My Top Ten Games of 2003

2003 was a strange year for my gaming. It was a bit sparse with releases, with many big franchises that I loved on a break in their cycles (Metal Gear Solid, GTA, Halo etc), and a lot of quirky games coming out that I didn't know much about. I continued to play heavily on my PS2 and Xbox, with the PC serving as my strategy game machine.

While I do feel that it remains among the weakest years I have seen for game releases, it was an interesting one with some very unusual games that deserve attention in a list like this.

List items

  • It didn't have the smoothest gameplay, or the most satisfying combat, but Knights of the Old Republic took a universe that 13 year old me loved and did something completely original with it - provided a very grown up and fantastically written story. This was the first time that Bioware really got me, and set the stage for their future work that would make them probably my favourite developer. It's system for leveling up players and providing force powers was great to implement in combat, it had fantastic character interactions and was very competent in all other areas. The story is what grabbed me and has cemented a place in my imagination even all these years later. Deserves a modern remake/remaster.

  • I didn't get to play this game till many years later, but in hindsight The Wind Waker is one of the finest games in the series. It has a hugely colourful setting with a unique world that is unlike any of the other games. It actually reminded me of Final Fantasy X with so much of the game centred on an archipelego of islands and a tropical setting. It also makes great use of Japanese mythos and has a modernised version of the combat system from Ocarina. It still has some tutorial issues, but its cell shaded visuals and sheer charm alongside strong mechanics make it a wonderful Zelda game.

  • Frozen Throne may be an expansion pack, but I feel right counting it as its own release from the main Warcraft III due to its sheer size and scope. It continues the story of the main game directly, providing full details and closure on many of the hanging threads from last time. It also has multiple full campaigns, added new maps to the multiplayer and tweaked some gameplay elements to make the whole Warcraft III package that bit smoother. It had a magnificent ending to its story and I continue to be disappointed that Blizzard have never done a Warcraft IV.

  • Yes, my love of Dynasty Warriors not only failed to die away, but further accelerated with the release of this, in my experience the best game in the series. Better graphics, increased and more interesting cast of characters, voice acting that was no longer comical and most importantly a full selection of proper story mode campaigns made Dynasty Warriors 4 my most played game of 2003, and that must count for something.

  • If the first game was a proof of concept, then Ratchet & Clank 2 was the promise realised. Featuring greater scale, more upgrades, greater ease of play and the same smart writing and wit, this game showed the true brilliance of Insomniac and really is one of their best ever works. It is an incredibly fun and entertaining platformer, with a shocking level of attention to detail. And its wonderful for it.

  • I still loved the Pokemon games from the Gameboy Colour, but Sapphire justified my purchase of a GBA. While not as groundbreaking for me as its predecessors were, it still added an entire new region, an additional 150 or so creatures and improved the graphics and battle system in line with the new platform. It also had a pretty good story as far as the series went, and I certainly had a lot of fun adventuring in Hoen. Too much water though.

  • Taking a great concept of directing a space faring civilization as it develops in a hostile galaxy and layering strategic management on top was what this one was all about. While lacking in the combat department (I still stuck with Imperium Galactica for that) it did manage to achieve a great political and economic simulator, and I played a lot of hours on it for that. Also, building a death star was a thrill!

  • I had never touched the old games, so I had zero expectation or nostalgia going into Sands of Time, and I was blown away. This is a wonderfully smooth flowing game with easy mechanics, well designed and balanced combat, and a great sense of pace with smart puzzle solving in the vein of Soul Reaver. It also helped that it had a wonderfully written and delivered story that really did strike the right balance of fun and emotional moments. It was also great to see another game pull off a smart time travel story.

  • It had been a long time since my favourite fighting game series had been in action, but Deadly Alliance ended the drought and brought a very different style of fighting to the series. Evolving the gameplay of 4 to a completely 3D setting but getting rid of a lot of the jank that 4 was cursed with, Deadly Alliance moved the story forward and really harmonised the remaining new cast from 4 with the classic characters from the older games. It was a bold move to kill Shao Kahn and Liu Kang in the opening cinematic, but the Krypt was entertaining (kooking with Scorpion!) and the conquest mode laid the foundation for what would become the story mode later on.

  • As a lover of the films, this was an excellent release at their height. My biggest complaint about the Two Towers game was its short length and lack of scale, and both of those were resolved here. Bigger roster of characters, greater scale, and a proper full scope of story alongside improved gameplay made it the best example of a movie tie-in game in its era.