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Top 50 Games of 2004: 30-21

We're getting closer to the biggest and bestest games of 2004, and it's safe to say that between them these ones could keep you going until next year's roundup.

Games numbering 30 to 21 in our continuing round-up of Eurogamer's Top 50 Games of 2004. If you missed out on either of the previous two instalments, head here for 50-41, and here for 40-31. And if you want to know precisely what this list represents, check the first instalment again for details.

30 - Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005 (EA Sports, PS2/Xbox/Cube/PC)

Kristan: If Tom wasn't so determined to review these games every time they come in, I'd probably be well into this by now. I've loved Golf games ever since Leaderboard changed everything back in 1986, and this looks fabulous. Another of those games I'd play if I wasn't doing this job. Or maybe I'll make it into an EG office favourite and just use it as an excuse to beat Tom for fun.

Ronan: People tend to swing one way or the other with this series. Tiger 2005 may not have been on a par with previous updates, but it still leaves every other golf game green with envy. I'd chip in with another clichéd pun, but I'm afraid I'd be clubbed to death. A great game, one of the few worthy of EA's annual polish-ups.

Tom: Again with the lack of Xbox Live support. Why, EA? Why? You even got this one working on PS2 Online for Pete's sake! Pet peeves about the lack of online play aside though (just go and buy Links 2004 if that's what you're after; it's not similar enough to satisfy Tiger die-hards completely, but it gets plenty right), this is probably the best Tiger Woods game yet, despite not taking any particularly significant steps forward. Look upon this as more courses, more challenges, and more customisation options, and decide whether you need them and that's the question of whether it's worth buying over and done with. It earns its place in this line-up by virtue of swallowing far more of my life than the average yearly update can ever hope to do.

29 - Fable (Lionhead/Big Blue Box, Xbox)

Kieron: For those who believed the hype, a disappointment. For everyone else, a joy. The moral being... oh, you figure it out. The latest depressing example of how people misapply Chuck D's famous "Don't Believe The Hype" to mean "Disagree with the Hype" rather than "Think for yourselves".

Kristan: I'm not sure if I'm in the 'believed the hype' camp or the 'everyone else' one. I think I'm just put off by the general air of disappointment more than anything else. There are a few games out there that always sound better than they really are, and I get the feeling that this definitely applies to Fable. I'd like to play it, I really would, but I've read so many little moans that put me off I just end up playing it safe. Maybe one day. Maybe I'll 'think for myself', but in a time poor world you tend to spend far too much time listening to opinions that may not tally with your own in any way. Ah well.

Ronan: *BONG* There's that death knell again. *BONG* But wait a second, this isn't even an RPG! It's a brilliant action-adventure game!! *BONG* Oh, I see, this time the death knell is for my social life. *BONG* Well, you have me there. I did get seriously addicted to Fable's compelling blend of customisation, fairytale graphics and kill 'em all gameplay. *BONG* Please stop that now. *BO...* That's better.

Rob: I loved this. Really, really loved it. I have no idea how this happened. I like Japanese RPGs and can't stand most western developed ones, and I'm the world's biggest cynic about the Molyneux hype machine. I popped the disc in expecting to scoff, and emerged about 15 hours later, unshaven, hungry, and wondering enthusiastically what the game would be like if I hadn't led all those innocents to their messy deaths in the Temple of Skorm. For reference: there were more butterflies. And my motley assortment of wives and husbands wanted to have sex with me more. See, being good isn't so bad.

Tom: Realising this was going to pop up and require comment this week, I popped it in the drive myself for the first time and found myself gently absorbed by its fairytale looks and approachable, well, to fall back on a word I don't enjoy using, "gameplay". It's just so amiable. And you know your choices make a difference, even if the difference isn't as big as some people told us it was going to be. Pick it up without preconceptions and you'll probably get lost in the experience, as I fully intend to do tomorrow while I stew on a beanbag cursing the amount of beef, potatoes and sausages-with-bacon-wrapped-around-them I'll have consumed this evening. And, just off the top of my head, surely one of the most positive things you can say about it is that you don't lose patience despite all the NPCs with scouse or west country accents. A first impression, then, to sit with the full-time reflections above: Orf-ally good.

