2002: Halo: Combat Evolved (Outside US)
The game: Bullish American – green, black and built like a tank – strides into a world ruled by foreigners and starts kicking ass. That's the story of the Xbox's debut in a games market dominated by Japanese hardware; didn't hurt that it had Halo as proof-of-concept.
Significance: Not to belabor the point – but in 2002, lots of people really wanted to find something dangerously foreign and shoot it in the head. Even by games' standards, the year of Halo, Medal of Honor: Frontline, Splinter Cell, Soldier of Fortune 2 et al was an opportune time to be armed and angry.
2003: Beyond Good & Evil/Viewtiful Joe
The games: Amid a cacophony of hype for bloated blockbusters like Enter the Matrix and the new Tomb Raider, the guys behind Rayman and Resident Evil humbly suggested that maybe you'd prefer something a bit more eclectic.
Significance: “Not really,” answered the buying public, “we'd rather be disappointed by overblown, uninventive crap.” Still, both titles became influential cult hits: games had been too young for the '90s indie boom, but this one couldn't have come at a better time.
2004: Madden NFL 2005
Above: It's Madden '05. In '04. This is just how these things work
The game: We were all in on the joke: a new Madden meant a few tweaks and a full-price roster update. And yet, those updates consistently made the best-seller lists.
Significance: '04 began EA's exclusive deal with the NFL, making Madden the only series to offer real-world rosters and stadiums. The company also spent the year buying 20% of Ubisoft, consolidating subsidiaries like Maxis under the EA umbrella, and generally making their position as the face of Big Gaming clear.
2005: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
The game: Buried in disused code for the PC version of San Andreas was the notorious “Hot Coffee” mode. Its discovery unleashed gaming's eternal nemeses: moral outrage and legal hand-wringing.
Significance: It's become a cliché to decry these sorts of stories as a sad indicator of our Puritan mindset. But with a traumatized public still reeling from a recent glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple, '05 might be one time when lazy commentators actually nailed it.
2006: Okami/Jaws: Unleashed
The games: In one of the year's best titles, innovative controls put you in control of a legendary animal let loose in a fantastic realm. And Ōkami came out too. Both games would come to be covered extensively on the newly-launched GamesRadar.
Significance: Obviously, the two favorite games of the Internet's favorite website are pretty big news. Other significant things this year included Nintendo selling a DS Lite and New Super Mario Bros or Brain Training to pretty much everyone on the planet.
2007: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games
The game: In a year of inescapable blockbusters across media – Transformers! Harry Potter 7! Halo 3! - came an unassuming Track and Field clone featuring, holy ever-loving balls, Mario and Sonic. (At the Olympic Games).
Significance: All the games, cartoons, playground battles and letters to games magazines (remember those?) had finally come to this: the war was over. The old games had found a final resting place: XBLA, Virtual Console, and the GBA remakes that just kept coming.
2008: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
The game: The current wave of “press buttons without looking too white and rhythm-deficient” titles goes way back to 1997's BeatMania. But this one has a guitar, and – finally – real songs, performed by the actual artists!
Significance: Some suggested that GIII might revitalize the careers of musicians in a struggling industry. That's a stretch – the title's covers-free roster brought the music biz's credibility to the game world, not the other way round – but the combination was still a powerful phenomenon.
The game: Oh, hush your mouth. Millions of people love this – so what if it's not for the same reasons you dig Demon's Souls?
Significance: As “social networking” and “casual gaming” entered the vocabulary of newspapers, your boss and your elderly aunt, FarmVille sat at the center of this new field, raking in revenue (oohh, agricultural metaphor!). Whether discussing the game's advertising politics, its addictive effects, or how to unlock that next cow, everyone was talking about FarmVille.
2010: Assassin's Creed II & Brotherhood/Heavy Rain/Red Dead Redemption
Above: If you think choosing four games is a copout, consider the controversial omission of Deadly Premonition
The games: Four much-anticipated, well-received titles with a strong focus on story.
Significance: Inception, Lost and the Millennium trilogy made 2010 a year for big, challenging stories. Games reflected this with Heavy Rain, Red Dead, and continuations of the Assassin's Creed saga (AC2 made it to computers this year), all reflecting a desire in audiences and artists alike to take games' potential for storytelling further – and there's still plenty of room for improvement.
OK, OK, yes…this isn’t a comprehensive list, and surely you’ll disagree with some of the entries, as have some of our own staffers. Comment away!
Aug 12, 2011
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