GN's Holiday Gift Guide 2004

GN's Holiday Gift Guide 2004

Written by The GN Staff on 12/2/2004 for

It's that time of year again; when your cash reserves suddenly empty and your wallet mysteriously becomes a few pounds lighter. Ah yes, Christmas time. Shopping for gamers can be both difficult and simple. Most stores generally stock more than enough copies of the most popular titles and rarely encounter software shortages (Nintendo DS withstanding). Then again, gamers are also some of the choosiest people on the planet. You don't want to ask that clerk to sell you the game that all the boys are playing and end up with a copy of Army Men: RTS for your 15-year-old nephew. That's where we come in; we've taken a look back at some of our most favorite games of the year in order to come up with this year's Holiday Gift Guide.

2004 will probably be remembered as the year of the sequel. This year saw very few original titles and most of the top sellers were continuations of well-established franchises. That makes the shopping burden significantly easier as you can easily run out and pick up the next entry in a series that your boyfriend or child already loves. But there were a couple of original titles as well and we've decided to include them for people who want to deviate from the norm quite a bit. Thus, we present to you our Holiday Gift Guide.

Adventure

There are some obvious choices in the adventure genre but there are a couple of wildcards thrown in as well. If you want to play it safe we advise you to pick up a copy of Ratchet: Up Your Arsenal or Jak III. Those long-running franchises have been crowd pleasers in the past and these entries rank amongst the best that the genre has to offer. The adult-minded gamer (read: porn addict) will absolutely love Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude. Just make sure that they don't have an affinity for the actual Leisure Suit Larry franchise though, it's a complete 180 from what the franchise used to be about and it has caused a number of hardcore fans to resent it.

Spider-Man 2
Platform: PS2, Xbox, GameCube, Nintendo DS, GBA

It’s not often that a developer takes a movie license and makes something decent out of it, but Activision has been making a habit of doing just that in the past couple of months. Spider-Man 2 is everything you could have ever hoped for in a movie-to-game adaptation. Great action is accompanied by an animation swinging system that feels natural and intuitive. Best of all, you really feel like you’re Spider-Man as you fight crime and do battle with the worst that New York has to offer.

Jak III
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

The series will come to an end with this third entry, as will Jason Rubin’s tenure at Naughty Dog. The guys behind the original Crash Bandicoot have had a great run and this swansong is an appropriate end to a platform-long series. If you’ve played any of the first two games in the series you’ll definitely want to round out the franchise with Jak 3.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

The original was just the refreshing breath of air that the adventure platforming genre desperately needed. It did everything that the competition was doing, only better. It was released in the prime of the cel-shading era but the artists took the extra step and developed a different shader that added a whole new dimension to the style. The gameplay was simply superb and the characters had this extra bit of personality that had been lacking in adventure games. This sequel will do everything that the original did while adding new gameplay elements. You’ll be able to play as three different characters as you tackle new types of missions, new enemies and entirely new locales. As you can tell from our review, we loved the game and there’s a good chance you will too.

URBZ: Sims in the City
Platform: PS2, GameCube, Xbox, Nintendo DS, GBA

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if your Sims were to adhere to the urbanization of society? Well wonder no more, because Maxis has answered that question with its latest installment of the Sims franchise. Past Sims games focused on the householwd, but this one places an extreme emphasis on life outside the home. It’s a lot of fun and the inclusion of the Black Eyed Peas is a nice addition to fans of the band.

Viewtiful Joe 2
Platform: PlayStation 2, GameCube

Capcom did the unthinkable when it released Viewtiful Joe on the GameCube last year, it actually took a step backwards and brought gamers back into the 2D realm. What we got was one of the best games ever made and the sequel looks to capitalize on the success. This time you’ll play as Joe but he’s brought along another friend, his girlfriend Silvia who uses her pom-poms of doom to defeat the baddies. It’s pretty, it’s wholesome, and most importantly, it’s a heck of a lot of fun for everyone in the family.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

We do this guide every year and every year we never fail to mention Ratchet & Clank. And with good cause, Sony’s 3rd person platformer has the right amount of destruction ot cater to men with the right amount of cuteness to cater to women. It’s the perfect platformer and probably the best franchise out there right now. This third entry brings even more to the table including online multiplayer, new weapons and a bevy of new gadgets to play around with.

Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude
Platform: PS2, Xbox, PC

Vivendi’s bastardization of Sierra’s classic adventure gaming franchises continues with the next installment of Leisure Suit Larry. Magna Cum Laude actually stars the nephew of Larry as he tries to score in college. It’s still an adventure game in construct but a more free-roaming one. I put this one on the list squarely to pledge my allegiance to all things Leisure Suit Larry. Who knows, it might be good. Either way, any true Larry fan will want to own it.Action

When life gets tough it's nice to sit back and unleash your aggression a video game every once in awhile. For this we present our favorites in the action category this year. Please be cautious when buying games in this genre as many of them are not suitable for younger audiences. You don't need us to tell you that a game about owning gang turf and picking up hookers isn't suitable for your 12-year-old son but maybe Grandma does.