28 - Football Manager 2005 (SEGA/Sports Interactive, PC)

Kristan: I'm so bored of people tittering at CM/FM. The jokes really were old in about 1995, kids. Yes it is a mire of statistics, yes it does look a little bit like a tarted up Excel spreadsheet. Yes, it is a complete anomaly next to the world of normal-mapped 3D games, but it's also the most delicately constructed fantasy role-playing game ever. A world where the only wizards you'll come across are ones that can dribble past a flummoxed full back and cross for your rampaging forward to leap like a Salmon and bust the net off (if you can imagine that in a 2D match engine). It's the only game that has had me properly obsessed; to the extent of taking squad print outs to work with me. I have, thankfully, long since recovered, but like the best intoxicants in the world, you'll always be addicted to them. You could say I'm a recovering addict, but there's always a chance I'll relapse.

Kieron: Revolutionary 2D Match Engine!

Ronan: Thank god I don't have a PC good enough to play this. I never want to play this. My life is only so bloody short for crying out loud. (Tom, lend us your PC for a while, yeah?)

Tom: (No.)

27 - Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (Konami/Silicon Knights, Cube)

Kristan: I only wish more classic games were brought up to date as sympathetically as this, because a) it would give fans a chance to play their favourites again without feeling let down by how much technology has moved on, and b) because it's being honest. Half-Life: Source was a total waste of time to my mind, but I'd happily buy a properly remodelled version and play right the way through again, and the same thing applies to a lot of the first-generation of 3D games that now look a bit saggy. With that in mind, thank you Capcom for Resident Evil, and thank you Konami for this reinvention of the past. It really does work.

Ronan: SNAAAAAKKKKEEE! Except this time with bells on. Gorgeous, and plays like a dream on the Cube controller. If this was the first time you played through MGS, then you're a lucky sod!

Rob: No but seriously - what was wrong with the original music, eh? Maybe it's just not long enough since I played the first MGS, but I ran through Twin Snakes in true Victor Meldrew style, muttering about how things were much better when I were a lad. Oh well.

Tom: One of my favourite games of the year. Seriously. I know it inside out, but it just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I play it, watching all the pieces of the jigsaw sink satisfyingly into place as a cavalcade of unique boss fights and sneaking sections saunter past with cinematic majesty. The original Metal Gear Solid - for this is how I now remember it - was a system-seller, and for anybody too young to have gotten on board with it on the PSX, this ought to be too. If you don't understand why people were so up in arms about Snake's absence from most of MGS2, play this and you will. It has its fair share of control problems and occasional camera issues, but you'll get past those, and you could argue that the pacing is at times questionable, but in a way that's the key to its charm: it's meticulously unpredictable. The things you know with certainty one minute are turned upside down ten minutes later. Yet there's never too much that you get confused and bored. I personally don't understand why Ninja or a couple of the others needed re-voicing, but I'll accept it given the strength of the improved action sequences - redone in the same vein as MGS2's celebrated efforts (i.e. the ones involving movement) - and just how SOLID it's become as a results of Konami and, lest we forget, Silicon Knights' efforts.

26 - Far Cry (Ubisoft/Crytek Studios, PC)

Kieron: Has been entertaining to watch the value of Far Cry's coin rise and fall throughout the year. Hailed on release, it picked up a "It's not all that" backlash while remedially designed slosh like Painkiller somehow became cause celebre among those who failed to understand that Serious Sam did more than just lob baddies at you randomly. And now everyone is starting to love it again, thanks to the many areas within the genre where it broke genuine new ground. No, really.

