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Two Decades of Game of the Year

There was recently a really fun trend on Twitter calling for a list of your Games of the Year for the past 15 years. I’ve decided to step up to the plate and do this challenge dating all the way back to 2000 (so two decades of GOTYs).

There was recently a really fun trend on Twitter calling for a list of your Games of the Year for the past 15 years. I’ve decided to step up to the plate and do this challenge dating all the way back to 2000 (so two decades of game of the years).

Although I have a pretty crazy backlog of games, and haven’t always played each game the year it’s been released (especially in my earlier years), I’ve rated each game according to the year it released.

My list might not be definitive (I might change my mind on some of these tomorrow), and there’s always a chance I may have forgotten something that might have released that year, but this was a fun exercise and I wanted to share a peek into my gaming history.

There’s some fun trends you’ll probably pull out, especially as you see me grow older and shift my gaming habits alongside how my life and technology developed.

Anyways, enough dilly dallying, let’s jump into this!

2000 – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

There was pretty much one game that mattered to me in 2000: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Seriously.

THPS 2 to me at the time was all I would ever play. I recall spending so much time chasing new high scores, finding the secret tapes, collecting SKATE, and so much more.

It’s weird, looking back, somehow the list of games that released this year that I ever played is very small, making my honorable mentions list very small. However, Red Alert 2 sealed me in to love RTS games, and Pokemon Stadium 2 and Mario Tennis were just an amazingly fun games to play with friends.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
  • Pokemon Stadium 2
  • Mario Tennis

2001 – Halo: Combat Evolved

This gaming franchise left a notable mark on my life. One of the fondest memories I have of this game is an odd one: When I was first introduced to the game, it was at my cousin’s house. The game on his family’s Xbox was always loading backwards.

You’re probably confused at what I mean by this, so let me try to vaguely paint a picture: Remember that loading bar that would move from left to right? Their Xbox always loaded the game right to left, and if you moved too much in the room, or someone closed a door with too much force, the console would crash and you’d have to restart all over again.

It was the most nail biting thing when it would reach the end and then suddenly start to come back in from the right.

If you’re still confused, someone actually encountered this and recorded it. Watch it on YouTube here(starts about 24 seconds in)

That’s a weird memory, but playing local multiplayer (CTF on Blood Gulch FTW!) with him and my friends in elementary school after school, on weekends, and during sleepovers are some of the most fun I’ve ever had.

Also Halo’s universe and lore has me hooked. I’m not as much as a die hard (I’ve never read the books), but still enjoy everything about it greatly.

As for other games this year, there was a new Tony Hawk game which was good but not as great as Pro Skater 2. That’s okay though, because SSX Tricky was there to introduce me to Run-DMC. Also, Blockbuster was still a thing that was around so I could rent Paper Mario each weekend. Getting the last copy from there after school on launch day was the greatest feeling ever.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
  • Paper Mario
  • Super Smash Bros. Melee
  • SSX Tricky

2002 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

Considering my age at the time, I should’ve have been playing this game. But also considering I had a friend who was a few years older than me, and he had a brother much older than him, there was probably no way I’d ever avoid this game.

That’s fine, because I wasn’t even into all the nasty crap this game was about and was more into the idea magic of a fully open world game where you could do just about anything.

Looking back, Vice City isn’t one of my favorite games because of the story, or characters, or even gameplay, but it was that freedom to create your own game within the game. With this and even GTA: San Andreas (shout out to 2004), we would all hang out in our small bedrooms, and pass around the controller every 15-30 minutes or whenever we died (which ever came first). The creativity and fun we had with this game and franchise early on remind me of the first times we all played other sandbox games like Minecraft together as well.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
  • James Bond 007: Nightfire
  • Madden NFL 2003
  • Super Mario Sunshine
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003
  • Mechassault
  • Animal Crossing

2003 – Pokemon Ruby & Pokemon Sapphire

There’s a lot of years that just seem like strange years for video games, and 2003 is one of them. Some of the biggest releases of this year I ended up playing were sports games and that other Tony Hawk release.

However, the Pokemon series was just becoming big among my group of friends with the release of Ruby and Sapphire and I was hooked. I owned ’em both, played them every second I could (seriously, taking your games on the go? connecting that link cable? so fun! so cool!).

Honorable Mentions:

  • Madden NFL 2004
  • NCAA Football 2004
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004
  • NASCAR Thunder 2004
  • Tony Hawk’s Underground
  • The Simpsons: Hit & Run
  • SimCity 4

2004 – Halo 2

Ahh Halo 2. I remember not being allowed to skip school to play this one all day, but I did pick it up promptly from GameStop and race on home to play it all day. Back then, story wasn’t the biggest thing to me, so while the ending is a bit disappointing to me today, back then it was just fine because most of my time was spent playing multiplayer with all of my friends.

