Look, we tried to resist. But how often does the chance to review a decade come along? Er. Yeah, you’re right, pretty much every ten years. Obviously.
And so, while it’s a bit of a cliché to do it, we couldn’t not.
The first decade of the 21st Century has seen the greatest quantum leap ever in gaming technology. Some will no doubt counter this with the old 1979 argument about Space Invaders, the early 80s rise of the Atari system or the arrival of computers into the home.
But consider this: if you shunned the milennium parties and decided to stay home on New Year’s Eve 1999 for a bit of a games sesh, you would have been doing it with... a PlayStation. The PS2 was still a few months away, even for the earliest of Japanese early adopters, while the original XBOX didn’t reach the UK until early 2002. And your average turn-of-this-century home PC basically featured a whopping 8GB hard drive and, if you were lucky, 128MB of RAM. Woo.
In parallel with these developments, games have also had a great decade. It might not always seem like that, and we will, of course, always be cursed with crappy film tie-ins and generic releases that should never have left the drawing board (a stage which, in many cases, appears to have been just days earlier). But there have been some breathtakers.
First of all, I should perhaps qualify my list. It’s numbered as a Top Ten but isn’t really in any order. It is also a console list as my laptop is a work machine: if I started gaming on it, I’d never see a deadline again. Hell, from what I’ve seen, if I ever started playing World of Warcraft I’d never see real sunlight again.
Finally, it’s a personal thing. There have been thousands of games this decade so the percentage I’ve played is, by definition, a very small one. Some things will have passed me by and I may well have missed your favourites. So I’m sorry for that – but hey, that’s what the “comments” are for...
10. Uncharted / Uncharted 2 (PS3)
Taking a tired format and giving it a revamp is standard gaming practice. Yes, Uncharted is essentially Tomb Raider with testicles but, in Nathan Drake, you’ve got an anti-hero that’s likeable – and, no doubt, one who’s also inspired endless Hollywood development meetings.
They could do worse than use the original team for the inevitable movie. A great script, challenging puzzles, lovely direction and the first game I can recall that made me go “wow” when played on a HD TV. And then they made a sequel that’s even better.
9. Grand Theft Auto (XBOX, PS3)
Yes. I’m cheating. So sue me. Rather than break up the series into individual titles, I say they have to be taken as a whole. You can also ignore anything before Vice City as “close but no cigar”: they were good but it wasn’t until that slice of Miami Vice nostalgia that the series truly ignited.
And then GTA: San Andreas hit, confirming Rock Star’s series as one of THE greats and turning so many of us into lounge gangstas for, frankly, months at a time. An enduring, quality franchise.
8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (XBOX, PS3)
There is a clue when a game truly hits classic status. Just how much does it cost? Two, three years on, you still can’t pick up the original Modern Warfare at the usual heavy discounts because it’s still selling.
Indeed, the first one will probably outlast the recent sequel. It’s just a superb first person shooter, where everything – the graphics, the AI, the challenge, the learning curve, the feel of the controller – is close to perfect.
7. Bioshock (PS3, XBOX)
A genuinely disturbing tale, Bioshock took a standard gaming practice – who are you? Why are you here? Better shoot stuff and find out!
It was set it against an incredible (if twisted) background of jaw-dropping beauty, they threw in philosophy and ethical decisions and still made it fun. It would probably have made it on the list in terms of art direction alone. That it also delivered a genuinely – pretty much literally – immersive game is almost a bonus.
6. Resident Evil
Proving yet again that the undead clearly have an account at Homebase – “Yes, I’ll have that chainsaw, please, and what do you have in the way of flamethrowers?” – the Resident Evil series is a gory delight.
The quality can vary between titles but you always know where you are with a RE title. And that’s probably in a dark building, armed to the teeth, under siege from hoardes of nasties.
5. Pro Evolution Soccer (PS3, XBOX)
Yes, I know FIFA has come on in leaps and bounds but do you know how? Because they’ve gradually copied pretty much everything Konami’s been doing for years with Pro Evo Soccer. It’s flawed, it’s often psychopathically evil – you can go weeks without getting a favourable refereeing decision – and I’ve gone entire seasons in Master League without scoring.
But that just means that when it does click, and you beat Arsenal / Barcleona / Argentina with a display of defensive grit and a goal of silky, creative brilliance, it’s one of gaming’s most satisfying experiences. Besides, it’s nice to mention a game that doesn’t involve killing things in a post-apocalyptic world.
4. Fallout 3 (PS3, XBOX)
Cut scene, game, cut scene, game, cut scene, game... Games are, by their very definition, a linear thing. You start in one place and try to make it through to the end. Many games have attempted to make things “free roaming”, allowing you to move freely within their world, making decisions that affect your character and the way the game pans out.
None – and that includes GTA – have been as well realised as genre-busting role-playing-shoot-em-up Fallout 3. It’s not perfect but if you’ve got the time to dedicate to it – and we’re talking weeks and months, not hours and days – you’ll find a game of truly epic proportions, and an astonishing feat of programming.
3. Wii Sports (Wii)
The Wii was a truly innovative creation. Where other consoles added greater depth, better graphics and incredible variety of movement and behaviours, it all came at a cost. Games can take weeks to complete and the complex button mashing required often needs months of study and the hand and eye coordination of a Top Gun pilot. No wonder young males drive the market.
And then along came Nintendo and the Wii to level the playing field and open up the gaming world to everyone. My mum, for example, will never score a set piece free kick in Pro-Evolution Soccer. My wife would never bitch slap someone in Vice City. But they can – and do - pick up a Wii controller and play tennis.
2. Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)
Say what? Hey, I told you this was a personal list. I’m sure you’ve got an oddity or two in your top ten as well.
This old PS2 title, and the earlier Ico, were just beautiful, haunting experiences. Both pushed the envelope in terms of the PS2’s graphics, and challenged the grey cells more than the wrist muscles. I still live in hope that someone, somewhere will dust them off and combine them in a PS3 reissue.
1. The Orange Box (PS3, XBOX)
Yep. Another blatant cheat. And, while I said this wasn’t in any particular order, this one is. Was there ever a better game package than Valve’s Orange Box? It’s not that it includes five games, it’s that four of them are genuinely GREAT games. When Team Fortress 2 is the weakest link in a package, you’re onto something very special indeed.
It’ll be months until you even get to Team Fortress though, because three of the other four games are Half-Life 2 titles. And Half-Life 2 is the much imitated, daddy of all action games. That much lauded PC classic is here in its full form, alongside the (confusingly titled) sequels, Half-Life 2: Episode One and Half-Life 2: Episode Two. They all prove that photorealism and slick graphics don’t matter if you have imaginative and engaging game play.
And as if that wasn’t enough to make The Orange Box an essential purchase, they also threw in Portal, which is, simply, the best puzzle game of all time. Genuinely innovative, frequently hilarious, beautifully put together... On its own, this would be number one. Combined with the other titles? It’s so far ahead of the pack, it’s almost in a category of its own.