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08 February, 2021

Remembering 2001: The Biggest Games That Turn 20 This Year

Circa 2001 The year 2001 was a monumental year for gaming. Along with the release of Microsoft's first video game console, the Xbox, Sony's PlayStation 2 hit a major stride in its second year with an incredible slate of first- and third-party releases. Furthermore, Nintendo launched a new handheld in the form of the Game Boy Advance, and followed up the Nintendo 64 with the GameCube. The games industry, and the audience of consumers, expanded massively in this particular year, and several games would help usher in a new era of gaming--many of which would go on to redefine what we expect in console shooters and the burgeoning promise of exploring an open world in a game. In this roundup, GameSpot looks back at the games celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. The year 2001 was incredibly disruptive, both in the gaming world and in the rest of life, and many of these games would, in some way, not only signal the coming times, but even offer a sense of comfort when people needed it most. With titles like the trippy and subversive Metal Gear Solid 2 proving that games can reflect and predict the strangeness of our present reality, or Grand Theft Auto 3 showing the promise of letting players create their own fun in an open-world city, many of the games on this list would stay nestled in the consciousness of fans and shake up genre conventions for the decades to come. Be sure to check back with this gallery in the future, as we will be adding more shout-outs for the games of 2001. Organized by their respective western release dates, here is GameSpot's selection of the most noteworthy games of 2001, along with our thoughts on why they've stuck with us 20 years later. Below, you can find our previous roundups of games we love. * Remembering 1998: Metal Gear Solid, The Legend Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life and more. * Remembering 1999: Final Fantasy VIII, Silent Hill, Resident Evil 3, and more. * Remembering 2007: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Uncharted, and more. * Remembering 2008: Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto IV, and more. * Remembering 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, Borderlands, and more. * Remembering 2010: Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas, God of War III, and more. * Remembering 2011: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Dark Souls, and More. Phantasy Star Online | January 29 Phantasy Star Online was truly something unique in 2001 for many different reasons. First off, Sega's Phantasy Star franchise had been a staple among the classic single-player JRPGs even though it hadn't reached the same critical mass as a Final Fantasy--and now it was going online in a semi-MMO? Second, it was one of the first console games to use online multiplayer--you mean to tell me I can play an online RPG on the Dreamcast? And third, it was just a really fun time on top of it breaking new ground. While the PC gaming space had games like Everquest and Asheron's Call by this time, PSO brought some of that magic to consoles by having hub areas where players team up to take on four-player dungeon instances. Through its action-RPG hooks, we built and leveled up characters with strangers over the internet and took down tough bosses when it was such a novel experience. I can't really remember the story or premise of PSO, but that wasn't why I was there. Playing an online RPG in the early 2000s, and at such a young age, it felt like magic, like Sega had created something that defied logic or what my small brain could comprehend about technology. I actually didn't get around to PSO until 2003, a year after it was ported to the Gamecube (RIP Dreamcast). I'll never forget using that super-wide Gamecube controller-keyboard hybrid that I bought to play the game; it was absolutely ridiculous, but I'd always be giggling to myself every time I typed a message to someone. Listen, this was the first time I could access the internet, and PSO will always be tied to that experience. -- Michael Higham, Associate Editor Paper Mario | February 5 Mario has been an important piece to many of our gaming histories, and the same goes for me--but for not-so-obvious reasons. I grew up loving RPGs and a major reason for that is because of how much time I spent with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on SNES. From its upbeat soundtrack to its goofy writing and digestible RPG mechanics, I loved every minute of my 20-or-so playthroughs of the game. And I always thought about what a sequel could be. That's essentially what Paper Mario turned out to be, but with a novel twist and an all-new premise. I was hesitant to embrace it, but after giving it some time, Paper Mario became a memorable experience in its own right. The lighthearted premise and whimsical pop-up book art style brought a sense of comfort and wonder. While it wasn't too challenging, I loved that I could play as Mario in an RPG again, and that there was still strategic complexity to the turn-based combat. Paper Mario also brought its own cast of original characters like Goombario, Parakarry, and Bombette to fight alongside Mario and bring their own sense of charm to the game. Overall, it was just a really warm and comforting RPG to have after Final Fantasy 7 and 8 hurt my feelings! In a way, Paper Mario may have been fighting an uphill battle with its release in 2001--the PS2 was already going strong and Final Fantasy X was on the horizon, and eyes were set on the Xbox and Gamecube launch later that year. The N64 was sort of on its last legs, but as a kid who was a console generation behind with a hand-me-down N64, Paper Mario was an absolute treat. -- Michael Higham, Associate Editor The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons / Ages | February 27 With its next-generation Game Boy Advance set to launch in summer 2001, Nintendo sent the Game Boy Color off in fittingly grand fashion with one final pair of Zelda games: The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. Although their dual release was seemingly inspired by Pokemon's two-version approach, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons were not simply the same game with slight differences, but rather two wholly self-contained adventures that could link up via a password system--and they were among the best titles to ever release for the handheld. Despite sharing the same general foundation, each game was a distinct experience, with unique items, dungeons, and