Games numbering 40 down to 31 in our continuing round-up of Eurogamer's Top 50 Games of 2004. If you missed out on 50-41, or you want to know precisely what this list represents, head here for yesterday's first instalment.
40 - Star Wars Battlefront (Activision/Pandemic, PS2/Xbox/PC)
Kristan: The idea of massed Star Wars battles ought to be exciting, but there's something oddly soulless about the whole thing. Without the storyline element it just feels like Battlefield Star Wars, which I've also never been the world's biggest fan of either. Each to their own and all that, and I can see why a lot of people like this, but it simply doesn't do it for me.
Kieron: Surely some mistake?
Ronan: My abiding memory of visiting EG Towers in the summer was hearing that the title for Episode III had been announced. This isn't because everything else was boring, it's because I'm a Star Wars freak. So, having never played Battlefield, I was eager to get my hands on Battlefront. What a disappointment. Perhaps the game doesn't translate well to consoles, but hours of play made me begin to dislike TIE Fighters. And that takes some doing. Online gaming should be more than an exercise in persistence.
Tom: All right, fine, PC gamers are already better served elsewhere. And there's quite a lot wrong with it. A small tactical force, for example, should not be able to steal down to the forest moon of Endor and knock out the shield generator by running around in circles and scoring the most victory points. But when you play this with the right people as I did on Xbox Live when I reviewed it, it's the closest things consoles have to Battlefield 1942. With balanced teams there's something distinctly glorious about the way it handles the larger battles like Hoth, Bespin, and even some of the Episode I/II skirmishes; and it is the closest thing to being part of one of those battles since Rogue Leader. It doesn't really suspend disbelief - when I find a multiplayer FPS game that does, I might retire - but at its best it does remind you just how much you love Star Wars, and surely that's a forceful argument for renting it at the very least.
Plus, lest we forget, the very first thing you do in the single-player mode is shoot Jar-Jar Binks in the face with a bloody big gun.
39 - Onimusha 3: Demon Siege (Capcom, PS2)
Kristan: Capcom's best game of its horribly mediocre year. Kind of like Ninja Gaiden, but for mortals like me that were scared off by the sound of Tecmo's ultra hardcore approach. The whole time-travelling Jean Reno-saves-the-world thing is the sign of a series clutching at straws trying to entice the west, but it's one of those admirably formulaic Capcom games with its RPG overtones and progressive power-up system that just keeps you coming back for more. A nice halfway house between RPG and action adventure that has proper combat, great visuals and even puzzles! It's the missing link between Devil May Cry and Resident Evil.
Tom: Um. Yes. Just what the Shoryuken HELL was up with Capcom in 2004?
38 - Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (Ubisoft/Natsume, Cube)
Kristan: Tom says he's not arsed about Animal Crossing because he's a "task oriented person" and I believe him, yet he'll happily howl at Harvest Moon (with joy, you understand), which as far as I can see has the same sort of appeal. Another game that doesn't interest me in the slightest, but is reportedly cute and cuddly and charming.
Ronan: A wonderfully addictive game and an infinitely better option than Animal Crossing. Just writing about it now makes me want to go back and have more kids. Umm, in the game that is. Unlike Animal Crossing, you don't feel like you're wasting valuable time and breath playing A Wonderful Life. Which is impressive, for a game that makes you milk cows.
Rob: I grew up in rural Ireland. As a result, I hate cows; I despise them to their core, and I eat their flesh and wear their skin only to spite their entire race. As such, I fear that if I were to play Harvest Moon, it would probably end in some form of bovine genocide.
Tom: Kristan's right. On the surface my love of this and lack of enthusiasm for Animal Crossing is somewhat contradictory. But that's absolutely no reason for him to go digging up excuses I've made up whilst drunkenly trying to twist the conversation towards my lousy and hastily constructed Animal Crossing/RSPCA jokes. I think my passion for Harvest Moon - and tolerance of its somewhat draining rituals - is more a reflection of my own desires in life. Strip away my various material obsessions and predilection for writing oodles of copy about inane subjects - usually, as we're seeing here, while I'm supposed to be enjoying a Christmas holiday - and you'll realise that I just want to be happy, and make other people feel the same. And that's all I did in Harvest Moon. I made my way, I made friends, I settled down with one of them, and I lived out my days breeding cattle, organising my crops into neat chequered rows, fishing, and smiling at everyone. I've no idea what it's like to be a git in Harvest Moon, but I can say that my experience encompassed far more than the usual mechanical and kleptomaniacal pleasures of this sort of gaming. It was more like a contentment simulator.
