2014 will mark the 10th anniversary of some classic games we played back when we were young and no one had ever heard of Microtransactions or Justin Bieber. 2004 may have been a simpler time but boy did we get some great games that year. Join me as I go through some fantastic games that turn ten this year and deserve a little party.
This may seem a pretty obvious 10th anniversary since Lionhead Studio’s have just released Fable: Anniversary HD for the Xbox 360 but it’s still an anniversary worth celebrating. These days the stomping grounds of RPG’s are dominated by the likes of Mass Effect, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls and Final Fantasy, but there was a time when Fable was one of the most popular RPG’s around. It boasted a host of new and exciting features and though a few of them didn’t quite make the final cut, Fable was a huge success with gamers and critics who enjoyed exploring the magical world of Albion with all its weird creatures and very British humour.
Although the Fable franchise may have seen better days since its 2004 debut, I for one hope to see the franchise regain its dominance in the RPG world. As much as I love games like Skyrim and Demon Souls, I found Fable to be a hugely enjoyable game who’s charm and humour was more than enough to cover up any minor faults the game may have had. It’s nice to play an RPG where things aren’t as dark and gritty and the world of Albion was a delight to explore. Happy birthday Fable!
2. Star Wars: Battlefront
Every Star Wars fan worth their Lightsaber has at some point imagined what it would be like to take part in some of the epic battles seen in the films. Thanks to Star Wars: Battlefront, this dream became a reality. Unlike previous Star Wars games that usually put you in the shoes of a powerful Jedi, Battlefront put you in the combat boots of a humble grunt caught in the middle of a huge battle. Armed only with your trusty rifle and a few grenades, it was your job to complete objectives, capture bases and help turn the tide of battle.
What was great about Battlefront was how vulnerable it made you feel. Your character was no more powerful than any of your allies or enemies and once you died you would switch to another soldier on the field. Of course too many deaths would deplete your forces and result in a game over which helped make you feel like every enemy you defeated was a small victory in itself. The game was also very open in that you could choose your own way to turn the tide in your favour. Are you going to stay with your allies and capture Command Posts to gain control of the battlefield or would you rather play as a heavy armoured trooper and gun down numerous enemies by yourself? Another great feature was the many vehicles from the Star Wars universe you could hop in and destroy your enemies with. We’d all dreamed of dominating a battle safe inside an AT-AT walker or zipping through enemy fire on a Speeder Bike. You weren’t given the ability to play as a Jedi until the second game came out the following year but Jedi and Sith lords did appear as NPC’s, and like in the films, they could cut through you like butter. I’ll never forget the intense battle I once had between myself (a humble clone trooper) and the Sith lord Count Dooku. My friends were all seriously impressed when I used the impact from my rocket launcher to send him falling to his death from the cloud city of Bespin.
3. Rome: Total War
Rome: Total War is now a classic and is considered to be one of the best strategy games ever made. The player takes the role of a powerful Roman house and must conquer their way to victory. It’s not all about the size of your army however as there are other variables to consider such as family and the senate itself which you must appease.
Due to the games quality, it has amassed a loyal fan base who have created countless mods which adds almost infinite replayability. Some communities have even gone as far as to totally change the setting in favour of fantasy settings like Middle-Earth and Warhammer. The game also received official expansions including Barbarian Invasion, which allowed players to take control of Barbarian forces in Europe, and the Alexander expansion which allowed players to experience the many battles and campaigns of Alexander the Great.
4. Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
The Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise was a household name amongst gamers by the time the formula was shaken up with Tony Hawk’s Underground, or THUG as it was abbreviated to. THUG introduced the ability to get off your board and find new areas on foot. Whilst THUG was a great game in itself, it was THUG 2 really took things up a notch.
THUG 2 turned the level of adrenaline up to 11 and introduced a little anarchy to boot. This time Tony Hawk and Bam Margera are going on a world destruction tour and they want you to come along for the ride. The game featured awesome open world levels along with a host of bonus characters like Johnny Knoxville, Wee Man, Steve-O and uh, Benjamin Franklin. There were tons of laughs and a great soundtrack to skate along to including Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Power of Equality and The Ramones’ Rock n Roll High School. Many gamers will be finding it hard to believe that their fond memories of tearing up Skatopia are now ten years old.
5. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
After the success of Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City, the GTA franchise couldn’t have been doing better by the time San Andreas was released. This was a game that players were itching to buy and it ended up being the best selling game on the PlayStation 2, and rightly so.. San Andreas expanded the scope of what open worlds could be and it gave players not just a city, but a sprawling state to drive, fly, and sail across.
Many new features were added to San Andreas including the ability to swim, added customisation to the main character, romantic relationships, the ability to climb, and countless more. Despite some bugs, San Andreas delivered something never before seen on the PS2. The main missions also featured a variety of memorable characters, diverse missions and loads of great cheats like the famous jetpack. San Andreas was a triumph in every way you could imagine and it’s no wonder people were so eager to return there nine years later in GTA V.
6. Halo 2
Halo: Combat Evolved was exclusive to the Xbox and was pretty much a system seller along with Fable, so of course there was a lot of hype surrounding Halo 2’s release. Halo 2 was not just an awesome game in itself but the ground it broke for the shooter genre is unparalleled and many popular modern shooters owe a lot to this game.