storylines. Oracle of Ages took Link to the land of Labrynna, where he had to navigate between different time periods to ultimately stop the evil sorceress Veran. Oracle of Seasons, meanwhile, whisked Link off to Holodrum, where he had to harness the power of the seasons to topple the General of Darkness, Onox. Each game's premise ties back into the gameplay. Oracle of Ages' signature item, the Harp of Time, allowed Link to jump between the present and the past, and many actions that the hero took while in the past had a ripple effect, opening new paths forward in the present. On the other hand, Oracle of Seasons' hook was the Rod of Seasons, a scepter that gave Link the ability to change what season it was. By altering the season to winter, for example, a lake would freeze over, allowing Link to cross it. These ideas led to clever and head-scratching puzzles, helping make the Oracle games feel like epic adventures crammed into a small screen. Perhaps the most striking thing about the titles, however, was that they were developed not by Nintendo, but rather Flagship, a subsidiary of Capcom that would later go on to create The Minish Cap and the multiplayer offshoot Four Swords (which would both become classic Zelda games in their own right). Flagship proved to be a more than capable steward of the Zelda series, and the Oracle games easily stand alongside Link's Awakening as some of my favorite 2D Zelda adventures. I was happy to see Nintendo re-release the games on the 3DS Virtual Console, but I'd be even happier to see them eventually get their own Link's Awakening-style makeover on Switch. -- Kevin Knezevic, Associate Editor Zone of the Enders | March 26 The original Zone of the Enders on the PS2 was a fun mecha action game that channeled the tone and excitement of what I loved most about classic giant robot anime like Macross and Mobile Suit Gundam . But to most other people, it was the game that was packaged with the demo for Metal Gear Solid 2. In 2001, the PS2 was hitting its stride, and despite heavier hitters like MGS2, Devil May Cry, and Grand Theft Auto 3 set for the fall season, the early half of the console's second year still had a surprising number of games to keep players satisfied. There was a lot of hype surrounding the demo for Metal Gear Solid 2, and most people admitted they bought Zone of the Enders just for the chance to play a slice of Hideo Kojima's big sequel. But for me, I came away having a great appreciation for how fun and weird the mech game turned out to be. Let me be clear, though. I'm not going to stand here and deny that MGS2 was my most anticipated game at the time or that the demo alone was worth the price of the bundle. Having said that, I was still blown away by Zone of the Enders and its visuals and fast-paced gameplay. Piloting the giant mecha Jehuty, which still stands as one of the more bizarre and vaguely obscene designs for a giant robot I've ever seen, offered some of the most satisfying and speedy combat I had played at the time. It managed to make aerial combat in a game fun, which really made some of the daring missions across a space station filled with enemy AI robots thrilling. At the time, I was disappointed with other mech games like Mobile Suit Gundam: Journey To Jaburo, so getting to play something as riveting as Zone of the Enders perfectly scratched my itch for an experience that resembled the mecha anime I so deeply adored. Its sequel, Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner, was even better, and it still stands as one of my favorite action games ever. I still have fond memories of the series, and it's a shame that Konami hasn't taken advantage of it more throughout the years. I doubt we'll see another entry , but I'm at least glad that we have two great games we got. -- Alessandro Fillari, Editor Red Faction | May 22 In early 2001, just before Halo: Combat Evolved came out, good first-person shooters on consoles were hard to come by. At the time, we had Perfect Dark, the early Medal of Honor games on PS1, and the original TimeSplitters. So when Red Faction came around, it was wild because of how it offered a fairly meaty single-player campaign alongside novel mechanics built around free-form environmental destruction. Red Faction was pretty dark and, dare I say, gritty, but blasting your way out of an exploitative mining operation and labor camp on Mars with an impressively unique arsenal made for a great time. Looking back at it now, it's basically a worker's revolt amid a disease as the cure is being withheld--but you had big silly weapons to play around with, so that was cool. Creating your own paths by destroying walls and bridges or chipping away at rock formations gave the game a much different feel from other games at the time when it came to exploration and combat scenarios. The gunplay was also great, which made the multiplayer component worthwhile, especially for a kid without the internet or a PC to play real multiplayer shooters. I don't think I remember much else from Red Faction other than the wild setpiece firefights, but those are what it set out to do, and it did them well. A boon of console FPS games would soon come with the likes of Halo, 007: Nightfire, TimeSplitters 2, Medal of Honor: Frontline, the Half-Life PS2 port, and many more. But in the early PS2 days, Red Faction scratched that FPS itch just fine. -- Michael Higham, Associate Editor Twisted Metal: Black | June 18 Maybe it was just my naivete at the time, but I didn't really realize just how messed up Twisted Metal Black was. It was dark and violent, almost like slasher films, with gruesome CGI cutscenes and storylines that just made you feel dirty. It was certainly a twist for the Twisted Metal series, which was sinister but in a much more goofy way. This was also the first PS2 entry for the classic car-combat games, too, and I'd probably still consider it the best one in the franchise. The darkness of Twisted Metal Black extended to its bleak aesthetic and intricate map designs, giving it a distinct look and feel. It also just ran much smoother and was more responsive with the jump to the new platform, so the destruction derby-style gameplay with wild projectiles and weapon pickups turned out to be more enjoyable than the series' past. From what I can remember, it was tough as nails in its single player campaigns, but I could also just flip on multiplayer with AI bots and cause destruction with the unique characters, who all played somewhat differently. I also can't hear the Rolling Stones' hit song "Paint It Black" without thinking of Twisted Metal Black; as the game's theme song, that opening riff sounds just