If you're looking to go the safe route, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and HALO 2 are both very good choices. They're huge crowd pleasers and anyone who has played one of the previous games in the franchise will love those entries. For the daring, we recommend Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy. It features a nice blend of intense action and physics driven physic abilities. It's also one of the year's most underappreciated games so there's a good chance that the person you're buying it for won't already own it.


Call of Duty: Finest Hour
Platform: PS2, Xbox, GameCube

We loved Call of Duty on the PC, even going as far as calling it one of the greatest first person shooters ever made. Developers sometimes have problems translating quality PC shooters onto consoles, but Activision has ensured us that this one won’t succumb to such hitches. It’ll be just as intense, exciting and heartwrenching as the PC version was. Best of all, it’s an entirely new game so you won’t feel cheated if you already own the award-winning PC game.

Kill Zone
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

Sony declared war on HALO when it announced KillZone, now it’ll try to finish the job this November. This impressive shooter takes place in the future but is still grounded in the reality of today. Instead of depending on aliens and their annoying energy technology, Sony will focus on true realistic combat. It’s gritty, it’s intense and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. SOCOM fans will now how something to hold them over for the holidays.

HALO 2
Platform: Xbox Exclusive

Seeing as how the game garnered $125 million in sales on its first day, it’s tough to find someone who wants this game who doesn’t already own it. In the second installment the Master Chief returns to fight the good fight but he’s brought along a new friend, online play. Although there were some initial hitches, a patch was soon released that addressed many of the issues that were plaguing Xbox Livers. If you crave explosive action, frenetic gameplay and dual-weapon action, make HALO 2 the choice this holiday season.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Grand Theft Auto franchise in past years, but I think this is the first time that the developers truly got it right. Improved controls, better vehicle physics and a storyline that I could really get into were just some of the appealing elements of this title. There’s just so much to do in this year’s game that it’s really hard to ingest it all. Just make sure you think about who you’re giving this game to though, you don’t need us to tell you that it’s inappropriate for the little ones.

Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy
Platform: PS2, Xbox

Vastly underappreciated, Midway’s top-rated action title is the most innovative and enjoyable title of 2004. Forget about bump-mapped water or visual shaders, the next innovation in video gaming is true-to-life physics and the pioneer of this technology is Psi-Ops. Some games use physics as a gimmick but in Psi-Ops it’s the core gameplay element. Besides, tossing guys around as they float helplessly is a thing of beauty. The $29.99 retail price point doesn’t hurt either.

Viewtiful Joe 2
Platform PS2, GameCube

Capcom stupidly kept the original Viewtiful Joe as a GameCube exclusive during its first year of existence. This time they’ve wisely decided to bring it to the number one selling platform and you’ll receive all the benefits. Barring a Devil May Cry-like disaster, this should be an excellent addition to any gamer’s library.

Metal Gear Solid Snake Eater
Platform: PS2

Ever since Konami decided to bring its stealth-espionage franchise back from the dead, it’s turned heads in every fashion possible. It’s pioneered so much; cinematic-style story telling, positional damage, stealth-gameplay and lush visuals. This time Konami is sending Snake outdoors where he’ll have even more opportunities to sneak up on his foes. It’ll be the best entry yet if Konami’s word holds up its end of the bargain.

BloodRayne 2
Platform: PS2, Xbox


We were all afraid of blood-sucking vampires when we were kids, but I have a feeling that we wouldn't have been permantly scarred had BloodRayne been around at the time. Rayne is, without a doubt, the most gorgeous and lethal vampire ever to grace the screens of a video game. This sexy bloodsucker has all the right moves that will make all of the action fans and adolescent teens in your family go crazy for it.RPG

RPGs are perfect gifts for younger gamers. They encourage copious amounts of reading while encouraging players to live the good-natured lifestyle of the protaganists. In the past we've always enjoyed RPGs because they take up a significant amount of playing time as well. Most RPGs take more than 20 hours to finish while the average action game can be completed in about eight. You have to make sure to pick up the right one though; you don't want to defile your tree with a stinker like UNLIMITED SAGA.


