The 10 best PS2 games of 2000-2001

The leap from Gran Turismo 1 to 2 was a big deal, with way more cars (650 vs 178), more tracks (27 vs. 11) and more tuning options. So why was Gran Turismo 3 such a big deal despite having fewer cars and less tuning options than GT2? Simply put, because it was gorgeous. The game arrived nine months after the PlayStation 2’s October 2000 launch, and immediately solidified itself as the most graphically impressive game on the market, putting GameCube, Xbox and even most PC games of the time to shame.

GT2’s license tests, Rally races and Simulation mode were all intact in the sequel, and the game’s “as real as it gets” simulation reputation was only strengthened by the huge leap forward in graphics. GT3’s beautiful intro video set the tone perfectly, as the camera quietly hovered in the engine, waiting for the gas to be injected, and then suddenly exploding to life; here was a game clearly made by people who loved cars as much as their fans did. While the first two games popularized the idea of a realistic racing sim, GT3 was the one that turned it into pure car porn that anyone could enjoy.

At this point, it’s hard to remember what it was like to feel excited about a new Tony Hawk game. There have been so many annual sequels and weak-ass spin-offs that even the biggest skate fans have stopped caring. But 10 years ago, the series was bursting with creative ideas, and THPS3 was the high point that, in our eyes, no future Hawk title would ever match. One and two were already outstanding, top-selling games we’d played for countless hours, and three added more moves, more skaters (Darth Maul!), more elaborate environments and another stellar assemblage of alt-rock and hip-hop tunes. Somehow, an insanely amazing franchise found a way to be even better.

The most important addition was the revert/manual, which let you continue combo strings even after you landed from a spin or grind. By landing and maintaining a manual, then switching into a revert, you could amass scores and combos that were impossible to perform in the first two games. THPS3 was also the first time the franchise came to the PS2, after the PS1 made it a household name. To this day, it shares the top-ranked PS2 slotwith GTA III and remains the highest-scoring Hawk game of them all. After three, the series began a downward slide that it never recovered from, most recently culminating in the universally reviled Tony Hawk Ride. But when the PS2 was fresh out of the gate, Hawk still meant a lot, and being treated to the dizzying, ingenious and (surprisingly) online world of THPS3 within the first year was one of the brightest birthing moments the system had to offer.

Of all the games that hit during the 14 months following the PS2’s stateside release, none were as influential, as popular or as boundlessly enjoyable as GTA III. While its free-roaming gameplay wasn’t fundamentally too different from previous, two-dimensional GTAs – run around pulling underworld missions in a freely explorable city, then flip out and murder everything you see – the jump to 3D was a huge step forward, both for the series and for gaming in general.

For the first time on a console, here was a game that gave you a big, open city full of cars and people and seemingly limitless ways to wreak havoc. You could be as destructive, as fast or as stupid as you wanted, as much as you wanted, whenever you wanted. And at the time, that was a pretty novel concept. It also didn’t hurt that, once you’d gotten the crazy out of your system, there was a surprisingly gritty, mature (for 2001, anyway) plotline to follow that made Liberty City feel like a very real, fascinating place.

The influence of GTA has since been pretty wide-reaching and obvious, with a wave of GTA clones giving way to more interesting and varied takes on the free-roaming/sandbox formula. But it wouldn’t have had that influence if it hadn’t been an incredible game to begin with – one that showed us early on that the next few years were going to take our games places we’d never imagined they could go.

To see where they went next, be sure to check out tomorrow’s installment,the 10 best PS2 games of 2002.

Oct 18, 2010

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