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Flashback Friday: Game of the Decade – 2000s

Time for another Flashback Friday article! You don’t want to miss this one. We are just past the half way point for this decade, the 2010s. This article takes from all of our Game of the Year articles, but instead of looking at the best games of one year, we’re looking at the best games of the previous decade, the 2000s! More specifically, we’re looking at all games from the years 2000-2009.

It was an interesting decade with a lot of experimentation and change, with many changes being for the worse primarily toward the end of the decade. Still, 2007 stands out as one of the best years in gaming history with many great releases.

The awards given out are mostly the same as the ones we use for Game of the Year, although some will be excluded since it’s too hard to choose a single game for some of these awards. This includes an overall Game of the Decade award, as this is just too subjective and there are too many games belonging to too many different genres to choose from. Also, expansions and even mods that equate to a whole game (like Natural Selection mod or Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer expansion) are now eligible for awards. We’re even including a few new awards! These new awards may even be included in future game of the year articles. But for now, go on to the next page to continue reading.

Special thanks to InfaRedd, aka Valkayria for the basic idea behind this article.

Best Sound Effects

Game Title: BioShock
Release Date: 2007 (2009 for Mac)
Developed By: 2k Boston / 2k Australia
Published By: 2k Games
Platforms: PC / Mac / PlayStation 3 / XBOX 360
Genre: FPS

This award was extremely closely contested. BioShock (2007) takes home the gold. While Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason uses higher quality sound recordings/files for things like object collision, it is the advanced OpenAL sound processing and EAX 5.0 that puts BioShock ahead of perhaps every game. It is one of the absolute best demonstrations of hardware accelerated sound (3D object based sound) and EAX (along with Penumbra which came out at around the same time). The reason it wins the award over Penumbra is because Penumbra has no support for subwoofers, outside of integrated 2.1 PC speaker setups. On a 5.1/7.1 surround setup, Penumbra will not use the subwoofer while BioShock will.

But it should be noted that Penumbra’s 3D HRTF is actually slightly better than that of BioShock, while environmental audio effects (EFX for Penumbra, EAX 5.0 for BioShock) are about equal.

Therefore, to make BioShock’s sound shine the most, an X-Fi sound card is needed because hardware acceleration takes it to another level. The same applies to all OpenAL and DirectSound3D games. Spatial/distant sound cues are improved significantly, thanks to the 3D HRTF. A simulated binaural effect materializes on stereo systems and on headphones it is amazing if you’re only used to normal stereo or even virtual surround. Environmental cues via EAX 5.0 are some of the best you will ever hear, with its advanced, dynamic reverberations and MacroFX. BioShock is, as with any game, most impressive on a surround system, but OpenAL/DirectSound3D games like BioShock benefit from surround sound more than most others due to how effective its 3D HRTF is.

Other Nominees

  • Penumbra (2007-2008)
  • Thief II: The Metal Age (2000)
  • Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason (2009)
  • Crysis Warhead (2008)
  • Crysis (2007)
  • F.E.A.R. (2005)
  • iRacing (2008)
  • GTR 2 FIA GT Racing Game (2006)

 

Best Graphics

Game Title: Crysis Warhead
Release Date: 2008
Developed By: Crytek
Published By: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC
Genre: FPS

Here we have the most clear cut, obvious winner. When discussing the best technical graphics of the 2000s, Crysis Warhead (2008) stands far above every other game of that decade, except for its predecessor Crysis which only looks slightly worse. Crysis Warhead was the graphics king for two years, before being dethroned by a patched Crysis 2. Warhead does look dated by 2016 standards, which I still can’t believe I’m saying because both it and Crysis were so far ahead of everything else during their time.

Crysis Warhead is a DirectX 10 game that shows spectacular attention to detail with every visual aspect; full dynamic lighting and shadows, actual 3D volumetric clouds which is hardly ever seen even today, realistic water and under water effects, parallax occlusion mapping on everything that needs it, focus on object detail, the most advanced post-processing effects for the time, the best character models for the time, an advanced animation system, an advanced and highly interactive physics system, it just had everything one could dream of and more from a visual perspective.

Other Nominees

  • Crysis (2007)

 

Best Multiplayer – Versus

Game Title: Crysis Wars (Crysis Warhead)
Release Date: 2008
Developed By: Crytek
Published By: Electronic Arts
Platforms: PC
Genre: FPS

Versus type multiplayer games are overrated and offer little compared to other genres, but nonetheless an award is needed. Crysis Wars (2008) is our choice for the Best Versus Multiplayer game of the previous decade. It is a game we at GND-Tech used to play together; in fact, if enough people are interested, we’d gladly start up the server again! Be sure to register and post on the forum if you’re interested.