Kristan: I was one of the very few critics that dared to besmirch Far Cry in only giving it 8/10, and endured a rancid backlash as a result. It was obviously a wonderful looking game for its time (being lucky enough to have been released in a clear period of post-Christmas daylight away from Doom III or Half-Life 2), and had a marvelous free roaming sense of possibility that threw up numerous ways of tacking each level. But with some of the worst AI voiceovers in the history of gaming, the atmosphere just wasn't there for me; and regular readers will attest that for me that's the X factor that I require. Mechanically and technically it was utterly superb, but these days shooters have to have much more than that to rise to the top. If you admire B-movie games with ace action, look no further. in some people's eyes this is better than Half-Life 2, but they're just being controversial, so just smile and nod.

Ronan: I saw Kristan play it once. What a scary island.

Rob: I think I went on holiday there. There were a lot of mosquitoes. It's on my list of games to play, now that Eurogamer is kitted out with wonderful Alienware PCs which will do it justice, but for now I am merely intrigued by the prospect of playing as a lead character who has worse fashion sense than I do.

Tom: So... I got a mouse and a mouse mat, and Rob got a whole PC? Far crying out loud!

25 - Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (Ubisoft, Xbox/PS2/Cube/PC)

Kristan: The original Xbox Splinter Cell had a fantastic vision, but some bloody-minded level design turned it into a needlessly taxing and often overly frustrating experience. Pandora Tomorrow ironed many of the flaws out, producing a far more rounded experience that didn't have the wow factor of the original but still concocted a plethora of memorable set pieces, alongside a marvelous two-on-two online multiplayer mode that bore little resemblance to the game itself. Now, if only Ubisoft raised its game in the cinematic stakes it could finally win over those stubborn Solid Snake fans like Tom who refuse to budge over which is the better stealth offering - not necessarily because of the game, but more because they just don't buy into Sam Fisher's world in the same way...

Tom: No, I think you misunderstand. I don't like Splinter Cell because I find it boring on every front, not just because I don't get on with the story. The fact that I don't really have much interest in what I'll find when I get to where I'm sneaking is one thing, but equally damaging is the tedium of sneaking itself - I felt suffocated by the shadows, not safe in them, and aggravated by the AI, level design, visual style, pretty much everything. Particularly the "you've been spotted" music. I absolutely understand and frankly envy people's affection for it, and I've made several abortive attempts to join their ranks, even buying the thing at one point to try and force myself to give it a go, but it's never managed to hold me beyond the couple of hours grace I'm prepared to give it. And, given that Solid Snake already does enough for me in the sneaking department and works on different areas of my brain with his maze-like storylines of Bond-like intrigue and satisfyingly varied and immensely inclusive approach that straddles narrative-driven/casual/pure gaming so expertly, I usually find better things to do with my time. Splinter Cell is a great game. I can say that objectively. It pulls people in whether by story or craft and keeps them there as their fondness for it grows - exactly the way Thief III ensnared me, actually - but in this case it's just not for me, and that's not because Metal Gear Solid overrules it. In my view the two are only comparable on the most basic conceptual level, and I simply don't get on with the genre Splinter Cell calls home very often. Sorry.

Ronan: Nowhere near as compelling as the first game, but excellent entertainment nonetheless. As sequels go, it was acceptable, but Chaos Theory will have to spruce up the level design a bit to keep me interested. Sam Fisher has to be one of current-gen's most comfortable-to-control characters though, like a 'real-life' Prince of Persia. Which is a stupid analogy really. Leave me alone.

24 - Pikmin 2 (Nintendo, Cube)

Kristan: Damn and blast. Like most of the Nintendo canon, Tom tends to get the joyous task of reviewing these, so I've yet to sample this. But who could ignore a game with leaf-headed men? Not me, that's for sure.

Ronan: We're rooting for ya Miyamoto-san. (Did I say that right Rob?)

