Your flavoursome digital diet!
Just think, it’s been over a quarter of a century since the era of Space Invaders and its joyously retro arcade contemporaries. Although it can be enjoyable to indulge our nostalgic desires for such long-lost gaming classics, it is infinitely more thrilling to see what gaming delights are being proffered to us by the diligent code monkeys of today, who are labouring away to enrich our already engorged gaming lives even further.
The problem is that few of us have enough time to play through the cornucopia of appetising offerings that we are inundated with in an unremitting deluge. The trick is to identify the wheat from the weeds; to harvest only the finest gaming gems from the veritable ocean of glittering goodness.
This guide will help you to find the elite few that transcend the rest, the rare masterpieces that boast not only stunning graphics, but also sublime gameplay and overall high quality production values. The kind of game that makes rival game developers weep forlornly into their keyboards.
Here are the titles that you need to own no matter what. Do whatever you have to, hold your neighbour’s cat to ransom, sell your parents into slavery, or just pawn your grandmother’s false teeth. Whatever it takes, find the cash and get these games. You won’t be disappointed!
Half Life 2
Half Life 2 is the zenith of gaming bliss, condensing the last decade of FPS gaming evolution into a mixture so divine that you cannot help but boggle at its brilliance. Take up the crowbar of Gordon Freeman once again as you battle to save mankind from a terrifying alien threat. All the traditional gaming elements have been surpassed, and combined with heaps of new features and an astonishingly freeform world that responds to almost limitless playing styles.
The storyline is nothing short of superb, an emotional tale that grips you tensely from beginning to end. But that’s not all. The game also comes with a vastly updated version of the world’s most popular online game – Counterstrike. This includes remakes of famous maps as well as plenty of fresh content. Half Life 2 is an unmissable title. Put it at the very top of your shopping list
Rome: Total War
Ancient battles were so much more interesting than the swift, decisive firefights of today. Rome: TW takes you back to the time of the staggering Roman expansion, where military campaigns were the order of the day. You take control of a Roman faction and basically do whatever you want. You can acquiesce to the demands of the Senate and wage their wars for them, or you could just attack Rome itself and grasp total power for yourself. There are countless options open to you.
The meat of the game is in the battle scenarios where you pitch your select ranks of trained soldiers against the enemy army. Mayhem and carnage of gargantuan proportions ensues. The vast array of options allow armchair generals to use their own tactical prowess and cunning to defeat the rival general. Castle sieges in particular are stirring, and add a whole new strategic element to the game. Put simply, Rome: TW is the title of choice for all strategy aficionados.
Football Manager 2005
Due to some unfortunate legal wrangling, the Championship Manager series has had to change its name to Football Manager. What makes things slightly confusing is that the old name has been claimed by another company who want to cash in on the previous games’ success. But never mind, Football Manager is still the same frighteningly addictive game you have always played, but now with plenty of nips and tucks to make things even better.
The premise is as simple as ever, to take control of any professional football club and through careful management and tactical expertise make them the best team in the world. New additions include the ability to play mind games with opposing managers and use media manipulation to affect morale. Plus of course all the updated stats to make the game tally with real life football. Time to put the girlfriend into hibernation and kiss goodbye to your social existence; FM 2005 will suck your life away mercilessly.
GTA: San Andreas
Your name is Carl Johnson. You live in San Andreas. You can do anything you want. The scope of this game is unparalleled in its ambitious enormity, as it throws the rulebooks out the window and instead hands you the most freeform world seen to date. Go wherever you want, race tractors, steal cars, eat, play videogames, play pool, play basketball, run businesses, kit out your vehicles with cool mods, or just run around like a raving lunatic and blow stuff up.
All this is done within a huge and incredibly realistic gaming environment that includes both rural and metropolitan terrain, and is replete with oodles of cars vans, lorries, bikes, trains, aircraft and boats for your motoring delectation. There is a central storyline that can be followed, or you can just freewheel around on your own. This is the single most exciting PS2 release of 2004. Your life will never be the same again.
Bigger, better, bolder, brillianter! (One of those may not be a real word…) That seems to be the motto behind this latest adventure of intrepid heroes Jak and Daxter. Battle the infamous metalheads yet again in a host of brand new environments designed to test the duo to the max. A grand and stirring story links together a game that brings a whole new meaning to the word ‘variety’.
There are mountains of different challenges and mini-games that have you performing stunts of unrivalled insanity right the way through the game. The action never stops, and more importantly, never palls. The whole game is a blistering frenzy of spectacular action and fresh gaming ideas that sear an irresistible magnetism into your consciousness.
Need For Speed: Underground 2
The Fast And The Furious and its high-octane sequel publicised the thrilling underground sport of high-speed street racing. The awe and respect it garnered from all demanded a translation into videogame, and NFS:U2 squarely plugs that gap. You are a street racer who must build your reputation as well as your cash by proving your racing prowess.
Freely roam a large city and enter into any number of races and challenges of varying gameplay styles that demand nerve and initiative to successfully master. What singles this out from other street racing wannabes is the visual spectacularity that recreates so perfectly the underground feel of the sport. Not least the fact that you can stick glowing neons under your car. Wahoo!
Halo was touted as the game that sold the Xbox. A superb launching title that ensured multitudes of devoted fans from the very beginning. Halo 2 takes everything that made Halo so popular, throws it into a big blender, trebles the ingredients and then bakes to perfection. The result is the best FPS on the Xbox by quite a margin.
Graphics are of a quality to make the eyes water, the tasty selection of drivable vehicles weakens the knees, and the overall gameplay quality is to blame for many a skipped heartbeat. As well as the inspired single-player experience, there are also multiplayer modes, both splitscreen and online, that ensure this game will never be gathering dust.
Burnout 3: Takedown
Normally, cold, quivering hands, sweat-beaded brows, and taut, pallid complexions would be attributed to illnesses of some sort. Not necessarily. Burnout 3 can produce identical symptoms in anyone who pushes this game to its limits. Fast-paced driving, and spectacular action are the remit of this classy title.
Very rarely does adrenaline pump like when speeding through the virtual environs of this game. Tragic disaster is never more than a hair’s breadth or the slip of a finger away, and such suspense keeps the action flowing beautifully. Entertaining game modes and a tangible sense of speed and danger make Burnout 3 a game that will appeal to pretty much anyone, not just the racing community.
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow
Sam Fisher eh? It just goes to show that anyone can be an elite super-agent, not just those with fancy names like El Macho, Count von Necrophyll, or Zaphod Beeblebrox. But Sam is no ordinary gent, as a foray into this ridiculously good game will make quite clear. He is one of the men who never exist. A man who operates alone, always hidden, never seen; a highly dangerous extension to the shadows.
This latest iteration of the fantastic Splinter Cell series is not revolutionary. Not even close. But rather, it takes every element that makes a great game and polishes them all to an absurd degree, emerging as one of the most eminently playable games of our time. Whether playing through the gripping storyline or just battling online, Splinter Cell is unceasingly gratifying. Just don’t take it too literally and start secreting yourself in cupboards in real life.
So there you have it, the best of the best. An eclectic ensemble of gaming nirvana from the greatest gaming platforms. That lot will keep your fingers raw for the next year easily, and we can look forward to even more gaming goodness in coming months. The age-old axiom states that we should work first and play later. To steal a famous advertising quote this can be interpreted in more positive way as: ‘Work hard, play harder!’ Gaming is getting exciting. Get with it!
This article was written for and published in Hi! magazine in 2005.