The main thing that separates Crysis Wars (and also Crysis) from other PvP games is the Power Struggle game mode, which along with the main game mode in both Natural Selection games, is the most strategic, tactical versus game mode ever made for a first-person shooter. No other FPS game even comes close.

Power Struggle is large scale and relies heavily on teamwork, and results in lengthy matches (60-180 minutes with skilled teams, depending on the map) that don’t get nearly as repetitive as other versus games. See the following videos to learn more about Power Struggle.

Crysis Wars has a bit more content than Crysis (maps, vehicles, weapons/items), more HUD options, and better balance (guns are more accurate and damaging). Crysis Wars has about two dozen maps right out of the box, something unheard of in modern day multiplayer shooters which have about one third as many.

Other Nominees

  • Crysis (2007)
  • Unreal Tournament 2004 (2004)
  • Star Wars: Battlefront II (2005)
  • Natural Selection (2002)
  • Battlefield 2142 (2006)
  • Battlefield 2 (2005)
  • Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

 

Best Multiplayer – Cooperative

Game Title: Arma 2
Release Date: 2009
Developed By: Bohemia Interactive
Published By: Bohemia Interactive
Platforms: PC
Genre: Shooter / Mil-Sim

Arma 2 (2009) wins our award for best co-op game of the decade. It is a tactical mil-sim playable in both first person and third person, with an unbelievable amount of content (including vehicle content). It may very well be the most content rich shooter game in existence.

Many of us here at GND-Tech have fond memories playing this game together in private games using custom missions (most of which were created by staff member Enad). Thankfully Arma 2 does have a successor in Arma 3. Note that if you’d ever like to play Arma 3 with us, register on our forums and post in the Arma 3 discussion forum.

Other Nominees

  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir (2008)
  • Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield (2003)
  • SWAT 4 (2005)
  • Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter (2009)
  • Killing Floor (2009)

 

Best Story, Writing

Game Title: Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer
Release Date: 2007
Developed By: Obsidian Entertainment
Published By: Atari
Platforms: PC
Genre: RPG

Hold your breath everyone. It’s time to announce the winner for Best Story/Writing of the previous decade, one of the absolute most important awards. Some may find it hard to believe that this award was an easy decision for us. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (2007) is the rightful winner. It is one of few games that showcases how unique and how excellent video games can be as a storytelling medium. To read our analysis of it and other games that deserve that kind of praise, read this article.

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer is an RPG expansion developed by Obsidian, which is one of the very best studios when it comes to making top quality RPGs showcasing some of the best writing quality you’ll ever find in gaming. To make its story even better, the game reacts so much to player choice; the plot may very well be more reactive in that regard than any other game in existence.

You start the game as an afflicted, weakened individual, but can end the game simply cured, or you can end the game as a terrifying being more powerful than the gods, depending on what you do throughout the game. All major events have multiple outcomes based on player choice, and these outcomes or consequences are all logical and well-written. A very rare thing in gaming. Only Planescape: Torment can compare. We specified this expansion over the base game because the base game was not a nominee for this award.

Other Nominees

  • Penumbra (2007-2008)
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004)
  • Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason (2009)
  • Deus Ex (2000)
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (2004)
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001)
  • Silent Hill 2 (2001)

 

Best Publisher

For this award, we look for game publishing studios that not only ensure the release exclusively high quality games (especially from an objective technical point of view, e.g. polished games with minimal bugs), but also publishers with strong pro-consumer practices and innovation. Valve was definitely number one in the 2000s, when they were hugely responsible for the popularity of PC gaming (objectively the best platform). The release of Steam was a major reason for this.

As far as game releases go, they released the Counter-Strike franchise, Day of Defeat franchise, Half-Life 2, Garry’s Mod, Left 4 Dead series, and Portal. A trend they did that helped benefit everyone was turn popular mods into games, by hiring the modders and working with them to make an improved version of the mod in question and sell it as a game. In addition, Valve was very accommodating to developers, especially indie developers, looking to use Source engine (which was industry leading from 2004-2007 and still elite after that). In fact, the very first Source game ever released, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, is not even made or published by Valve.

Throughout the 2000s Valve was also very supportive of modding, and Steam is really designed to improve gaming on every level, like the unified dedicated server downloading and hosting through SteamCMD which is free.

Other Nominees

  • Paradox Interactive
  • Sierra Entertainment
  • Blizzard Entertainment

 

Best Racing Game

Game Title: iRacing
Release Date: 2008
Developed By: iRacing.com
Platforms: PC / Mac / Linux
Genre: Racing Simulator

iRacing is a subscription based racing simulator offering perhaps the most realistic driving physics to date (only truly rivaled by Assetto Corsa), and a staggering amount of content. It features Prototype, NASCAR, F1, Grand Touring, and Dirt racing, all designed to simulate real world racing events, and of course it has many different vehicles for each category.