Star Ocean Till The End of Time
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

Most of you were probably hoping for another RPG to come out the doors of Square Enix, preferable one with the words “Final Fantasy” on it but what you actually got didn’t turn out to be all that bad. Star Ocean was a highly touted yet severely underrated PlayStation One RPG. The SquareEnix juggernaut has tried everything in its power to make sure that its followup wouldn’t be befuddled by the same fate. This includes lowering the retail price point to $39.99 and cramming the US version with goodies not found in the original release in Japan. What you have is a good RPG that will hold you over until… well the end of time.

Shadow Hearts
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

Midway’s reawakening continues with its excellent RPG Shadow Hearts: Covenant. The first entry was highly underappreciated and was relegated to cult status. Players were willing to look past the weak graphics due to the compelling storyline and the unique gameplay elements. Both return with a significant boost in presentation and an overall layer of polish missing in the first game. It’s the best RPG available this year and you’d be a fool to pass up on it.

Fable
Platform: Xbox

For most people Fable was the reason to own the Xbox. Now that it’s out it’s simply a reason for living. Peter Molyneux’s epic RPG wasn’t everything that it promised to be, but it’s still pretty damn good. Featuring a protagonist who ages and changes along with the course of the game, this Xbox-exclusive RPG is one of the best out there.

Paper Mario
Platform: GameCube Exclusive

Let’s face it, Nintendo fans, you don’t have many choices when it comes to that purple lunchbox of yours. Luckily, Nintendo is constantly providing you with excellent titles that make the most of their licenses. Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is another in a long line of well-done sequels from the boys in Japan. It’s Mario’s biggest adventure yet and could very well be the best one available. If you own a GameCube you’ll definitely need to own a copy of Paper Mario.

Baten Kaitos
Platform: GameCube Exclusive

So you can’t pronounce the name properly, don’t worry we can’t do it either. But what you can say is “Wow” once you dive into the world that Namco crafted. Its beautifully rendered backdrops and fluid animation may draw you in, but the intense storyline and the addictive combat system will keep you there. It’s one of the best pure RPGs available and a no-brainer for GameCube fans.

X-Men Legends
Platform: PS2, Xbox, GameCube, PC

It’s plain and simple, X-Men Legends was this year’s Champions of Norrath. It’s a hack’n’slash adventure with that little bit of oomph that makes this the best X-Men game ever made. It’s fun and good-natured as well; it’s the type of game that you can play with a bunch of frat boys or your six-year-old nephew.Sports

ESPN NFL2K5
Platform: PS2, Xbox

SEGA and Visual Concepts picked a good year to really beef up their football franchise. Electronic Arts came out with their guns blazing for their latest release of Madden and a lesser title would have succumbed to the pressure. Not so with NFL2K5. It’s the most polished, most visually impressive and more realistic football title to-date. Also, it features the best online functionality of any sports game ever created. Amazing in every single respect and the number one choice for true football fans.

ESPN NHL 2K5
Platform: PS2, Xbox

Like its other ESPN cousins, this one comes with a microscopic $19.99 and aside from some crippling bugs, you’d be none the wiser. Visual Concepts delivers a feature-rich hockey simulation that’s the most realistic available anywhere on the market. Hockey fans need to own this one; besides, they’ll need something to help fill that empty space that the lockout left in their schedule.

Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
Platform: PS2, Xbox, GameCube

Is there anything that we can say about the Tony Hawk franchise that hasn’t been said before? We’ve been in love with the franchise from the start and our love affair has grown with each and every successive entry. This time around it’s Team Bam vs. Team Hawk as you cause massive destruction around the world. Just when you think that the franchise has exhausted all its options it doesn’t fail to please. Count on the boys at Neversoft to impress us yet again.

Gran Turismo 4
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

Do we really need to give you a reason to purchase the next Gran Turismo game? How about rehauled physics? Improved visuals or amazing locales? This is the most amazing racing game we’ve ever played and it’s not even finished yet. How realistic is the game? Well the designer’s ambition is that you can test drive vehicles in the game before you buy them as opposed to having to go down to the dealership. Now that’s impressive.

Burnout 3: Takedown
Platform: PS2, Xbox
Online Capable

Criterion’s Burnout franchise is now in its third iteration, but it’s doubtful that many every played the first two entries in the franchise. Poorly handled by Acclaim’s marketing department, the franchise received a significant boost when it was acquired by Electronic Arts. This entry features all of the shine and polish that you would expect from the gaming industry’s top selling company. Excellent graphics, licensed music, great design and a superb sense of speed headline the best racing game available this year.
Fighting


Def Jam Fight For New York
Platform: PS2, Xbox, GameCube

The original was a smash hit for two reasons: it was developed by renowned wrestling game developer Yukes and it allowed you to beat the living hell out of Method Man and Redman. Both of these options are back along with a bevy of new features. Foremost, you’re no longer confined to the squared circle. Fights take place on subways and other seedy New York locales. And now celebrities join in the fray too, guys like Omar Epps and babes like Carmen Electra. Definitely a great one for parties.

