Blistered fingers, a fair amount of bitching and carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s no easy task to come up with the best games of 2005. Then again, I think, perspective: It’s not anything like Jesus Blancornelas’ heroic struggles, and no one dies in a disaster. It’s just games from a game critic, not brain surgery, (although I may need wrist surgery at some point). Since I play and review games on all systems, this particular column is a considered but subjective look at the best and brightest of everything, including cell phone offerings. Over a thousand games were in the running. I whittled the best down to about 25 and then pulled my hair out to come up with a dozen. I haven’t included any war simulation games in the bunch because, well, I’m fed up with war, the real kind. And so, in no particular order, here are the most exciting, most addicting, most stunning games of last year.
Soul Calibur III (Namco) This PS2 game is far and away the best fighting game in the industry, and it gets you going without showing any blood. Beyond the intricate moves and mysterious characters, there’s a depth to the game that’s full of myth, magic and plain, old good storytelling.
Civilization IV (2K Games) I don’t usually care much about PC strategy games (there’s enough strategizing in day-to-day life, after all). But Civilization IV has been updated so smartly, the play begins easily. Along the way, you get to interact with the great leaders of history, including Ghandi. This game makes it pleasurable to learn about the past, and that’s worthy of a prize in itself.
God of War (Sony) Not since the old PC game, Wrath of the Gods, has Greek myth been given such a compelling platform. Sure, they could have explored more stories and included more gods. I mean, where’s the heck’s Persephone? But because this PS2 game is so full of adventure, great graphics and jaw-dropping action, you can expect more myths to come—in the sequels.
Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy (Rockstar) This would have been a vote for last year’s San Andreas, but this Xbox boxed set is so nicely packaged, it puts the controversial driving game series into essential perspective. Yes, it’s raw, and no one below age 18 should play it. Yet it captures pop culture in music and movies, transferring it to the gaming genre in a savvy way that no other game series has yet done this well. And where else can you get Axl Rose as a DJ?
Psychonauts (Majesco) When games deal with science or medicine, it’s usually the serious sci-fi kind in which you (cliché alert) must save the world. But Psychonauts, made for various platforms, deals in psychology and satire in such a wondrous and humorous way, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud as you play. The story of kids at a wacky summer camp is sweet but not cloying. And the dream world you visit is breathtakingly strange.
Destroy All Humans! (THQ) Not only does this game capture the somewhat paranoid feeling of the 1950s and U.F.O. scares, it makes that era terribly funny. The game, made for the PS2 and Xbox, is deep, too, if you pay attention to detail. While playing as an ugly little alien, you’ll be witness to Ed Wood’s cheesy Plan 9 From Outer Space at one of the drive-ins you pass. You’ll pilot a U.F.O., and you’ll meet some of the wackiest townspeople ever to populate a video game.
Kameo: Elements of Power (Microsoft) Microsoft and the Edelman PR agency really flubbed when dealing with the press for the eagerly anticipated Xbox 360 launch. But no game showcases the power of the 360 system and the wonder of the artwork as powerfully as this adventure-filled role playing game. There are so many ways to play Kameo, that you’ll want to go back and do it all again when you’ve finished.
Lego Star Wars (Eidos) What a surprise. The blockhead Lego toy characters made for more interesting game play than the George Lucas-branded game based on the last movie. Here, you get to play through the three prequels with a well-told story without words that small children and adults alike can enjoy. A real treat created for various systems, including the PC.
Mile High Pinball (Nokia) This game for the Nokia N-Gage phone kept me enthralled for hours. Instead of using a wide play field, which wouldn’t work on a cell phone, you go straight up, high into the heavens with each level you complete. Add a slew of different pinballs which have wild effects on the game play. Pepper that with the ability to design your own pinball game. The result? You have one of the best pinball-oriented video games ever made.
Mario Kart (Nintendo DS) It isn’t just Mario, who’s almost always fun, and it isn’t just a racing game. Deceptively simple but surprisingly intense with its varied race courses, Mario Kart’s single player mode will keep you coming back for more. But there’s more. With the Wi-Fi adapter made for the DS, you can play with other Mario fans around the world. A true technological marvel.
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (VU Games) With a story worthy of the great green anti-hero and with writing worthy of the best of Hollywood’s action flicks, Hulk muscled his way into the list. Diverse missions, sizzling graphics and crazy enemy battles make this the best comic-book based game of the year.
Halo 2 (Microsoft) It wasn’t quite as new as Halo, and the single player game was a little too short. And while I never liked the name of the main character, Master Chief, the game showcases the heft of the original Xbox hardware. In other words, you feel you’re playing within this sci-fi world. Especially good when it comes to online play, Halo 2 is a very worthy, well-written and long-awaited followup.