Halo continued the story of the silent protagonist Master Chief as he battled alien forces and saved humanity. The game added the ability to duel wield weapons and of course you could still pick up alien weapons and cruise around in awesome vehicles. Many gamers will remember Halo 2 for its amazing multiplayer that paved the way for first person shooters and improved online gaming as a whole. Halo 2 introduced the now common place system where the maps and game modes are on an automated system which keeps a steady flow of online games available at all times. This is now used by pretty much all multiplayer games from Call of Duty to Gears of War. Not only was Halo 2 an extraordinary game in itself, it broke ground for gaming and deserves a very special place in the history books.
7. Half-Life 2
As the sequel to the critically acclaimed Half-Life, Half-Life 2 had a lot to live up to. The game was in development for five years, had a $40 million development cycle, and as if this wasn’t pressure enough, a large part of it was leaked online. Despite enough pressure to crush a deep sea submarine, Valve ended up releasing a fantastic game that won 39 Game of the year awards and was even awarded Game of the Decade in 2012.
Half-Life 2 once again places us in the first person shoes of the silent Gordon Freeman as he struggles to survive against aliens in a dystopian re-imagining of earth. Many of the gameplay mechanics from the first game remain, such as physics puzzles and health systems. Although the game is linear, Valve wanted to reward gamers who explored and there are many areas which can be missed if you do not keep your eyes peeled. Half-Life 2 also has a deep story which allows the player to decide their own level of immersion. The game never switches to pre-rendered cutscenes, rather the story plays out in front of the player by other characters conversations or through in game events.
Since 2004, Half-Life and its universe has become a household name amongst gamers. We’re all still patiently waiting for Half-Life 3 but we’ve also been given the fantastic Portal games which are set in the Half-Life universe and have become every bit as popular as Half-Life itself.
8. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
By 2004 the Metal Gear Solid franchise was a big name in the gaming industry. Metal Gear Solid was one of the biggest PlayStation games and the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was also one of the best selling games on the PlayStation 2. Metal Gear Solid 3 was highly anticipated and would tell the story of not Solid Snake, but Naked Snake and the events that occurred during the Cold War which would have far reaching consequences on the world.
There were many elements that made Snake Eater great. The story was absolutely gripping with a hugely tear-jerking ending, the graphics were, and still are, gorgeous, the gameplay was tight and the openness of each area encouraged multiple playthroughs. The story of Snake Eater has to be among one of the best stories in gaming and the brilliant writing as well as the fleshed out characters shed a lot of light on the Metal Gear universe and made you better understand characters that in later games would be your enemy.
Some new gameplay mechanics were also introduced such as the ability to change your cameo and face paint according to your surroundings and the now iconic CQC moves you could pull on your enemies. Whilst surviving in the jungle, you had to hunt and forage for flora and fauna which Snake could use to eat, thus repleneshing his health, or convert into medical supplies. When Snake got injured there was a great mechanic where you had to use your items to heal him, whether it be putting a splint on a fractured wrist or using your cigar to remove leeches. Metal Gear Solid 3 was not just a fantastic Metal Gear game but also one of the best stealth games ever made. Naked Snake, we salute you.
9. World of Warcraft
What can I possibly say about World of Warcraft that hasn’t been said already? With over 7 million subscribers, World of Warcraft is the most subscribed to MMORPG in the world. Many MMO’s are forced to be free-to-play if they wish to survive but World of Warcraft offers so much that players seem to feel they get their money’s worth.
As the fourth game in the Warcraft series, World of Warcraft is undeniably the most successful. The scope of this game is almost limitless and it’s not hard to see why gamers keep coming back for more. This really is the ultimate game for fantasy fans since you can do pretty much anything you please and more content unlocks the more you level up.
The game is also constantly looked after by Blizzard and there have been four major expansion packs since its release, the first being The Burning Crusade, then Wrath of the Lich King, then Cataclysm and finally the most recent, Mists of Pandaria. The secret to World of Warcraft’s success is the fact that you’re never finished. There will always be more to do and see and even when you’re one of the badest badasses in the world you can still be safe in the knowledge that an expansion pack will be coming sooner or later. The main reason I don’t play WoW is because I’m afraid it’ll be so good it will literally ruin my life. Now that’s a selling point.
10. The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth
Last but not least we have a wonderful little gem that people are still playing today. It’s funny really because Battle for Middle-Earth wasn’t exactly ground breaking in itself but who the hell doesn’t want to command the armies of Middle-Earth?
Although many great RTS’s have been released before and since, no one can deny that BFME is certainly one of the most popular and long lasting. Whilst the game may not have broken new ground it was a superbly crafted RTS experience that mixed excellent gameplay with the rich world of The Lord of the Rings. Based upon Peter Jackson’s recently released trilogy, the game allows you to recreate the famous battles and command them as you see fit. You can also go online and battle it out with friends playing as a variety of factions from the noble Gondorians to the evil but fun Orcs and Goblins.
The game is also popular amongst the modding community who are still very activbe to this day. When EA sadly closed the online servers in late 2010 due to losing the rights, the modding community got together and in 2013, released the first Beta for their own online server that would support the game.
So there you have it, ten fantastic games that have or will turn ten this year. A lot has changed in gaming since 2004 but if these games prove anything it’s that a great game will always be great, no matter how much the graphics or hardware improves. These games also remind us of how wonderful the consoles we had back then were, whether you were playing on a PlayStation 2, an Xbox, or a PC that by today’s standards wouldn’t even be able to run Minecraft. Join me in another ten years when I’ll be writing about how quaint the PS4 was compared to whatever version we’re on by then. PlayStation 6 perhaps?