Described as a "transitional year" by the gaming industry, 2000 saw everybody waiting with baited breath for the western launch of the PlayStation 2. And what an anti-climax that turned out to be. But despite developers and publishers alike waiting to leap on to the Sony bandwagon as it hurtled towards the abyss, this year has still seen some truly excellent releases on consoles and PC alike. So to kick off our traditional end of year wrap-up, today we take a look at some of the best games of the year 2000...
PC - Deus Ex
Only the second game to earn a full 10/10 from EuroGamer since our launch in September 1999, "Deus Ex" was undoubtedly one of the best PC games of the year. Mixing the sneaky gameplay of Thief with role-playing and first person shooter elements, and set in an edgy near-future world of conspiracies and double-crosses, the game was a little too cerebral for our American friends, but gave troubled Texan developers Ion Storm their first solid hit here in Europe.
One of the many EuroGamer staff members who picked out Deus Ex as their favourite PC game of the year was freelancer Martin Taylor. "When I first gave it a spin I was immediately put off by the apparent complexity and clunkiness, but then I realised that I wasn't playing Half-Life and gradually managed to learn its nuances. Soon enough the story had grabbed me by the throat, and held on all the way through. Now I have to play it again so that I can see the other endings..."
As well as an interesting plot to keep you hooked and a wide range of skills and nano-tech augmentations to pump up your character with during the game, Deus Ex also featured some impressively detailed graphics. In fact, one of the few criticisms of the game was that the Unreal engine which powered it required a lot of horse power to keep the game moving at a playable rate. The other main complaint was the lack of multiplayer support, but a recent patch solved that shortcoming and with the release of source code for the game comes the possibility of a wide range of user-made online modes appearing for the game in future. And with at least one sequel currently under development, things are looking bright for fans of the game.
PC - Baldur's Gate II
Rather more traditional but equally involving was "Baldur's Gate II", another firm favourite with the tree-hugging faction here at EuroGamer. A good old-fashioned role-playing game complete with elves, fireballs, painted backdrops and an isometric viewpoint, it has to rank as one of the best Dungeons & Dragons based computer games to date.
While the original Baldur's Gate was itself a great role-playing game, the sequel built on that foundation to make something truly stunning in scope. Featuring an epic storyline set in a vast fantasy world, a wider range of monsters to battle and more powerful spells and magical items to slay them with, as well as improvements to the graphics, interface and AI, Baldur's Gate II provided weeks of quality entertainment for elf lovers everwhere.
Fans of the series can look forward to the long overdue release of a DVD edition of the game in February 2001, along with an exclusive European-only collector's edition. No doubt that won't be the end of the series either, and we wouldn't be surprised to see an add-on pack some time in the summer.
PC - Grand Prix 3
Or to be more precise, "Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 3". Although racing games have been three a penny all year, there was never any doubt as to which one was our favourite. Grand Prix 3 is one of the most complete Formula 1 racing titles we have ever encountered, offering you the chance to take up the controls of a car from any one of the major teams and almost any of the drivers from the 1998 racing season.
What was it about Grand Prix 3 that made it so compelling though? For one it's visually and aurally sublime. As we said, "imagine what Formula 1 looks like on the telly. It looks and sounds like that, with two flaws". In terms of challenge, well, you try to outpace Michael Schumacher around Monza on slicks.
One of the most impressive things about GP3 though, is that like its ancestors, it's the sort of game you can literally play for years without tiring of. The shear amount of options that you have at your disposal is incredible. We gave it 10/10, the only score befitting its achievement, because in all honesty we doubt this will be surpassed until Mr. Crammond puts his gaming hat back on again.
PC - Martian Gothic : Unification
Odd man out at EuroGamer is Keith "DNM" Ellis, our resident adventure game fan, who picked out sci-fi horror extravaganza "Martian Gothic" as his favourite PC game of the year. As you may have guessed from the title, Martian Gothic is set on the red planet, with you controlling a team of three astronauts sent to find out why contact has been lost with a colony, and what their bizarre final message "stay alone, stay alive" means.
So what was so special about it? "For me Martian Gothic is a masterpiece in the flooded 'survival horror' genre, showing even the groundbreaking Resident Evil how it is done, with beautiful pre-rendered backdrops, challenging puzzles, spine tingling music, a superb storyline, and classy voice-acting to boot."
Sadly the game was far from perfect in the state that it was originally released in, which dragged its score down to a still impressive 8/10 when we first reviewed it. Since then it has been patched though, and most of the teething problems fixed. "There aren't many games of this type where I am willing to play it through again to see what a patch improves", DNM told us. "But I played Martian Gothic through a total of four times!"
DC - Quake III Arena
It's slightly peculiar that one of the best games released on the Dreamcast this year be the conversion of a PC title, but thanks to the odd change here and there and one of the best implementations of online play yet seen in a Dreamcast release, the game makes its mark.
One of the things we felt most impressive about it on its release was the way it used the Dreamcast's Internet capability. Other titles like ChuChu Rocket have of course made use of it, but this was the first time anyone had really shown what could be done on a modem connection using the limited resources of the Dreamcast. Although your connection is dependant on the quality if your phone line, with a relatively well-maintained connection you can look forward to playing with latencies that might raise a cursory eyebrow with your PC gaming friends.