Rob: You did good son, I'm proud of you. So did Shigsy, for that matter. Pikmin 2 is no quick sequel - it adds tons of new elements to the game, fixes most of the problems encountered in the first one and adds a genuinely excellent multiplayer mode which nearly made me brain Tom with a Wavebird (until I realised what I was doing and brained him with a normal Cube pad instead). If you thought the first game fell just short of excellence, pick this one up - it really does hit the mark.

Tom: Yes it does. Having another character to control makes a big difference to the single-player, as do the new types of Pikmin, and the multiplayer mode is surprisingly absorbing despite having no real right to work at all. Best recommendation? Last time I checked in, the person to whom I gave my copy post-review had clocked up something like 150 in-game days of play, which must be equal to at least several entire days of normal time. Which kind of answers the question of whether it'll last longer than the original with a big, knowing, "Yes, petal".

23 - Rallisport Challenge 2 (Microsoft/DICE, Xbox)

Kristan: Rally games come thick and fast every year, much to my personal exasperation (as I'm the only one who's even vaguely interested in looking at them), but although the standard was higher than ever this year, there was only one that really warranted the high price tag, and it came from those Swedish maestros DICE. RSC was already one of the most perfect racing games ever made, pushing the Xbox to unbelievable levels, and to follow it up with a far superior sequel was astonishing. Adding Live play was inevitable, but as with all of Microsoft's first party Xbox games of recent times it was integrated brilliantly and... sold zip all again. If gamers can be treated to the best graphics, superior handling and a fantastic game structure and still turn their noses up there's not a lot of hope for mankind.

Ronan: Generally, I don't like rally games. I prefer arcade racers like Burnout 3 and Mario Kart. But Rallisport really blew that notion out of the water - and right on to its stunning, highly-satisfying tracks. It's amazing how realistic this games feels. (Well, I'd imagine it's realistic). The career mode was superb and the online play even better. Top stuff.

22 - OutRun2 (SEGA/Sumo Digital, Xbox)

Kristan: Undoubtedly a great arcade challenge, but would you really pay full price for it? The public said no, judging by its lowly chart placing and swift disappearance despite a high profile launch. Personally there's just not enough on offer here to warrant such a high placing, but some of the others loved it and genuinely got loads out of it, so who am I to dissent?

Rob: Wheeeeee! WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! *smash* ... Yeah, that's pretty much it. Fun, though.

Tom: Not just fun, but loads of it! The regular arcade mode is magic despite its shortness, thanks to a driving model that Rob rather accurately summed up, and the extensive challenge mode options and Xbox Live multiplayer ought to keep people occupied for far longer than most people gave it credit. And did I mention how beautiful it is? Or how many little surprises there are in store for the SEGA loving crowd? Fine, if you don't trust me to buy it at full price then don't, but if you see it for anything less than 20 bob you'd have to be insane to leave it on the shelf.

21 - Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (KOEI/Nippon Ichi, PS2)

Kristan: Now this sounds like a degenerative disease, no wonder I avoid them. Another Jap RPG with fluffy, cutesy retro visuals that rely way too much on ickle noses, big eyes and the colour pink, turn-based combat and endless text-based conversations that has fans of the series up in arms about its lack of sales, but has the rest of us arching eyebrows quizzically at what it is exactly that we're missing.

Ronan: I like RPGs. I like anime. This seems like the perfect combination. However, having only played it for under two hours, I can't tell you if it is. Definitely one I'll go back to, but with the backlog already huge, I'll wait until the quiet summer months. Though, judging by some of the earlier characters in the game, maybe not so quiet.

Rob: The most sadly overlooked game of the year, in my estimation. Kristan's inability to see past the anime style designs is probably an affliction shared by many people out there (he's also ginger - make of this what you will), which is a shame, because it's denied them the experience of one of the best turn-based strategy games ever. It's a game which makes rules and then gleefully challenges you to break them in the most interesting and evil ways possible. If you don't feel like an underhanded git by the time you finish a battle, you haven't played it right. Superb. And funny as hell, too.

Getting closer! Join us tomorrow for 20 through 11...

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