There have been many great games in 2004. Every format has had its fair share of great games but we thought we’d take a look back at what we consider to be the two best games on each format. Some of our selections will surprise a few people and I daresay that some of you will completely disagree with what we’ve picked. In the end of course it all comes down to personal opinion but from the many games we’ve seen this year there’s only a select few that we constantly pull out to play again and again. Let’s take a look then at what we consider to be the best games of 2004.
First Choice - Half-Life 2
We said in the introduction that some of selections may surprise a few people but our PC game of the year will surprise no one. Not only a class act when it comes to being a FPS, Half-Life 2 has taken provision for deaf gamers to a whole new level. Valve were heavily criticised for not subtitling Half-Life but instead of just ignoring those complaints, they obviously took them to heart and made sure deaf gamers could fully enjoy the sequel. I don’t think I can recall a game ever being captioned so well. Deaf gamers were even notified of approaching and nearby enemies through the use of captions. Character dialogue was colour-coded making it even easier to follow conversations. In a nutshell then Valve have set a standard by which all other games will be measured against for not only the quality of Half-Life 2 as a FPS but also how a game can be accessible for deaf gamers.
Second Choice – Football Manager 2005
Whilst picking the first choice PC game was straight forward, picking the second choice required more thought. In the end though I had to pick Football Manager 2005. Sports Interactive were going to have to create a game that could convince everyone that it was the work of their collective genius and not the name ‘Championship Manager’ that football fans had been enjoying for over 10 years. Thankfully though they managed it and combined with SEGA’s excellent backing and promotion of the game, they’ve left no one in any doubts about this new games true heritage. Football Manager 2005 surpasses all of the previous football management games and is definitely the best title the genre has seen to date.
First Choice – RalliSport Challenge 2
Xbox gamers are well provided for when it comes to driving games and the console has it’s fair share of classics. 2003 saw the release of the super Project Gotham Racing 2 and the first half of 2004 saw the release of RalliSport Challenge 2, which is just as impressive. Everything about this sequel improved upon the first game. The handling was improved upon but the real jump came with the graphics, which were absolutely first class. Everything from the car models to the environments you raced in were probably the best on any console to date. Online and offline RalliSport Challenge 2 is superb.
Second Choice – The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Take a movie and make a game based on it and the result is usually a game that leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in the mouth. This wasn't’t the case with Escape from Butcher Bay though as Starbreeze Studios created a FPS that was second only to Half-Life 2. As the title suggests you had to help Riddick escape from the Butcher Bay Triple Max prison, a feat which had never been accomplished before. The game looked and played superbly and unlike Halo 2 the game was fully subtitled so you enjoyed everything that was going on, which is excellent. If you are into FPS games and haven’t picked this one up yet (on PC or Xbox) then it definitely should be next on your list.
First Choice – Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
As you well know we see more games for the PlayStation 2 than for any other format and you would think that choosing our PlayStation 2 game of the year would be a difficult task. Thankfully though this hasn't been the case and the one game that gets played more than any other is Disgaea: Hour of Darkness from NIPPON ICHI and KOEI. Disgaea is a tactical, turn-based RPG in a similar vein to games such as Final Fantasy Tactics. What makes the game so good? Humour, tactical options and hilarious characters are just some of the reasons why this game is a classic. It takes everything a tactical RPG should have and multiplies it by ten. Characters can level up to insane levels for instance. Combination attacks and gob smacking spells make the battles quite unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. I’ve been playing the game for months now and still haven’t had enough of it. Some gamers might take a look at the screenshots of the game and comment on the graphics not looking as impressive as they could do. To be fair the graphics aren’t brilliant but they are good enough, which is all you could ask for when the game play is this impressive. If I could only pick one game from last year this would be it.
Second Choice – Star Ocean: Till the End of Time
When it comes to RPG’s I prefer ones that have turn-based battles. Usually I don’t get on with those that have real-time battles but 2004 saw the release of two RPG games with real-time battles that really appealed to me. One of these was Star Ocean: Till the End of Time. Playing as Fayt Leingod you’ll begin on holiday on the planet Hyda. Soon though the planet is attacked by a race know as the Vendeen. Fayt and his friend Sophia only just escape the planet. The spacecraft they escape on though is also attacked and they part ways as they leave the spacecraft in escape pods. Throughout the course of the game you meet a variety of cultures and get to fight alongside a variety of characters. During battles you’ll control one character (from a choice of three) whilst the others will perform admirably under control of the AI. You can alter their battle strategy though if you wish. It’s a great game that is as good as anything Square Enix have released to date.
