Monday, 30 January 2012

Top Ten Games 2001

Top Ten Games 2001

Although you’ll soon find out for yourself, the PC dominates 2001 for me, and in particular first and third person games dominate above that. Considering that we’re now eleven years on in 2012, in a much changed world, a lot of these games still resonate with us today, either in their original forms, or in various sequels or incarnations of these (for the most part) original games. I doubt many will be able to deny the top spotted game, but the inclusion of 1 particular game had to be added, simply because. And so I must begin the countdown to Toolbox24’s Top Ten Games of 2001. Enjoy.

10. Serious Sam: The First Encounter – Croteam – PC

Don’t let the title fool you, Serious Sam is not particularly serious. But the protagonist is Sam. Serious Sam came at a time when FPS games and games in general were figuring out that they could be more and more complex and more and more realistic, with more than just the normal point and shoot, run n gun gameplay that had survived since the dawn of time (well the dawn of Wolf 3D anyway). Serious Sam saw that philosophy, and told it to go piss up a rope. Serious Sam: TFE is a back to basics FPS game for people who like their guns big, their enemies bigger, and explosions aplenty. In a game where one of the first enemies you encounter is a headless screaming (yes screaming without a head) topless guy, holding 2 ACME style bombs. His main aim is to run at you in the ilk of a suicide bomber and blow you up. One of these guys, yeah no problem, when you suddenly hear more and more of the screaming of these headless weirdo’s you know you’re gonna have to polish off all those skills you learnt playing Doom and put to the side all the skills you learnt playing Call of Duty in order to take these headless bastards down. Re-released a couple of years ago in HD on Steam, and well worth a look as a seriously fun game to shoot almost endless bizarre hordes of baddies. The first of 5 PC games to reach my top ten, and the first of many first or third person games, this one able to be played as either.

9. Bejeweled – Popcap Games – PC

Bejeweled? What, that game that you have to put 3 or more jewels together in a row or column? That really basic game that has spawned a million imitations? That game that was sold (in all formats) over 75 million times, and downloaded over ½ a billion times? Yeah that little game, that’s basically the Tetris of the new millennium. Created by then newcomers onto the gaming scene, PopCap, the game is as simple as they come, but as I often point out, it’s the simple games that are usually the winners. Yeah complex, complicated games with lots of bells n whistles are great, but to Jo Gamer, sometimes you just want a game that is as simple as point and click – which is exactly what Bejeweled is, and is exactly why it deserves a top ten spot for 2001. I could probably guarantee that you have more than likely spent the occasional 5 minutes here or there playing Bejeweled, or one of it’s sequels or imitators – and without the success of this game, PopCap might have never then gone on to make such cult classic games as Peggle or Plants vs Zombies – more simple genius.

8. Red Faction – Volition, Inc. – PS2

The Red Faction series has recently drawn to a close, some 10 years after bursting through various destroyable environments on the PS2, into your bedroom or living room. A FPS that was a trend setter in the way it’s GeoMod engine worked. Yeah in some games scripted parts of it would be that this wall or that vehicle would blow up, clearing a path for you – however in Red Faction, the possibilities were almost limitless! In recent years, the Bad Company games have made full use of destructible environments, however Red Faction was one of the first to exploit this in computer games to the level which it did. This was one of the major talking points of the game, and in the early levels, you could destroy various walls with no significance to the plot, but simply to show off the engine. The game itself is a classic workers revolt tale, sci-fi’ed up and set in the future on Mars. You start the game as a lowly miner, with all the human rights of a criminal, lured to Mars on promises of a good life, but sorely led up the garden path by the antagonist, Ultor Corporation. You witness the spark of revolt, when a guard kills a miner, and that’s it baby, it’s on. It’s on like Donkey Kong. You and your fellow miners, join the Red Faction, to take arms and revolt. Some classic gameplay ensues, and some sequels later we’re at (apparently) the end of the series.