a bit more dark and unsettling when I think about how this game may have scarred me at the time! -- Michael Higham, Associate Editor Sonic Adventure 2 | June 23 I have great memories of playing the original Sonic Adventure with my best friend growing up. Countless hours were spent during sleepovers playing the game on his Dreamcast (I sadly didn't have one at the time), as we spent all night clearing out every character's path. What made it especially memorable was that he didn't have a memory unit and we had to use a clamp to keep the power cord in the system. Otherwise, it would fall out and we would lose all our progress--but we made it through together. This seems like it may be a weird, extraneous fact, but trust me, it'll be important later in this story. When we heard the sequel was on the way, you know both of us couldn't contain our excitement. During those days, I didn't keep track of dates for game releases very well, so I never really knew when Sonic Adventure 2 was going to come out. But I'll always vividly remember when I finally saw it on a shelf at my local video rental store with its sick cover art of Sonic and Shadow standing back-to-back. I don't remember what circumstances had led to it, but at the time, I had borrowed my friend's Dreamcast. So, when I finally saw Sonic Adventure 2, the stars had aligned. I could play Sonic Adventure 2! Admittedly, I felt extremely guilty renting it intending to start it without my friend. But after a moment of hesitation, I grabbed that game off the shelf and hurried back home at a speed so fast that I'm sure Sonic himself would have been impressed. Hands shaking and heart beating, I slammed the disc into the console and set out to finally play the much anticipated sequel to Sonic's first real 3D adventure. When I started up the first level on the hero's side of the story, saying it changed my life would probably be an understatement. City Escape is essentially a part of my DNA at this point. This was due in part to the state of my best friend's Dreamcast because I couldn't save my game and the console had a hard time staying powered on. (See, I told you this was important!) And so I played through City Escape so... many... times... and, to be honest, I loved every second of it. Every hill, ring, G.U.N. robot, and most importantly, the lyrics to "Escape from the City" are all forever burned into my big, dumb brain and will they will never leave. It's all rolling around up there at the speed of sound, but I've got places to go and I gotta follow my rainbow. Okay, that's enough from me. Sonic Adventure 2 is a rad game and I still love it so much. -- Ben Janca, Video Producer Max Payne | July 23 I remember reading about Max Payne in an old issue of EGM and being hooked by its dark and violent film-noir premise. And thankfully my older brother was into it as well, because there was no way in hell I was going to get my hands on this game as a kid. Max Payne was tough and unforgiving, but just figuring out what was going on with its sinister story kept me pushing through. The comic-style panels for its storytelling and the overly-serious voice of Max Payne were enticing and blended with the ridiculous shootouts that filled the snow-covered streets and dirty buildings across New York City. The game got even more deranged with dream sequences with Max screaming into the void while you try to do a (not so great) platforming section. And it eventually went into some demonic stuff as you dug deeper into the newest drug to hit the streets, Valkyr. The more twisted the story got, the harder I tried to get through to the end. And what's Max Payne without Bullet Time? Nothing, really. Jumping sideways in slow-motion to land the perfect shot between cover, or busting into a room and lining up every shot to take out all the bad dudes before they could even react, was an unmatched feeling for a shooter at the time. It was iconic, mimicking the style and intrigue of The Matrix, and was a mechanic that was as satisfying as it was useful. Only recently did I realize that the original Max Payne character design was a one-to-one recreation of lead developer Sam Lake, and I don't know why, but that's just hilarious to me. Look at Remedy now with Control--but remember you don't get Control without Max Payne! -- Michael Higham, Associate Editor Advance Wars | September 10 When Advance Wars first came out on Game Boy Advance, it garnered little advertising and little press. But upon release, the game received critical acclaim and ended up becoming a sleeper hit, bringing a wave of turn-based strategy games to the little handheld. I was among those who first bought into the game, as I'd been a long-time fan of strategy games like Ogre Battle, Final Fantasy Tactics, and WarCraft. What I found was a perfectly simple and addicting strategy game that I couldn't seem to stop playing. It had basic turn-based strategy mechanics, and an in-depth mandatory tutorial made it easy enough to understand the rules. To complicate things, both sides of an Advance Wars battle have a Commander among their forces who give their units unique stats, purchase prices, and powers. It was a unique way to add more complexity to the game, and give me the feeling that I needed to collect every possible Commander so I could find my favorite ones. Advance Wars quickly became one of my favorite Game Boy Advance games, and I found myself regularly playing it at night while laying in bed... only to quickly hide it away and pretend to be sleeping when I'd hear my parents coming to check in. It ventured with me on many a bathroom trip, and helped prolong my visits, to what I'm sure was the dismay of my family. While the best in the series was yet to come in the form of Dual Strike, I couldn't be happier about the impact that Advance Wars had on both my life and the gaming market. Its success could have very likely contributed to Nintendo of Japan deciding the West was ready for Fire Emblem in 2003, another one of my favorite video games of all time. If you haven't played Advance Wars, it's simple mechanics and charming visuals still shine today, and I'd still heartily recommend it. -- Dave Klein, Video Producer Ico | September 24 I grew up on the big JRPGs of the Squaresoft boom, when Final Fantasy dominated the conversation for console players. If you wanted extensive worldbuilding, deep characters, and layered stories in games, those were the games you went for. So when I played ICO for the first time, it immediately resonated with me in a similar way, but something about its bright, cheery landscapes, shadowy creatures, ever-present sense of foreboding, and minimalist