I’m waiting for you, John. I hear good things about that little game of yours and I’m not getting off my couch until you deliver Madden NFL 2005 on Aug. 9.
This is the game that both die-hard and casual gamers anticipate all year. In preparation for the big day, I’ve sequestered myself in my basement playing any video game I can get my hands on.
But a funny thing happened on my way to Madden nirvana: I realized that the first half of 2004 has been pretty good for the world of video games. Late summer and fall may be packed with the money games—Madden, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas—but January through June had a lot to offer, including some of the best games I’ve ever played.
I’m bordering on being one of those people who says, “There were so many good entries, it’s hard to pick just one that was the best.” So I’ve managed to put together a Top Five—and to be honest, any of the titles could arguably move up in the rankings.
5. Red Dead Revolver (Rockstar Games; Rated Mature)
It would be irresponsible not to list as one of year’s best a game that has single-handedly saved and revived a genre. Red Dead Revolver is Rockstar’s ode to spaghetti Westerns. It’s a charming, replayable title with likeable characters and an engaging storyline.
4. Full Spectrum Warrior (THQ; Rated M)
Full Spectrum Warrior was spawned from an army-training simulator and brings a whole new level of action and realism to war games. You command two teams of soldiers through one of the most extensive training modes ever seen, before taking them into battle. The game is tough to master, but once you learn the two-team control, the bounds of the games are endless.
3. NBA Ballers (Midway Games; Rated Everyone)
While, I’m not ordinarily a fan of NBA games, NBA Ballers takes the NBA’s best—past and present—and puts them on the playground for groundbreaking freestyle hoops in Armani suits and Snoop Dog derbies. The player detail is flawless. It’s easy to make Allen Iverson look like Allen Iverson, but making the average-looking Steve Nash look like Steve Nash showed they weren’t messing around.
2. The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher’s Bay (Vivendi Universal; Rated M)
Riddick, with its sharp, first-person game play and fantastic movielike graphics, is worthy of its own column space. To sum up, however, Riddick is awesome. It runs neck and neck with the No. 1 game as my favorite title thus far. The slick game play allows you to control every movement without the clunkiness sometimes associated with first-person games. Video Riddick is very Vin Dieselesque and even features the actor’s voice. For me, there’s always extra value when a movie-based game features the actual actors and actually looks like a movie.
1. Thief: Deadly Shadows (Eidos Entertainment, Rated M)
There are several other titles that could have been No. 1, but there’s something about the complexity and brilliance of this game that makes it impossible to put down. As Garrett, the master thief, it’s your job to steal as much as possible from your fellow citizens and complete several challenging, entertaining, nail-biting missions. There’s so much to do and steal in this complex city, that you can continue playing long after you’ve finished the missions. It’s an incredible game—finally appearing on the consoles after years as a PC-only title—and one of the best I’ve ever played.
NFL Street (EA Sports; Rated E): A pickup game for NFL players that allows you to put any player at any position and play with a freestyle edge.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (EA, Rated E): Panned by critics as not challenging enough, but has a soft spot in my muggle heart.
The Suffering (Midway, Rated M): The best game you haven’t played. A violent, gory, challenging horror game set in a prison—lockdown has never been this fun.
As I prepare to get back to my Madden training regimen of Zagnuts and YooHoo, I think it’s important also to mention the really not-so-good. Admittedly, I’ve waited for the better part of a year for Acclaim’s Showdown: Legends of Wrestling, so my expectations were really high. I couldn’t wait to slap on some trunks, settle in and prepare to play as one of the more than 70 greatest wrestling legends of all times.
Man, did I pay for that one. The career mode isn’t the least bit challenging, which is fine; I’ll just play one-on-one matchups. But the game play is so clunky and so full of design bugs that once you’re able to execute a move, it’s usually an uppercut that hits a guy on the other side of the ring. Wrestlers morph through the ropes, and one another, and occasionally have moves performed on them by no one.
It just goes to show that regardless of how many great things came along in early 2004, there were those that made me long for Madden even more.