1. Grand Theft Auto III
Rockstar Games / Rockstar North / PC, PS2, Xbox
Kristan Reed: We all expected it to be good, but no-one expected it to be that good.
I can't recall any game before or since that inspired such a bug-eyed fervour among players when it came out in October 2001. We'd all stand around swapping stories like kids making up any old fibs to impress each other. But however far-fetched our tall tales sounded, they just happened to be random occurrences in a videogame. That was the beauty of GTA III - the realisation that a new type of gaming had arrived in all its cartoon glory, allowing you to approach missions in the way that you saw fit, or to just wander off and cause cartoon mayhem for the hell of it. It felt like ten games in one, all better than its individual inspiration. For a long time, most action games felt hopelessly one-dimensional next to DMA's classic.
However many terrible imitators it spawned with their cut-and-paste approach to open-world gaming, few ever had the seismic impact that this had on gaming. And it wasn't just about the gameplay, was it? The incredible radio stations, the wry humour, the memorable cut scenes... all were so far ahead of anyone else that even now the vast majority of games don't have a fraction of the creative energy on show here.
Oli Welsh: We've all conveniently forgotten this now, but before GTAIII's release it just didn't seem that big a deal (to a certain snobby subset of the game literati, at any rate, to which I'm ashamed to say I belonged). The RenderWare graphics looked, well, a bit rough, and a lot of people were justifiably asking how it could possibly hang together - and even if it did, how it could attract the attention of the shallow, glitz-hungry hordes. Rockstar North knew what we wanted better than we did though. This outsider changed the whole game, and most rivals are still scrabbling to keep up, eight years on. Disruptive, in every sense.
Rob Fahey: Personally, I'm a GTA refusenik - but even I would have to admit that few games can claim the kind of far-reaching influence that GTAIII has had on the entire medium. It created a whole host of gaming concepts and mechanisms which have become a fundamental part of the language of videogames ever since - from its now de rigeur interpretation of sandbox gaming through to minor, yet often-copied, touches such as the radio stations.
To my mind, it's not the best sandbox game out there (I'd pick another Rockstar title, Bully, for that accolade), but is that surprising, when everything that's come since has stood on GTAIII's broad shoulders? If it's not actually the best game of the decade, it's certainly the game that best defines the decade. Its shadow falls over everything, from the influence of its design decisions to the controversy surrounding its content. There are other, better games on this list, and indeed not on this list - but when we look back in years to come and ask which game best exemplifies gaming in the 2000s, GTAIII will provide the obvious, perfect answer.
John Bye: Grand Theft Auto IV's much-hyped return to Liberty City just served to remind me how good Grand Theft Auto III was. Sure, the city's traffic had a disconcerting tendency to vanish into thin air whenever you turned your back on it, but the game delivered fun by the spade full.
While GTAIV was a soulless dirge featuring some guy with a dodgy accent whining about not having any money for hour after suicide inducing hour, GTAIII was a game that didn't take itself too seriously, with a reckless, anything-goes attitude that made it a delight to play. Every time you tried to do something crazy, like jump your sports car off a bridge, pick up a hooker, or steal a fire engine, there was some kind of side quest, mini-game or score bonus waiting for you. Reassuringly silly and endlessly entertaining, it was a truly groundbreaking game.
Johnny Minkley: I very clearly recall looking at early screenshots of GTAIII with Pat Garratt - now blogging maniac at VG247.com - on his monitor when we worked together at Emap. And you know what? We laughed. We said it'd never work. The rush I got from watching the first trailer for The Ballad Of Gay Tony this week reminded me of this and why I now love Rockstar and Grand Theft Auto. Pat and I were clearly, spectacularly wrong, but no-one really expected GTAIII to turn out the way it did. Rockstar may have a reputation for being obtuse and aloof, but the scale of achievement, the creative single-mindedness, the unshakable belief in the potential of the medium has produced a handful of the greatest games of the past decade. So I really wouldn't want them any other way.
Ellie Gibson: Oh good, another game where you get to drive a car and deal some drugs and shoot the policeman BRAP BRAP BRAP. Not a patch on Diner Dash.
Tom Bramwell: Grand Theft Auto III came out not that long after Eurogamer was born, and although the sequels were also excellent, the open-world movement still lives predominantly in its long, broad shadow. Even GTAIV, brave enough in its own way, had no real answer to its ancestor - Rockstar simply got 3D GTA right at the first time attempt. Few around here would argue that it's fitting for World of Warcraft and GTAIII to sit astride this list, but the contrast is interesting: WOW turned everyone green and people have lost billions trying to match it, whereas GTAIII gave the industry the new model for its livelihood throughout the 2000s.
So there it is. Thank you for coming to our birthday party. We love you all and hope to see you again soon.
Aged 10 and a bit.