Let’s Remember How Amazing 2002 Was For Video Games

Let’s Remember How Amazing 2002 Was For Video Games
Image: Rockstar / Nintendo / EA / Bethesda / Sony / MobyGames / Aluna1, Shutterstock

When people talk about the “best” year in gaming, they typically trot out the usual suspects: 2007 (Assassin’s Creed! Mass Effect! Halo 3!), 2013 (The Last of Us! GTA V!), 2017 (Horizon Zero Dawn! That other open-world game!). Allow us to posit that one of the best years in gaming happened exactly 20 years ago: 2002. Come with us for a walk down memory lane wherein every step results in another “Holy shit, that game was amazing!”

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PlayStation 2)

Screenshot: Rockstar / MobyGamesScreenshot: Rockstar / MobyGames

Release Date: October 29, 2002

GTA III was the game that basically created the blueprint for the modern open world. So it’s not surprising that its follow-up, Vice City, is a great open-world adventure, too. But Vice City also expands on GTA III, adding more vehicles, weapons, and side content to the sandbox. However, it’s Rockstar’s decision to set Vice City in 1980s Miami that really makes it a special game. The music! The colours! The cocaine! Even 20 years later, few if any games have replicated the feel and look of Rockstar’s open world classic. — Zack

Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube)

Screenshot: Nintendo / MobyGamesScreenshot: Nintendo / MobyGames

Release Date: July 19, 2002

Though it’s notoriously divisive, I still stand by Super Mario Sunshine as one of the greatest Mario games. The F.L.U.D.D. device reimagined Mario’s platforming skills without deviating too far away from what worked in previous games. The tropical Isle Delfino served as a delightful setting. Plus, there was that whole “focus on cleaning up the environment” thing, which we could all use more of these days. — Ari

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC, Xbox)

Screenshot: BethesdaScreenshot: Bethesda

Release Date: May 1, 2002

It may not be the prettiest game ever made, but Bethesda’s Morrowind was still an amazing experience that somehow was ported to and ran on the original Xbox. That’s how I first played this classic open-world RPG, and to this day I have fond memories of exploring Morrowind’s caves and cities for hours and hours. I also will never forget the weird, horrific bug-like creatures that populated the game world. I still have nightmares about that stuff… — Zack

Metroid Prime (GameCube)

Screenshot: Nintendo / MobyGamesScreenshot: Nintendo / MobyGames

Release Date: November 18, 2002

Metroid’s foray into first-person was a revelation. No longer did you see the world at a remove from a side-scrolling perspective. You were actually in it, solving puzzles and shooting enemies with a laser cannon and backtracking (so much backtracking) as if you were actually kick-arse bounty hunter Samus Aran. It ruled, and spawned two sequels that also ruled. Now, to wait (patiently) for the fourth one… — Ari

Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advance)

Screenshot: NintendoScreenshot: Nintendo

Release Date: November 17, 2002

Yes, Metroid fans ate well in 2002. On GameCube, as mentioned, Metroid Prime was a tour de force, a total reimagining of a popular series. But on Game Boy Advance, Nintendo stayed true to form with Metroid Fusion, which followed in the side-scrolling, exploration-focused structure established by previous Metroid games. One thing was certain: Metroid could break the mould. It could also fit into it like a glove. (For further evidence: See Fusion’s sequel, Metroid Dread, released last year for the Nintendo Switch.) — Ari

Battlefield 1942 (PC)

Screenshot: EA / MobyGamesScreenshot: EA / MobyGames

Release Date: September 10, 2002

Dice and EA’s Battlefield 1942 wasn’t the first WW2 shooter or online FPS. But it was one of the first real attempts at making a large-scale war game, and one that succeeded brilliantly at that. Even playing offline, which I did a lot back in the old days, I had a blast fighting against the game’s bots in large wars set across a series of memorable maps. To this day, people still play 1942 and its countless mods. There’s still something special about the mayhem you can get up to in this 20-year-old shooter. — Zack

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (GameCube, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox)

Screenshot: Activision / MobyGamesScreenshot: Activision / MobyGames

Release Date: October 23, 2002

The best Tony Hawk game is THPS3. But THPS4 is still a damn fine entry in the beloved franchise. Sure, it plays a bit too much like 3 and looks a lot like it too. As a result, it doesn’t feel as fresh or innovative, but this PS2 classic is still as fun to play as previous entries while adding more fantastic levels and tricks. This game also marked the end of an era for the franchise. After this, the also wonderful Tony Hawk’s Underground would move the series into the open world and change its tone to be more like Jackass. So for some, THPS4 is the last pure game in the Activision series.

Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire (Game Boy Advance)

Screenshot: Nintendo / MobyGamesScreenshot: Nintendo / MobyGames

Release Date: November 21, 2002 (in Japan)

In the ‘90s, Pokémon Blue and Red broke onto the scene as an innovative series of monster-collecting RPGs. Those were followed by Gold and Silver versions, which built upon everything that made the first versions great and added a ton of new creatures and features. But with the release of the gen-III games, Ruby and Sapphire, which came out in 2002 in Japan and the following year everywhere else, Pokémon cemented itself as a series that wasn’t going anywhere. Based on the sheer amount of spin-offs, sequels, and remakes that have followed, yeah, I think Pokédomination is here to stay. — Ari

Eternal Darkness (GameCube)

Screenshot: Nintendo / MobyGamesScreenshot: Nintendo / MobyGames

Release Date: June 24, 2002

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was weird AF, but it totally worked. Though it ostensibly looked and played like a Resident Evil of the era (that is: spooky mansions and fixed cameras), it featured complex puzzles and psychologically vexing visual quirks, wrapped in a riveting, time-skipping plot about ancient artifacts. People loved this game. Eternal Darkness was so good, even those of us who typically can’t stomach scary games wolfed it down. Come to think of it, this might’ve been the last horror game I actually played. — Ari

Splinter Cell (Xbox)

Screenshot: UbisoftScreenshot: Ubisoft

Release Date: November 17, 2002

Even if Splinter Cell sucked, it would still be worth playing for Michael Ironside’s iconic performance as the game’s main character, Sam Fisher. Luckily for fans of tactical stealth, Splinter Cell doesn’t suck. In fact, it took the niche tactical stealth genre and helped make it mainstream thanks to streamlined controls, smart UI features, and wonderfully detailed levels that were open and allowed for different playstyles. It also looked fantastic and helped kickstart one of the best Ubisoft franchises around. And who says you need an actual book to make a Tom Clancy game? Let’s hope the remake is good! — Zack

Ratchet & Clank (PlayStation 2)

Screenshot: Sony / MobyGamesScreenshot: Sony / MobyGames

Release Date: November 4, 2002

Ratchet, a member of a fictional fox-like species known as the lombax, is a timeless mascot of action platformers on PlayStation whose legacy now stretches across five platforms and more than a dozen games. But it all started with the 2002 original. Does the game hold up? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. (Kotaku’s stance on the matter is that the 2016 remake is better.) But the staying power is undeniable, thanks to a parade of well-received games, right on through last year’s eye-wateringly beautiful Rift Apart. — Ari


  • “When people talk about the “best” year in gaming, they typically trot out the usual suspects: 2007… 2013… 2017…”

    Or you know, the actual best year: 1998

  • Everything was better in 2002. For instance you wouldn’t see a humble bundle for abortion. Or have kotaku turn off the comments section on the article because everyone is sick to death of this woke shit. Geeves, fire up the delorian. This time sucks

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