Tuesday Top Ten: Video Games Published in 2005

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 published in ‘Oh-Five.

It really wasn’t easy to select just ten—there were a lot of great games this year.  Most were innovative in some fashion or another, and many were daring to do things no one thought could ever work—yet work they did, and work very well indeed.  It made gamers think of the ‘Nineties, when innovation was about all there was, and was quite a refreshing throw-back to such times.

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 before clicking with wild, passionate abandon.

With that said, let’s go!

10. Battlefield 2
Even though it was only six years ago, multi-player, team- and combat-oriented games like this were still crawling out of the sea of small maps and basic on-foot firefights.  The Battlefield series was helping to change that, and nowhere was this more apparent than Battlefield 2, the third game in the series.

There was no single-player campaign, as it was entirely focused on team-based combat.  Set in the near-future, players took modern-ish weaponry to the field, on foot and in vehicles themselves on land, in the water, and in the air.  One of the best parts of the game was that it was somewhat unpredictable—even if you had all the same players, it was never really the same game twice.  There were so many awesome moments, so many downright insane moments, that it felt new and different every time.

Unfortunately, one of the things that made it a different experience was that it did have a few bugs—such as firing a rocked into the dirt six inches from your enemy with nothing seeming to happen.  There were a few others, but thankfully they were comparably few.  One of the good points in this game, though, was its bots.  They weren’t perfect—they certainly weren’t a substitute for most players—but they were surprisingly good.  The “surprise” is in relation to the bots in the preceding games—they were, frankly, stupid.  Here, though, they’d actually coordinate their efforts, calling in support, attacking more strategically, and so on.

It was, in many ways, a revolutionary game, especially integrating voice-chat with different channels for different roles.  It was a far, far better game than it would seem to be today, as few people actually still talk about it.

Game play footage is right over here.

09. Burnout Revenge
The Burnout series started off initially as another racing series fighting to be noticed amongst the growing herd.  Then, as time passed, it carved its own niche in the racing world by adding that incredibly, insanely fun element of intentionally smacking into pedestrian vehicles and other racers.  When Burnout Revenge came on the scene, it had taken everything its predecessors had done and tweaked them here, twisted them there, to present the best darn experience it could.

One of the biggest appeals is smacking into pedestrian vehicles, known as “traffic checking” in Revenge, and it comes with it a tactical element.  You can smack into pretty much any pedestrian vehicle, but what happens depends on whether they’re traveling in the same direction as the player, whether they were parked to the side, and so on.  Further, smacking a vehicle here sends them to the other side of the road, while smacking them there sends them up and over, behind the player.

Speaking of the roads, the tracks have been redesigned a bit.  They became filled with alternate routes, some of which are shortcuts, others are “just” ramps—which allow you to take down opponents from the air.  The tracks did get a bit repetitive, but that was kept in check by—pretty much everything else.  The title wasn’t quite the revolution its direct predecessor, Burnout 3, was, but it wasn’t trying to be.  It took everything that Burnout 3 did right and did it better.

Game play footage can be found here.

08. F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon
When developing a first-person shooter, it’s all too easy to just slap a gun in the protagonist’s hands, throw some random enemies around, and tell the player to go nuts.  Maybe, if someone on the development team is feeling particularly creative and proactive, there might be some humorous quips, and/or a loose attempt at a story—really just enough to provide a vague reason to be blasting everything in sight.  Now and then, though, you get an F.P.S. that tries to be something more than just an shoot-it-’til-it-stops-twitching experience.  Every now and then, you get something like F.E.A.R.: First Encounter Assault Recon.

Combat—the obvious focus of any first-person shooter—was a dream.  It limited you to three firearms, so no more carrying-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink.  You had to think a bit more long-term.  There was even decent melee combat—good moves like a vicious drop-kick or the like.  The melee aspect was implemented pretty smoothly, letting you buy yourself a moment to reload, say, or move into a position to better lob grenades.  There was also an interesting Bullet Time-esque element, but it was implemented rather well also.  It never lasted very long at a time, but recharged at a decent rate.

