The first half of the 2000s is still considered one of the most prolific periods for the industry thanks to the great number of incredible games that were launching left and right at the time. It almost seemed like developers were absolutely bursting with creativity between 2000-2005, and yet, despite the fierce competition more than a few studios were still able to leave a permanent mark on millions of gamers with titles like Half-Life 2, Max Payne, Mafia, GTA: Vice City and San Andreas, Morrowind, Diablo II, Knights of the old Republic, Deux Ex, Civilization IV, World of Warcraft, and many more. Unfortunately, there were also more than a few titles that fell under the radar during that time and were overshadowed by their titanic counterparts.
Well, today we’re going to take a little trip back in time by looking at 10 great games released in the early 2000s that didn’t receive the love they deserved during those days of yore. While they didn’t go completely unnoticed at the time, chances are that only a rather small portion of older gamers will still remember these titles and the younger ones will probably not recognize most of the games on this list at all. Those of us who were fortunate enough to play them when they came out, though, will always have a special place in out hearts for these 10 great games of the early 2000s.
Spellforce: The Order of Dawn is an RTS/RPG hybrid that was fairly successful in its home country of Germany and a handful of other European countries, but remained relatively unknown to gamers everywhere else in the world. In spite of that, however, the game received two expansions and spawned a sequel back in 2007, with a third installment set to launch next year thanks to the recently rebranded THQ Nordic. Hopefully, the upcoming sequel will receive more attention than its predecessors because Spellforce has a lot to offer for RPG and RTS fans and is one of the few series that managed to create an almost perfect mix by seamlessly blending together the two genres.
Based on the popular short story by H.P Lovecraft, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a survival horror game developed by the now defunct UK-based studio Headfirst Productions and published by Bethesda Softworks. The game combines elements from multiple genres including horror, FPS, and stealth, and was praised for its atmosphere, mechanics, and challenging difficulty, though it was also criticized for its many bugs at launch. Ironically, the title may have been a bit too challenging and obscure for some gamers as many people decided to stay away from it when it initially came out for the original Xbox. Cyanide Studios and Focus Home Interactive are currently working together on a new Call of Cthulhu game set to release in 2017, though it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a direct sequel to Dark Corners of the Earth.
The Suffering remains one of the most twisted horror games of the early 2000s thanks to its dark themes and psychological elements. Though seen by many as more of an action game than a traditional horror, The Suffering’s gruesome setting and original enemy design made it a truly memorable experience. Surreal Software and Midway Games released a new installment the following year called The Suffering: Ties that Bind, which turned out to be a commercial failure unfortunately and killed any potential sequels in the process. Both Surreal and Midway ended up filing for bankruptcy a few years later in 2010, however, Richard Rouse III has recently expressed his interest in working on a new game so maybe we will see a revival of The Suffering series at some point.
Nowadays it’s fairly common to take characters from popular children’s stories and turn them into twisted versions of themselves but back in the early 2000s that was a fairly novel idea. American’s McGee’s Alice was one of the first third-person action games to try something like that and the result was absolutely amazing. Electronic Arts eventually dusted off the old IP and in 2011 and published a direct sequel called Alice: Madness Returns that picks off where the original left off. Even though game designer American McGee was involved in the creation of the sequel, the original was quite a bit better than its successor in terms of gameplay and creativity, though the graphics definitely look more than a bit dated by today’s standards.
Many years before Arkane Studios would go on to release the brilliant masterpiece known as Dishonored, the French developers brought us another little gem called Arx Fatalis. Sadly, Arkane’s first-person RPG suffered from terrible timing having been released just one month after Bethesda Softworks published the award-winning The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and mere days after the launch of Bioware’s highly praised Neverwinter Nights. While it couldn’t quite hold a candle to its competitors and was eventually buried by their huge success, Arx Fatalis was still a great game in its own right and was able to distinguish itself thanks to its unique atmosphere. Arkane and Bethesda Softworks eventually teamed up and are now preparing to launch Dishonored 2 later this year,
The early 2000s was a great time for fans of turn-based strategy games, with the Total War and Civilization series picking up steam and Heroes of Might & Magic III still on everyone’s hard drives. Then came Disciples II: Dark Prophecy, a rather obscure and often overlook title developed and published by Canadian studio Strategy First. While most TBS games are fairly challenging to learn and master, Disciples II took it to the next level in terms of difficulty and punished every little mistake. Those who managed to stick with the game for the long run, however, were rewarded with a beautiful art style and an interesting storyline. A sequel eventually came out in 2009 that was able to deliver the same unique art style, but ultimately fell short of its true potential in most of the other departments.
