World of Warcraft (PC)
As if World of Warcraft wouldn't make the list! It's a little surprising that it's already been five years since WOW was released to the world. Capturing the whole scope of the success of WOW is impossible in a brief write-up, taking a look at the numbers is a start. As of last year WOW controlled over 60% of the MMO market with upwards of 11 million (yes, that's 11,000,000) subscribers. Not a bad time to be Blizzard, no? WOW certainly owes a lot to the pioneers of the genre, but no one has managed to capture the addictive gameplay and immense financial success like Blizzard. As a testament to the cultural impact from WOW, one need to look no further than the infamous South Park episode.
Personal Highlight: Actually, I have never let myself play this game for fear of becoming incurably obsessed with it and turning into the caricature of the aforementioned South Park characters. That being said, the immortal Leroy Jenkins is my favorite memory of WOW. Lines from that epic YouTube video are still quoted amongst my gaming friends and laughed at. It takes something special to keep that sort of longevity, and Leroy is undoubtedly "special".
Other Notable Releases in 2004: Doom 3 (PC) brings the famous and controversial series back after a long overdue absence. The Sims 2 (PC) upgrades on the original, while simultaneously making countless expansions obsolete. Halo 2 (Xbox) keeps Halo fever alive and well with no sign of slowing down. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2) goes back to the 60s and into the jungle.
Resident Evil 4 (GC)
Since the original Resident Evil dropped, the series has served as the most famous example of video game survival horror, serving up plenty of don't-play-alone-at-night scares. At the same time, the series was firmly rooted in its PS1 roots - with all the clumsy movement and aging gameplay that went with it. Resident Evil 4 dared to move away from its proven formula for a more action-based game and updated controls. It was a huge gamble that paid off; RE4 went on to score overwhelmingly positive reviews and huge sales. What could have been a soon to be obsolete franchise was given a fresh pair of legs just in time.
Personal Highlight: After a couple nights of getting together to play Resident Evil 4 late at night with a few friends, we'd started to mimic the merchant and his "Welcome!" greeting and mannerisms. Well, one of those nights we started wondering if we could shoot this mysterious merchant. Eventually we decided "why not?", and we shot the guy right between the eyes… he crumpled to the floor dead. What proceeded was a solid 10 minutes of a mixture of laughter and sheer terror that we'd just permanently killed both our mysterious vendor and our only source of trade. Had Capcom been so bold as to punish us permanently for such a poor decision? The answer was no, they would not. He would later come back as though nothing ever happened. But, we had no idea at the time and that was what made it great.
Civilization IV (PC)
Civilization is a long and celebrated series that is largely unknown by console gamers. For those unaware, Civilization puts you in the role as ruler of a nation with the responsibility to balance exploration, scientific research, upgrading your military, diplomatic relations, culture, budget, and environmental consequences. Yeah, there is a lot to deal with. It's a game of enormous scope, and Civ IV did it better than ever. This is the game that made the phrase "just one more turn" famous. Combine Civ IV with its two expansions and you have perhaps the best turn-based strategy of all time.
Personal Highlight: Every time I play Civ IV, I am overwhelmed with an irrational desire to try to make my civilization as historically accurate and geographically correct as possible. While this may be signs of a deeper OCD issue, I prefer to think of it as attention to detail. Found New York inland? Never! Rule China as a democracy? As if! Build the Statue of Liberty in the middle of a desert? You have to be kidding me.