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The 20 Best Video Games of the Decade (2000-2009)

November 5, 2009  |  7:00am
The 20 Best Video Games of the Decade (2000-2009)

It’s hard to even remember what video games were like in the last millennium, but it’s not difficult to think about all the great games we’ve seen in the last 10 years. From the expanse of phenomenal MMO games and sandbox games on the XBox and Playstations, the leaps in video games came not only in graphics but in the attention paid to story, morality and yes, even beauty. This will forever be known as the decade when games became more than just games. And here are 20 titles that pushed the envelope.

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20. Final Fantasy XII (2006)
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix

For gamers who grew up with Japan’s most famous RPG series but tired of the action-halting nature of strict turn-based combat, Final Fantasy XII was nothing short of a revelation. No more squaring up on opposite sides of the screen and running out to deliver a blow before awkwardly retreating to your position to wait for the next round. Finally you had the taste of a battle playing out in heart-stopping real time. Also, on the world map, no more running around and blindly smashing into previously invisible monsters. If you were going to encounter a Gigantoad, you could finally see its obese, scaly frame lumbering across the landscape, which added a whole new level of depth to the experience. Jason Killingsworth

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19. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006)
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: 2K Games, Bethesda Softworks

If you’re going to spend dozens of hours of your life engrossed in an RPG, it might as well be a world as perfectly realized as Bethesda’s fourth installment in the Elder Scrolls series. From the very first scene, you feel caught up in an epic medieval adventure that engages both your brain and adrenal glands in equal measure. Jason Killingsworth

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18. God Of War (2005)
Developer: SCE Studios Santa Monica
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

God of War draws its inspiration from ancient Greek mythology, letting characters wreak havoc as the character Kratos, a former Spartan army captain who has a score to settle with Ares, the god of war. It’s a gruesome game and the blood-spattering action is unrelenting, but God of War transcends mere gore and proves how viscerally charged a
mythological framework can be when it’s used as a playground for dramatic reinterpretation. Jason Killingsworth

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17. Mass Effect (2007)
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

BioWare has carved out a towering reputation for its ability to use the videogame medium as a vehicle for delivering top-flight stories to its audience. When you play Mass Effect, it’s hard not to marvel at the scope of the universe you’re invited to explore and the compelling ways in which its human inhabitants and alien species interact. Jason Killingsworth

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16. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami

The massively-hyped Metal Gear Solid 2 doubled down on everything that made the series’ first installment an instant classic: laser-precise gameplay, top-shelf work from a stellar voiceover ensemble, and a mind-bending storyline. Purists decried the dearth of playtime (speedrunners can technically complete the game in under two hours) but those criticisms largely missed the point. With MGS2, director Hideo Kojima executed a dexterous fusion of cinema and gaming that encapsulated our post-9/11 paranoia of surveillance and censorship. And the oft-criticized bait-and-switch of the lead characters served Kojima’s wildly subversive purpose: a massive social experiment that toyed with the audience’s expectations of what a sequel—and indeed, a game—should be. Michael Saba

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15. Rock Band (2007)
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: MTV Games, Electronic Arts

I like to think that the almost self-consciously generic quality of Rock Band’s title is a subtle attempt to further coax players to project themselves into the game’s fantasy. The designers at Harmonix bravely turned their backs on the cartoony animation style of the popular Guitar Hero series they originally developed and created a surrealistic, laser-lightshow visual style that looks like it could easily be an artsy ’80s music video. Also Rock Band deserves props for allowing legions of air drummers to pick up sticks for the first time. Seriously, who hasn’t fantasized about doing that thing where you start a song by hitting the sticks together four times? Jason Killingsworth

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14. Burnout 3: Takedown (2004)
Developer: Criterion Games
Publisher: EA Games

Widely considered one of the greatest racing titles of all time, themakers of Burnout 3 were savvy enough to realize that the only thingmore fun than driving a car in a racing game is using it as a projectile weapon to annihilate the competition. In videogames, adrenaline seems to be more potent than gasoline. Jason Killingsworth

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13. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo

We should be tired of bailing out the hapless, girly-girl Princess Peach by now. If she hasn’t yet learned how to keep herself out of Bowser’s clutches, she probably doesn’t deserve to be saved. But how can you possibly resist coming to her rescue yet again, especially when the journey offers so many giddy surprises. The designers at Nintendo who work on the Mario franchise have mastered the art of creating fresh, whimsical gameplay twists and Super Mario Galaxy is so well executed, it looks positively effortless. Jason Killingsworth

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12. World of Warcraft (2004)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

This massively multiplayer online game lives up to its name, dropping players into an expansive environment that can take many months to fully explore. The never-ending quests, the multiplayer battles and characters that gradually and continually improve in skill have made World of Warcraft more than just game—it’s all too often an addiction. Josh Jackson

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11. Gears of War 2 (2008)
Developer: Epic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

One of the most impressive videogame sequels ever released, Gears of War 2 elevated the already critically acclaimed franchise’s game in virtually every respect. Comic writer Josh Ortega helped Epic beef up the story. Designers worked tirelessly to make the gorgeous environments more varied. And the addition of Horde Mode to the game’s multiplayer experience was an absolute stroke of genius. Jason Killingsworth

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