And herein lies Quake III's charm; for a game that has one the hearts of the elite, it is remarkably accessible. As long as you can point a gun and coordinate your own movement at the same time you should have no trouble adjusting to the learning curve, and if you are coming from a PC background, all you need do is acclimatise yourself with the new levels.
DC - MSR
As we said, "Metropolis Street Racer is truly one of the greatest driving games ever conceived". Its execution, too, is almost faultless. The idea is that you take control of a powerful sports car and race around the streets of famous cities around the globe. Fairly standard fare then, but as we said, MSR has unerring originality on its side, thanks mostly to the "Kudos" system of scoring.
You need Kudos points to progress from race to race, chapter to chapter, car to car. Everything you do in MSR, from how you drive and how fast you drive to how well you corner and how many walls you scuff, effects your Kudos rating at the end of a race. Beating the clock is a mere footnote compared to the Kudos score, which is gauged from your overall performance.
It's true that the MSR glove won't fit all hands; it's very difficult, unrewarding at first, frustrating to get into and at times downright confusing, but at the end of the day, it is the best console-based racing title on the machine, and deserving of its moniker of the best Dreamcast game of the year 2000.
PSX - SpiderMan
Even when we first saw this game on display at an exclusive press showing earlier this year it was clear how much of an impact it was going to have on the PlayStation format. Through a mixture of stunning level design, brilliant gameplay and surprisingly competant graphics for the ageing hardware, it made a lasting impression on its release last month.
One of the things that has made SpiderMan such an instant classic is that it doesn't try to hide its comic book origins. Throughout the game there are references to its heritage, and even voiceovers from creator Stan Lee to help will you into the action. Another thing is that in a sense you are playing out a comic book, and as we said in our review, "as much as it's about story it's about recognition of characters and scenarios and the opportunity to control your hero's path."
With the game set to be ported over to other formats in the near future and development of a sequel already underway, it's fairly clear that the game struck a chord with gamers worldwide. A befitting swansong for the PlayStation, and one of the best games released this year.
PS2 - SSX
New consoles are often difficult to pigeon-hole thanks to the large amount of mediocre software that comes with them at launch, but even though the world has been somewhat scathing of the PS2's introduction, anybody who managed to get hold of a machine has plenty of reasons to be happy this Christmas. SSX being one of them.
Snowboarding games are hit and hit. I don't think I've yet encountered a snowboarding game which didn't keep me partially entertained. What makes SSX the best out there is its depth; there's just so much to experience, with hundreds of tricks to learn, plenty of slopes to propel yourself down and your blood-thirsty competitors breathing down (and smacking down) your neck. Each of the characters you can choose to play as has different levels of ability in certain areas, and although these differences are mostly irrelevant in other titles, they have a very real bearing on the outcome of the races here.
Outwardly, SSX is a very simple game, but so much variety and depth lurks beneath the surface that it really does take you aback. Not just the best game available on the PlayStation 2, but a top pick for the year 2000 as well.
N64 - Perfect Dark
It's sad to say, but we don't get much call for Nintendo 64 reviews around here. Thankfully though, this does mean that when a game comes along that is worthy of our attention, it really is quite spectacular. Perfect Dark, released earlier this year as a pseudo-sequel to GoldenEye, is just such a game.
You assume the role of Secret Agent Joanna Dark in the not-too-distant future, working for the elite Carrington Institute, which is dedicated to making friendly contact with extra terrestrial life and investigating shady-looking companies (noble pursuits if ever there were such a thing). As of late, Mr. Carrington has been keeping his eye on the dataDyne corporation because of their sudden leap in technological prowess. Carrington suspects foul play is at hand at the very top of the company, and you're the one he sends to investigate.
And what fun you have investigating. Perfect Dark was the best Nintendo 64 shooter since Goldeneye, with an improved graphics engine, tweaked controls and unlike third party FPS Operation Winback, which sank without a trace, an entertaining and evocative storyline which always keeps you guessing. An adventure more than an action game, PD is superb.
GBC - International Karate 2000
Cynics that we are these days, it can always take a lot of effort to impress us with anything on the handheld platform. After the departure of the dear, dear Neo Geo Pocket Color, which impressed so many in the short time it was with us, we were fairly dejected at the loss of such a fine source of pocket beat 'em ups. Thankfully though, in the latter stages of this year, International Karate 2000 finally came into fruition, and what a game it proved to be.
The premise behind International Karate 2000 is simple - pick a fighter, and do battle with all manner of opponents to win the coveted black belt. Unlike other titles that simply throw increasingly powerful fighters at you though, IK2000 chose to alter the mannerisms of each combatant rather than the strength, such that some fighters have excellent defense, others weak, and so forth. The effect is quite inspired. Each battle can differ drastically from the last, making overall victory a very tough proposition.
A fantastic game on the Amiga, and now an even better one on the GameBoy Color. As we said, it's "a little piece of gaming history", and the best GBC game this year.