37 - Final Fantasy XI (Square Enix, PC)
Kristan: I've never understood why, with so many other games to play, things to do, and people to meet, that people can spend hundreds of hours buried in the same game for months on end. I'm sure FFXI is a marvelous game - to be honest I'm never going to find out either way - but there's something so dangerously obsessive-compulsive about spending 100 or so hours leveling up characters and having quaint little turn-based battles with spells that it hurts the right side of my cranium just thinking about them. I'm happy for people that enjoy themselves, but seriously, you're missing out on life itself; the world's biggest massively multiplayer game.
Ronan: *BONG*... sigh, nevermind.
Rob: 100 or so hours?! Oh boy, he has no idea. Of course, in reality, MMORPGs are as much a social medium as a videogame - but yes, there's something very obsessive-compulsive about the whole thing. Final Fantasy XI was, at least, a bit of a move away from the bottle-pissing nonsense of earlier stabs at the genre; nothing shockingly innovative, but a genuine effort to give you plenty to do to keep yourself distracted from the inevitable levelling grind. Dangerously easy to get addicted to, beautifully designed, and by the time it finally made it to Europe, extensive and polished. While agreeing with Kristan's sentiments on MMORPGs as a whole, this one stole my life for months, and only account deletion could steal it back.
Tom: "Kristan never plays games at the expense of living his life." This is what I would be saying if I didn't live with the man and therefore know him to be the lyingest liar in all of the Internet.
36 - Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (Activision/Troika Games, PC)
Kristan: If Activision hadn't been tied in corporate knots by Valve, I'd have liked to have reviewed this myself, and as it stands I'm going to have to somehow find time to play it during the so-called quiet periods. I don't normally 'do' RPGs but there's something about this that grabs me; thankfully the disgracefully long awaited patch has appeared just in time, otherwise I might have had a GILLEN SMASH moment.
[Editor's Note: Originally Kieron submitted a take on Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines addressing the continuing lack of a patch. It included words such as "perverse", "manipulative" and "twisted" in reference to the release-first-patch-later mentality of so many publishers, flapping at the game's many bugs with word-spatulas of great fury for quite some time. However, since you can now swat them yourself, we've made a couple of minor edits to Kieron's comment that cuts out the redundancies and leaves you with a better view of the overall thrust of his argument for buying the game.]
35 - Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (THQ/Relic Entertainment, PC)
Kieron: As brutal a standard RTS as you could wish to find, actually capturing a fair chunk of the license's possibilities in a cheerful Blizzard-influenced bloodbath. Extra bonus points for the suitably ultra-macho tone throughout.
Kristan: A truly stunning looking RTS that would be high up on my 'to play' list if that list wasn't already several hundred games long. Sometimes you've just got to concede that life is, indeed, too short.
Tom: Little known fact: Dawn of War is NOT an official sequel to Mulan.
34 - Jak 3 (Sony/Naughty Dog, PS2)
Kristan: Having been broken by Jak 2 last year, I just didn't have the heart to play this as well as Ratchet 3 and Sly 2 in the same month, but rest assured I'll give it a whirl during the dead zone of winter. If it's as sane as Tom made out, maybe I'll get more out of it, but as someone who's not a fan of annual sequels I wish publishers would think before heaping more on gamers - there are too many great games out there as it is without turning every series into a production line. Where's the sense of anticipation if they keep doing that?
Ronan: I still haven't finished the second one. Is that bad?