Both the cars and tracks are laser scanned for ultimate realism. Don’t worry if you’re not an excellent player, because iRacing has a ranking system based on in-game “licenses” so you can simply play with others who have the same license to make for a fair game. The only real downside to iRacing is that it is subscription based.

Other Nominees

  • Gran Turismo 4 (2004)
  • Gran Turismo 3 (2001)
  • GTR 2 FIA GT Racing Game (2006)

 

Best Shooter Game

Game Title: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
Release Date: 2007
Developed By: GSC Game World
Published By: THQ
Platforms: PC
Genre: FPS

As a whole, shooter games are overrated and haven’t developed much. Most offer nothing other than linear, mindless shooting. But there are a few exceptions, namely the ones we’ve nominated for this award and of course the winner. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl (2007) is our choice for Best Shooter Game of the 2000s, despite being only a fraction of what was intended.

The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise is a one of a kind. These are sandbox (region-locked open world essentially) survival shooters with light RPG elements. They focus heavily on atmosphere and freedom; in both Shadow of Chernobyl and Call of Pripyat, the player is thrown into the massive world with very little instruction. No hand holding, like many true PC games.

Shadow of Chernobyl provides chilling atmosphere and thoughtful writing, both some of the best in the history of the genre right alongside Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light (spoiler—the two leaders for this decade’s Best Shooter Game so far).

Amusingly Shadow of Chernobyl’s atmosphere and writing are both incomplete to some extent; the developers intended far more for the game, and showed far more in alpha builds. Despite being incomplete it still set such a high example, and there’s still nothing like it. If you can find the early version of Shadow of Chernobyl’s script (back when it was called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Oblivion Lost) be sure to read it. Amazing stuff.

But as it stands, Shadow of Chernobyl still succeeds at what it sets out to do. Be sure to play it with a large scale overhaul mod of your choice, like Mod Pack 2013 which is our favorite. Autumn Aurora 2 looks promising as well. Both of these mods (and no, they can’t be used together) overhaul every aspect of the game except for the campaign, quest, and writing themselves. They help restore Shadow of Chernobyl to its former glory, bringing back cut content, cut mechanics, and other improvements that were planned but never made it into the final release.

Other Nominees

  • Deus Ex (2000)
  • Arma 2 (2009)
  • Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield (2003)
  • Half Life 2 (2004)
  • Garry’s Mod (2004)
  • Crysis (2007)
  • Crysis Wars (2008)
  • Unreal Tournament 2004 (2004)
  • SWAT 4 (2005)
  • Star Wars: Battlefront II (2005)
  • Battlefield 2142 (2006)
  • Battlefield 2 (2005)
  • F.E.A.R. (2005)

 

Best Stealth Game

Game Title: Thief II: The Metal Age
Release Date: 2000
Developed By: Looking Glass Studios
Published By: Eidos Interactive
Platforms: PC
Genre: Stealth

Thief II: The Metal Age (2000) wins this award as Thief: The Dark Project won the same award for the 1990s. Thief 2’s second mission, “Shipping and Receiving,” is tied in our books for the best stealth mission/level of all time (tied with the final mission of Dishonored).

As a stealth game, Thief II pretty much has it all. It’s non-linear and has sprawling, complex level design, it’s challenging especially since combat is really not an option (mostly due to how clunky combat is, but also due to how quickly the player can die), and it has all sorts of complex mechanics and attention to detail like doors actually blocking out noise, different surface types making different amounts of noise (e.g., sneaking over metal and tile floors is far louder than concrete, which is louder than carpet), dynamic light sources, many different kinds of arrows for your bow (rope arrows which only stick in surfaces that an arrow should penetrate and allow the player to climb places, moss arrows to create a quiet surface, noisemaker arrows for distraction). Thief II also lets the player climb onto any ledge.

Furthermore, Thief II along with its predecessor, successor, and Dishonored series are the only pure stealth games of this type that even attempt to create distinct, immersive atmosphere. Thief II’s atmosphere is just like the original; stylized steampunk, and at times the atmosphere can be very creepy (especially in places like crypts and tombs). Thief is all about style and the first two games demonstrate it perfectly.