7. Return to Castle Wolfenstein – Grey Matter Interactive/iD Software – PC

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (RTCW) is definitely a worthy sequel to the infamous and highly regarded Father of all FPS Games – Wolf3D. With a singleplayer campaign which takes WW2 and adds a slice of fantasy to it, much like they did with the terrible Dr. Schabbs and his mutant hoardes, or Hitler in his mecha-suit in Wolf3D. This singleplayer campaign puts you yet again in the boots of BJ Blazkowicz who had been captured while investigating the SS Paranormal Division, and held at Castle Wolfenstein, deep in Germany, along with his buddy Agent One – Agent One being the second player if you play through the game with a mate. The first mission of the game is to Escape from Castle Wolfenstein (name of the first Episode from Wolf3D), and get to the German resistance in the nearby village. Anyway through the game you find out that the SS Paranormal Division is headed by Dr Wilhelm Strasse, AKA Deathshead. Deathshead is not just planning some little occult style ritual, but planning on raising a long dead German warlord – Heinrich I (based on the real life Henry I “The Fowler” of Germany who if you want to, you can read about here) – from the depths of hell to help wage war on the Allies. I must stress as well, that old Heinrich in the game is not overly representative of Henry the Fowler – after ITV’s cock up I don’t want to make the same mistake and have people playing RTCW thinking that people from 10th Century were like that. They’re not. Anyway, the gameplay was another big step in the right direction for the FPS genre, and its influence is very easy to see in more modern FPS games. If you like games with a tiny learning curve, a good story and the thought that you are essentially playing a part of computer gaming history, why not grab yourself a copy today! Also available for the PS2 and XBOX (check with the backwards compatibility of the 360 and PS3) and also available on the Steam Store, with it’s predecessor and 2009!

6. Black & White – Lionhead Studios– PC

Black & White is essentially a RPG…in that you are roleplaying as God. Although it does actually feel during the immersive gameplay that you could actually be God, and that those little pixelated people on the ground and your creature are real beings from another dimension, and you, yes you, sat there drinking your tea, probably thinking about cake, you, you cretin, are actually a god. Prat. In this GPG (God-Playing Game) there is actually a storyline, which I think some people who haven’t played the game don’t realise, and you need to take on other gods, help other gods and your main role is to not be slapped out of existence by the meany god – Nemesis – and to basically become the main god. With a massively sophisticated AI, you can actually train your creature to do almost anything, and this being almost a sideshow to the main game, and its AI is even more sophisticated than any of the Nintendog “games”. (Since the Wii, I have lost so much love and respect for Nintendo…it’s not a real games console.) A massively fun and rewarding game, and hold the record on the IGN website for the joint highest ranked game ever (along with Half-Life 2 and Bioshock – not bad company to be in!). However for me, I’m all about storyline, personal enjoyment, and whether I could still sit and play the game today and it feel fresh – for me personally, Black & White is a great game, but there are many better.

5. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty – Konami – PS2

Metal Gear Solid. Just take that in for a minute and think what the name Metal Gear Solid means to you. Does it mean Tactical Espionage Action? Does it mean epic battles with comic-book style bosses? Does it mean naked interrogation, ala the above picture? Does it mean hiding in a cardboard box, thanks to the Battlefield Bad Company Promo vids from a couple of years ago? It could well mean all 3 and more to you, but at the same time, it might be exceptionally little. MGS seems to me, to be a typical Marmite game. You love it, or you hate it. Personally I love it, and really need to get myself back into the series, but with the impending release of Mass Effect 3, that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Anyway, MGS2: Sons of Liberty made a few decent tweaks and adjustments that can be seen in games such as Unchartered today, walking slower over loud floors to minimise sound; dangling over enemies who apparently can’t see 2 feet above their own faces and the ability to use your environment to hinder your foes – steam in the eyes to blind, throwing any little object to distract and of course attacking certain areas of the body to cause different levels of damage. The storyline is of course pretty B-Movie, but for these games the storyline is fairly secondary to the stealth action. I would still rate Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 as a superior game, but then it is, isn’t it.