Above and beyond was the immersion the game strove for.  Dark visuals, haunting, even creepy audio—everything set the stage, and the stage was going right to hell.  The game did everything it could to subtly reinforce that notion—it refuses to ever let you really know what you’re going to find around the next corner.

One of the biggest contributers to it being a great game, though, was the artificial intelligence scripting for the enemies.  In far too many F.P.S.es, the enemies are exceedingly, well, stupid.  Not so, here.  The enemies have a great sense of tactics—not only will they intelligently take advantage of cover, but they’ll pin the player down and lob a grenade at his heinie.  They communicate with each other, coordinating efforts and reacting intelligently to anything you do.  It made the game much more immersive, much more interesting.

Over all, it was more than “just” an F.P.S.  It was creepy, and it was fun.

A blind Let’s Play can be found right about here.

07. Killer7
At first glance, Killer7 can seem over-“edgy”, with the story seeming more confusing at first than anything else.  Once you dig a bit deeper, though, you find something interesting, even compelling.  It truly tried to make the player think, with its heavy reliance on symbolism and even commentary on modern ideologies seen through the lens of a “near-future” era of tension between the United States and Japan.

This wasn’t a game to just kill a few hours with, oh no.  Killer7 used odd-ball humor and heaps of metaphors to tell its story, and that story was—well, it revolved around a man in a wheelchair who could transform into any of seven different personalities.  Sort of.  It—was something else.  The inability to be really sure just what the heck was going on is actually one of the main attractions to the game.  It never just handed you a story in plain and simple terms.  You had to figure it out pretty much as you went along.

Other elements were more simplistic, but with a purpose—the puzzles were pretty basic, but the “point” to them was to add layers to the odd metaphorical onion that the game was trying to form in the players’ minds, and the game was definitely on rails—you usually only had one or two ways to go.  That, however, helped add a feel of purposefulness, of going to a certain destination—even if the player had no idea what that destination was.

It was—odd.  It was one that isn’t truly able to be described succinctly.  It actually brings to mind a game like Katamari Damacy in that it can’t really be described—it has to be experienced.  The player that does experience it, though, the one to that goes to it with an open mind willing to be drawn into the strange world that presents itself, that player will find a fantastic game.

An informational yet humorous Let’s Play can be found here.

06. Psychonauts
It’s not enough to say that Psychonauts is a three-dimensional platformer.  It’s actually a bit more than that, thanks to a few interesting elements, rather memorable characters, and an interesting story.  Set in a summer camp for psychic kids, the game started out with the character of Razputin—Raz for short—sneaking into the aforementioned camp, because he ran away from his home in the circus to become a psychonaut.  It’s difficult to really summarize, which is in large part thanks to the also aforementioned memorable characters.

Raz himself was an interesting “hero”—he was funny, a bit awkward, but enthusiastic.  After him, there was a large number of supporting characters, such as Coach Oleander, a counselor who seemed to be more at home as a military drill sergeant, and Ford Cruller, a strange older man who seemed to be in numerous places at once.

The conversations the player could be a part of or just overhear were varied and interesting on their own, but on top of those you had the other characters internal monologues that could be “listened” in on—remember, we are talking about a bunch of psychics.  With that in mind, the player could enter other people’s minds, which is where the game really broke out.  Each mind was a different “level”, and each was unique.  The mind of Coach Oleander, for just one example, was reminiscent of a war-ravaged jungle as created by Salvador Dali.

The game wasn’t really hard, but it wasn’t trying to be a truly difficult platformer, either.  It used the platforming element to take the player in directions they hadn’t really explored in gaming before, and it did so beautifully.  As you play, you gain new powers for Raz to use, which end up making the combat and puzzle-solving really interesting and refreshing.