Halo 2 lived on for a long time for me. Eventually in 2005, I joined Xbox Live and the game continued to make an impact on my life connecting me with family, friends, and strangers (my parents were eventually cool with that last part).

This game also started to really get me to explore game development as such an early age. I eventually ended up Soft Modding my original Xbox and installed and modified other people’s versions of the maps that shipped with the game. Sadly, that did get my Xbox Live account banned from Matchmaking (another lesson learned at such a young age!), but that doesn’t matter these days with OG Xbox Live being shut down and all.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
  • Burnout 3: Takedown
  • ESPN NFL 2K5
  • MVP Baseball 2004
  • Super Mario 64 DS
  • Mechassault 2: Lone Wolf
  • Pokemon FireRed & Pokemon LeafGreen
  • Star Wars: Battlefront

2005 – Call of Duty 2

2005 was a hard year for me to actually pick an actual Game of the Year for. I almost broke the rule I set and just slotted Halo 2 in here again, since I joined Xbox Live this year, but I decided to give it to Call of Duty 2.

This game was the first game I purchased for the Xbox 360 and I recall getting a lot mileage out of it. If I had to pick a game that also showcased the platform the best on that first day, it would be Call of Duty 2. It had a great campaign (at least, I think it did!) and extremely fun multiplayer. It kept me hooked for a long while.

This year also saw the release of more maps for Halo 2 (which kept me coming back), Star Wars: Battlefront II (one of my favorite games to play over and over again, but something about it just didn’t scream “GOTY” to me), and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. TimeSplitters also ended up becoming a great game that I played with my friends at parties making silly levels and racing around them.

Honorable Mentions:

  • TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
  • Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack
  • Kameo: Elements of Power
  • GUN
  • Star Wars: Battlefront II
  • Battlefield 2: Modern Combat
  • Hexic HD

2006 – Gears of War

Gears of War is an insanely fun franchise. In 2006, this was a game changer (at least for me!). Everything from the visuals to gameplay was refreshing and and showcased the true power of next-gen gaming.

Just like Halo, I’ve poured so much time into the Gears franchise, and look forward to every release!

2006 also featured a bunch of games that deserve to be more than Honorable Mentions. I discovered one of my all-time favorite multiplayer games, Marble Blast Ultra. We also got some cult classics like Dead Rising, Prey, and Viva Pinata!

It’s also the year Oblivion released, which I also sunk a bunch of time into. As for The Outfit, that’s a game I wish broke through more. It’s mechanics were extremely unique and fun. Someone should re-imagine this game and bring it back some day.

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter
  • Dead Rising
  • Viva Pinata
  • Prey
  • Saints Row
  • UNO
  • Chromehounds
  • Marble Blast Ultra
  • The Outfit
  • Feeding Frenzy

2007 – Halo 3

Just like the other Halo games on this list, Halo 3 continued to make an impact on my life and career. For the first time in my life, Halo 3 made me feel apart of so many online gaming communities, clans, forums, etc.

On top of the social impact it had, Halo 3 at the time just felt like the perfect game to me. I mean, it had everything! A great campaign (wrapping up a epic trilogy), amazing multiplayer, a freakin map maker (?!), and the ability to make your own clips and films. How can any game out do what Bungie did with Halo 3?

2007 also ushered the music game genre into my life, which to this day has also changed me. Firstly, Guitar Hero II hit Xbox 360. I never had a chance to play it on PS2, and I’m pretty sure I still have my Xplorer guitar around here somewhere…

Following that was Rock Band. Holy. Crap. What.

Harmonix at the time knocked it out of the park with this game, and I remember unboxing this on Christmas morning like it was just yesterday. The amount of sheer joy the original Rock Band and the entire Rock Band franchise has brought to me, my family, and friends is through the roof. I can’t explain it.

All of these music games shaped my early music listening habits. It’s weird to think I now work alongside the amazingly talented people at Harmonix who curated these soundtracks and made me who I am today.

Hi Daniel Sussman, who I had this exact conversation with in a bar somewhere in New York 10 years later.

Oh. Also 2007 was clearly a golden year for gaming. Rock Band. Halo. Call of Duty 4. Skate. Crackdown (which was miles better than most people thought it would be!). Portal. And SO MUCH MORE.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Rock Band
  • The Orange Box
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
  • Guitar Hero II (Xbox 360)
  • Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
  • Skate
  • Crackdown
  • Portal

2008 – Rock Band 2

Alright, if Rock Band wasn’t making the list in 2007, it surely has to in 2008, right?! Rock Band 2 took everything done right with the first game and turns it up to 11. (this is a really lame joke that someone at work will probably yell at me for making)

2008 also carried on what felt like a “golden age” of games at the time with Fallout 3 (oh. my. god. so much time spent in this one), a sequel for Gears of War, Introduced us to Left 4 Dead (which I feel like I became very good at!), GTA IV, and more.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Fallout 3
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Gears of War 2
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Call of Duty: World At War
  • Saints Row 2
  • Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

2009 – Halo 3: ODST

Halo 3: ODST just did so much right with taking the Halo franchise in a new direction. I managed to score an early copy to this game (like … two or three weeks in advanced?!) and pretty much had it beat before anyone else. Sorry, humble brag from teenage Nick.