Unfortunately we’ve received little in the way of GameCube and Game Boy Advance titles during 2004. Essentially this is for two reasons. Nintendo has no promotional copies of their games for PR companies to give out for review and it would be an expensive task for these PR companies to send out retail packs to every gaming website there is. Secondly the PR company for Nintendo here in the UK are now only given enough copies of a game to hand out to print media such as magazines and newspapers. This is a poor state of affairs and with Nintendo falling behind Microsoft and Sony, it seems an illogical move to make. It’s also a fair bet that we’ll never receive many DS games too. I do buy the odd GameCube game from time to time but I make it a policy of only reviewing games that we receive review code for so as to be fair to all those PR companies that take the time and effort to look after us in this respect. Below I’ve included the best two games for the GameCube and the GBA that I have played in 2004. Reviews won’t be appearing for these games though.
First Choice - Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
Paper Mario was an absolute classic on the Nintendo 64 and now thanks to Intelligent Systems, the developers of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, we now have a sequel on the GameCube. Mario’s back to his paper thin self and can change into all manner of objects such as paper airplanes and tubes. The turn-based battles are absolutely superb. Graphically the game is very charming and it’s easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing games on the GameCube. Don’t be put off by it’s cutesy appearance. It’s an excellent RPG that’s full of humorous dialogue and there isn’t a game quite like it on any other console.
Second Choice - Tales of Symphonia
Yes it’s another RPG but seeing as it’s genre that’s been poorly catered for on the GameCube it was great to see two great ones arrive in time for Christmas. Like Star Ocean, Tales of Symphonia has real-time battles and these battles don’t just randomly occur. Instead you’ll have to walk into the monsters to initiate a battle. Whilst this does cut down on some of the frustration of random battles occurring when you’re low on health, it doesn’t mean that you can avoid battles altogether. After all battling is the only way you can level up your characters and not leveling up can lead to major problems when you encounter the bosses. Whilst the story in Tales of Symphonia isn’t exactly memorable the graphics, with their beautifully cel-shaded characters, certainly are. The game isn’t quite up to the level of Star Ocean but it’s a great game nevertheless and RPG fans should definitely pick this up.
Game Boy Advance
First Choice – Fire Emblem
Another game from Intelligent Systems and another game that’s got classic written all over it. As you probably know the Fire Emblem series is a long standing one that dates back to the early Nintendo consoles. Until recently though it’s been released only in Japan, much to the disappointment of turn-based connoisseurs. Some have described it as Advance Wars with a medieval flavour to it and that description, whilst not totally accurate isn’t too far from the truth and those who have played Advance Wars will feel at home with Fire Emblem. Here’s hoping the GBA sequel and GameCube version of Fire Emblem make it to Europe this year.
Second Choice - Pokemon Fire Red/Leaf Green
It was a tough decision between these Pokemon remakes and the enhanced versions of Final Fantasy I & II that’s known as Dawn of Souls. In the end I decided on the Pokemon games because they are just so incredibly addictive and take an absolute age to complete. Even when you have completed the game you’ll be able to take your team of six Pokemon on to Pokemon Colosseum for a further challenge. They may only be enhanced versions of games that were released on the Game Boy but classic games of this calibre deserve a remake and the sales figures of the games prove that the Pokemon phenomenon is far from over.
Well that’s it for our quick look back at 2004. The year produced a lot of great games and if you are a fan of RPG’s it was particularly memorable. Valve showed us that a FPS game can be as deaf gamer friendly as a game from any other genre whilst NIPPON ICHI demonstrated that state of the art graphics are not needed to produce a gaming classic. What does 2005 have in store? Well there’s two more games from NIPPON ICHI and KOEI, La Pucelle Tactics and Phantom Brave (two games I can’t wait to play), Final Fantasy XII, Gran Turismo 4, the new Metal Gear Solid game, Forza Motorsport and much, much more. From a gamer’s point of view at least, 2005 should be another great year.