Tom: I didn't think the story was great this time, I wanted more actual platforming out of it, and overall I'm not tremendously sorry that there'll be no Jak 4 next Christmas because I think the series has run its course, at least in its present form. All that said, I am powerless to argue with the design brief of "repackage Smuggler's Run with dinosaurs and whack some guns on too" - particularly as I liked Rockstar Whatever-They-Rebadged-Angel-Studios-As's originals so much. In fact, perhaps that's the key to its charm: it was the only really good dune buggy game I got to play this Christmas, and it tossed platforming and jokes into the mix quite often. Watch out for a host of games copying this misdirection theme next year, including a Street Fighter game that turns out to be a hex-based war simulation, a FIFA title featuring Cat's Cradle-based mini-games, and a Tomb Raider game that's actually enjoyable.
33 - Animal Crossing (Nintendo, Cube)
Kristan: One of those utterly pointless games that makes you look as if you're losing your mind if anyone watches you play it, but so charming, addictive and endearing that they'll probably be busy inventing patterns to sell on the market behind your back and creating their own town. It's almost unsellable as a concept, so it's hardly surprising it was released here two years late, but we got it in the end, so heaping pressure on publishers is clearly worth it.
Ronan: You can argue all you like, but this game is just about as pointless as they come. Yes, it's admirably quirky. Yes, it's extremely innovative. Yes, it's fun for a few hours. Yes, it's as boring as hell. I didn't like Tamagotchis and I don't like this. Nonetheless, being an obsessive-compulsive type, I still played it for a week straight. Oh...
Rob: I like my life already so I didn't play this. Sorry.
Tom: I played it quite a bit when I first got hold of it, but gradually lost interest when I realised I couldn't draw and all my hats looked rubbish. Also, as much fun as it was it never left me with a sense of "ooh, I can't wait to do that next time" as I hung up the pad at the end of an evening, and when you spend as much time hopping between games as we reviewery folks tend to, that can be fatal. That said, ex-EG staffer Martin played it more than anything I saw him tackle during his entire time here, and so effective has it proven in provoking teary-eyed wistfulness amongst our forum-going friends that we're thinking of implementing a policy whereby we display AC banners whenever we need to divert their attention long enough to test new features on the live version of the site...
32 - Fire Emblem (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems, GBA)
Kristan: My girlfriend has been hooked on this for about two months now, having made it to chapter 27. And this from someone who takes an active dislike to all those manly games with guns and things that chase you. Turn-based strategy a genre for women? Apparently so; she also finished both Advance Wars games earlier this year. I'll get her to write a reader review of them one of these days and you can find out why she finds Intelligent Systems' games so compelling.
Ronan: Haven't gotten around to this one yet, but here's where my Shining Force rant comes in. Ready? Right. What the hell were you thinking, concocting a Top 50 list without placing a remake of one of the greatest RPGs ever? I've a good mind to drain your MP, if you've got any at all! Etc, etc. Seriously though, while Fire Emblem sounds fantastic, I'd still like to have seen Shining Force make the grade. As remakes go, it was a fine job. It is a GBA classic now, just like it was a Mega Drive classic back in the day.
Tom: This one's easy: I like it more than I liked either of the Advance Wars games. It has likable characters, likable visuals, likable balancing, likable everything really. It's just hard not to like, and since I played it I've introduced it to three people (including Kristan's better half) and they've all felt exactly the same way. And, if Ronan's allowed to get away with advocating other GBA games that he felt went under-appreciated, I'm going to get in on the act too: All you bastards who haven't bought Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga yet, get off my land.
31 - Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy (Midway, PS2/Xbox/PC)
Kristan: What's this? A Midway game in our Top 50? Surely not! Believe it. This was one of the true action-adventure gems of the year, and were it not for the rather rubbish storyline and two-dimensional characters this would have figured even higher up the list. If the idea of being able to throw enemies around like rag dolls using only the power of your mind sounds appealing (why wouldn't it) then give it a try - it's probably already half its original price by now.
Ronan: This sits in wrapping on my shelf. I chose to play Second Sight instead, at the time. I seem to be the only one who thought that game had clumsy controls, sub-standard AI and boring powers. But Kristan made it clear in his review that Psi-Ops was a different animal, so I'll be peeling that wrapping off soon I'd say. With my mind.
Tom: Haven't played this or Second Sight yet. Yet I have almost an entire week off right here in front of me. Hrm. Don't mind if I do!
Join us again tomorrow for number's 30-21...
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