Tuesday Top Ten: Video Games Published in 2002

It’s that time again, friends—time for another Tuesday Top Ten!  Every week, we go through the top ten something-or-anothers related to our hobby, and this week is no different.  This time around, we’re counting down the top ten games of Two Thousand and Two.

As the ‘Nineties closed and a new decade—not to mention century and millennium—opened, games started changing.  As the hardware to run them grew more powerful, thoughts of what a game could “do” expanded as well.  The first few years of the new millennium found some old games getting face-lifts, and some new titles coming out to take advantage of the hardware as well as the changing gamer desires.

Now for the usual disclaimer: Where possible, I’ve included links to Let’s Plays, play-throughs, game-play videos, and so on.  Some, many, most, or all might well be utterly infused with profanity and vulgarity.  Keep that in mind as that clicking-finger itches.

With that out of the way, let’s go!

10. Star Trek: Bridge Commander
Though there are plenty of games set in the Star Trek universe, until Bridge Commander none really captured the feel of ship-to-ship battles.  Then the team at Totally Games got their hands on the franchise, bringing with them over a decade of experience in space simulators, and the result was a mighty fine game.

Combat was nicely woven into the game, as it was much more than just lining up your weapons and letting loose or the ever-popular “run and gun”.  It was a much more tactical affair, with the ships moving sluggishly, more like, well, ships, and not nimble fighter jets.

It was also, sadly, rather brief, though with the linearity of the campaign it actually wasn’t a huge strike against the game.  The multi-player had only the few basic options—death-match, defend-the-base, and so on.  Still, it did what no game before, and scarce few since, had been able to do—translate the feel of epic Star Trek battles into an interesting experience that the player controlled.

Game play footage can be seen right here.

09. Armored Core 3
The Armored Core franchise is an interesting one, blending third-person mech-shooter elements with what amounts to a robot dress-up, with each aspect becoming more complex over the years.

The third in the “main” series, Armored Core 3 did what the series had been doing so well already, and brought a few new ideas to the table.  For one thing, you now had “consorts”, allies you could take on missions with you, though you’d have to split the money you earned from the mission with them.    Further, weapons you had mounted on the mech’s body could be detached and discarded when empty, thus lessening the total weight and allowing the mech to move faster.

It didn’t stray far from what made the series fun, but didn’t bring absolutely nothing new to gamers, either.  It, like most other Armored Core titles, brought out new ideas that had been carefully crafted to fit the style of the series, the genre, and the fan-base.

08. Mega Man Zero
For gamers who hadn’t played a Mega Man title since they were using low numbers, Mega Man Zero would have come as quite a shock.  Set in the future of the Mega Man X storyline, it features a storyline of bloody brutality as a backdrop for Reploids—robots, essentially—trying to survive a war and trying to figure out their place in the world.  One Reploid even talked about falling in love with a human, which of course came with a few—difficulties.

As for the game play itself, it was just as much a platformer as its predecessors, featuring interesting levels that were designed almost as an affront to the limitations the Game Boy Advance could have been described as having, for it being a hand-held system.  It also featured a few new weapons—but what really made it stand out was that you could “level up” your weapons, based on how much you used them.  For example, the Mega Buster starts out somewhat weak, but soon it can fire more shots at a time, plus allow the player to “charge” a shot.

Being a Mega Man game, it was, as expected, hard as heck, and that combined with being a somewhat straightforward platformer/shooter, it wasn’t really for everyone—but it was a great addition to the Mega Man franchise.

A humorous and informational Let’s Play can be found here.

07. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Stealth games are an interesting genre of our hobby.  They require a different mentality than most others; where platformers and first-person shooters and even one-on-one fighting games can require a similar fast-paced, press-buttons-quickly mentality, stealth games usually eschew such quick-thinking for patience and timing.

One of the games that helped make the genre popular was Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, based on the works of popular semi-futuristic, military-ish author Tom Clancy.  It was perhaps more fair to call it a mostly stealth game with heavy action elements mixed in for good measure, but it didn’t suffer for that.

Interestingly, the PlayStation 2 version was more than just a straight port of the X-Box version.  It did away with the in-game engine cut-scenes in favor of pre-rendered ones, and a redone introduction set the story up a bit better.  It also had a new level all its own, but the trade off for all that was that some missions were shortened and/or made easier through taking out guards and/or adding more health packs.  Still, no matter which version of the game was purchased, it was a very good game, backing solid game play with an interesting story.

A Let’s Play can be found here.

06. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
No matter what one may think of the franchise now, for a time, the skateboarding franchise featuring Tony Hawk were solid gold.  Publishing the Pro Skater series, particular, was basically like printing money for Activision and Neversoft Entertainment.  Part of the apex of that popularity was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4.

It was an interesting exercise in both being a departure from the series as well as retaining the elements that made the series so popular in the first place.  Gone, for instance, was the two-minute time limit that you had to frantically try and achieve every goal in.  Instead, you were given objectives by people randomly strewn around each level.  You skated up to them and they gave you a task as well as a time limit—but most of the tasks were familiar to fans of the series anyway.

