24 video games turning 20 in 2024: Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Far Cry and more

Many games now considered cornerstone classics of the medium hit the consoles in 2004

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Twenty years ago, gaming experienced one of its best years for title releases, a reputation that has only grown with time.

From sequels that cemented timeless status to prequels that explored character histories, 2004 was not only a step forward for the time, it also in many ways set the blueprint for gaming over the subsequent decades.

The most popular console of the day was the powerful PlayStation 2, still the best-selling gaming console in history, with 155 million units sold. Microsoft’s Xbox was also a new option that offered exclusives that carved out a sizeable market share.

Elsewhere in 2004, Nintendo was in the middle of its relative flop era, as the Game Cube console sold only 22 million copies. This was considered a disappointment for the long-running Japanese brand, especially when compared with its follow up, the Wii, which produced more than 100 million units in the back half of the decade after its 2006 release. Nevertheless, the cube-shaped device still had some cornerstone hits.

PC gaming, meanwhile, was as strong as ever, with titles released that year still played by people today. Even handheld gaming released a number of classics. The year was so bountiful, in fact, that a number of beloved games, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2, didn't even make the cut.

Without further ado, here are 24 video games, in no particular order, that turn 20 this year.

1. Halo 2

Produced by Bungie studios for the Xbox, Halo 2 is one of the most significant first-person shooters in gaming history. The game’s multiplayer system is one of the most influential advances in gaming technology's development, helping create a strong and competitive online culture.

Halo 2’s release led to long lines of gamers waiting outside retailers overnight in anticipation. The game sold more than two million copies in the first 24 hours and more than eight million copies in total, becoming the best-selling first-generation Xbox game.

2. Half-Life 2

Still considered one of the cornerstone games of the 21st century, Half-Life 2 is the crown jewel in Valve’s library. The first-person shooter incorporates elements of puzzle solving along with a gripping narrative that creates an unforgettable experience.

The game won 39 game-of-the-year awards after its release and has sparked numerous mods, or modified versions, that are still played today. The game sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.

3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Rockstar games were quite busy in the 2000s, releasing games such as The Warriors and Bully among others. But none of their releases were as popular as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The fifth game in the GTA series which started in 1997 is set in the city of San Andreas which is a proxy for Los Angeles. The game’s protagonist is Carl "CJ" Johnson, a man returning home to navigate the obstacles and challenges the city has to offer.

The game sold 4.5 million copies within 24 hours of release, with more than 17 million copies sold by 2009, making it the best-selling PlayStation 2 game.

4. Far Cry

First-person shooters were all the rage in 2004, and with gamers experiencing numerous options to play, a new title threw its hat in the ring and proved worthy.

The first game in the Far Cry series offered gamers a new experience, one that spawned several sequels over the past 20 years.

Far Cry scored very favourably across the board with critics, and had sold 2.5 million copies by 2010.

5. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series reached new heights with the third game, Snake Eater. The game is a prequel to the first, and establishes a lot of the lore and history of the franchise.

The title presented gamers with a deep and thoughtful experience that is praised to this day for its unique storytelling. Snake Eater sold more than four million copies worldwide by 2010 and received a remake in 2023 with a renewed and improved experience that cemented its reputation even further.

6. Doom 3

The Doom series, which started in 1993, is one of the most recognisable and popular game franchises. Dominating the first-person shooter domain in the 1990s, the series returned in 2003 with Doom 3.

The third game was a big jump in graphics for those familiar with the first two games and offered players a wide array of weapons to fend off enemies.

The game was a commercial success for its developer, id Software, selling more than 3.5 million copies by 2007.

7. Def Jam: Fight for NY

Rappers were becoming very popular in the early 2000s, showing up in films and television shows. Video games capitalised and gamers got to play with their favourite rappers in a fighting game set on the streets of New York.

The game featured big names in hip-hop such as Snoop Dogg, Method Man and Xzibit. All in all there were 67 characters in the game, a mixture of rappers signed to Def Jam records and made-up characters to do battle with.

8. Need for Speed: Underground 2

The Need for Speed series fully embraced the popularity of the car-modding street racing scene of the time. With Need for Speed: Underground 2, players immersed themselves in a world they could only have seen in films such as the first Fast and Furious.

Racing games by 2004 were split between the realistic simulator a la Gran Turismo, and the arcade and cartoonish experience of Need for Speed. And while true petrol heads will always side with Gran Turismo, it cannot be denied how much fun Underground 2 was.

9. Red Dead Revolver

With the outsized popularity of its follow-up, some in the gaming community didn't know that Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption was actually a sequel at all. The first game, Red Dead Revolver, was not as successful at the time of its release, as it took the best mechanics from a Grand Theft Auto game and placed them in the Old West.

Red Dead Revolver has since seen a surge in interest due to the rising popularity of the series, which culminated in 2018’s massive hit Red Dead Redemption 2.

10. Mortal Kombat: Deception

The Mortal Kombat games were hugely popular among the children of the 1990s, and remain so today. The gory fighting games enticed with their realistic bloodshed and unrealistic finishing moves.

The series returned in 2004 with Deception, the sixth title in the series, and one that introduced new game modes. The game featured 26 fighters, including some fan favourites such as Scorpion and Sub-Zero.

