The Best Video Games of the 2000s, Part 1.

Brian begins his countdown of the greatest games of the Aughts with GTA, Uncharted, and more.

#75) Castle Crashers. The Behemoth, 2008. 7.2

An extremely fun, extremely cute four-player co-op sidescroller that acts as sort of harbinger for the likes of Super Meat Boy and Cuphead that were to come.

#74) Crackdown. Realtime Worlds, 2007. 7.3

Gaining notoriety originally for being a gateway to the Halo 3 beta, Crackdown quickly made a name for itself by being one of the most gloriously stupid open world games ever. Completely unconcerned with storytelling, it served as a welcome counter to some of the more po-faced Grand Theft Auto clones out there. Also, getting those orbs is one of the most addictive video game collect-a-thons ever.

#73) Guitar Hero II. Harmonix, 2006. 7.3

The absolute king of rhythm games, the single most Late 2000s gaming sub-genre there is. The perfect balance of challenge and enjoyment. Also some killer Primus and Toadies tracks.

#72) Dead Space. Visceral Games, 2008. 7.4

In many ways, the original Dead Space is the best Resident Evil game since 2005. It definitely captures the desperation and resource scrounging of the pre-RE4 games. It’s got a great mechanic, cool weapons and a still visually impressive setting. The problem is that it forgets how unfun old-school survival horror was.

#71) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. Neversoft, 2001. 7.4

If music games are the most late-2000s sub-genre, surely skating games are their analogue for the early-2000s. None of those games were any better (or any more early-2000s) than THPS3, a game I have put an embarrassing amount of time into.

#70) Fable. Lionhead Studios, 2004. 7.4

Listen, Peter Molyneux never meant anyone any harm. He just really liked the ideas he had for his video games. Even if none of his games ever really hit the mark he set for them, they’re still pretty good. Fable is the best of them, and still holds a strange charm that a lot of objectively better games never really figured out.

#69) MVP Baseball 2005. EA Canada, 2005. 7.4

I generally shy away from putting sports games in these kinds of lists, but special dispensation had to be awarded in honor of what is probably the best sports game, and definitely the best baseball game of all time.

#68) Star Wars Republic Commando. LucasArts, 2005. 7.5

The 2000s were, pretty easily, the golden age of Star Wars games, and while there are certainly ones I like more coming later on this list, I’ve always had a weird soft spot for Commando. It dared to be something other than the obvious Star Wars concept, and its blend of solid squad-based combat and setting manages to wring something out of the worst part of the prequels.

#67) Spider-Man 2. Treyarch, 2004. 7.5

Undoubtedly one of the best movie tie-ins and superhero games of all time. It’s exactly what you’d want a Spider-Man game to be, freeform and expansive and gloriously stupid.

#66) Mirror’s Edge. EA DICE, 2008. 7.5

One of the all-time great video game settings is let down a bit by some extremely clunky pathfinding and some extremely unnecessary shooting bits. It’s still one of the most unique video game experiences of my life.

#65) Left 4 Dead/Left 4 Dead 2. Valve, 2008/2009. 7.5

Remember when everything Valve did was gold? I don’t hold the Left 4 Dead games in the esteem a lot of people I know do, but that’s more because they’re kind of just glorified arcade games than anything substantive or meaningful.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t really fucking fun.

#64) Assassin’s Creed 2. Ubisoft, 2009. 7.5

Assassin’s Creed has never been a series that lived up to the idea of Assassin’s Creed. The first game is basically a proof of concept, and it works well enough. The other Ezio games are basically expansion packs, though one is pretty good. The third and fourth games vary from extremely boring to scattershot. Only this second game really hits that formula right, just before the series went all the way up its own ass.

#63) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward, 2007. 7.6

I get that this game had some of the most deleterious effects on the industry of any game ever. I get that it basically started the dull, grimdark military man shoot-em-ups that sullied the name of the FPS almost to the point of being unredeemable. It’s still a good game, with a campaign full of genuine twists and unique mechanics and a multiplayer that had not yet been overrun by the very worst people on the face of the Earth.

#62) Luigi’s Mansion. Nintendo, 2001. 7.6

One of the things I most enjoyed about the Nintendo Switch’s release was the return of actually good launch games. Nowadays, companies just release their new machines with next to nothing on them, a far cry from when Nintendo stormed out of the gate with, among others, one of the strangest and most endearing games in their history. Sure, it’s like five hours long, but Luigi’s Mansion is five hours I thoroughly enjoyed and would gladly replay for the first time again and again.