approach impacted me in a way none of those text-heavy Squaresoft RPGs could do. What drew me to ICO was how it centered on and captured the experience of companionship, using a whole set of mechanics that felt fresh and interesting. Long before we'd all grow annoyed with the idea of the escort mission, leading and protecting Yorda created a bond that was different from hanging out with characters like the talkative Tidus or fighting alongside the stoic Cloud. ICO is a game that feels like it pushes out beyond its edges, giving you only a glimpse of its world, and that wanted you to engage with it in ways that expanded on the limitations games often faced. The PS2 era was a time when the definition of what games were and could be felt like it was expanding, and ICO was one of the games that helped push the envelope. It captured a world without dumping exposition about it, and captured a relationship without explaining it--and the clarity of the vision behind it gave it a powerful resonance. -- Phil Hornshaw, Editor Silent Hill 2 | September 24 When I first played Silent Hill 2 in 2001, I quickly got lost in its foggy streets, and eventually, it soon lost its place in my PS2's disc drive to the much more approachable Metal Gear Solid 2. Something like 12 years later, I finally made it through Silent Hill 2--and I now wonder how the game might have affected me if I'd stuck with it when I was 16 as opposed to 28, because it's a masterpiece. Silent Hill 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, and it stands as a testament to how powerful, brilliant, and strange the games medium can be. Silent Hill 2 is, of course, a horror game, but while it's a damn scary one, it's also a deceptively deep one. Rather than carry on as a sequel to the original Silent Hill, an impressive and scary game that was fairly run-of-the-mill as horror tropes go, Silent Hill 2 spun the franchise on its head. It sends protagonist James Sunderland into a hell of his own making, where he contends with twisted, disgusting creatures wrestled from his own subconscious. And yeah, Pyramid Head stalking after you as you scramble away, fighting for your life, is terrifying. But it's learning how everything fits together and discovering what monsters like the lying figure, the bubble head nurses, and Pyramid Head represent to James is what will really blow your mind. It does something games rarely do even to this day--it trusts you to pay attention and interpret it, and it cares about its subject matter beyond delivering fun gameplay or frightening set pieces. It's often that gameplay trumps storytelling, and as a result, gaming experiences can feel disjointed as you jump from one set piece or level to another, with the story doing little more than providing some thin context to justify them. Silent Hill 2 is impressive because it feels like all aspects of the game--story, art direction, creature design, gameplay, music--are unified with a single purpose. Silent Hill 2 evokes specific feelings to convey a specific story, and it feels like it couldn't exist in this same way in any other medium. I only wish I'd stuck with it in my youth, so I could have been a fan of this game for longer. -- Phil Hornshaw, Editor Devil May Cry | October 16 2001 was the year that made me love the PS2. So many great games were released in that year, and I remember devouring most of the popular ones. Metal Gear Solid 2 was an incredible sequel that had one of the most bizarre and stupefying stories I had experienced at the time, and the chaotic open world of Grand Theft Auto 3 made exploring and getting into trouble fun. However, the one game that managed to rise above them all, for me, was the original Devil May Cry. I'll never forget playing through the original game for the first time and loving the protagonist Dante's cocky swagger and absurd weapons. I had never played a game that handled action in such a cool and stylish way, and it's stuck with me even 20 years on. While the Devil May Cry series has its roots in the Resident Evil series--it began life as a series' first PS2 entry, after all--it broke away from the conventions of survival horror to offer a more no-frills action experience. One of the most surprising things I learned about the game was that it had unlimited ammo for Dante's firearms. This concept greatly amused me at the time, and I figured that I could blast my way through the game with Dante's shotgun--but I was quickly pummeled by a squad of possessed, knife-wielding marionettes soon after. The thing about Devil May Cry, and this is true even now, is that it rewards you for playing with as much style and coolness as possible. This is done by mixing up your melee, firearm, and demonic powers. When you get these different skills to work in concert with one another, this game sings. The game's truest rewards aren't in terms of in-game bonuses you get for playing with style, but for how damn satisfying it is to see what you can pull off with its crazy combat system. Being able to launch an enemy into the air with your sword and fire at them with your shotgun and then seeing them blown apart by the rapturous blast is always thrilling. When you get so well-versed in the mechanics of combat, you'll be weaving in and out different encounters with foes with ease. It's such a good feeling getting into the flow in Devil May Cry. I still have fond memories of playing the original game. At the time, I never played a game that made it feel so cool to toy with your enemies and immediately punish them when they try to take a swing at you. This particular game would set the groundwork for the so-called "Character Action" sub-genre of games, encompassing titles like Bayonetta, Nier Automata, God of War, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengence. While some aspects of the game haven't aged that well, its combat's flow and sophistication still hits hard. Devil May Cry is an awesome action game, and I still hold it near and dear to my heart. If you want to know more about the history of Devil May Cry, then go check out GameSpot's video offering a detailed look back on the making of the series. -- Alessandro Fillari, Editor Grand Theft Auto III | October 22 I remember first seeing Grand Theft Auto III and being absolutely blown away. I had been a big fan of GTA II and its world full of freedom, but its PS2 sequel shifted the point-of-view to a 3D perspective, and that would serve as the foundation for what's become one of the most influential games of all time. The game industry's proclivity for open-world action games (and the elements contained therewithin) can largely be traced back