11. Spider-Man 2

Last year, gamers experienced the latest Spider-Man game, also titled Spider-Man 2. That game represented the latest advancement in web-slinging technology in gaming, but it also left some pining for the original game to bear that title.

Twenty years ago, when every big blockbuster film had a video game tie-in, the second Spider-Man film from director Sam Raimi jumped on that trend, and became one of the better examples of it. The game follows the same story as the film, and allowed players to experience what it would be like to be the arachnoid Marvel hero.

12. Star Wars: Battlefront

The Battlefront name brings up some bitter feelings with gamers due to the remakes being too heavily reliant on microtransactions and a too-short story campaign. But in 2004, the game inspired excitement and thrill.

The Star Wars prequel trilogy was due to conclude in 2005, and hype for a game set on the battlefields was high. The game certainly delivered, scoring very well with critics and gamers alike.

13. World of Warcraft

Released by Blizzard in 2004, World of Warcraft is today still one of the most famous titles in gaming. The game is categorised as an MMORPG, short for massively multiplayer online role-playing game, this means that players set up their avatars and compete against each other or monsters to level up.

The game was released towards the end of the year, so its commercial success came in the following years, becoming the best-selling PC game of 2005 and 2006. At its peak in October of 2010, the game had 12 million subscribers.

14. The Sims 2

There aren’t many strategic life simulators as popular as The Sims series of games. The first game, which released in 2000, entertained players with its tasks of building a life and a family.

The second game was one of the most anticipated of the year and delivered on its promise of improving and expanding the experience, adding new tasks and challenges for players. By 2008, the game had sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

15. Burnout 3: Takedown

In a competitive racing-game genre, the Burnout series introduced a new mechanic in its third iteration that required players to “take down” their opponents by running them out of the race.

This half racing, half fighting game gave players the chance to ram into other players, resulting in a slow-motion action replay that thrilled and added a new element to racing games that has been copied and replicated ever since.

16. Gran Turismo 4

The pinnacle of racing simulators of its day, Gran Turismo 4 enters the list on a technicality, releasing in the last week of the year, but definitely earns its place.

The realism and sleekness of the first three games is taken to a new level with the fourth game and adds a mountain of new cars to race and modify. The game sold more than 11 million copies by 2016.

17. Driver 3

Perhaps more infamous than famous, the third Driver game experienced a lot of negative press as a result of being an unfinished mess of a game.

Driver 3 disappointed critics and fans, especially after the huge anticipation coming after a classic of the action driving genre Driver 2.

The game today is referenced and held up as an example of what not to do when releasing a video game.

18. The Getaway: Black Monday

With the Grand Theft Auto series becoming increasingly popular, The Getaway offered a similar experience with its game Black Monday.

Set on the streets on the Nintendo 64 became one of the most beloved video game releases on that console. It also introduced the character of James Bond to a whole new generation alongside the Pierce Brosnan films.s not in the GTA games is a number of licensed cars.

19. James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing

In 1997, Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 became one of the most beloved video game release on that console. It also introduced the character of James Bond to a whole new generation alongside the Pierce Brosnan films.

By 2004, Brosnan had concluded his tenure as the British spy, but his likeness still appeared in James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing. The game is a continuation of the story from Brosnan’s last 007 film Die Another Day.

20. Katamari Damacy

Some games just have to be played to be believed. In Katamari Damacy, the objective is simple: roll a magical adhesive ball on to other things to be able to grow large enough to become a star.

A game like Katamari Damacy could only have come from Japan. With its eccentric and whimsical story and gameplay, it has become a cult favourite around the world.

21. Metroid: Zero Mission

One of the most popular Nintendo Game Boy Advance releases of the year, Metroid: Zero Mission invited players back to play as bounty hunter Samus Aran.

The game is a direct remake of the first Metroid game from 1986 and allowed players to experience that game in a new light with renewed mechanics and graphics.

During the month of its release – February 2004 – the game was the bestselling Game Boy Advance title in the United States.

22. Pikmin 2

Following the success of the first Pikmin game in 2001, Pikmin 2 welcomed back players who wanted an extended experience to that found in the first game.

With its fun, puzzle-solving tasks and survival missions, Pikmin 2 presents a playful and quaint world in which microscopic beings are being guided by the player to achieve those tasks.

23. Pokemon Emerald

The Pokemon games were still some of the best-selling games around the world by 2004, and Pokemon Emerald added to that legacy.

The game was released right after FireRed and LeafGreen titles, and added new Pokemon, or pocket monsters, for enthusiasts to collect. By the end of 2005, the title had sold more than five million copies, putting it in the top three bestselling Game Boy Advance games of all time.

24. Pro Evolution Soccer 4

Today, the football games from EA Sports dominate the sport simulator genre. But back in 2004, the best game to experience football with was Pro Evolution Soccer 4 from Konami.

The game was found in every football fan’s household, ready to be played with friends or alone. The Pro Evolution Soccer games, known as Winning Eleven in Japan, also had a healthy modding community around the world that updated these games with more authentic kits and stadiums.

Updated: January 19, 2024, 6:23 PM