It’s safe to say that video games have come a long way since the last millennium. The 2000s saw the emergence of multiple generations of consoles, which meant more games were produced than the decade before. From the expanse of phenomenal MMO games to the experimental platformers and party games by Nintendo, the 2000s pushed graphics and power like never before. We waded through hundreds of titles and produced a list of the best video games released from 2000 to 2010.
2000) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
Specifically designed with the notion of using Ocarina of Time as a base, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. Despite lifting most of its assets from its immediate predecessor, Nintendo opted not to proceed with the sequel as more of the same. Rather, in light of the fire Ocarina of Time sparked, Nintendo opted to go in a much different direction.
Majora’s Mask is a far more introspective game than Ocarina of Time, one that allows the player a greater degree of freedom than previous entries in the series. It’s a more mature adventure, often focusing on themes of death, love, abandonment, and identity. With its three day time limit and Groundhog Day-esque loop, Majora’s Mask remains one of the most eclectic entries in the Zelda franchise; and the only game to give Ocarina of Time a run for its money. (Renan Fontes)
Runners-Up: Counter-Strike, Deus Ex, Diablo II, Final Fantasy IX, The Sims
2001) Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo: Combat Evolved stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as one of the greatest launch titles ever released. It single-handedly put the Xbox name on the map and jump-started a series still considered part and parcel of that brand, long after developer Bungie jumped ship to create Destiny. Without the original Halo, the modern gaming landscape would change incalculably, from first-person shooter design, to online matchmaking systems, to Microsoft’s centrality in the industry.
But even more impressive is just how well Halo holds up over fifteen years later. Outside of some weapon imbalance and repetitious levels in the back half of its campaign, Halo still plays like butter despite totally upending how first-person shooters played at the time of its release. For many fans of the series, getting to play the original Halo through The Master Chief Collection was a more appealing reason to buy an Xbox One than Halo 5. But that’s not just nostalgia talking — the series has tried to add numerous layers atop Halo‘s cake, but its base layer was always the most satisfying. It doesn’t really matter how much time passes or how many sequels 343 churns out; names like “Blood Gulch,” “Hang ‘Em High,” and “The Silent Cartographer” will always inspire singular and unimpeachable memories for an entire generation of gamers, especially those who LAN partied. (Kyle Rentschler)
Runners-Up: Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy X, Grand Theft Auto III, Super Smash Bros Melee
2002) Metroid Prime
The Gamecube is fondly remembered by many of its adopters. Part of the reason lies in the wild new gambles Nintendo was willing to take with it after being trounced by Sony in the previous generation. Mario became a graffiti clean-up crew, Link turned into a cartoon, and Samus entered the realm of first-person shooters. The most well-known Nintendo franchises were suddenly unrecognizable, and all the better for it,
The best of them was Metroid Prime, a wild gamble of a game that saw Samus travelling from her side-scrolling roots to a fully-3D, first-person ground-breaker of a perspective. Somehow the game managed to maintain the feeling of its predecessors while transporting the experience to a whole new realm of possibilities. Old ideas were reinvented with stellar and surprising success, while new ways of building a first-person game were established as a result.
To this day, Metroid Prime is the only title in the series that can challenge the genre-defining Super Metroid for its title of best game in the series, and it’s likely to be a debate that will never be settled. After all, how do you decide which piece of art is the finest? One might have the better brush strokes, while the other has the better style and vantage point. While similar, they remain as incomparable as they are inextricably intertwined. (Mike Worby)
Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Neverwinter Nights, Ratchet and Clank, Splinter Cell
2003) The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
With Nintendo’s first 3D Zelda titles, it seems their goal was to offer as unique an experience as possible with each effort. Ocarina of Time brought the franchise’s traditional concepts into 3D; Majora’s Mask experimented with what the series could accomplish in 3D; and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker chose to overhaul the series’ visual identity to better take advantage of 3D.