The levels were bigger, the humor even more tongue-in-cheek than before (though without being quite so—blunt—as later titles), and it was another title that helped make the sub-genre Tony Hawk had started as popular as it was.

A completionist, “hundred percent” Let’s Play can be found here.

05. SoulCalibur II
First mentioned on this site a few months ago in a top ten guest submission, SoulCalibur II wasn’t exactly a huge step away from its predecessor, but then it didn’t need to be.  The first one hit the ground running with an interesting concept—one-on-one fighting with actual weapons—and impressive visuals, and a variety of moves.  Trying to do anything too differently this time around likely wouldn’t have gone over well.

To that end, fans coming back to this game wouldn’t have really found anything that was new, save for a character or two and the backgrounds, but that really wasn’t so bad.  If anything, this is one of the few franchises where that was a point in its favor.  It kept everything that gamers had enjoyed so much in the first title.

A  play-through with each character can be found here.

04. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
The original was something different than other stealth-based games, even if it came with a few control-related problems, and could be gruelingly difficult in spots.  That difference made gamers flock to it, and as such made Hitman 2: Silent Assassin a highly anticipated title.  It saw the eponymous assassin after he’d apparently retired; the game opens with Agent 47 working as a gardener in a Sicilian church—until the minister is kidnapped.  The protagonist has to put retirement from his mind as he uncovers what happened and why.

As expected, there were all sorts of weapons to choose from with which to accomplish missions, and there was the unspoken choice to most missions—go in guns blazing, perhaps cackling a murderous laugh as you turn everyone into chunky salsa, or try for a more sneaky approach.  This time around, it was a little easier to actually make that choice, at least on the lower difficulty levels.

Ultimately, it was the fact that the difficulty curve was thankfully more shallow that helped—along with everything else—make the game as good as it was.  It also looked pretty decent, and sounded great.  It, like Splinter Cell, helped cement the stealth genre as a viable and fun one.

A humorous Let’s Play can be found here.

03. The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind took some elements of role-playing games familiar to gamers and wove them in new ways, using an original setting as the backdrop.  One of the elements that was an old idea implemented in a new way was the experience system.  In many R.P.G.s, anything you do adds experience.  You hit a rock enough times, you’ll gain dozens of levels.  Here, though, the system was revamped to make a bit more sense.

You gained experience based on performing acts as befitting your class.  For example, if you were a spell-caster, you gained experience casting spells; if you were a warrior, you gained experience in combat.  So on and so on down the line.  Some skills were easier to improve than others, but being able to simply purchase training helped ease that somewhat.

It was a large game, and though one could pick a few nits with certain elements—like your evil deeds being known by all the minute you commit them, no matter if you commit them in secrecy—the player was all but guaranteed to be able to find a lot of fun in the positively huge world, teeming as it was with possibility.

An information Let’s Play (of a modded version of the game) can be found here

02. Burnout 2: Point of Impact
Racing games are, really, a dime a dozen.  Most of the time, the only thing that differentiates them are the cars available and the locations.  Someone realized how same-y all this was, and put up the money to create Burnout 2: Point of Impact.  In the first, the crashes were spectacular; so much so that, for the X-Box version, you were allowed to save them to your hard drive.  However, they also rather got in the way as you tried to zip around.

In the sequel, there’s an entire play mode devoted to crashing.  The more spectacular the crash, the higher the dollar value assigned to it, the better.  Bonus points if you can figure out how to get a dozen other vehicles to crash as well.  The other mode was a championship mode, in which the player struggled to get first place to unlock everything—but while that was fun, of course, the real attraction was Crash mode.  It was just so different, so fun, and highlighted everything the series did well.

An informational-ish Let’s Play can be found here.

01. Command & Conquer: Renegade
When the first Command & Conquer debuted seven years previous, it was hailed as a fantastic real-time strategy game, thanks to a great setting and game play.  The story was interesting, as what amounted to a futuristic United Nations went to war with a terrorist group, over a mineral called tiberium.  The game was solid, and simply fun—so when time came for a sequel, and it turned out to be a first-person shooter, fans were understandably cautious.

However, Command & Conquer: Renegade was very much a worthy addition to the franchise.  The player controlled the protagonist through a dozen sequential missions, though one interesting part was the definite attempt to make the player feel like they were taking part in an over all campaign; helicopters, tanks, and more can be seen now and then fighting the enemy, which kept it from feeling like most other first-person shooters out there, where it’s the protagonist versus pretty much everything.

Aside from the single-player campaign, there was the expected multi-player campaign, and it was implemented very well.  Once again, it was the futuristic U.N. against the terrorists, and each side played very differently, adding to the enjoyment of the game by allowing a wider range of play styles.  Over all, it was—well, fun.  It had a few problems, sure, but most were easily ignored in favor of what the game did so well—which was a lot.

A Let’s Play can be found here.


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