#61) Prey. Human Head Studios, 2006. 7.7

On the surface, the original Prey is an extremely generic grim corridor shooter. Dig a little deeper, and it’s so much more. It’s a mindbending physics game a year before PortalIt’s an immersive sim shooter a year before BioShock. Most of all, it’s perhaps the single most charitable and fair portrayal of Native Americans in western pop culture in this century. Noah Caldwell-Gervais has more on what makes it so strangely wonderful here.

#60) Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader. Factor5, 2001. 7.7

So that thing I mentioned about the Gamecube having great launch titles? This is what I was directly referencing. To this day, the game my brain goes to when I think of “next gen” is this gorgeous, expansive, twitch-perfect rail shooter from nearly two decades ago.

#59) Final Fantasy XII. SquareEnix, 2006. 7.8

I imagine some people might be upset by this ranking, but my biggest problem with the Final Fantasy games the last decade-plus hasn’t been voice acting, or convoluted plots, or even the lack of difficulty. It’s incoherence. Look at that screenshot up there and tell me that looks like a game that is easy to pick up. I’m not saying FF games should be simple, just that they would play to their strengths more if they were. It’s also just ugly UI design, though that’s more the fault of the times than anything else.

#58) GTA: Episodes From Liberty City. Rockstar, 2009. 7.8

If it weren’t for The Ballad of Gay Tony, this entry might not exist. That’s not to say The Lost & the Damned isn’t worth playing — Rockstar is simply too good at making games for that — just that it’s pretty easily the worst game in the series. Ballad makes up for that by calling back to the absurd mayhem of San Andreas while still sticking to the more mature storytelling of IV. It’s an intoxicating blend, and probably the only GTA game I actually wish was longer.

#57) World of WarCraft. Blizzard, 2004. 7.9

I struggled with this one. On one hand, I played WoW for almost seven months way back in like 2008, and I really enjoyed it, more than I have any other MMO save one. On the other, WoW as it existed then and WoW as it exists now are so thoroughly different that it scarcely feels like the same genre, let alone the same game. So the game I’m ranking here is one that doesn’t really exist anymore, and that makes it feel weird.

#56) Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. Remedy, 2003. 7.9

On paper, Max Payne 2 should be awful. A newer, bigger studio, less development time and studio oversight should be the recipe to ruin a charming, half-cocked indie game like the first Max Payne. Fortunately, Remedy will never not be completely insane.

#55) Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Naughty Dog, 2007. 8.0

I think critical consensus on the first Uncharted game has become something that doesn’t quite reflect the game it represents. The runaway success of Naughty Dog’s subsequent games has painted the original game as a finished product and not a frustrating slog of unending, terrible shooting and bad setpieces. The look, feel and general storytelling is what you’d expect from an Uncharted game in 2017, but the fighting is bad enough to almost single-handedly sink the entire thing.

#54) Gears of War 2. Epic Games, 2008. 8.0

It’s hard to remember when Gears of War was an important thing in gaming. A new game just came out last year, and I don’t think anyone even remembers playing it. This one was kind of the sad apex of the series in that regard, but at least it was a very good game.

#53) WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos/The Frozen Throne. Blizzard, 2003. 8.1

Another genre that lost its place in the sun in the 2000s was the RTS. WarCraft III is not the best RTS I have ever played (it’s not even Blizzard’s best effort), but it is certainly the biggest and most promoted. WoW came out barely a year after this game, which sadly put an end to both WarCraft as a strategy genre and the strategy genre as big business releases.

#52) Star Wars Battlefront/Battlefront 2. Pandemic, 2004/2005. 8.2

There’s a balance to this sort of game, between empowerment and expendability, that only the first game got right. You were *just* a soldier, and while you could do a lot, you would still invariably die. It’s kind of a bleak outlook on Star Wars, but it also makes for a better multiplayer experience. The second game deserves its place here for expanding the entire experience into space and providing a surprisingly good campaign, but the original Battlefront is still the benchmark by which I measure this series as it moves forward.

#51) Final Fantasy X-2. SquareEnix, 2003. 8.2

I’ve said before that if any series deserves the benefit of the doubt where writing for women characters is concerned, it’s Final Fantasy. So bear that in mind when you think about how roughly half of this game is basically a dress-up simulator. It’s honestly the best job system this series has yet produced, and while it’s in service of a plot that doesn’t really deserve it, it at least helps prop up a thoroughly pleasant setting. It’s not an easy game, but it is an easy-going one.

#50) Lost Odyssey. Mistwalker, 2007. 8.3

Speaking of Final Fantasy, no one name is more synonymous with that franchise than Hironobu Sakaguchi. After he left SquareEnix in 2004 (FFX-2 is actually his last credit for the company), he founded Mistwalker, whose second game is probably still the best Final Fantasy of the last 15 years.