to the success of GTA III. And while I've grown tired with some of the stale attempts to recreate that formula, I'll always have fond memories of GTA III. It was the perfect sort of game for someone like me, who wasn't likely to get many new games outside of Christmas and my birthday. There were so many ways in which to approach GTA III: play through its campaign, hunt down every hidden package, spend some time as a taxi driver, explore for secrets, or just make your own fun. While some of those things, like the mundane side activities--which would famously be lampooned in a Saints Row 2 trailer--are less thrilling in retrospect, their existence still helped contribute to the sense that you were roaming around a real world. But it was the sheer joy of creating your own fun that kept me playing for countless hours. Whether it was figuring out how to spawn the BF Injection, trying to fly as far as possible in the Dodo plane, seeing how long you could hold out with a six-star Wanted level, or creating makeshift multiplayer challenges by handing off the controller, GTA III was a sandbox that rewarded your creativity. It's since been surpassed in many ways, but I'll always enjoy a Mafia Sentinel ride around the three islands to prove I still have their streets memorized. -- Chris Pereira, Senior Editor Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 | October 30 Coming off of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on the PS1, it felt like the series couldn't get any better. But with the wave of new consoles, THPS 3 took skating in video game form to new levels. It still used the basic premise of trying to reach high scores and hit a bunch of collectibles in a two-minute window across ridiculously designed skateparks. However, the increase in visual fidelity and smoother gameplay experience made THPS 3 feel like the series was entering a whole new era. The addition of the revert allowed you to string together even wilder combos for vert skating--connecting reverts to manuals to grinds and finessing your way back to vert ramps gave THPS a new way of challenging you to hit seemingly infinite combos. The objectives for each skatepark got more inventive and over-the-top as well, like stopping robbers at an airport terminal or burying a bully in snow at a ski resort. THPS 3 was the most refined version of video game skateboarding that had ever existed. As always, THPS 3 brought an awesome licensed soundtrack with it, spanning different genres and exposing its players to new music. For example, I got into AFI, Guttermouth, and The Adolescents only after discovering them through THPS 3. I was still entering my early skating phase around the time I got to play THPS 3 and it was further motivation to keep bashing myself into concrete from bailing, for better or worse. But at least I had this game to ease the pain. -- Michael Higham, Associate Editor Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 | October 31 At GameSpot, I often talk about my love for the first Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, but rarely discuss its PS2 sequel. As much as I adore the first entry and recognize it as the superior game, I hold a special, unwavering affection for Soul Reaver 2. And, interestingly enough, it was because of reading GameSpot alumnus Greg Kasavin's SR2 review that I asked for it on my 11th birthday (Thank youuu, Mom~). Out of the five games in the depressingly long-dormant LOK franchise, SR2 is by far my favorite. It was enormously influential to my critical thinking, pushing my fourth-grade brain to make sense of its enigmatic cast of characters. In my time spent trying to unravel the game's riddles, I would come to learn about how history is often a matter of perspective and that the ones who get to write it may not be telling the truth. Though, nevermind the existential and nihilistic philosophical meditations that frequently dominated the discussions between the game's key characters--a part of SR2 that I wouldn't come to appreciate until I was much older. Instead, it was protagonist Raziel's rebellious spirit and poetic musings that pulled me so deeply into his quest for revenge in my youth. My childish ambition strived to see his vendetta through in a blaze of glory with his foe Kain's severed head on a pike. But SR2's story had different plans, typically using your encounters with Kain to challenge Raziel's motivations and wax eloquent about inevitability, free will, and whether or not such bloody endeavors would mean anything in the end. These questions only encouraged me to plunge deeper into the world of Nosgoth in search for answers, navigating the many ancient puzzle-filled ruins that littered its lush landscape. The more I learned, the more I questioned the retribution that SR1's intro so wittingly convinced me Raziel needed. What if he really was a pawn? And if so, who was the real enemy engineering these events? It should come as no surprise that a franchise as cryptic as LOK would answer these questions with another question. While it's easy to think this would cheapen the experience--cliffhanger endings are never fun--it didn't. SR2's conclusion is one of the most brilliantly conceived moments in video games, flipping the script with such profundity, culminating in an encounter that drives you into blind rage and self-loathing. What you're ultimately left with is an inescapable melancholy--a tragic revelation that devastates you from the inside out as the credits roll. Again, I must remind you: I played this game when I was 11. Jokes about my immaturity and emotional readiness to tackle complex adult themes aside, I know that I will always cherish SR2. This game inspired me to ask questions and attempt to understand the moral greys in seemingly black and white affairs. It dared me to look deeper beyond the surface and consider the impossible. That for one miraculous moment, there exists a possibility something like a two-sided coin could land not on either of its respective sides, but rather its edge. -- Matt Espineli, Editor SSX Tricky | November 5 Being a sweet, sweet boy who grew up in the Midwest, winter sports were a big thing for me. If you think this sounds just like the intro to my 1080 snowboarding write up that I got asked to do a while ago, you are exactly right, and that's where I am going with this. Also, thank you for remembering, that means so much! Don't remember? Go check it out! Anyway, me, winter sports, snowboarding, cool things that go together. Because of this, I am always drawn to games about winter sports and WHOA BABY did SSX catch my eye... well not SSX, but SSX Tricky. At the time, I couldn't