My favourite games were made in the nineties. For a long time I thought this was because I did a lot of growing up and had a lot more free time, and less commitments then. In 1990, I turned five. In 2000, I turned fifteen. I went from C64 to Master System to Megadrive to Playstation with a big dose of DOS throughout, and later Windows gaming too.

Gaming turned a corner in the second half of the nineties. We went from 8-bit to 16-bit and beyond. Beautifully rendered sprites (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) gave way to lumpy, clumsy polygons; and a horde of cruft games (with the odd nugget of gold among all the tonnes of worthless dross that the cheapness of Compact Discs brought). It took years for technology to catch-up with representing the designer‘s imaginings. And it also took quite some time for developers to get the hang of camera in 3d space. I remember that magazines at the start of the PlayStation‘s life always remarked on how good (or more often terrible) the camera was.

But I’m by no means against polygons. There is a certain artistry to classic Sega titles like Virtua Fighter that worked very well — because the feel of the game was so real; the mechanics and responsiveness. I could easily argue that Sega Rally is the best racing game ever made. The feel of the car; The responsive controls, and the difficulty to master. Even now, I’ll boot up the Saturn for a quick blast; the steering wheel as satisfyingly tactile as ever. I still play Castlevania: SOTN to this day. I have it on my Xbox 360, and on my PSP. (You have to play through a couple of levels of the vastly inferior Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles to unlock it within an awkward to get to secret area. Why Konami? See herefor Kotaku‘s unlocking instructions.)

So when gaming reached the turn of the century, and the aughties were upon us, 3d was still largely in it‘s infancy. Only a few games managed to be stylistic enough to hold be worth playing now. So many ere just all about the graphics; shoddy polygons and muddy textures, and no decent gameplay beneath the cracking caked-on rogue graphics.

Against this heritage then, what else made up the backdrop of gaming in the aughties? Well, 6th and 7th generation consoles. And alongside them, handheld consoles that kept the spirit of 2d gaming alive, and monstrous, unreliable PCs that constantly needed the latest graphics card and processor to have a hope of playing the latest games. And at £200–300 a pop, that was a real labour of love. And one that I mercifully quit in 2008, when I gave up tinkering with Windows and PC bits to buy a Mac.

UK Popular Console Release Dates
Console  Date (Y/M/D)
PlayStation 3 2007.03.23
Wii 2006.12.08
Xbox 360 2005.12.05
PSP 2005.09.01
Nintendo DS 2005.03.11
GameCube 2002.11.18
Xbox 2002.03.14
Gameboy Advance 2001.06.22
PlayStation 2 2000.11.24
Dreamcast 1999.10.14

I spent a good deal of early aughties gaming emulating old systems on my family‘s 550Mhz[1] Pentium 3 powerhouse. You learn patience squeezing titles down a dial-up connection: praying the connection doesn‘t drop out, or that Windows doesn’t twirl into a blue-screen of death.

Perfect Dark [2000, Nintendo 64]

As the spiritual successor to the infamous and definitive N64 <abbr title=“First-person Shooter”>FPS GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark had a lot of impressing to do. The three years between these games shows. Rare were able to push the hardware, with much of the game necessitating the N64 Expansion Pak (increasing system memory from four to eight megabytes).

As the protaganist Joanna Dark is an original IP of Rare, they had freedom to experiment with this game. The single player is full of good humour, conspiracies and aliens. But where the game really comes alive (as in GoldenEye 007 ) is the multiplayer. Innovative new game modes (for the N64) such as King of the Hill and Hold the Briefcase, combined with highly customisable bots, teams, varied weapons, and interesting arenas made this game so much fun to play together.

An HD-skinned Xbox 360 Perfect Darkwas released for the Xbox 360 market place in 2010, and it is still a joy to play.

Deus Ex [2000, PC]

Deus Ex, with it’s brooding cyberpunk tracker soundtrack and dark visuals made for a groundbreaking title. The game story branched in different directions depending on critical moral decisions, resulting in three distinctive endings, but more importantly, different dialogue and missions throughout; meaning many playthroughs could be enjoyed to experience the whole game.