WWE Smackdown vs. RAW
Platform: PS2 Exclusive

When it comes to today’s grapplers only one name stands above the rest, Smackdown!. THQ was onto something special when it released it on the PSOne all those years ago and that magic still remains today. This time they’re trying to add some focus to the game by highlighting the rivalry between the two brands. It should be more intense than ever and with online play and Bret Hart, why wouldn’t it be?

Guilty Gear Isuka
Platform: Playstation 2 Exclusive

2005 will be the year of Sammy Studios and Guilty Gear Isuka will help pave the foundation. Sammy’s Guilty Gear franchise is the true heir to Street Fighter II’s throne, featuring all of the same intense elements that drained all of your quarters in the mid 90s. What I’ve always loved about the franchise is that it rewards precise action and quick reflexes, not button mashing. Call it my bias against 3D fighters, but this is the fighting franchise to own. 2D fighting fans will love this game.

Street Fighter Anniversary Collection
Platform: PlayStation 2

Sorry Xbox fans but you’ll have to wait until next year to get your hands on this one. PS2 owners are in luck though. This collection features a modified version of Street Fighter II and a pixel perfection conversion of Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Nostalgists and Arcade junkies will definitely want to pick this one up.

Mortal Kombat: Deception
Platform: PS2, Xbox, GameCube

Midway is coming back like a bat out of hell this holiday season and the rush will be led by MK Deception. simply put it’s the most polished entry in the franchise yet. The fighting system has been refined, the beloved characters make a return, and more features await you than ever before. We loved the online play and the puzzle fighting elements are a blast for those who loved the old Puzzle Fighter games.Odd Stuff

Taiko Drum
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

So you’ve played Drum Mania in the arcade but you’re tired of wasting 75 cents on three songs. Namco has you covered with its drum-based rhythm game Taiko Drum. Some people are talking about Nintendo’s conga drum game but the real enthusiasts at E3 couldn’t stay away from Namco’s entry. Combining a nice blend of classical music with today’s hits, this should be a no-brainer for wannabe drummers.

Eye Toy: Antigrav
PlayStation 2 Exclusive

There’s a good chance that your Eye Toy doesn’t get much action nowdays. Well all that’s set to change because Sony released the Eye Toy game to get just in time for the holiday season. Players race around large landscapes on the back of low gravity hoverboards, but there’s a twist. They control the player with their bodies as opposed to a garden-variety controller. By using their hands and head they can travel through diverse regions and perform a wide variety of flips and tricks.

Dance Dance Revolution Extreme
Platform: PlayStation 2 Exclusive

We’re all attention whores, let’s face it. The developers at Konami most certainly understand this concept and they’ve released just the right game to prove it. Now the next installment of the DDR franchise features what you’ve wanted all along, the ability to watch yourself as you perform. Through the use of the PS2 Eye Toy peripheral you will be able to watch yourself on the screen as you jive, gib and jump jack your way to stardom.

Midway Arcade Treasures 2

Platform: PS2, Xbox GameCube

Midway’s trip down memory lane continues with its second arcade compilation. This time you get Mortal Kombat 2, Mortal Kombat 3, NARC and a whole host of others. We loved the original and all true fans of the early 90s arcade scene will appreciate this release.

Console Hardware

Red Octane Dance Pad

As a true gamer you demand excellence, so why not demand the best? For the true DDR fan in your family get them the Red Octane Dance Pad. With its excellent construct, hardened base and multi-console support, it’s the only dance pad they’ll need to own. Forget about the competitor’s products, one you use a Red Octane Dance Pad it’ll be the only pad you’ll ever own.

PC Hardware

NVIDIA GeForce 6800GT card

NVIDIA made a big comeback with this high/mid-range card. It’s got the speed and the features that all gamers want and the card supports Pixel Shader 3.0, something ATI doesn’t yet. The one slot solution will please those with SFF cases as well. It’s been a while since I’d recommend a NVIDIA card but this one is it.

AMD64 processors

Let’s face it. AMD64’s are fast, cheap, and run pretty cool. They will usually outperform the Intel counterparts while being less expensive and not requiring as much cooling. The AMD64’s come in two flavors and it’s best to get the 939 pin for the future. You can’t go wrong with this chip and there are now starting to be motherboards supporting AMD and PCI Express.

ABIT Fatal1ty line
If you can’t be the best at gaming, use the equipment he uses. ABIT’s Fatal1ty line is the crème of the crop and are feature rich when it comes to equipment for gamers. From motherboards to video cards, the line gives gamers some really great hardware to outfit your computer with.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


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