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There were no high-definition graphics. No digital downloads or patches. No cloud-based saves. No virtual reality. No Xbox, Nintendo Switch or iPad.
We didn’t watch other gamers on Twitch. The word "e-sports" had not been invented, and I didn’t have a colleague who was jet-setting around the world as a Gran Turismo champion (hi, Simon!).
It was, in short, a VERY different time to be involved in video games.
I played them because I enjoyed them. And, when the opportunity arose in 1999 to write reviews of them, I mean, who was going to turn down the offer of free video games?
The first game I reviewed for the Otago Daily Times was WWF Attitude on the old, much-loved PlayStation One. The most recent was Death Stranding on the PlayStation 4. And I cannot think of two games that are more different.
I’ve been through four generations of consoles, seen a few weird fads (Kinect, anyone?), played some wonderful games, given away some games I hated, and scored about a million goals in Fifa.
I’ve seen the industry boom — it’s expected to top US$180billion worldwide by 2021 — thanks to the rise of online and mobile gaming, and that boom does not look like stopping.
And I’ve seen gaming sort of gain mainstream acceptance. It’s everywhere you look now — kids are watching it online, adults are sneaking in a few games of Candy Crush on their phones, and there are millions of people in the industry creating extraordinary art.
I’m not sure exactly what the future holds, but I suspect gaming is only going to get bigger and better. At its core, though, will remain the simple wish to have fun and forget about life for a while.
Here are 20 games for 20 years. Games that I loved, or that struck a chord for some reason. As the young ones say, don’t @ me. In parentheses is the platform on which I played the game.
2000 — THE SIMS (PC)
Not that I played it a HUGE amount. But this was the title that really took "sandbox gaming" to new levels. You could pretty much do anything, not that there was much point to any of it.
2001 — HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED (XBOX)
Someone once wrote that 2001 might have been the most important year in the history of video gaming. It was the year games truly became art, apparently. It was also the year Bungie released a game that would change the face of first-person shooters.
2002 — MEDAL OF HONOR: FRONTLINE (PS2)
Speaking of first-person shooters, this was an incredible achievement. Still gives me chills thinking about the opening scenes. Your modern-day Call of Duty and Battlefield epics might look fancier but they’ve never recaptured this magic. For me, at least.
2003 — THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (PS2)
Always high on my list of most under-rated games. Absolute hack-and-slash wizardry.
2004 — WORLD OF WARCRAFT (PC)
I’m cheating a little here. WoW was released that year but I don’t think I played it until about 2009. The grand-daddy of MMORPGs is still going strong.
2005 — GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS (XBOX)
Because, you know, there had to be a GTA game in here somewhere. Violent, profane, puerile — and brilliant.
2006 — LEGO STAR WARS II: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY (PS2)
Best children’s game ever. Best Star Wars game ever. Best Lego game ever.
2007 — BIOSHOCK (XBOX 360)
Gaming has been littered with sequels and remakes for years. Some are great, but many are not. That’s why we get so excited when a genuinely brilliant "new IP" comes along, and Bioshock was something quite special.
2008 — FABLE 2 (XBOX 360)
I probably play 25-30 new games each year, but most only last a week or so. Fable 2, one of the best open-world role-playing games I’ve seen, was very much in the "100 hours-plus club".
2009 — UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES (PS3)
The Indiana Jones-style exploration-adventure romp was simple yet brilliant. Isn’t that what all games should aspire to be?
2010 — RED DEAD REDEMPTION (PS3)
Remains my favourite game of all time. So good it basically ruined the sequel for me.
2011 — MINECRAFT (PC)
Again, I’m sort of cheating here. I have hardly played Minecraft, but I include it for its seismic effect on the gaming industry and its cross-generational appeal.
2012 — CLASH OF CLANS (IPAD)
The first mobile game I really played a lot, and my son got just as much enjoyment out of it.
2013 — THE LAST OF US (PS3)
You just can’t top it for the combination of story and action. Can’t wait for the sequel in 2020.
2014 — TRIALS FUSION (PS4)
It’s not the greatest game in the world, though it is a bit of fun. It makes this list because it was the first game I got when I graduated to a PS4, the finest console of all.
2015 — ROCKET LEAGUE (PS4)
The poster boy for free games that keep it simple and find a huge following online.
2016 — FORZA HORIZON 3 (XBOX ONE)
My colleague Simon is a fan of uber-realistic driving games, and his skill in such has taken him around the world. I prefer arcade-ish stuff like Forza. It has not been my ticket to world travel.
2017 — FIFA 18 (PS4)
And, of course, there had to be a Fifa in here. I once told a friend that Fifa wasn’t a game to me; it was my life’s work. And I was only half joking. I own every game since Fifa 97, and have poured countless hours into endless careers — and not just as Liverpool. The game is now insanely detailed but its appeal remains undimmed.
2018 — SPIDER-MAN (PS4)
A good, honest superhero game that did nearly everything right.
2019 — GHOST RECON BREAKPOINT (PS4)
The game I’m playing the most as I write this. Reviewed terribly, and it’s glitchy as heck, but it’s got lots to do and collect, and you can play on a relatively easy difficulty setting, and you can go at your own pace. Perfect for an old gamer, in other words.