#49) Gears of War. Epic Games, 2006. 8.3

I didn’t want to talk too much about why cover shooters fell out of vogue so quickly before, because I think it’s kind of obvious. If you aren’t on the bleeding edge graphically, there’s not really a lot to enjoy about sitting in one spot and shooting the same enemies over and over. Still. Gears was one of the first Xbox 360 games I was really looking forward to, and it was great fun with another person to play with.

#48) Perfect Dark. Rare, 2000. 8.4

Let me take a second and talk about how good this decade was that a game like Perfect Dark barely makes the top 50. It is, in many ways, a better game than Rare’s previous effort, GoldenEye 007. The multiplayer is certainly more interesting, and the neo-noir punk setting is a lot more interesting than most would give it credit for. It’s a decidedly Year 2000 game, and that’s not a bad thing in the slightest.

#47) Hitman: Blood Money. Eidos, 2006. 8.4

Until recently, this was quite easily the best Hitman game. Expansive, blackly humorous, emergent and weird, it’s the exact Hitman experience promised by the original game way back in 2000.

#46) The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. Bethesda Softworks, 2002. 8.5

Has there ever been anything quite like the first time you played Morrowind? Even though I think the game around it ends up being just very good instead of great, that first experience, when you come ashore at Seyda Neen and slowly start to realize just how big this whole “next-gen gaming” thing can really be, was transformative.

Even if it’s not the best, I think Morrowind still carries that sort of totemic power. It’s the most awe-inspiring game I’ve ever played, at least the first time through.

#45) Half-Life: Blue Shift. Gearbox Software, 2001. 8.5

Blue Shift is a game stuck in the wrong decade. Released almost three whole years after the original Half-Life remade the First Person Shooter, it feels weirdly antiquated despite being more coherent, more forgiving and more entertaining than previous expansion effort Opposing Force. It’s just weird to think that this game came out a few scant weeks before Max Payne and less than six months before the original Halo.

#44) Jade Empire. BioWare, 2005. 8.6

BioWare spent the latter half of the 2000s trying their hardest to create their own breakout IP, after nearly a decade of being beholden (heh) to the restrictions of Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars. While I don’t think Jade Empire was the most successful of these games, it’s the only one to never get a sequel, and that’s a shame.

#43) The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Bethesda Softworks, 2006. 8.6

I think, objectively, Morrowind is a better game than its successor. Then why do I have Oblivion ranked higher? Simple: it’s the most unintentionally hilarious game ever made.

#42) Beyond Good & Evil. Ubisoft, 2003. 8.6

I imagine, had I played Beyond Good & Evil in 2003 and not 2015, I might have loved it dearly. As it stands, it’s still a remarkably good platformer, full of wit and charm and really cool menu design.

#41) Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Rockstar, 2002. 8.6

Another game that falls just short of deserving my love, partly because the switch to a fully voice-acted protagonist does GTA’s writing no favors, partly because for all the glitz and glamour of the titular City, it’s still kind of boring to be in.

#40) Psychonauts. Double Fine, 2005. 8.6

Here’s another great mid-2000s game I didn’t play until the last couple years. When I called Grim Fangando Tim Schaefer’s masterpiece last time out, I probably should have clarified that Psychonauts also exists.

#39) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Nintendo, 2006. 8.7

I’ve gone back and forth on Twilight Princess over the years. At release, it seemed duller and less interesting than previous Zeldas, and too preoccupied with being a response to Ocarina of Time. As the years have gone by (and as I finally finished it), I realized that it might just have the best dungeons of any of the 3D games. I still don’t love it, but my appreciation for it has only gone up. Even if it still looks kind of bad.

#38) Super Mario Sunshine. Nintendo, 2002. 8.7

Without a doubt, the strangest 3D Mario game is still fresh, weird and hamstrung by some uncharacteristically terrible design. Still pretty great, though.

#37) Fallout 3. Bethesda Softworks, 2008. 8.7

I might get some flack for this (if I get any response at all), but I feel confident in this spot. Go play Fallout 3 now. It has not held up very well, especially when compared to its direct competition in 2008.

#36) Dragon Age: Origins. BioWare, 2009. 8.8

I’ve always had a bit of disconnect with the Dragon Age games that I never quite felt with Mass Effect, despite both being of the same general quality and guilty of the same general plagiarism (or “paying homage” if you’re generous). I think it’s the more static blocking of the conversations and the more formal tone in both writing and delivery. These are conversation games more than anything, and while the combat here is surprisingly tactical, that’s what it boils down to. Less interesting conversations. It feels like DA:O should have come out before the first Mass Effect, I guess.