look away from the wild, wonderful characters and was immediately drawn in by the amazing over-the-top take on snowboarding. I was done after seeing my first uber trick. "THEY TAKE THEIR FEET OFF THE BOARD!! HOW DOES THAT WORK!?" is probably what I would have been asking myself if I wasn't already too busy picking my jaw up off the floor. SSX Tricky was perfect. I loved it. This is another one I played at my best friend's house before I managed to get my own copy of it. We played a lot together, but looking back, I managed to play so much solo on his copy that I fully leveled up a character (my boy Mac, BAYBEE!) by myself. Like I would go over to his house to continue playing without him. Gosh, I'm having a moment where I am worried that I may have been a bad friend here. Joel, if you are out there, I am sorry, and I miss you, but I really did play a LOT of your copy of SSX Tricky. I am eternally grateful for you showing me my favorite extreme sports game of all time, also for giving me that copy of SoulCalibur 2 for my birthday. Miss you buddy. It's OK though, it led me to get my own copy that I still have literally sitting on my shelf behind me as I write this. I played so much of SSX Tricky once I had that copy. Same for SSX3. Hell, I even played a bunch of the reboot that wasn't the best, but you know how your boy needs his winter sports games fix. Heartfelt notes to my old friend Joel aside, SSX Tricky and SSX3 fit easily into this small grouping of games that I always look to for comfort. If I am having a rough time or want to get that warm, cozy, safe at home feeling, you can probably catch me tearing it up in the Tokyo Megaplex or Pipedream. I could spend hours just zoning out shredding it up in SSX Tricky. And you know what? I really miss it. Sure, I could pull out the GameCube and go, but it has been far too long since we have seen anything in the SSX series. While it helps that both the most recent SSX reboot and SSX3 are backwards compatible on the Xbox Series X, I know it's not just me who would love to see an SSX Tricky remaster or even a new entry! If you feel the series still has the skills to pay the bills be sure to grab your French toast and syrup and call your mama in the room and show her how great these games were! But mostly just bring them back!? Please? -- Ben Janca, Video Producer Golden Sun | November 12 Although I got a Game Boy Advance shortly after it launched, I remember hardly using the handheld during the first few months of its life, largely due to its meager game lineup at the time. As fun as Super Mario Advance was, I had already played through the original Super Mario 2 countless times on NES and SNES, and no other Game Boy Advance game really caught my attention until Golden Sun arrived in the fall. Developed by Camelot, who I recognized as the studio behind Mario Golf and Mario Tennis, Golden Sun was a classical JRPG--almost to a fault. The game leaned very firmly on JRPG tropes, following a ragtag band of magically-gifted teens as they set off to stop a shadowy group of villains from unleashing an ancient power and destroying the world. It was, admittedly, not the most original plot, but the world that Camelot conjured up was filled with charm, making it easy to overlook any story cliches. What really drew me into the game, however, were its graphics. Golden Sun was a true visual showpiece for the Game Boy Advance, featuring some of the most gorgeous and detailed spritework I'd ever seen in an RPG--handheld or otherwise. The battle scenes in particular were stunning; each spell that you unleashed filled the screen with color and particles, and the giant deities you could summon frankly outclassed any of the summons in classic Final Fantasy games in terms of sheer spectacle. And underpinning all of this was the novel Psynergy system. Although Psynergy was vital in combat, its most clever uses came outside of battle. You often had to make use of different spells to solve puzzles and overcome environmental obstacles, which gave the adventure a Zelda-like sense of progression and made exploration feel so satisfying. All of these elements helped elevate a conventional JRPG story into one of the Game Boy Advance's very best games. There's a good reason Golden Sun remains so beloved among fans, and I'm still holding out hope that Nintendo and Camelot revisit the series someday on Switch. -- Kevin Knezevic, Associate Editor Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty | November 13 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty truly stands above most games that came out in 2001, and its legacy has only grown over time. Think of how bold it was to tease you in the opening tanker mission, where you play as Metal Gear Solid 1 protagonist Solid Snake, only to pull the rug from under you and put you in the shoes of newcomer Raiden for the rest of it? MGS1 quickly rose to iconic status when it came out on PS1, and so many fans were eager to pick the series back up as Snake. But all its twists and turns served the premise of MGS2, and it's better for it. I remember constantly replaying the tanker mission thanks to the MGS2 demo disc that came with Zone of the Enders. It was just a playground for all the wild antics and mechanics I can mess with for a next-gen Metal Gear game. Going into the full game, Big Shell and the several struts that made it up also gave MGS a new flavor of interconnected environments, rather than pure forward progression. MGS2 refined stealth action and intensified the thrill of sneaking, escaping, and combat while taking advantage of the jump to PS2. The way the game messes with you in true Metal Gear fashion also makes for unforgettable moments. Admittedly, Raiden was a grating protagonist in MGS2's opening hours. He wasn't very likable, especially in contrast to the super-serious Snake we loved (and along with David Hayter's iconic performance). However, MGS2 does a lot of setup, and I mean a lot. How it builds up and pays off is what I remember most about the game--it's just one plot twist after another, creating this intricate web of political drama with espionage and manipulation of the world's military power. As absurd as some of its characters, performances, or action set pieces are, MGS2 has a broader message about abuse of power and the influence of information in a digital era. As per Hideo Kojima stories, MGS2 had a stunning level of forethought within its over-the-top nature. How are we supposed to take a game seriously when I'm playing as a pouty edgelord like Raiden who fights an invincible vampire and a rollerskating demolitions expert who drops bombs across an oil rig? MGS2 makes