They've Got Game

Barbarians, brain-eaters and beagles round out the best of 2005

Dec 21, 2005 at 4:00 am
2005 may be the last hurrah for this generation's aging consoles, but sugar, they're going down swingin'.

The PlayStation 2, Xbox and Game Cube age gracefully, pushing their hardware to the limit one last time and developing some brilliant games in the process — from tear-jerking, giant-slaying adventure to piss-in-your-pants zombie horror.

The Highlander swore there could be only one, but we're gonna be generous and proclaim there can be only ten best games of 2005. So without delay, here are the chainsaw-wielding, car-crashing, God-slaying games that leveled up to greatness.

1) Resident Evil 4 — Like the zombies that were long its stock-in-trade, Resident Evil has come back from the dead. This sequel to the long-running survival-horror franchise reanimated a played-out genre by going back to the drawing board. What's left is a genuinely startling game packed with gore that looks gorgeous, even when viewed through your fingers.

2) God of War — Sex and violence aren't Greek to videogame audiences, but God of War has so much of both, it would make Zeus weep. One of the most sweeping epics ever made, GoW somehow kept it simple with nostalgic, arcade-style button-mashing. The gods must be crazy? Try batshit insane.

3) Jade Empire — The knock on Xbox was that it lacked a truly great role-playing game. Microsoft responded by releasing the best RPG of the year — perhaps the best to date. This chop-suey blend of action and strategy set in ancient China manages to remain accessible while offering a mythos so deep that the developers even created a new language for the game.

4) Shadow of the Colossus — What do you get when you cross Jack and the Beanstalk with Lord of the Rings? The year's most evocative game. Poignant, action-packed and eerily atmospheric, this sleeper hit from the creators of Ico had the competition living in its shadow in '05, thanks mostly to its larger-than-life characters. Shadow richly deserves its time in the limelight.

5) Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory — Breathing too heavily will still get you killed in this "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" sequel to Tom Clancy's best-selling stealth series, but now you'll look better than ever, descending from a ceiling by piano wire. The real innovation is the online play. Finally, a way to settle the old "Who's better at slitting throats?" debate with your friends.

6) Burnout Revenge — In this season of bumper-to-bumper traffic, Burnout Revenge provides the cathartic release that comes with totaling some A-hole in a PT Cruiser. The competitive races in this game are nearly secondary to the sick fun of barreling 250 miles an hour into head-on traffic. Sorry, Vin Diesel: This game is faster and more furious.

7) Nintendogs — There's no reason to like this game. You can't rape, pillage, burn, disembowel or nuke a single thing. Yet it killed us with kindness. The top-selling game in Japan, this pet sim taught an old dog new tricks and made innovative use of the Nintendo DS touch screen. It's just like a real dog — except that its shit don't stink.

8) NBA Live '06 — Basketball games are getting so real, it's only a matter of time before they feature unwed moms suing for child support. NBA Live '06 gives you complete control, right down to hiring trainers and assistant coaches. But you don't need a mastery of stats to play; trash talk and jaw-dropping dunks keep the action as fresh as a pick-up game.

9) Psychonauts — When Beck sang "It's All in Your Mind," he could have been talking about this brain-bender of a game. Raz, a cadet at a psychic summer camp, traverses the gray matter of assorted lunatics, battling their inner demons. Overlooked by audiences, this platformer won critics' hearts by using its head. You'd be crazy to overlook it.

10) Mercenaries — A maniacal North Korean dictator threatens to blow up the world; to stop him, it's up to you to blow the holy hell out of everything first. Makes sense to us. Nothing compares to the sheer devastation this game allows you to inflict. If you're not careful, the collateral damage may include your career, relationship and personal hygiene.