4. Silent Hill 2 – Team Silent – PS2

It’s safe to say, that there is but 1 iconic figure to come out of this game – Pyramid Head. Bizarre creation? Yes. Scary? Also yes. The Silent Hill series, more than most around the turn of the millennium re-defined the horror game genre. Yes Resident Evil did it’s part, but for the most part it felt like an arcade shoot em up. Silent Hill 2 is a great example of a sequel in gaming – a lot of people say sequels aren’t up to scratch on the originals, but the opposite is true with the vast majority of video games (hmm an article for later maybe…). Silent Hill 2’s plot involves you as James Sunderland who has come to the creepy fog-laden town of Silent Hill to look for his dead wife. Oh yeah, and the town is filled with weird creepy monsters and ghostly types. Oh and an absolute ton of metaphors, showing James psyche in full swing. I wont delve too deep into the plot line, but the gameplay is pretty decent with James’ radio crackling whenever something approaches, also with his head turning in that direction. Not a huge array of weapons, which is great because it adds to the sense of horror, not having a massive amount of guns and melee objects at your disposal. A great game (or series) to play in the winter when the nights are drawing in, especially around Halloween! Definitely deserving of it’s place in the top 5 of 2001.

3. Max Payne – Remedy Entertainment – PC

Max Payne is surely one of the great games of the entire decade, not just 2001. But then, when looking back at all these games, it truly is so hard to pick one game over another. Sometimes. For 2001, the top 3 seemed a truly natural thing, looking not only at the impact of the game itself, but also it’s legacy in the 11 years since. Although Max Payne came out in 2001, it is often mistakenly thought to have stolen a key feature of its gameplay from 1999 movie, The Matrix. Understandable since the game came out 2 years after, but it was in development in 1998 a full year before the release of Neo and his buddies. That feature, is the slowed down gameplay of Bullet Time. I can’t think of many games since (except Max Payne 2) that has truly captured bullet time in it’s gameplay as smoothly and expertly as Max Payne, not even the various Matrix games that have been released. Max Payne’s story is the perfect example of Film Noir in gaming. It’s narrated by the main character, who sounds that little bit gruff, and instead of your normal cutscenes taking place between key moments of the game, you get a small comic strip, in a noir style – very Sin City with a hint of colour. Harrowing in parts, incredibly clever and a graphical masterpiece (for the time) makes this game truly deserving of the dozens and dozens of awards (including a BAFTA for Best PC Game of 2001) and usual score of 8-9/10 or it’s various incarnation in percentages and scores. The third person view of the game really opens you up to what you’re facing, and the storyline sucks you in to a point where you genuinely care about not only what Max is currently going through, but the torment of what he went through, and has to live with every day of his life. But surprisingly, still only number 3 in the list for the year. Something massive had better be ahead of Max…

2. Halo: Combat Evolved – Bungie – XBOX

Well, well, well. Master Chief has just stomped a great big mudhole into Max Payne’s face and run him over in his Warthog. What’s left he’ll leave to the Covenant. A worthy beater of Max Payne, who yes did pretty much introduce the genre of Film Noir to computer games single handed, but what Halo: CE or Halo did to the games industry is thrust it well into the 21st Century and said to the world “HEY!! Games are not just for spotty teenagers while they wait to lose their virginity, they are for everyone, just like movies are for everyone, and just like music is for everyone, and here, let me show you just how epic games can be…” Well the game didn’t literally say that, but the epicness and wow factor of Halo did more than just revolutionise FPS games, it made sure that everyone who saw it thought “Wow, that is amazing!” like people would have done when watching Alien or Shawshank Redemption for the first time. It’s an instinctive thing to do. And apart from 2 other epic games series, this is the only survivor of my XBOX when I upgraded to the 360. As I’m sure it is for a lot of people. There is no doubt that the story of Master Chief and his battle on the ring-world of Halo is very innovative, even if it does draw an obvious comparison to the book Ringworld by Larry Niven. The gameplay was smoother than so many FPS’s of the turn of the century, in a genre which could have been considered to be petering out slightly, the days of Doom, Wolf3D and Quake seemed to be over, Duke Nukem looked like it would never be released (only just being released last year!). Halo made computer gaming cool – to everyone. Some people still see it as the pastime of the nerdy, but those are just the people who are stuck in their ways. Halo has spawned several sequels, and Peter Jackson for years was touted as the man to direct an inevitable Halo film, thanks to him being obsessed with it whilst filming Lord of the Rings. Halo is without doubt an amazing graphical adventure, which has helped to spawn a decade of video game greatness. But still, it has to take second place to this game…

