The 20 Best Video Games of the Decade (2000-2009)

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10. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (2007)

Developer: Neversoft
Publisher: Activision

When legendary guitarist Slash traded his leather jacket and top hat for a motion-capture suit and let the developers at Neversoft render him in the third installment of the Guitar Hero franchise, the rhythm genre reached a new plateau of credibility. The visuals were explosive, crisp and cartoonishly endearing. With a finale involving a guitar duel with the cloven-footed Prince of Darkness to a metal rendition of “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the game had us at hell(o). Jason Killingsworth


9. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)

Developer: Rockstar North
Publisher: Rockstar Games

With its L.A.-inspired blend of hand grenades, homies and vehicular homicide, GTA: San Andreas wasn’t so much a sequel as the next evolutionary step in Rockstar’s legendary series. Building upon the features of its predecessors, San Andreas offered polished gameplay, a sprawling open-world environment and in-depth character customization. The end result was a stylish sandbox shooter that sold more than 21 million copies and set the bar for one of the most innovative franchises in gaming history. Adam Volk


8. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision

Until this mega-blockbuster, first-person shooters aiming for realism tended to focus on the events of World War II. And why not? Shooting at Nazis seemed to pose a less thorny moral dilemma than recreating a battle from, say, the Vietnam War. But by staging its conflict in a Middle Eastern locale, Call of Duty 4 brought a harrowingly familiar intensity to its campaign. Moral issues aside, it’s not every day you get to narrowly avert a worldwide nuclear holocaust. Jason Killingsworth


7. Half-Life 2 (2004)

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve/EA Games

When Valve released Half-Life 2 in 2004, the studio broke new ground in computer animation, artificial intelligence, audio design and narrative immersion. But possibly the series’ most revolutionary breakthrough was protagonist Gordon Freeman, a research scientist with thick, plastic-rimmed glasses—finally, a videogame character that was both geeky and badass. Still hailed as one of the great PC games of all time, its arrival on current-generation consoles merely cemented its mighty legacy. Jason Killingsworth


6. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

Developer: Bungie Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

If you’re a male between the ages of eight and 88, chances are you spent more than a few sleepless, trash-talk-filled nights playing Halo with friends when it first arrived on the original Xbox. The game’s faceless hero Master Chief saved humankind, and it’s entirely possible he also saved Bill Gates’ gaming console in the process. If Halo doesn’t seem remarkable today, it’s only because the game’s perfectly balanced multiplayer experience has been so relentlessly copied by every other shooter to follow in its wake. Jason Killingsworth


5. Resident Evil 4 (2005)

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

Resident Evil 4 knows what scares you: The skittering of insect legs across damp stone, the ripple of something massive slithering through brackish water, the isolation of finding yourself alone in a strange land, the suffocating tension of being one step from death in any direction. Dying is an inevitable result of failure in most games, but Resident Evil 4 makes you feel it by walking you along the razor’s edge, overwhelming you with threats. Unlike past Resident Evil games, ammo isn’t a problem; target selection is. Constantly surrounded, you find yourself losing ground with every passing second. One setpiece after another is handled with expert pacing and flawless design. This game taps directly into your lizard brain, that primal space in the mind that’s the source of all human fear—and pleasure, too. Mitch Krpata


4. Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Shadow of the Colossus weaves its own strange, fascinating mythology. A lone warrior on horseback arrives at an ancient temple with a body wrapped in a cloak; after hoisting his burden up on the stone alter, our hero, Wander, removes the cloak to reveal a lovely maiden, serene in death. A booming voice tells Wander he can return the soul to her lifeless body by defeating 16 fearsome colossi scattered around the land. Each colossus on your quest inspires awe, towering high above your head, sending earthquakes through the ground with each lumbering footstep. Few games in history can claim such taut atmosphere and dramatic scale. Jason Killingsworth


3. Fallout 3 (2008)

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: bethesda game software

A game with brilliant writing, astonishing art direction and a healthy dose of family drama, Fallout 3’s indelible moment arrives when you stumble out of Vault 101 for the first time and are blinded by sunlight. It takes a good three or four seconds before your pupils contract enough to take in the devastated wasteland stretching out for you to explore. Each hill you traverse reveals new adventures and quests to undertake. Jason Killingsworth


2. Bioshock (2007)

Developers: 2K Boston/2K Australia
Publisher: 2K Games

Ken Levine’s chilling narrative about a dystopian underwater city called Rapture is one of interactive media’s crowning achievements, proving that videogames can stretch beyond mere entertainment and raise provocative moral and sociological questions. Completely immersive, vividly imagined and with a third-act plot twist to rival The Sixth Sense, it’s the complete package. Jason Killingsworth


1. Portal (2007)

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve

Ah, Portal: You arrived just when we’d forgotten the wallop of a fresh, perfectly executed idea. From start to finish, you lasted only a few hours, but the impression left a mark. We laughed ourselves hoarse. We died (many times). We fell in love with a weighted companion cube. For all that, and so much more—thanks. Jason Killingsworth