There were a few less-than-great points, like audio “hitches” in the computer version, but such are few, hardly game-breaking, and more than forgivable considering not only did it take years, but was handed off to a different developer.  Over all, it was a fun and intriguing game any player should be proud to have in their collection.

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

05. The Warriors
Games based on older movies are risky endeavors, especially when the movie in question is one that isn’t exactly in most modern gamers’ top ten lists of great films.  It was, then, with some surprise that developer Rockstar Toronto took the film The Warriors and turned it into a video game of the same name.

The game is a prequel, of sorts, leading into the movie by the end.  It followed the rise of the Warriors, one of many gangs in New York City in the ‘Seventies.  No matter what can be said about the film, it didn’t exactly spend a lot of time on the gang’s back-story—but that’s where the game comes in.  The script for the game was surprisingly well-written, almost making the player actually care about the characters by the end.

Now, being gang members, the different Warriors fight, rob, and vandalize as a matter of course.  Each Warrior handled more or less the same, but that wasn’t really a detraction.  The combat was varied, including things like tearing up the scenery and doing things to a downed opponent that I’m pretty sure are major felonies nowadays.

It was an action game, but it wasn’t content to be just another yawn-inducing beat-up-everything-in-sight.  It had a rather obsessive attention to detail, doing its best to tie into the movie yet also be something fresh and interesting for people who didn’t know the movie existed (which was, to be fair, a lot of gamers).  It succeeded where few other movie tie-in games did, as it stood proudly next to the movie that inspired it yet was a fantastic game in its own right.

An informational Let’s Play can be found right here.

04. Resident Evil 4
By the time Resident Evil 4 came around, the series was just starting to grow a bit stagnant in many critics’ eyes—and Capcom was quick to change that perception.  Now, this reported “change in direction” was met with some skepticism—gamers have heard that phrase before, and it usually meant a drastic change in direction.  Here, though, Capcom knew what it was doing.  It kept the elements that made the series so popular in the first place, but tweaked things here and there to offer a new experience.

The game played closer to a third-person shooter in execution, with the fixed camera position seen in previous titles changed to more of an over-the-shoulder point of view.  This gave a bit more freedom—but also added tension.  You never knew if some shambling horror was creeping around the corner behind you—I’ve seen a few players end up whipping the camera around almost frantically as they neared the end.

The story was somewhat interesting—it picked up after Resident Evil 2, with that protagonist being called in and hopefully be a bad enough dude to rescue the daughter of the President of the United States.  The story was told through cut scenes that could be described as, eh—hammy, really.  They weren’t bad, not by any stretch, but the game wasn’t trying to win any awards for drama.

The game sets itself up, especially to players new to the series, as a typical shooter—but soon shoves that notion aside.  The character can wield a weapon that feels “heavy” enough to the player to take down nearly anything—but when a head-shot on an enemy seems to do naught but irritate it, the player realizes they have to come at the problem a little differently, and look for less conventional ways to proceed.

There were some light puzzle elements, but they weren’t the focus of the game.  It was a horror-survival game blended with horror-action, and blended pretty darn well.  It received tons of accolades when it debuted, and it deserved every single one.

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

03. Phantom Dust
It’s somewhat hard to really set up Phantom Dust.  On the one hand, it was in many ways a third-person shooter—but on the other hand, it had a lot of deck-building and such-like that you’d find in a Magic: The Gathering sort of collectible card game.

Instead of the expected weapons, the protagonist is armed with “skills”, mapped to the face buttons.  You begin a round of a duel that is randomly selected from your “arsenal”, which is really just the game’s term for your deck.

While there were a lot of terms that are really just its own way of doing things common to collectible card games, what made Phantom Dust really stand out was how well it all was implemented into more of an action-oriented game.  The strategy of building the deck was mixed with tactics and timing that you just couldn’t and can’t get from something like Magic: The Gathering.  Add all of that to combat taking place in surprisingly-destructible areas—where you could take cover behind, say, a wall, only to have it explode and leave you open for an attack—and you have a really innovative and interesting game.