The Wind Waker is one of the best looking games of all time, even in its original GameCube incarnation. Nintendo’s use of cel-shading lends itself well to The Wind Waker’s vibrant, nautical aesthetic. With a greater emphasis placed on exploration than either of its predecessors, it’s The Wind Waker that ultimately best exemplifies that feeling of exploration found in the original Legend of Zelda. It’s a love letter to its franchise, but one that never forgets to carve out an identity of its own. (Renan Fontes)
Runners-Up: Beyond Good and Evil, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Silent Hill 3, Soul Calibur II, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
2004) Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
When it comes to Grand Theft Auto games, one of the most memorable titles from the long-lasting franchise has to be San Andreas. Releasing in 2004 for the PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC, San Andreas is a game that has managed to stay culturally relevant despite the massive rise of video games since its release. The game focuses on ex-gang member Carl Johnson, known as CJ, who returns home after the death of his mother and reunites with his friends and fellow gang members. He delves further into his old criminal lifestyle as he starts rebuilding his old gang all while dealing with dirty cops and colorful characters along the way.
The sprawling map, open-world interactivity, personal characters choices (such as dating options, choosing to work out in the gym or making CJ an obese burger addict), action-packed, memorable missions –breaking into a highly restricted government base called Area 69 seems all the more relevant at the moment — and a genuinely engaging storyline are all incorporated into one hugely fun and compelling game. Rockstar Games would continue to raise the bar when it came to open-world action games but San Andreas was the first to firmly solidify itself within gaming culture and remain there to this day. If a game can continue to spawn multiple memes after 15 years, you know you’ve done something right. (Antonia Haynes)
Runners-Up: The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, Half-Life 2, Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, World of Warcraft
2005) Resident Evil 4
On paper, Resident Evil 4 is a mental mix of ideas that shouldn’t work (see Resident Evil 6), but in actuality, it works so well it’s one of the greatest games of all time. It revitalizes the horror franchise with an innovative over the shoulder camera (later becoming the genre and industry standard) for protagonist Leon, punctuates its setpieces with balls to the wall action and gleefully silly B movie storytelling, whilst keeping the franchise’s signature fear factor intact. (Harry Morris)
Runners-Up: Civilization IV, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, God of War, Guitar Hero, Shadow of the Colossus
2006) Wii Sports
Nintendo needed a hit to ensure that their new console wouldn’t perform as poorly (compared to its competitors) as the GameCube. Not only was the resulting decision to bundle a copy of Wii Sports with every console a brilliant business move, but the title itself was so genuinely fun and unique that tens of millions of people bought a Wii just for that game.
The brilliance of Wii Sports is in its accessibility. The compilation is comprised of five light sports games: baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, and boxing. Each is specifically optimized for short play sessions; three innings in a game of baseball, three rounds in a boxing match, and so on. Never played a game before in your life? No problem! The Wii’s unique use of motion controls meant that all anyone had to do was pick up a Wiimote and mimic the motions of throwing, swinging, and punching to play.
Though there wasn’t much progression beyond a literal line on a graph that went up or down based on your performance, the sheer joy of seeing your custom Mii on-screen playing little sports games with your friends and family resulted in some of the most fun local multiplayer in gaming history (until Wii Sports Resort, that is). (Brent Middleton)
Runners-Up: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Gears of War, Hitman: Blood Money, Kingdom Hearts II, Okami
2007) Super Mario Galaxy
2007 was a landmark year for the gaming industry, seeing the launch of franchises — Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, The Witcher and Uncharted — that went on to dominate the market in the years to come. With the overwhelming success of the Wii, Nintendo was also revolutionizing the video game industry of 2007 and had a console in over 20 million living rooms worldwide, although the Japanese giant had to release a large-scale Mario title for its new hardware. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and game director Yoshiaki Koizumi had a grandiose vision for the paunchy plumber’s future, imagining platforming gameplay in space where players would fight the effects of gravity and maneuver through spherical worlds to save the princess. Ultimately, those ideas manifested themselves in the form of the landmark Super Mario Galaxy, a title that reinvigorated the Mario formula with modern Miyamoto magic and set the gold standard for all future Nintendo releases.
There is nothing incredibly awe-inspiring about Super Mario Galaxy’s story- Bowser kidnapped the princess… again- but it is the title’s thoughtful and careful approach to keeping the Mario formula both classically nostalgic and awe-inspiringly fresh that make the game so special. Its controls and physics — lifted almost directly from Super Mario 64 — feel as intuitive and smooth as they did two generations previous, even though they are translated into the waggle controls of a Wiimote and nunchuck combo. Galaxy’s spherical worlds feel as comfortable as the Mushroom Kingdom and Isle Delfino, but its next-gen graphics and incredible scope convey a grandiose environment that feels untouched and begs to be explored. Although not a huge leap forward, the addition of Mario’s first spin attack also adds new depth to the title and changes the combat approach ever so slightly. Even Rosalina, the most recent addition to the Mario lineup, feels like an interconnected part of the Nintendo universe and has gone on to overshadow the popularity of other princesses.
