Beyond 2000: Top video games of the past decade

25 Dec 2010

Decades have a tendency to get the better of us. It seems like only yesterday Rick Mayall was persuading me to pick up a Street Fighter II Edition Super Nintendo after thumb cramp from excessive bashing on the Megadrive controller rendered me a Streets of Rage 2-obsessed console thug.

But that was then and now it seems another decade has come and gone, but while the formative years of most gamers can be attributed to a handful of games supported by the two ruling consoles (Super Nintendo and Sega Megadrive respectively), the past decade has seen an assault of choice and technology that has been incorporated into the gaming industry.

Unsurprisingly, the increased popularity of the gaming industry over the years has churned out a new generation – the middle-aged gamer – a term that was a relatively unknown prior to the Noughties. Now, grown men and women can unflinchingly play video games, at home or online, unabashed and unperturbed, immune to the ridicule that would once have have been heaped upon a 30+ year-old obsessing over his virtual farm or hammering digital birds at moving targets.

Mega Drive and SNES
Thanks to major advances in special effects technology, among other things, the video games industry adapted and mushroomed from the quaint console offerings like Sonic on the Sega MegaDrive (MD) and Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) to über-achieving, cinematic extravaganzas like the Halo series on theXbox andHeavy Rain on thePlayStation 3.

This made it OK for gaming geeks, like myself, to nurture obsession and be the best darn gamers they could be (often to the detriment of relationships, motor skills, joints, family, hearing, mental well-being, bank balance, blood pressure, flatmates, career longevity, power bills, climate change, self-control and generally any part of a person who has invested too heavily in the digitised version of themselves).

Indeed, the ever-evolving video game industry can be observed and defined by the popularity of games during each year since 2000 – pinpointing the public zeitgeist and indicating where it might lead to.

With this in mind, here are the top-performing games of 2000 through to 2010.

2000 – The SIMS
The strategic life-simulation computer game took the PC gaming world by storm and was developed by the team that had previous success with Sim City. The SIMS focused on the daily activity of one or more virtual persons that interacted with their environment. To some, SIMS became more appealing than the chore of actual life and resulted in many a gamer persecuting their long-suffering characters in blatant contention of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Starvation was my favourite device of torture.

2001 –Gran Turismo 3
A critical and commercial success that surpassed all expectations, Gran Turismo 3 (GT3), released for the PlayStation 2, went on to become one of the best-selling console games of all time. GT3 allowed gamers to compete in races and championships, as well as providing challenges and rally events. Users had their pick of an extensive range of vehicles (though still less than inGT2) including Porsche, Lamborghini and Formula 1 cars. Developers decided against offering gamers a Reliant Robin at the last minute.

2002 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Almost as famous for its stellar ’80s soundtrack that was heavily borrowed from the movie Scarface, as was the style and design of the game, RockStar’s Vice City is set in 1986 and takes place in a Miami-like city during the 1980s. The game enabled gamers a free hand to explore the many locations, take part in nefarious activities, rise through criminal ranks, steal and destroy vehicles, as well as offering them cinematic gameplay and superb dialogue. This set the standard for later incarnations of the game, as well, as many imitations. The protagonist – Tommy Vercetti, voiced by Ray Liotta – takes control of the city itself while also taking over gamers’ lives and self-control for an unhealthy amount of time. ‘Rush rush give me yayo …’

2003 – Varied
This year, controversy-loving game Manhunt was released as was Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, not to mention the GTA: Double Pack, and saw another less obvious game capture the interest in the fast-dwindling PC market. With consoles beginning to flex their muscles, resilient PC gamers flocked to pick up copies of MMORPG gameLineage II, but the majority of gamers went for the big guns:Madden NFL 2004,Pokémon Ruby and FIFA 2003. With the market heating up and more competition for top spot, games companies increased their output and made 2003 a year of many top sellers. But we thought we’d mention Lineage II all the same.

2004 – The SIMS 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
SIMS appears in the chart again as the follow up to the original. It was released on both Windows and console format, broadening the reach of the strategic life simulation game. GTA: San Andreas also hit the market and offered gamers bigger and better game play, graphics, scale, characters and criminality. Both games, as is the nature of sequels, expanded and improved on the originals. Despite the fact that the hugely popular MMORPG World of Warcraft came into being this year, the award for the best game goes to San Andreas – purely for enabling me (and my clinically obese, semi-naked incarnation of hoodlum protagonist CJ) to perform a slow moving drive-by on a tricycle.

2005 – Brain Age & Brain Age 2
Nintendo’s Brain Age encouraged users to challenge themselves to a mental workout every day. In what was termed ‘edutainment’, gamers with aNintendo DS had to perform a series of tests and mini games that gauged the brain’s responsiveness or lack thereof. While it may have been a sinister way for Nintendo to push units of the DS on the mentally unsure, the Brain Age games were critical successes but not the kind of game one might relax and unwind with. We haveMario Kart for that.

2006 –Pokémon: Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
Like the Pokémon games preceding it, this one chronicles the adventure of a youngPokémon trainer as they battle for supremacy. The game was a worldwide success and allowed gamers to play over a Wi-Fi connection and compete in ‘Pokédexes’ (surely you know what they are?). However, Pokémon will undoubtedly be remembered for the litany of repetitive punch-lined gags the game series inspired – How do you get Pikachu on a train? You Pokémon – Pure gold!

2007 –Halo 3
Concluding the story arc that began inHalo: Combat Evolved,Halo 3 was one of the fastest-selling games ever in pre-sale. With 4.2m units in stores the day before release, Halo 3 out-performed expectations and more than 1 million people played the game on Xbox Live in the first 20 hours of its release. A first-person shooter taking place on foot or in vehicle, Halo 3 is only available on Xbox and its multiplayer features gave the game longevity and earned it classic status. Playing as ‘Master Chief’, a surgically enhanced super-soldier, not unlike Mickey Rourke with a helmet, Halo 3 gave gamers slews of new weaponry as well as an engaging and well thought out plotline.

2008 – Grand Theft Auto IV
The most recent addition to the enduring game series puts gamers in the shoes of the irascible Nico Bellic – a mean-spirited, skin-headed Bosnian war veteran, and all-around bad egg. Rockstardoes not stray far from its winning formula with GTA IV and gamers must develop their character from the bottom up while interacting with or murdering the citizens of Liberty City, which is based on modern-day New York. The verbal abuses Nico takes from fellow immigrant taxi drivers are some of the most innovative insults I’ve ever heard. Also they don’t care if you manhandle passengers and get in yourself once you pay. Just like real life …

2009 – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
With the accolade of the highest-earning entertainment launch in history, Modern Warfare 2 grossed more than $300m in its first-day sales and has since surpassed US$1bn worldwide. The game itself pits you against the armies of the free world in a number of different locations. Levels where the gamer massacres airport crowds, while undercover and attempting to infiltrate a terrorist cell courted controversy but are optional, and gamers are offered the choice to skip them. ThisModern Warfare 2 allows the gamer to engage in firefights on American soil – riddling burger joints and suburbia with barrages of bullets and the freedom-hating blood of your sworn enemies. Nice.

2010 – ?
This year’s top game has yet to be decided. But if any of the current sales figures are to be believed, it will be a head-to-head race between Gran Turismo 5 and Call of Duty: Black Ops. Both games continue their own hugely successful franchises and offer more advanced and elaborate ways in which to set pulses racing. What would be better than owning both, you might ask? A merger! Picking off evil doers in a high-octane ride with an arsenal of smart weaponry and high carbon-emitting roadster at your disposal. What a destructive and happy Christmas that would be.

Game on.