Minecraft is a weird one to list here, but 2009 was the first time it was ever made available, so I’m slotting it in here as a honorable mention. Minecraft has brought so much joy to my life for such a simple game that just keeps evolving and growing.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Borderlands
  • Minecraft
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
  • The Beatles: Rock Band
  • Battlefield 1943
  • Halo Wars
  • 1 vs 100

2010 – Alan Wake

Alan Wake has a special spot in my gaming heart for a few reasons. Not only is it a cult-classic Xbox game that I fell in love with playing, but thinking of this game brings back the memories of how I got started in the online gaming community: reviewing games. 

This was one of the first games I ever received a review copy for, let alone three freakin’ weeks early?! INSANE. 

Memories aside, this game has a very unique and exciting story, tied with some fun gameplay elements using Alan Wake’s flashlight. By far one of my favorite games in 2010. 

I haven’t played the expansions (nor have I played this game in a long while) but I am looking forward to eventually finding the time to do that. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Halo: Reach
  • Rock Band 3
  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization V
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  • Fallout: New Vegas
  • Blur
  • Toy Soldiers
  • Skate 3

2011 – Rocksmith

If there’s one game that was able to get the guitar I received as a Christmas present in 2008 out of the basement and back into my hands, it was Rocksmith. 

I discovered Rocksmith through one of my favorite YouTubers at the time, Freddie Wong. Freddie and Brandon had a guitar duel video that they released that heavily featured the game. Ever since I first watched it, I was hooked. I knew this was a game I must pick up.

At some point that year, I ended up having the chance to try the game at Rockstar Energy’s Mayhem festival. Yeah, I know, weird spot for a game to have a booth, but it worked.

Aside from almost snapping a string because at the time I had zero idea how to even tune a guitar (or what that meant), I had a blast. The song I first played was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, and while I was no professional, I knew this was a game I had to pickup. 

I eventually saved up some money and bought Rocksmith and the cable. Since then, I’ve purchased the original Rocksmith game and the new 2014 edition on both Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC.

Yes, I am addicted to this game. Thank you Ubisoft and the Rocksmith team for helping me learn how to play guitar this decade. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Portal 2
  • Battlefield 3
  • Gears of War 3
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Bulletstorm
  • Full House Poker
  • Brink

2012 – Borderlands 2

2012 was a weird year gaming wise for me, as I had to do a lot to adjust into a new lifestyle, so I didn’t actually end up playing a lot of games, but when I did, it was mostly Borderlands 2 and Halo 4. 

The second Borderlands game came out just as I was stepping into college. This was a game I played heavily with my roommates and dorm-mates and had a lot of fun doing so. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Halo 4
  • Mass Effect 3 (but mostly only the multiplayer)
  • Far Cry 3
  • Trials Evolution
  • Guild Wars 2

2013 – Grand Theft Auto V + GTA Online

2013 was a very interesting year, both for the industry and myself. It was the start of a brand new console generation, and as an Xbox gamer / fan, we all know how rocky of a start it got.

As for my life, I was just starting and dropping out of college (for the first time…). I was between learning what it meant to do really do marketing for video games by working on my own under Play Nimbus, and also later landing my first gig in the industry working with EarPlay (known at the time as Reactive Studios) on Codename Cygnu.s

However, 2013 did usher in the release of Grand Theft Auto shortly before the launch of the next generation consoles, and I was addicted. It later also brought the beta release of GTA Online, which I heavily hooked to as well. I have so many memories playing through this game with the group of people I played games with at the time, it is more than deserving of my 2013 GOTY spot.

That being said, Rocksmith always has a spot in my heart as a game that gave me a valuable skill: playing the guitar. 2013 also saw the release of the Rocksmith 2014 Edition, so it pulls the top spot on this year’s honorable mentions for me.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Rocksmith 2014 Edition
  • Peggle 2
  • Powerstar Golf
  • SimCity

2014 – Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare is such an interesting game. On paper, I feel like it isn’t something I would have been remotely interested in. In the long run, it became a game where I sunk hundreds of hours into and unlocked nearly every Xbox achievement in. 

I had a blast playing this game in my weird “between year” during college. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Minecraft: Xbox One Edition
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Watch Dogs
  • Destiny
  • Fantasia: Music Evolved

2015 – Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines is essentially Sim City times 100. Seriously. 