Since its release, Super Mario Galaxy has been dubbed to be the must-play title for the Wii and is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time. Dominating in 2007, Galaxy won countless game-of-the-year awards and eventually spawned a just as successful sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2. All honors aside, the title’s effects can truly be seen on subsequent Nintendo releases, as its success and advancements veered the development, art style, and scope of the franchise in more artistic, sophisticated, and focused directions. With its beauty and enjoyable gameplay, it’s safe to assess that Super Mario Galaxy made its mark on the industry and led to the Nintendo renaissance that the Switch enjoys today. (Ty Davidson)
Runners-Up: Bioshock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Portal
2008) Grand Theft Auto IV
While San Andreas set the precedent for the Grand Theft Auto franchise, GTA IV stepped up the open-world title significantly and brought about a gritty realism that elevated the series even more so. GTA IV was released in 2008 and centers on Niko Bellic, an Eastern European war veteran who begins the game straight off the boat to start a new life in Liberty City. The three islands of the city act as the setting for the game and the player has free roam of them. As is the case with most of the protagonists in the Grand Theft Auto series, circumstances end up pulling Niko back into a life of crime and his morals are brought into question in the process. Niko seems reluctant in his violence though, seeming to regret his past actions and wanting to start his life afresh without having to shoot his way through it. Despite this, his violent tendencies are apparent and it becomes evident that he doesn’t quite detest embarking in his criminal behavior as much as he claims.
He is a complex character with a great deal of ambiguity surrounding him. It could be argued that this kind of interesting character depth was a much-needed addition to the franchise. The game is not without its faults (the driving mechanics are incredibly difficult to master and the color scheme of Liberty City is mostly made up of dull greys and beiges) GTA IV made its mark by introducing a somber tone and some well-developed character arcs to the franchise as well as improving on the elements that already worked well such as the combat, mission structure, shooting mechanics and the vast open world. GTA IV is another title from Rockstar Games that will go down as one of its finest. (Antonia Haynes)
Runners-Up: Braid, Dead Space, Fallout 3, LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
2009) Batman: Arkham Asylum
I won’t go so far as to coin the tired notion of this game really making you feel like Batman, but it certainly made me have the most fun manipulating a digital Dark Knight with a video game controller in my hand – which is significantly higher praise than Batman’s previous efforts in this medium make it seem. Arkham Asylum has recently gone through a retrospective renaissance, and the first game in Rocksteady’s video game trilogy – much like Batman Begins in Christopher Nolan’s cinematic trifecta – is now typically regarded as the series’ best.
At the time of writing, the game is almost ten years old, and surely stakes a sizeable claim to be the best game ever released during the annual “game industry summer drought.” Superhero games, in general, were much of a muchness back in 2009, but it’s easy to forget just how much of an innovative trendsetter Arkham Asylum was. It nailed everything a Batman game needed to nail – hell, it even nailed the bits we didn’t even know it needed to.
The game’s combat system has since been mimicked almost to the point of oversaturation, but that takes nothing away from just how fantastic it still is. Insane combos were effortlessly pulled off, gadgets were expertly woven into the action in as user-friendly a way as possible, and the simple counter system allowed fights to flow in a zen-like motion that ensured each encounter became a test of skill and personal one-upmanship. Next time you’d get that flawless combo, for sure.
Arkham is more than just a series of quality punch-ups, though. Hiring the Animated Series duo of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to voice Batman and Joker respectively was absolutely vital, and they knocked it out of the park. The story was gripping and paid more than adequate respect to not only Batman’s rogues gallery (particularly Scarecrow) but to fans and players. The sheer number of Easter eggs, lore and extras the game stuffed in was exemplary, and became mandatory for the rest of the trilogy — a trilogy that truly struggled to top the near-perfection of this superb introduction. (Alex Aldridge)
Runners-Up: Assassin’s Creed 2, Borderlands, League of Legends, Persona 4, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves