2020 marks the 20th anniversary since the turn of the millennium - or end of the millennium, depending on how you want to count it. And despite not typically considered as part of the "golden age" of gaming, the year 2000 was filled with a ton of hits that are still tons of fun to play today.
Many of the games can be a little divisive. Not everyone, for instance, was a big fan of Shenmue back in the day. Games like Giants: Citizen Kabuto had their fans, but they weren't blockbuster successes the way a Civilization or Warcraft might have been. But we're still talking about games from the year 2000 today, whether it's because they've been co-opted by megalomaniac billionaires, or because they helped shape a part of gaming that has never been the same since.
I'm talking, of course, about games like these...
What we commonly understand today as esports is down to two games. StarCraft: Brood War arguably did the most legwork early on with the professionalisation of the game's scene in South Korea, but in other territories it was Counter-Strike that became the most popular, and laid the groundwork for a franchise that is still one of the biggest competitive forces in gaming today.
Counter-Strike first launched as a mod in 1999, but it got a "proper" release the year after in 2000. That was also the time when a lot of the game's mechanics were properly locked in; previous CS betas, for instance, would let you plant the bomb anywhere on the map. Version 1.0 would also still let you shoot accurately mid-air, provided you were crouching at the time. It was a wild, wild version.
Counter-Strike was especially popular in Australia, even though the country had more competitive success in other titles (Australia even had a few Brood War professionals that relocated to Seoul full-time). It was one of the most popular games at LAN events back in the day, and some people who enjoyed the older versions of Counter-Strike are still playing the game today - maybe not Counter-Strike 1.0, but certainly later versions.
Are there few things in gaming as inspiring and iconic as that PIKA on the loading screen?
Anyway, I'm still waiting for Nintendo to give Pokemon Stadium a proper remaster for the Switch. It's basically a licence to print money, Nintendo. Get on it already.
Thief 2: The Metal Age
One of those rare instances where a sequel turns out to be just as good as the original. Still an excellent game to play today, especially with some HD mods.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
It was May 4 last week, which means there's no better time to talk about one of the best racing games ever: Star Wars Episode 1: Racer. Recently re-released for the PC, wannabe podracers and grizzled veterans can return to the tracks once more. Staff writers Heather Alexandra and Ethan Gach look back at what made the game so special.
Look, Dark Forces is great, but Pod Racer is truly special.
Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Not the best Zelda if you want to be ruthless, but it's still one of the most interesting. With limited assets and tight restrictions, Nintendo got super creative with Majora's Mask, creating an experience that Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma and Yoshiaki Koizumi that was built around a 72 hour cycle.
Majora's Mask also showed how the franchise could tackle the idea of heroism outside of simply beating Ganon and saving the world. You still rescue Hyrule in the end, but the journey is vastly different to the rest of the Zelda games, and its one that's just as enjoyable and worthwhile as being the hero.
The Legend of the Zelda: Majora’s Mask is 20 years old. It’s been the dawn of the final day for two decades, and looking back after all this time reveals one of the most interesting games of its time. It’s creative use of limited assets led to an experience drenched in anxiety. Existential, human, experimental. There’s not been another Zelda game quite like it.
Soldier of Fortune
Running around throwing knives in Soldier of Fortune multiplayer was more fun than it had any right to be. Between this and Counter-Strike, my high school's IT course was functionally useless.
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six
The days when Rainbow Six was as much a strategic, tactical sim as it was a capable first-person shooter. I still wish they'd revisit this formula somehow; there's a lot of appetite for it, if you look at the success of games like Squad and the ArmA series.
Fans are still waiting for Blizzard to revive the depth and gothic horror of Diablo 2. Diablo 3 was an enormous success - one of the best selling PC games of all time, really - but it's Diablo 2 that's stuck in most people's hearts.
Hopefully Diablo 4 lives up to the promise.
OK, I'm cheating a little by using a screenshot of the remaster here. In any case, it can't be understated just how innovative Homeworld was for its time by introducing a full 3D space into a RTS game. The ramifications were so complicated that no developer really tried to replicate it afterwards.