that happen. And by the end, you're hit with overwhelming revelations about the broader Metal Gear story, and what it's trying to say comes into clearer focus. -- Michael Higham, Associate Editor Halo: Combat Evolved | November 15 Halo: Combat Evolved showed that first-person shooters could finally thrive on consoles in a pure state, eschewing the auto-aiming that made them possible before on the Nintendo 64 for dual-analog stick action, but this isn't the only reason it succeeded. Bungie managed to craft a riveting science-fiction universe, complete with iconic heroes, villains, equipment, and vehicles, turning the Master Chief into the mascot for Xbox--to think that Blinx the Time Sweeper could have been the face of the system. When I first played Halo, I was eight years old, and M-rated games were off limits. My parents made an exception for Halo because it was just "alien blood," and while I never really understood that rationale, I'm glad my third-grade brain was allowed to be fried by hours of cooperative campaign missions and even more hours killing my friends on Blood Gulch. It turned me into a lifelong fan of the series, and I even read some of the books to get the backstory on the war with the Covenant and the dark history of the Spartan program. I even love Halo's controversial introduction of the Flood, a zombie-like enemy type that doesn't show up until near the conclusion. A found-footage segment culminates in you realizing the new enemy are about to ambush your position, shifting your mission until it literally speeds toward the ending credits. It was a nearly perfect game in 2001, and it still is today. -- Gabe Gurwin, Associate SEO Editor Luigi's Mansion | November 18 Luigi's Mansion was an odd launch title for the Nintendo GameCube. It was, in many ways, more of a short and fun playable tech demo showcasing the console's brand new lighting effects, with Luigi's flashlight being a key component for its gameplay of finding and catching ghosts. And yet, I still chose the game when I picked up my brand new Game Cube in 2001. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, while the game was short, it was an absolute blast to playthrough. This merger of Resident Evil and Ghostbusters had Luigi exploring a haunted mansion--door-opening cutscene a la Resident Evil included--with the ultimate goal being to catch every ghost in Luigi's brand new "Poltergust 3000" and save Mario. The game was undeniably fun and charming, with Luigi's frightened calls for "M-m-m-Maaaarioooooo" being something I still quote to this day when referring to his better-known brother. Even though the game was short, it was filled with collectibles and secrets, with alternate endings based upon how many of these you could rack up, and how much money you had when finishing your quest. And as a huge completionist in video games, I absolutely loved this aspect. I would find myself frequently replaying the game, seeing if I could better my overall score and strategies for defeating ghosts. The shorter length ended up working to the advantage of Luigi's Mansion, as the game never grew old or stale. As much as I love the series as a whole, both Luigi's Mansion 2 and 3 do unfortunately overstay their welcomes by the end. Sometimes, shorter is better. -- Dave Klein, Video Producer Super Monkey Ball | November 18 As a kid, my goal in picking out a new game was often based on determining what I thought I could squeeze the most playtime out of. Faced with the prospect of picking a second GameCube launch game to go alongside Rogue Squadron, I waffled back and forth before ultimately picking Super Monkey Ball with very little knowledge of it. I effectively stumbled into what would end up being one of my all-time favorite GameCube games. The core mode, in which you guide monkeys encased in huge plastic hamster balls through mazes, was brilliant in its simplicity, yet could be wildly difficult, as the later levels were downright brutal. While I found myself stuck numerous times, the game's complement of side modes offered not just a temporary distraction, but an array of fun activities that helped to flesh out the package and provided a multiplayer component. Some of these were adaptations of real-world sports; I'll never forget playing the bowling mini-game the day before Thanksgiving and discovering that three strikes in a row is called a turkey. But my favorite of the party games was Monkey Target, in which you'd roll down a ramp and then fly your way to designated targets, trying to land as close as possible to a particular spot. There was a great deal of shouting amongst me and my friends as we shot for the furthest platforms, dodging spike bombs in the air and trying to overcome the wind. Super Monkey Ball may not have been the flashiest game around, but it's one that I still have a soft spot for to this day. Its minigames are far less novel now--it's easy to find numerous games that let you go bowling or golfing--yet the core Monkey Ball mode remains a timeless, fun, challenging experience. -- Chris Pereira, Senior Editor Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy | December 3 As someone who grew up a devout Crash Bandicoot fan during the PS1 era, I had tremendous anticipation for developer Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. I fondly remember buying the Winter 2001 PlayStation Underground Jampack demo disc to catch a glimpse of the game's latest trailers and production promos before it came out. However, I wouldn't get to play it until a year later, when a friend of mine let me borrow his copy. And, well, let's say that he didn't get it back for almost a year after that. The first Jak and Daxter is another game that was highly influential on my childhood, but for different reasons from the ones I detailed in my Soul Reaver 2 write-up above. It's one of those games that deeply captured my imagination, astonishing my adolescent mind with how much it pushed video games in regards to technical capability. It was a beautiful living, breathing open world with almost no loading screens, a fully functioning day and night cycle, and no shortage of memorable set-piece challenges and collectibles to discover. These are all things people take for granted nowadays, but experiencing them in a platformer in the early 2000s was undeniably awe-inspiring. I recall being so thoroughly engrossed by Jak and Daxter's world in particular. I explored every nook and cranny to get all of the game's 101 Power Cells, venturing forth to just about any area that seemed feasible to cross--notwithstanding the Lurker Shark that often halted my boundary-breaking exploits. But that was the magic of Jak and Daxter; I felt like I could go anywhere I wanted, and there were very few obstacles that stood in the way of me doing so. That freedom and scope far exceeded anything I'd experienced in any of the Crash games, permanently sealing a lifelong adoration and interest in what video games could achieve on a technical level. What Jak and Daxter did for me isn't wholly unique. This sort of revelation came to others across various similarly-designed games in 2001--you need only look to Chris Pereira's sense of awe and wonder at playing GTA3. But for me, the game that imparted that reverence was Jak and Daxter. To this day, it's still a top-notch platformer, and in my opinion, one of the best games Naughty Dog has ever made. -- Matt Espineli, Editor Pikmin | December 3 Luigi's Mansion and Super Smash Bros. Melee may have been Nintendo's marquee launch titles for GameCube, but the game that most intrigued me was Pikmin--a strangely named curiosity among the system's other launch offerings. I knew little about it at the time other than it was a completely brand-new IP from Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto. That was enough to pique my interest and compel me to pick it up when it released shortly after the GameCube itself, and it would end up being one of my favorites on the system. Although Nintendo's characteristic charm was immediately apparent in the game's premise and character designs, Pikmin was quite unlike anything I had ever played before, thanks to its unique mix of strategy and adventure elements. As someone who rarely dabbled in strategy games of any sort, it was more than a little intimidating at first, especially with the tight time limit looming over protagonist Olimar's head: the shipwrecked spaceman had to retrieve most of his spaceship's missing parts within 30 days or he'd run out of oxygen and perish. It was a surprisingly bleak objective given the sugary presentation, but it wasn't the only horror Olimar had to contend with. The planet was rife with strangely adorable predators that preyed on Pikmin, and you had to keep a close eye on your troops or they'd be devoured. It all felt very tense and overwhelming to me at first, but soon enough, I came to grips with the game's rhythm, learning to divy up my Pikmin and have them accomplish multiple tasks while I explored the planet and scoped out ship parts. Pikmin eventually spawned two sequels, both of which would go on to expand and refine the series' formula, overshadowing the original, but the first installment still holds a fond place for me. With Pikmin 3 Deluxe now becoming the best-selling entry in the franchise, here's hoping Nintendo graces us with even more Pikmin titles down the line. -- Kevin Knezevic, Associate Editor Super Smash Bros. Melee | December 3 Like most avid Nintendo fans, I was a huge fan of the original Smash Brothers. My friends and I had hosted many parties where we would get together and Smash... brothers. The game was not only a celebration of Nintendo and all of its fantastic characters, but also a unique and brilliant fighting game experience of its own right. So when I excitedly purchased my GameCube in 2001, one of the first must-buy games was Super Smash Bros. Melee. The game changed up how the mechanics felt with a far more grounded feel--something that would be re-used for Smash 4 and Smash Ultimate. The characters now all had added Smash attacks, helping to give them all more options for quickly hitting opponents off screen. And, similar to the original Smash Brothers, it was the ultimate party game. But what I remember the most is something sadly gone from the Smash Brothers of today. While the internet was definitely around during Smash Melee, leaks weren't nearly as prevalent, which protected surprises about the game. Add in Nintendo's expertise at being tight-lipped, and you had a game filled with unlockable secrets that were genuinely fun and rewarding to get. Many of the characters you could unlock in Smash Melee were a complete surprise--meaning when you saw a screen saying "a new foe has appeared" with a mysterious silhouette, it was a rush. It's the same rush you feel during a Smash Brothers Nintendo Connect, but they were all in-game and all immediately unlockable. Characters like Falco, Marth, Ganandorf, and Mr. Game & Watch were hidden unlockable characters, and it was such an amazing rush and joy to discover there was yet another hidden character and set of stages and music you had no idea about just waiting to be found. Smash Melee will always be remembered for continuing the legacy of being an incredible celebration of all things Nintendo. But maybe even more than that, there's still a vibrant competitive scene still thriving to this day with Smash Melee, keeping the game forever alive. -- Dave Klein, Video Producer Final Fantasy X | December 17 The PlayStation era was a strange one for the Final Fantasy series. While it produced classics, from magical sci-fi to ethereal romance to classic swords-and-sorcery tropes, it was hard to define just what a Final Fantasy game was on the PS1. For the PS2 debut, Squaresoft (pre-Enix merger) combined many of these into a house style that would last in some form for years to come. Nowadays Final Fantasy X is known mostly for its memes: the hokey laughing scene, or the stupidly complicated math-sport Blitzball. These elements have not aged well, but they're part of a legacy that stuck with me. I love Final Fantasy X, warts and all, and those silly foibles just make the game that much more memorable. What struck me most about FFX, and still does, is the level of intimacy we had with its cast of characters. Their animations were more expressive, and the advent of voice-acting helped make them relatable. Rather than quickly gaining access to an airship with the ability to jump across the world, you were on a pilgrimage. You, personally, walked every step of the way on that journey. Like a cross-country roadtrip, slowing the pace this way gave you quality time to spend with these friends, to learn more about them, and to grow closer. That may be why the relatively small cast of characters in FFX felt more fleshed out to me than Final Fantasy ever had before. Rather than stock archetypes, we saw them grow and change in subtle ways, question their own biases and preconceptions, and come to terms with what Tidus and Yuna's quest meant to the world and to themselves. Beyond the memes, it's a meditation on faith and human connections, and it slowed down to let us take the time to appreciate it. -- Steve Watts, Associate Editor
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