Other Nominees

  • Hitman: Blood Money (2006)

 

Best Horror Game

Game Title: Penumbra: Overture / Penumbra: Black Plague
Release Date: 2007 – 2008
Developed By: Frictional Games
Published By: Paradox Interactive
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: Existential Horror / Survival Horror

Horror games essentially died out in the 2000s, but then were resurrected at the start of the 2010s. So in the previous decade we had a real drought for a while, particularly in 2004-2006 in which not one noteworthy horror game was released.

Our choice for Best Horror Game of the 2000s is the game that began the resurrection of the horror genre, Penumbra (2007-2008). This is an episodic game plus an expansion, so we’re including the two main episodes Overture (2007) and Black Plague (2008). While Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010, thus not eligible for this award) gets all the credit for resurrecting the horror genre, Amnesia uses the same formula invented by Penumbra (they were made by the same people). Plus, Penumbra is arguably the better game, certainly providing a deeper story and more thematic material.

Penumbra is the very first horror game worthy of being called scary, by our estimation. We like the classic Silent Hill and Resident Evil games, but they never scared us. Silent Hill succeeds at occasionally making the player feel uneasy, but that’s different than sheer terror. Penumbra focuses on pure terror rather than uneasiness, including Lovecraftian existential horror. It certainly succeeds, to say the least.

Other Nominees

  • Silent Hill 2 (2001)
  • Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason (2009)

 

Best Turn-Based Strategy Game

Game Title: Medieval II: Total War
Release Date: 2006
Developed By: Creative Assembly
Published By: Sega
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac
Genre: TBS / RTT

Medieval II: Total War is the most feature rich Total War game in existence, and it is the benchmark which the other Total War games are compared to. Like the other main Total War games, this game is massive in scale yet features tightly controlled, up close battles in which you have control down to single units of as little as dozens of men. It is a historical game set during the years 1080 to 1530 encompassing Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Then there is the expansion, Medieval II: Total War – Kingdoms which introduces four new campaigns, one of which is set during the European colonization of the Americas.

Total War has long stood out for being almost like two different strategy games in one, and Medieval II is no exception. One half of the game so to speak is Turn-Based Strategy (TBS) in which you play as the ruler of a nation, and the gameplay revolves around all kinds of politics and ruling, managing your own territories and any expansion efforts on a macro scale, but also managing individual settlements on a more micro scale. You will build armies, structures, engage in complex negotiations, and so much more. The Turn-Based Strategy element has more to it than many other entire strategy games. Every turn speeds up time as the AI dynamically engages in their own politics just like you, so every turn is a massive global event.

The campaign map, where the Turn-Based Strategy gameplay takes place.

Then there are the battles, in which you play as the battle commander controlling all of your units in Real Time Tactics (RTT) format. Battles can range from hundreds to thousands to many thousands of soldiers, but be mindful of CPU bottlenecks. Unlike most large scale strategy games you see and play these battles up close, seeing individual soldiers engage in realistic combat with one another. It is both awesome and gruesome.

This multifaceted gameplay which includes both single player and multiplayer, and how rich and complete both the TBS and RTT gameplay mechanics are helped Medieval II win this award, but we can’t forget the modding. Modding capability seems endless with this game, and some rather famous total conversions have been born of it. See its ModDB pages below.

http://www.moddb.com/games/medieval-2-total-war/mods

http://www.moddb.com/games/medieval-ii-total-war-kingdoms/mods

This level of modding never returned to the franchise, and it effectively makes Medieval II akin to many games in one.

Other Nominees

  • Civilization IV (2005)
  • Rome: Total War (2004)

 

Best Real Time Strategy Game

Game Title: Warcraft III
Release Date: 2002
Developed By: Blizzard Entertainment
Published By: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC / Mac
Genre: RTS

Warcraft III, with which we include its expansion The Frozen Throne, is a legendary RTS game. Offering both single player and multiplayer and many different campaigns, Warcraft III is another strategy game with excellent gameplay variety. Its single player is rich with cinematic cutscenes, something rather rare for the genre especially for its time. This combined with its rich lore helped bolster the series’ popularity.

Then comes the mods. Warcraft III has an incredible editor to the point where almost anything imaginable can be made via modding. One of its most noteworthy mods of all time is Defense of the Ancients (2003), better known as DotA or DotA: Allstars, which went on to become its own game franchise and the sequel is now one of the most played games in the world. See Warcraft III’s ModDB pages below:

http://www.moddb.com/games/warcraft-iii/mods

http://www.moddb.com/games/warcraft-iii-frozen-throne/mods

Other Nominees

  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (2004-2006, 2008)
  • Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II (2009)
  • Command & Conquer: Generals (2003)
  • Men of War (2009)
  • Company of Heroes (2006)
  • World in Conflict (2007)
  • Rise of Nations (2003)

 

Best RPG

Game Title: Neverwinter Nights 2: Complete
Release Date: 2006-2009
Developed By: Obsidian Entertainment
Published By: Atari
Platforms: PC
Genre: RPG

Many fantastic RPGs came out in the 2000s, far better ones than we have in this current decade as a matter of fact (they generally had far more role-playing). But the sole winner of our Best RPG of the 2000s award is Neverwinter Nights 2: Complete (2006-2009), a single game that is also a saga. Its first expansion won the Best Story/Writing award.

