This week marks a new type of Top 10 Tuesday that I’ll be doing every once in a while, and that is a “best of” for a particular year in gaming history. From time to time, I’ll select a year and count down my 10 favorite games of that year for the week’s top 10. If the year was particularly good, like the subject of this week’s list, I may also choose a few honorable mentions as well. To begin, I’ve chosen the year 2001. 2001 was an interesting year in that it saw the launch of several new consoles and the beginning of a new generational cycle, but still had many quality titles released for the previous generation of consoles as well. So, here are the best games of 2001.
Paper Mario (N64), Devil May Cry (PS2), Golden Sun (GBA), Final Fantasy X (PS2), Silent Hill 2 (PS2, Xbox)
10. Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (PS2)
I’ve never been what you would call a “car guy”, but I do enjoy driving games on occasion, and Gran Turismo 3 is one of the best I’ve ever played. The simulation aspect is obviously one that appeals to car nuts, but the progression system is what drew me in. By starting you off in the lower tiers and forcing you to drive the kinds of cars normal people drive on an everyday basis, you feel like you’ve earned it later on when you get your more advanced licenses and gain access to supercars and the like. It’s also a big plus that the game has such a fantastic driving and handling model and some of the best visuals ever seen in a game back in 2001.
9. Max Payne (PC, PS2, Xbox)
It’s safe to say that in 2001, the Matrix, while not quite brand new, was still enough a lingering phenomenon for others to try to ride it’s popularity. Until Max Payne came out in summer 2001, there hadn’t really been a game that captured the type of slow motion, acrobatic gun fights seen in the Matrix. The two main influences for Max Payne were John Woo films and the Matrix, and it is very clear when playing the game, to the point that several years later there would be both a Matrix game and a John Woo game that were disregarded by many as “Max Payne clones”. It wasn’t jump bullet time and dual wielding that make the game great though, the real draw of Max Payne is its gritty film noir story, told primarily through graphic novel panels (another technique that this game popularized).
8. Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal (PC)
The expansion to Baldur’s Gate II, Throne of Bhaal is considered by many to be the unofficial Baldur’s Gate III. As mentioned in my list of the top 10 expansions from several weeks ago, Throne of Bhaal is really a full game that just so happens to be an expansion to another game, and you can bet fans were excited to get more less than a year after Baldur’s Gate II came out.
7. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (N64)
Conker’s Bad Fur Day is everything you could want in N64 era Rare platformer, with an added twist of being extremely vulgar, vile, and quite hilarious. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is logical next step in Rare platformers, taking everything learned with the Banjo games and Donkey Kong 64, and improving and refining. The mature themes and vulgar humor are certainly a departure given the track record and origin of Conker as a character in Diddy Kong racing, but it all works in the game’s favor. The one thing holding this game back was the fact that new consoles were on everyone’s mind, and this was a Nintendo 64 game, but it ended up as one of the best looking and overall best games in the platforms history, and was more than a match for all the shiny new next gen games.
6. Ico (PS2)
If there is one game design element that seems to universally reviled by pretty every gamer to have ever picked up a controller, it would be escort missions. Despite this, one of the most beloved cult classics in gaming history, Ico, can be most simply summed up as one long escort mission. Ico is pretty much the exception that proves the rule in terms of escort missions, but it is nevertheless considered a genuine classic by the few that have actually played it. Ico, along with its psuedo-sequel Shadow of the Colossus, were for a time considered the very epitome of “games as art”. There are certainly more games these days vying for the vaunted title of “art games”, Ico is one of the forebears of this genre, and deservedly so. It may not have been the best selling game of 2001, but was certainly one of the highest quality games of the year.