There was, to be fair, a somewhat needless attempt to add a story to it all—though the needlessness in it was how deep it tried to be, and thus made the player race around here and there and back again when not in a duel.  Still, as boring as that could be, it was much more than made up for with the way the two seemingly incongruous set of game elements were blended together.  It was a great introduction to collectible card games for the action gamer, and a great introduction to action gaming for the collectible card gamer.

Game play footage can be found here.

02. Guitar Hero
These days, the “rhythm” genre is trite, old-hat.  It can even be called boring.  When Guitar hero came out, though, it was anything but.  Heck, most players didn’t even know of the rhythm genre beyond, at best, Dance Dance Revolution, and even then it was more on the periphery of most gamers’ consciousnesses, aside from the subject of a humorous joke or e-mail that “made the rounds”.

Guitar Hero made the genre insanely popular, and far darn good reason.  With its special guitar-esque controller, it really made the player feel like they were rocking out.  It wasn’t like the song- or dance-based rhythm games before it, that relied on the players either having actual skill or could match the pitch and tone the game was asking for—a player could have absolutely no musical talent in the slightest and still get the crowd cheering madly.

That’s no small feat, really, that sense of immersion.  No, the game would never “teach” someone how to play the guitar for real—but it wasn’t trying, to, either, any more than Halo was trying to teach a player to shoot a rifle for real or Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! was trying to train the player to be a boxer.

It was simply a treat to play—and to watch.  That’s one thing that really differentiated it from its brethren.  Most other rhythm games were focused on getting the information to the player—there wasn’t much else to look at, and what there was didn’t look all that great.  Guitar Hero thumbed its nose at that particular convention—while the player wouldn’t really be expected to notice anything by the notes sliding toward them on the screen, onlookers were treated to the different environments looking interesting, even unique, as the crowd cheered and jumped about, as the rockers on stage played and sang.  It gave a feel of a real concert.

It deserved the fame it got, and though we can look at the state of the genre now with a brow arched in boredom, at the time it was refreshing and incredibly interesting.

A Let’s Play can be found here.

01. Indigo Prophecy
At their core, most games strive to tell some kind of story.  It’s been quite a while since a game has really been nothing more than mindless item-collection/enemy-smashing/whatever else.  As our hobby moves ever further into the far reaches of storytelling, how that story is told, how it’s presented, is becoming just as important as what that story is, and the “how” is a much more complex issue than framing characters for a cut scene.  Indigo Prophecy took the idea of a murder-mystery and turned it on its head.  You start off controlling the killer—and soon also start controlling the detectives trying to find him.

The game starts with the murder of a man in a diner bathroom.  You take control of the killer, and hide the body, clean up, all that, and escape before the police officer sitting at the counter heads into the bathroom and discovers the body.  If you succeed, you take control of the detectives called in to work the crime scene.

One of the many interesting things about this is that the player discovers things as the characters he or she controls do.  As the killer, you head out of the bathroom, pay your bill, and depart, and the only real information the player has at that point is that the character suffers from some sort of delusion, seen as odd images “spliced” into the “real world” as the killer, well, kills.  When the player takes control of the detectives, they find a book the killer left behind, and ponder the fact that the killer had both a glass of soda and a cup of coffee, even though he was ostensibly without company at his table.

Every decision the player makes impacts the over all story.  For just one example, if, as the killer, the player tries to leave without paying the bill, the waitress “reminds” him of it—and later tells the detective about it.  Some changes seem merely cursory, influencing only a bit of dialogue—but there were many substantial changes as well.  One of the game’s strengths is that it never made it obvious which was which—everything felt organic, like it was a movie by an attentive director.

Other games try to get players to think by presenting an odd yet interesting story.  Indigo Prophecy asked players to think by presenting a seemingly trite story in a new and very compelling way.  Games of its ilk haven’t, sadly, really been seen since, though it could—perhaps should—have started a new trend in video game storytelling.

A blind and enthusiastic Let’s Play can be seen right over here.


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