#35) Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Retro Studios, 2007. 8.8

One of the strangest things in the history of gaming happened in August 2007 when, six days before the release of the finale of the Metroid Prime TrilogyBioShock was released. These two games hardly feel like they were put out in the same century, let alone the same week. This is not to say that Corruption is bad. Far from it. It’s just…the result of a more antiquated design philosophy than its peers. Combine that with a fairly lackluster debut on the Wii, and it’s easy to see why this is the least highly regarded of the trilogy.

#34) Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Raven Software, 2003. 8.8

The single best lightsaber fighting game ever made is bolstered by bite-sized, modular levels in the singleplayer and absolutely ridiculous amounts of dumb nonsense in the multiplayer.

#33) Metal Gear Solid IV: Guns of the Patriots. Kojima Productions, 2008. 8.9

What a decade the 2000s were for Hideo Kojima. After revolutionizing storytelling in video games in the 90s, he jumped into the new millennium in full force, releasing three core Metal Gear games that all stand as major, important and even vital releases in their respective years. Guns of the Patriots is pretty easily the weakest of the group, just because there really isn’t enough game to it. It’s the only action game that legitimately might have more cutscenes than gameplay, which is a shame because as an actual stealth game, IV might be the best made in this period.

#32) Resident Evil 4. Capcom Productions, 2005. 8.9

There are great games, and then there are games great enough to summon an army of imitators. Seismic shifts in the landscape. Resident Evil 4 is certainly one of these games, and while I never loved it as much as a lot of people I know, it’s still pretty great.

#31) Max Payne. Remedy, 2001. 8.9

Earlier, I explicitly referenced that the original Max Payne feels almost like an indie game, so let me explain. Despite being published by a major company (Rockstar) and becoming one of the biggest releases in one of the biggest gaming years of all time, it still has the tight cohesion, vision, quirk and overall effort of a small release. Maybe 40 people actually oversaw the design of the game, many of them making cameos as stand in actors in the game’s magnificent and unique comic strip cutscenes.

It’s the sort of game that simply couldn’t be made today. Too many cooks, be they corporate or studio, in the kitchen. The way it presents itself is almost mythic, full of grave overtones and apocalyptic utterances. See, just thinking about has me talking like Max. That it just so happens to be one of the most polished, challenging and innovative shooters of its day is almost gravy.

#30) Final Fantasy IX. Square, 2000. 9.0

Hironobu Sakaguchi is not shy about what his favorite Final Fantasy is, and it’s not hard to see why. Conceived as a kind of quick, nostalgic side project between major releases, IX seemed to almost create itself, whole cloth, from the dreams and visions of the original Square team from the mid 80s. It’s the final culmination of what those great artists originally envisioned, and that’s kind of neat.

#29) Grand Theft Auto III. Rockstar, 2001. 9.0

There’s a reason I tend to like the more contemporary Rockstar games over the period pieces. For all their juvenile bullshit and dick jokes, this company are truly gifted satirists. This game is like a time capsule to what mid-2001 must have been like in New York City. That it also shares a strange forebodance with other games set in that same time frame (primarily Max Payne and Deus Ex) gives it a curious power all this time later. Like these digital people knew what was coming, or something.

Anyways, it’s a great game. One of the first to truly inspire awe in my teenage self. Also got a great theme.

#28) Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Raven Software, 2002. 9.1

The best Star Wars action game, bar none. I don’t really feel the need to say anything more. It still holds up remarkably well today, despite some odd platforming bits that feel like they should have been left in 1997. It’s a goddamn shame we still aren’t getting Jedi Knight games every few years.

#27) Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Retro Studios, 2004. 9.1

Falling back on that tried and true “light world vs dark world” Nintendo standby was not the most ambitious track for Retro Studios to take in their 2004 follow-up, but thankfully for us, Retro Studios are not the average game developer. For every tired or tedious boss fight or puzzle, there are dozen weird, inventive or stimulating bits to make up for it. It’s a more complex game than its venerable predecessor, and while it’s not the series pinnacle, it’s one of the most underrated sequels of all time.

#26) Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Naughty Dog, 2009. 9.2

I get that you might think this ranking too low for one of the most exhilarating action games ever made, and I understand that. I would counter by saying the things that make the Uncharted games great are their least-gamey aspects, and while that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable, it does lower their importance to me, and in a field this contentious, that’s enough to drop a few slots.

It’s still pretty great, though. God, that opening.

 

Tune in here for Part 2.

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