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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 December 2004, 01:35 GMT
Blockbuster games battle for 2004 crown
2004 saw a wealth of blockbuster titles battling it out for the wallets of gamers. Here is our pick of the best of the year.

Alfred Hermida: Half-Life 2

Screenshot of Half-Life 2
Combine soldiers prove worthy adversaries in Half-Life 2
Fans of first-person shooters were really spoilt this year. From the tropical paradise of Far Cry to the prison gloom of Chronicles of Riddick, from the horror of Doom 3 to the sci-fi worlds of Halo 2.

All are worthy contenders for the game of the year, but there can only be one. And it has to be Half-Life 2. It did not just live up to the hype, it offered a vision of what games could be: intricate level-design, ingenious puzzles, gorgeous graphics and challenging foes.

Yes, the ending is weak and the game is a linear adventure. But rarely do you find a title that improves as you play it. It is even fair to say that Half-Life 2 has elevated gaming into an art form. Everything else just pales by comparison.

Neil McGreevy: Burnout 3: Takedown

Screenshot of Burnout 3: Takedown
High octane thrills in Burnout 3: Takedown
2004 been a good year for boy racers, who have seen more speed than the rear axle of Schumacher's Ferrari. Burnout 3: Takedown tops my list - stuffed with visual fireworks, this nitro-burning joyride offers pure, undiluted fun.

With Metroid: Zero Mission on GBA, Nintendo dusted off a classic for a retro blast, with more game play in its little space toe than most games on more powerful systems.

And anyone discovering their first grey hair will have misty-eyed reminiscences of a misspent youth in the hulking red fun-box that was the Outrun arcade machine. The sequel on Xbox captured the spirit of the game to a tee.

With the Xbox pushing the polygons, it has eye-meltingly gorgeous visuals and a colour palette that is so bright and sugary it could give you diabetes. Pure escapism that more than delivers your quick fix of arcade jollies.

Dan Coles: GTA: San Andreas

Screenshot from GTA: San Andreas
Ghetto fabulously: San Andreas is a free-roaming crime epic
The biggest game of the year in every sense has to be GTA: San Andreas. The massive free-roaming crime epic set sales records and achieved real crossover success to make it the PS2's defining title.

Yet again Rockstar delivered an immensely fun and hugely deep multi-genre masterpiece, showing enough confidence with its star franchise to increase the violence with a ghetto setting while seamlessly throwing in RPG elements.

Add an engrossing narrative, brilliant voice acting and a wicked sense of humour, and rivals such as Driver 3 are left looking very far off the pace. San Andreas pushes the PS2 so hard few suggest that Rockstar do anything other than wait for technology to catch up with the PlayStation 3.

In a year of major titles dominated by sequels, Tony Hawk Underground 2 and Pro Evolution Soccer 4 stand out as two franchises that have refined their games to near perfection. Scoring a goal in PES4, or nailing a long combo in THUG 2, remain among the biggest highs to be had in gaming.

Darren Waters: Halo 2

Screenshot of Halo 2
The online world of Halo 2 was one of its big selling points
The greatest ever year for video gaming? Probably.

One game stood out in terms of quality and immersion, Bungie's Halo 2. Beautiful to look at and thrilling to play, it was the best game released to date on Xbox and one of the best console games ever made.

It was not perfect, with a convoluted plot, weak ending and some idiosyncratic game play decisions towards the end. But it still provided intense action on a cinematic-scale. Coupled with a blistering multiplayer element, it fulfilled the early promise of Xbox Live.

Other stand out titles included Second Sight, a third-person action adventure with added psychic powers. It had idiosyncratic production design and an old-fashioned plot which gripped from beginning to end. And Fifa 2004 brought online football to millions of PlayStation 2 and Xbox owners - one of the great achievements of the year.

James Bregman: Half-Life 2

Screenshot of Half-Life 2
Terrifying enemies add to the appeal of Half-Life 2
Honourable mentions must go to the magnificently understated Psi Ops and blockbusting, goods-delivering sequels Pro Evolution Soccer 4, Spider-man 2 and GTA: San Andreas. But Half-Life 2 is simply in a class of its own in terms of scope, ability to engage and staggeringly imaginative design.

A hellish world, sitting somewhere between Orwell and Kafka - it is a joy to explore from the word go and gets steadily better, letting the story unfold with terrifying wonder and pitting you against foes more unpleasant than anything your worst nightmares could conjure.

With co-stars who seem so real you will actually care about their wellbeing and a final third which hurls you into open warfare more vivid than a thousand Medal Of Honours, it is a ground-breaking work of art that will hopefully compel all future first-person-shooters to raise their game.

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