While it may seem a bit unbelievable to some, steampunk wasn’t always as popular as it is today and back in the early 2000s there were only a handful of good games that successfully managed to depict the style in an interesting manner. Troika Games’ RPG Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura was arguably the best at it and managed to offer a beautiful story, immersive world, and a very complex character creation system. Arcanum wasn’t all about steampunk, however, as the game was just as much about fantasy and magic as it was about technology and science fiction. The game truly managed to seamlessly blend together multiple worlds and the end result was pretty spectacular at the time. A sequel to Arcanum was never announced but many of the key developers that brought the game to life went on to help create a number of other great RPGs including Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, and Diablo III.
The late 90s/early 2000s was the golden age of space simulator games and Freelancer was the perfect representation of what the genre had to offer. From trading and combat to a massive universe to explore, Freelancer had it all and continued long after the main campaign was over. Unfortunately for developer Digital Anvil, Eve Online launched only two months after the release of Freelancer and space simulator fans never looked back. Having said that, Freelancer continues to live to this day thanks to a very dedicated modding community that has constantly improved upon the multiplayer over the years by adding new ships, items, systems, storylines, and a number of graphical enhancements. In fact, the game is arguably better now than ever and it’s definitely worth a try, albeit finding and installing the best mods does require a bit of research. The lead designer of Freelancer is none other than Chris Roberts who is now building upon many of the concepts that made his previous titles so good and adding even more good ideas into Star Citizen.
Sacrifice is an extremely unique game that took real-time strategy concepts and turned them into a third-person action game. While that idea doesn’t sound like it could even work in practice, Shiny Entertainment managed to pull it off back in 2000 and created a game that pretty much has its own genre. Unlike traditional RTS games, Sacrifice is less about gathering and construction and more about combat where you control a powerful wizard that has a very impactful presence on the battlefield and can summon a wide variety of different creatures. Sacrifice features a great number of different wizards and five different factions with multiple creatures that the player can mix and match to create powerful unit combinations. In addition to the action-packed multiplayer, Sacrifice also offered a very interesting and challenging single-player campaign filled with many secrets and humorous moments. To this day Sacrifice remains one of the most unique games ever developed – both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics – and has aged surprisingly well, making it highly enjoyable even now. Probably the game most worthy to receive a sequel or remake out of everything that came out in the early 2000s.
Gothic II managed to distinguish itself in the early 2000s in a time where there was no shortage of excellent RPGs. Even though the game didn’t achieve the huge success of contemporaries like Morrowind or Neverwinter Nights, Gothic II was able to gather a cult following over the years that still praise it as one of the best and most underrated RPGs ever made. Much like Arx Fatalis, Gothic II suffered from bad timing but even more so, many of the concepts were ahead of their time and the game required the player to have finished the first title in order to fully understand the continuous story. Even today, open-world RPGs with no loading screens and NPCs that change their routines based on the time of day are few and far between, but Gothic II managed to pull it off beautifully back in 2002. Perhaps most importantly, however, almost every decision was meaningful and the world of Khorinis was extremely believable in spite of its fantasy setting, with the protagonist meant to feel like just an ordinary citizen with hidden potential for most of the game instead of “the chosen one” right off the bad. In many ways, Gothic II is as close as you can get to The Witcher series and a very enjoyable experience to this day for those who can get past the dated graphics. German developer Piranha Bytes haven’t released a new Gothic game since 2006, however, the company did develop the fairly well received Risen series and is preparing to bring us a new open-world RPG called Elex next year in partnership with THQ Nordic.