The campaign was also wonderfully oldschool, with your army carrying over from one mission to the next. It rewarded pure strategy and tactical thinking from the first mission to the last. When you finished the Homeworld campaign, you felt like a god. One of the true challenges of gaming that we don't really see much of today.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul
The first, and only time, David Bowie appeared in a video game. As for the game itself, it's still the weirdest experience David Cage has ever made, and he wasn't even a fan of the legendary British artist at the time.
Tributes have been pouring out over the last 48 hours to mark the passing of musician David Bowie, and over the last 24 hours there has been a smattering of tributes from gamers as well. Most of those have come in the form of memories about Omikron: The Nomad Soul, the game where David Bowie appeared as a musician in-game that the player could interact with. The director on that game was David Cage, who has made a living out of creating games just as unusual as Omikron. But given the circumstances, it was only natural that Cage would offer his thoughts and condolences for Bowie given the two worked together.
This is still more fun in multiplayer than Mario Tennis Aces, if I'm being brutally honest.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
It's the 20th year of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater franchise, and as part of the celebrations an Australian band was there at a special anniversary charity event. Small thing about the band: they only play covers from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater official soundtrack.
How many games can you think of that have spawned their own cover bands?
Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn
One of the seminal classic RPGs, and utterly institutional in setting up the foundation for Bioware's reputation as masters of their craft.
Escape from Monkey Island
Another developer with a stellar reputation burnished by an incredible title. Escape from Monkey Island was LucasArts' taking the classic Guybrush Threepwood franchise from pixelated 2D into more fully rendered 3D. The game wasn't the biggest success in the United States, but in Europe, particularly in Germany which still has a strong appetite for story-driven point-and-click adventures today, Escape from Monkey Island sold much better.
Red Alert 2
Suspiciously not included in EA's remastering of the C&C franchise this year. Which, if I'm being honest, is fine. Red Alert 2 was a special treasure, and deserves another day in the sun all to itself.
Hitman: Codename 47
Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance
Sadly, also still better than Mechwarrior 5. Also, you can get the game legally for free these days, which is sweet.
Not my favourite compared to the original, but still an absolute classic.
A game from the makers of MDK, Sacrifice was an unusual attempt to blend the worlds of RTS and a third-person adventure. Your powers were bestowed on you by various gods, and instead of controlling a base from above, you were responsible for controlling an individual hero on the battlefield.
Really unique and unusual for the time. It's available through GOG today.
No One Lives Forever
A great game that we'll probably never see again, due to the nightmarish situation with the game's licensing.
The latest attempt to re-release the beloved PC series No One Lives Forever is dead in the water. The saddest part? It could have been rescued, if not for the apathy of big corporations.
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
Probably the biggest PC game and one of the most acclaimed games ever made.
Final Fantasy IX
The chibi artstyle wasn't my cup of tea, but no shame on everyone who still holds FF9 close to their heart.
You know when you’re playing around with a new recipe and you fall in love with one particular spice? Call it cumin. You find every recipe that makes sense with cumin, and eventually, you grow so obsessed with it that you just keep adding it to all of your dinners for a month straight, until the rest of your family is like “cut it out with the cumin,” and you realise you’ve gone too far? Then you make a dish with no cumin whatsoever that’s just a throwback to your older, cumin-free stuff? That’s Final Fantasy IX.
Rare at their absolute peak, for my money.
Still holding out hope that we'll get a Paper Mario Switch port this year.
I could honestly keep going. There's at least 20 more titles I can think of that were all fantastic in their own right. Maybe not out and out classics in the Deus Ex or Red Alert 2 mould, but the year was filled with a lot of interesting, almost experimental games. You had the big failures as well that were fascinating to follow in their own right, like Daikatana, or unusual spin-offs like that time EA worked with Porsche to make a Need for Speed spin-off.
What were your favourite games from the year 2000?