Landmarks of gaming: 1980 - 2011

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.

2009: FarmVille

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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  • EwoksTasteLikeChicken - September 12, 2011 1:18 p.m.

    I would have said Halo 2 for 2004, as it was the first huge online multiplayer game on a console.
  • carrotsauce33 - August 17, 2011 1:44 a.m.

    No Uncharted? Or Mass Effect? I also was surprised to see Bioshock wasn't on there either! Kick Farmville out and replace it with one of the latter. Or, if they don't fit in the timeline, one of their sequels. I know Mass Effect didn't come out in 2009 but Bioshock 2 or Uncharted did. And didn't AC 2 come out in 2009?
  • 435 - August 16, 2011 6:44 p.m.

    1991... Battletoads? Yeah, someone never had a Genesis. There was this little game called Sonic: The Hedgehog which came out that year, too. You know, starring that plucky blue character that ran really fast and punched Nintendo in the face for a few years.
  • glane88 - August 15, 2011 11:46 p.m.

    I agree with this list very much. It takes some giant balls to give the nod to Mario & Sonic instead of COD4, and it takes the spot rightfully so. Mario and Sonic have been franchise rivals since Sonic was born; the fact that they were featured in a game together vastly outweighs the historical significance of CoD4. It's landmarks of gaming, not what was most popular in gaming that year. I'm also fine with something like BioShock not being included. Sure, it was immensely popular, started a franchise, but nothing about it screams that it's a landmark in the history of gaming.
  • miningguyx360 - August 14, 2011 10:20 p.m.

    Some of this is really off IMO
  • Tomgoulter - August 14, 2011 9:20 p.m.

    Thanks for all your suggestions - some very good points made as to the exclusion of Street Fighter II (which, for the record, is one of your author's favorite games ever). To those wondering about 2011, I'd personally have picked Modern Warfare 3 for this slot. Not because I imagine it definitely being better than Battlefield 3 (or Gears 3, or LA Noire, or Portal 2, or...) but because the amount of conflict that game signifies -- global, commercial, legal, corporate -- and the series' willfully ambiguous relationship to technomilitarism and geopolitics are the most typical of our time any game has managed. And yes, Jaws Unleashed was a joke.
  • Hobojedi - August 14, 2011 8:46 p.m.

    I could complain, but I'm satisfied with Doom making the list.
  • r.c.leclaire - August 14, 2011 6:53 p.m.

    Very interesting article. Good read but some curious selections.
  • JBizFoShiz - August 14, 2011 6:50 p.m.

    As far as 2011 is concerned, there are SO many good games this year. Personally, keeping in theme with the article, my pick goes to Bulletstorm. In terms of media coverage on gaming's evil nature (hi Fox!), the resurgence of the worried-about-nothing conservative parents (hi Dead Space 2 ad campaign!), I think those owe a lot to Bulletstorm!* *Not calling it the best game of the year. Calm down. Make this list in 10 years, and Modern Warfare 2 will be on here for 2010. Fact. I don't like MW2, but you can't deny its impact on the mainstream - for better or worse.
  • JBizFoShiz - August 14, 2011 6:42 p.m.

    PEOPLE! Calm down. These are NOT GR's picks for the best game of each year - but the games that represented each year! Whether that be through the media, through critics' reviews, through the public response. In 2005, was there ANY game that was talked about/vilified more than San Andreas? 2004's EA-Madden exclusivity deal was HUGE and killed the NFL2K series, Blitz, and destroyed any and all future NFL games not called Madden. LOTS of great games didn't make the list (I see nobody mentioning the original Sonic the Hedgehog as Sega challenged Nintendo's control), but this list does a good job letting people know just WHAT was up during the last 30 years of gaming, especially people who know nothing of gaming!! That said, no Dreamcast game making the list makes me frowny face. I would personally rank Sonic Adventure above Everquest (1999) as that was THE Dreamcast game to make a real impact, and introduce the next generation of 128-bit graphics before the PS2. The Dreamcast itself could have been a gaming landmark.
  • nai1210 - August 14, 2011 12:31 a.m.

    seriously Jaws:Unleashed,you like that game?,and it had no impact or importence in video game history it was a piece of shit being flogged at full price,this list is poor overall some of the games on here don't define it's place in video game history,nor it's year or genre,think i'll re-read the start of the article to see what your point was,but i thought it was games that defined the year which they where release?p.s all donkey kong country games where piss poor at the time,sure they looked nice,but had no charm or gameplay to get excited about no wonder Miyamota dissed it,Rare made good games for the spectrum but I have only ever enjoyed one game from them since that time and that would be Goldeneye and yep I have played a lot of there games since the speccy days and find them overrated and annoying looking at you snake rattle n roll and rc pro am in particullar
  • oldschoolgamer - August 13, 2011 11:59 p.m.

    landmarks of gaming, and no myst, tombraider, age of empires, mechwarrior, diablo, starcraft, castel wolfenstien, gauntlet, Yet pokemon made the list.. Rollseyes, you things went bad after packman..
  • dragonchilde - August 13, 2011 10:06 p.m.

    Everquest landmark? Hardly. Ultima Online predated it by two years, and still goes today. Everquest didn't (doesn't) have the depth.
  • lemur - August 13, 2011 8:42 p.m.

    I think half-life was more of a landmark than pokemon.
  • AleeR - August 13, 2011 4:42 p.m.

    Honestly, I think 2010 is probably still too soon to tell what games really reflect what we were thinking then ( I think a few years of perspective is needed). Going back further, I think a big head scratcher was the omission of Street Fighter II in '91. I realize Battletoads encompassed the TMNT parodies, but SFII revived the arcade culture, and esentially defined the genre that would rule for years. Mortal Kombat's true contribution came in 93, not at the release of the arcade, but the Genesis and SNES ports.
  • RicePuddingUK - August 13, 2011 3:02 p.m.

    You know 2004 was a bad year for games when MADDEN is the best one
  • Gnilres - August 13, 2011 2:27 p.m.

    Where's 2011?
  • avantguardian - August 13, 2011 8:52 a.m.

    @nightcrawler_358: it would seem a basic understanding of the article would be required to feel like commenting would be necessary, yeah? its strange that people would take something with objectivity in mind personally. just because a game isn't on the list doesn't mean it isn't "good" enough;) also, i feel sorry for other blocky turd/penis hybrids. it seems one bad apple has spoiled the proverbial barrel...
  • Roentgen - August 13, 2011 8:32 a.m.

    Where was Alone in the Dark for 1992? It created an entire genre overnight and is one of the most beloved survival horror games of all time.
  • quincytheodore - August 13, 2011 6 a.m.

    Wha...? No MGS 1, RE4, Bioshock? Those gotta be some sort of landmark in gameplay or narrative. And Portal? You know the game you dubbed No.1 on Top 100? Whyyy...

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