We mentioned some of the role-playing on the Best Story/Writing page, how the plot can change so much based on what the player does. This applies to all four campaigns of Neverwinter Nights 2. Mask of the Betrayer even has exclusive companions based on player choice; you can receive one companion or another, not both, depending on what you do. Neverwinter Nights 2 and all of its expansions remain the most complex, complete, and full-fledged RPGs with regards to the integration of stats, races, classes, skills, and feats/abilities. No RPG matches Neverwinter Nights 2 in this regard, although its predecessor does come close.

This game contains 15 base classes, 24 prestige classes, 27 skills all used wonderfully throughout the game both in gameplay and dialogue, about 400 spells, 400 feats, 40 weapon categories and hundreds of total weapons, too many types of armor and clothing to count.

The multiplayer implementation of Neverwinter Nights 2 is only matched by Neverwinter Nights, when it comes to RPGs. They include a very capable Dungeon Master client for shared storytelling and customizable adventures, as well as many different modes, a free dedicated server with full customization, and nearly endless moddability. Neverwinter Nights 2, with the help of its expansions, has it all.

Other Nominees

  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004)
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001)
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (2004)

 

Dark Horse of the Decade

Game Title: Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer
Release Date: 2007
Developed By: Obsidian Entertainment
Published By: Atari
Platforms: PC
Genre: RPG

That’s right, this expansion which is bigger than most games has won yet another big award. Seriously, that’s just how good it is. Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer (2007) has won not only Best Story/Writing, Best RPG, and also the award on the next page, but it’s also our choice for Dark Horse. It went under the radar. I don’t think anyone expected an expansion to be arguably the greatest game and greatest RPG ever made, but it is.

From storytelling to multifaceted role-playing to advanced character creation with many different race choices, tactical gameplay with dozens of playstyles, literally hundreds of feats/abilities as well as spells, Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer really does it all. Yet it’s rarely appreciated which is one of the biggest tragedies in gaming. Why is it so underappreciated, you ask? That would be because it’s a PC exclusive expansion combined with the fact that most of today’s gamers were mere toddlers during the time of its release. Many amazing games are forgotten, Mask of the Betrayer is just one of many. Pun intended.

Other Nominees

  • Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir (2008)
  • Penumbra (2007-2008)
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl (2007)
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (2004)
  • Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason (2009)
  • Dark Messiah: Of Might and Magic (2006)

 

Dark Horse of THIS Decade So Far

Game Title: The Talos Principle
Release Date: 2014
Developed By: Croteam
Published By: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PC / Linux / Mac / PlayStation 4
Genre: Puzzle

This award is for the Dark Horse of 2010-2019 as of right now in February 2016. This award definitely has to go to The Talos Principle (2015), which we reviewed here. It is one of the most tightly crafted, least flawed, best written, and most thoughtful games ever made. It is a philosophical puzzle game with more thematic layers than most people think is possible from a video game.

The Talos Principle was developed by Croteam, who was only known for the Serious Sam games. While Serious Sam is great for what it is, it is the complete opposite of The Talos Principle which is why the latter came as such a surprise. Serious Sam is an arcade shooter franchise built around co-op gameplay and fast paced fun and difficulty. It doesn’t have any depth, yet The Talos Principle is one of the absolute all time best showings of video games as art and as a storytelling medium. Most thought that The Talos Principle would just be a fun puzzle game, which it is, but nothing else to it, and when Croteam described it as a philosophical adventure people were bemused. Nobody thought Croteam capable of building a game with a story that deserves to be ranked in the top 10 best video game stories of all time, let alone top four which is where The Talos Principle currently ranks.

Other Nominees

  • SOMA (2015)
  • Underhell (2013)
  • The Wolf Among Us (2013-2014)
  • Tales from the Borderlands (2014-2015)
  • Metro 2033 (2010)
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010)
  • Anna: Extended Edition (2013)

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[…] is no secret that this game is very well regarded here on GND-Tech and with good reason. This PC exclusive cult classic from 2007 is one of the most […]

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[…] have consequences.Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer, one of the absolute best RPGs and best games ever made, also includes various forms of gameplay-assisted storytelling. This is expected from such a […]