Much effort was made to create the atmosphere, with even seemingly unimportant Max Payne [2001, PC]

Another stunning game. Even now it still looks good, with photo-realistic textures portraying a gritty, visceral noir vision of New York. The comic style story sequences and interspersed protaganist narration goes a long way to pushing the quality of this game into a masterpiece. Layered with a musical score which is haunting and beautiful, the scene is set for a fantastic game.

And the gameplay only builds on this. One hyphenated compound sums it up perfectly: bullet-time. And cinematic bullet-cam (where occasionally you will be shooting a baddie and the camera will slowly rotate around them while you can still riddle them with more bullets). Some may call the game samey, but I believe the mechanic and controls were slickly executed, and the satisfaction of bullet-time shooting in third-person didn’t wane at all from start to finish.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City [2002, PlayStation 2]

Where Grand Theft Auto 3 was groundbreaking in taking the franchise from top-down adult Micro Machines fare, to a large-scale 3d open-world, it was also pretty dark and grim, and wet.

Vice City used the same formula and engine, but was vivid with eighties colour, eighties sunsets, and eighties music. With this loud new scenario, and oodles of eighties pop-culture, Vice City fast became my favourite game of the time.

Burnout 3: Takedown [2004, PlayStation 2]

When it comes to arcade racing feel and speed, there are few games that can keep pace with Burnout. Harking back to the aforementioned Sega Rally, Burnout gets it so right. By having different game modes and interesting abilities such as being able to manoeuvre your car post-crash to take-out opponents, Burnout stayed intense fun for tens of hours, and is still just as good today. It is another game which can be digitally bought and downloaded on the Xbox 360.

Battlefield 2142 [2006, PC]

To this day, BF2142 is still my favourite of all the Battlefield games. Being set in the future allowed for some fantastic weapons, class abilities, and vehicles (think walking tanks). But there is one reason that makes it better than all the others.

Titan Mode. Both teams have a massive floating warship which begins each round with a core protected by four power-relays and an external shield. Teams must capture points, like in conquest, however the points are missile silos. Each missile launched weakens the enemies Titan’s shield. When the shield is destroyed, players can launch pods from the Armored Personnel Carriers or drop from the helicopters onto the Titan. Then the Titan can be infiltrated, the four power-relays (located down four different corridors) destroyed, and finally the Titan core shot or exploded to smithereens. Once the core is down, players have a ~30 second window to escape the exploding Titan and parachute to the ground, to earn a Titan survivor pin. All while the other team are trying to do the same.

This meant incredibly cooperative gameplay was required to win. Which made the game incredibly tense and fun when played with a squad of friends.

Fallout 3 [2008 ,PlayStation 3]

A living, breathing, post-apocalyptic world filled with characters you can meaningfully interact with, and a feeling that you can wander anywhere. This game has immense scope and is executed so well. Except for the bugs (and no, I don’t mean Rad-roaches), which this game (and all Bethesda masterpieces since) suffers from. Save regularly.

Super Mario Bros. Wii [2009]

Got two to four people? This game is just as much fun as Super Mario World, only now you can mess up your friend’s well-executed jump by being in their way. This adds a new layer of frustration, but in a fun way, like Streets of Rage on the Megadrive, but playing through the gorgeous landscapes with someone else at the same time is a wonderful experience.

Borderlands [2009, Xbox 360]

Forget depth, complexity and story-line. This game is an excuse for shooting things with ever-more powerful weapons. And that’s all it need to be. What made it so much fun was the split-screen coop, which meant I could play through the whole game with my better half. And it also meant she became quite deft with FPS games.

Played together, Borderlands is a very fun experience. I definitely wouldn’t have bothered to complete this if I was playing by myself though, so if it’s just you on your lonesome, I would stick with a game with depth, such as the Fallout series.

Shadow Complex [2009, Xbox 360]

Super Metroid in a different skin, i.e., areas of the map unlock as the player finds upgrades. 2.5d platformer with great shooting mechanics. Any metroidvania game gets the thumbs up from me.

  1. I over clocked via BIOS. Thankfully, it held-up for the remainder of it’s five year life.  ↩