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Nearly 10 years and a handful of sequels later, Silent Hill 2 is still easily the best in the Silent Hill series. It has nearly everything you could ask for in psychological horror game – an unrelentingly suspenseful atmosphere, disturbingly grotesque enemies and imagery, and a mature and nuanced story that surpasses 98 percent of Hollywood's horror/suspense movies. It manages to deliver all the scares of the horror genre while still maintaining intelligent and often subtle themes about love, personal guilt and misogyny. Not many, if any, games have touched on so many taboo topics as Silent Hill 2, from child abuse to mental illness to rape, while still somehow never seeming in poor taste.
Silent Hill 2 also introduced us to the iconic Pyramid Head, who's like Michael Myers times ten with a huge medieval torture device permanently welded to his head. Pyramid Head is actually a manifestation of protagonist James Sunderland's subconscious, but that only makes it that much creepier that a seemingly normal guy on the surface could create something so horrific. And much like James is trapped in his own nightmare psyche, Silent Hill 2 sticks with you even after you're done playing – radio static never quite sounds the same again.
Although Final Fantasy X released in 2001 at the end of a rapid-fire succession of Final Fantasy games, with FFVIII in 1999 and FFIX in 2000, FFX stands out not only because it was the first Final Fantasy on PS2 (and its graphics still hold up to scrutiny today), but because it continued the FF tradition of blending equal parts reinvention and tradition in a way that nearly all fans of the series adored.
Although it had its share of minor missteps which seem almost endearing today (Wakka and Tidus are nobody's favorites, not to mention Blitzball), its seamless blend of new and old still felt magical. Our beloved Active Time Battle system was transformed into the Conditional Turn-Based Battle system, ditching the real-time aspect in favor of completely strategic turn-based combat that was still no less intense than its predecessors. Add to that Tidus and Yuna's heartbreaking romance and a shocking (if somewhat convoluted) twist near the end, and FFX was truly worthy of bringing the series into a new generation.
Devil May Cry began life as Resident Evil 4, until publisher Capcom deemed it far too different from much of what defined the RE series, and survival horror in general. So instead, it was rechristened Devil May Cry, and went on to redefine what 3D action games were for the new generation. It introduced players to gothic badass Dante, who never met a demon he didn’t want to murder. The gunslinging slayer took on monsters small and colossal, doing so with some of the quickest and biggest combos ever seen.
Featuring twitchy, fast-paced combat, DMC embraced an old-school style of action gameplay while at the same time representing a huge leap forward tor what action games could be. With infinite ammo to constantly blast away at enemies and a combat system based around air juggles (which had been added thanks to a bug in another Capcom game), the whole violently frenetic adventure kept players playing till its admittedly uneven ending. It didn’t hurt that it looked amazing, and even if the controls and fixed camera angles make it feel a little archaic now, DMC was one of the freshest things going on back in 2001.
It’s kind of hard to believe that Ico is nine years old as of this year, considering that it’s still one of the most frequently mentioned (and oddly divisive) games whenever people talk about their all-time favorites, or the most “artistic” games of the last decade. The eerie story of a little boy with horns (named Ico) whose own people leave him for dead at a cursed temple, Ico is a weirdly haunting game that can provoke strong emotions from those who play it. There’s fear, of course – it’s hard not to get a little creeped out by the smoky phantoms that periodically crawl out of the shadows to menace you – but Ico was also one of the first games to trigger a protective instinct in its players, as they worked together with a frail girl named Yorda to escape from the sprawling temple.
Ico isn’t on this list just because it’s unusual or “emotional,” though; it was also an immensely fun, rewarding game, as every twist of the temple’s crumbling, alien architecture offered new opportunities to experiment and new ways to puzzle out how, exactly, you could help Yorda - who was nowhere near as agile as Ico – get clear of the current obstacle before smoke-monsters showed up to snatch her away (also, beating up those monsters with Ico’s occasionally fiery club was oddly satisfying). Ico’s a true classic, and the fact that it happened so early in the PS2’s lifespan was a testament to just how awesome the following years would be.
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