1. Grand Theft Auto III – DMA Design/Rockstar North – PS2

Well…duh. How can GTA3 really be anywhere but 1st in the list of greatest games of 2001? Even with epic greatness in Max Payne and Halo being released in the same year, GTAIII is without doubt even bigger than the 2 of those games combined. Then doubled. Then multiplied by 100. GTA3 still dominates. And how could it not? Let’s look at this in a bit more detail shall we? GTA(1) was a pretty good game, if a little hard to control being top-down view. It was lampooned in the media and even in UK Parliament as being a game that made violence fun, that made a mockery of murder, and made drug-running and mafia-esque tasks look cool. This, of course, only meant a shitload of free publicity for DMA Design – creators of GTA. Then on the back of GTA, they released another top-down game, GTA: London – so far the only GTA set in the UK. Quite short, but very funny, this game was much of the same, although set in London and incorporating some landmarks as well. Then came GTA2, another top-down game. Set in the near future, but not quite capturing the brilliance of the first game or the comedy of it’s spin off in London.

DMA needed a rethink. They were masters of the free-roam game – even if it was top-down. They needed to revolutionise themselves, and in doing so changed computer gaming forever. More so than Max Payne’s story telling, more than Halo’s ability to make gaming more mainstream. DMA Design/Rockstar North developed what could be seen as a game so revolutionary, it’s only peers are Mario and Wolf3D. I think it would not be too much of a stretch to put those 3 games in a bracket of their own entitled “Games that changed gaming forever”. GTA3, changed everything. Absolutely everything. Think of what came before, and think of what has come since. GTA changed everything. GTA not only did what Halo did, by making games cool to everyone, but it told an amazing story, over hours and hours and hours of gameplay and it changed from top-down to 3rd person – hell if you wanted to go nostalgic, you could play top-down still! It introduced a large array of pretty well known Hollywood actors and actresses to voice most of the game, it changed gaming in the sense that if you wanted to do nothing but drive around being a bastard you could. If you wanted to do some little side-missions you could, if you wanted to progress the story, you could and instead of having level 1 is followed by level 2 is followed by level 3 etc, they had several missions on the go at once, that you could pick and choose your way through – seems common enough now right? Well look no further to the game that really hammered that home.

GTA didn’t just make games amazing, and open up the rest of the games industry to the awesomeness that they all had the potential to be – but it gave players so much more freedom to actually play while playing! It’s spawn of Vice City, San Andreas, GTA:IV are all masterpieces in their own way, and each improves on the last. Let’s not also forget Bully and LA Noir or Red Dead Redemption in with those games or of course the upcoming GTA:V.

GTA3 in a way, for me is the greatest game of the GTA Series, when it rains in GTA3, I feel like I should grab my raincoat. When I’m being chased down the street by the police or Cartel, my heart starts racing, and I find myself swerving in my chair from bullets and to get around corners. And when I listen to Lazlo on Chatterbox, I could just drive to somewhere secluded and listen. In fact, when playing other games on the PC like Championship Manager, I would put GTA onto my PS2 and go somewhere quiet just so that I could listen to Lazlo for an hour or so.

If you are only familiar with more recent games in the series like GTA:IV or San Andreas, or hell even Vice City. Play GTA3 as well. Yeah you can’t ride bikes, or use melee weapons (other than a baseball bat), and sure you can’t fly anything or swim. But the atmosphere of the game, the style of the game, the way it can be so gloomy at times as to make you feel cold, makes this game the best of the bunch. And without it…there’d be so much more that wasn’t here. It’s easy to say that GTA3 is the top of the year, but it may well be a contender for the best game of the decade – most certainly best games series.