival horror games. Leon must manage his money, ammo, and limited inventory economically, but he also has to be ready to face a constant onslaught of intelligent and somewhat unpredictable enemies.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this game is its replay value; run-throughs unlock new mini-games and advanced weapons, encouraging and rewarding repeated play.
Runners-up: God of War I and II; Devil May Cry; Ninja Gaiden
Platformer: “Super Mario Galaxy” (Nintendo, 2007)
Now, this one might be more biased since I played most of this game half-stoned on pain meds after getting my wisdom teeth pulled.
That being said, I’ve never had so much honest, unadulterated fun playing a game, and I’ve played a few (if you hadn’t already guessed).
This game is similar to all Mario games in that it involves fighting Bowser and rescuing Princess Peach, but it utilizes the Wii’s motion-control to its fullest extent. It’s simple enough to beat in only several hours, but gets deep and challenging enough to justify a sustained effort to collect all the Power Stars.
Pure innovation, and pure fun.
Runner-up: Little Big Planet
Multiplayer experience: “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” (Infinity Ward, 2007)
COD4’s online community is not the easiest to get accustomed to; thousands of players have the skill to pick you off with sniper rifles twenty times before you even get near their perch, and there are plenty of plain old dirty cheaters.
But once you get past all that and have the moxie to score a few kills each round, the multiplayer mode of this game becomes very rewarding, indeed.
Kills earn you higher and higher ranks, and every few levels, players enjoy new perks, weapons, and upgrades. Multiple gametypes, a high degree of realism, and a burgeoning online community make this shooter the best multiplayer game of the decade.
Runner-up: World of Warcraft
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