I’m a huge fan of simulation games and Cities: Skylines scratched the itch of an insanely fun city builder game. To this day I still pop in and build a new city or work on an old one.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Fallout 4
  • Life Is Strange
  • Halo 5: Guardians
  • Rock Band 4

2016 – Amplitude

I’m going to get a little greedy here and list a game that I worked on as my game of the year. 

Amplitude did a lot of things for me. Firstly, for my career in the games industry it opened so many doors and proved to both myself and others that I can do this job and do it well. 

I may not have been a player of the original Amplitude or Frequency games, but Amplitude struck a special spot and made me rediscover how fun simple beat matching was, even if I didn’t have a plastic guitar in my hand. 

To this day, Amplitude sits high on the list of games I’ll just go back to and play 20 minutes or so of ever now and then. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Overwatch
  • The Witness
  • Gears of War 4
  • Rock Band 4: Rivals
  • Overcooked!
  • Pokemon GO

2017 – PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG for short) is one of my favorite games released in the last few years. The concept is simple: It’s you (and your friends) against up to 99 other players. Last person (or team) surviving wins. 

This game not only brought me a ton of fun, but reconnected me with my old gaming group from many years ago. I’m looking forward to playing this game for years to come. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Super Mario Odyssey
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  • Destiny 2
  • Fortnite
  • DropMix
  • Super Beat Sports

2018 – Forza Horizon 4

To most, Forza Horizon 4 beating out Red Dead Redemption 2 may come as a surprise to most, but at the end of the day I found Forza keeping me thrilled, excited, and engaged almost every single minute I played the game. Meanwhile, RDR2 remains in my backlog as a game I am still slowly working through.

This doesn’t mean that Red Dead Redemption 2 not a great game, or worthy of being called the Game of the Year for 2018, but for me, it just wasn’t that.

For more on my thoughts on gaming in 2018, check out my Best of 2018: Gaming article I put up!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Destiny 2: Forsaken
  • PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (Xbox One release)
  • Far Cry 5

2019 – Halo: Reach (?!)

I recently put up my yearly gaming recap and didn’t explicitly call out a game of the year. I guess it’s time to quickly break that. 

I know what you’re thinking. Halo: Reach?! That game released in 2010, how can it be your 2019 Game of the Year? Impossible! 

I am counting the fresh release of Halo: Reach onto PC and into the Master Chief Collection on Xbox as a brand new release of this game. Everything about this release brings back the nostalgia of playing this game almost a decade ago the same way a remastered version of this game would. 

Halo is by far one of my favorite franchises in gaming and each game has a special place in me. I could have easily picked the Halo game for each year as my game of the year and argued for it. Yes, even Halo 4 and Halo 5 (both of which I’ve come around on multiple times). They are both amazing games!

Halo: Reach’s “re-release” in 2019 is 100% my favorite thing that I have played that has come out this year. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Death Stranding
  • Destiny 2: Shadowkeep
  • Gears 5
  • Madden NFL 20

2020 and Beyond!

First off, PHEW. This was by far one of the longest posts I have ever written on my blog and wow did it take some time. I started writing this post about 3-4 months before publishing it at the very end of 2019. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, I am pretty sure if you asked me tomorrow what my favorite game for any of these years would be, I would possibly give you a different answer and a different reason. However, after months of thinking and re-writing, I am confident that what I have listed for each year are my near-definitive GOTYs for their respective year. 

Now that this nearly two decade list of Games of the Year is over, it’s time to start thinking about next year, the start of a brand new decade of gaming! 

In 2020, a new generation of consoles launches (I’m so excited to put a pre-order down on the Xbox Series X!) and many more games will be released. I originally wanted to put my “2020 wishlist” at the end of this blog post, but it grew too long to fit. If you’re curious what I am looking forward to and hoping happens in gaming next year, definitely go check out 2020 Gaming Wishlist here:

Before I go, I also want to tease that I want to do a “favorite games of the 90’s” post, so stay tuned for that sometime in 2020.

Thank you for taking the time to read this enormously large post. I am very much curious to hear your thoughts on my list as well as your 15(+) games of the year. Leave them in a comment on this post or Tweet them to me (@Nick_Mudry).

Until next year…


Nick is a games industry professional with several years experience publishing across AAA and Indie. His recent work has been on the blockbuster music game franchises Rock Band and Dance Central.

He also is an avid gamer, tech enthusiast, and mozzarella stick critic.

About Nick

Nick is a games industry professional with several years experience publishing across AAA and Indie. His recent work has been on the blockbuster music game franchises Rock Band and Dance Central.

He also is an avid gamer, tech enthusiast, and mozzarella stick critic.

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