I write game reviews in the Time Out section of the Weekend Herald under the title Joystick (I didn't have anything to do with naming the column). By and large, game reviewing is a fun if not time-consuming way to earn a few bucks.

2005 for me will go down as the year that Microsoft's Xbox really jumped ahead of the PS2 in terms of titles available and graphics. I review games across all consoles but to be honest, if I'm asked what format I want to review a multi-console release game, I'll say Xbox. The developers have really been pushing the limits of the Xbox's capabilities. My top two games of the year are actually games that strictly speaking were released late last year. But Half Life 2 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas both got releases on the Xbox this year and they look great.

Here then are my top ten games from the 100 or so I've played and reviewed in the last year.

1. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Yes it’s violent and the hidden porn scene scandal which broke earlier in the year had video game critics in a frenzy, but San Andreas achieved much more than that. It’s clever, subversive take on American culture was lapped up by adult gamers, it’s free-form game play giving players more control than ever before. The third installment in the Grand Theft Auto series, San Andreas gives you a vast environment to explore, all sorts of cars, planes and boats to hijack and the convincing world of the ghetto gangster.
2. Half Life 2
The beleaguered scientist Gordon Freeman returns to Black Messa to battle more mutants, aliens and this time a psychopathic police force straight out of Orwell’s 1984. Game developer Valve did a fantastic job creating complex cityscapes and missions that kept me occupied for weeks. Like its predecessor, Half Life 2 is dark and creepy but fascinating. It also made a nice transition to the Xbox. If its depth you’re after in a graphic-intensive role-player, it doesn’t get better than Half Life 2.
3. Civilization 4
The best turn-based strategy game of all time had a graphics overhaul and enough new content added to it to breathe new life into the Civilization franchise. The game charts your rise to global domination as the head of a world super power and gives you a good lesson in life along the way. You could easily play this all summer.
4. Peter Jackson’s King Kong
The movie got rave reviews and the game isn’t half bad either. Kong’s world looks stunning and a clean, uncluttered user interface lends a realistic feel to this action adventure game that seems to have benefited greatly from Peter Jackson’s hands-on involvement. It’s not another video game sequel either.
5. Battlefield 2
The sequel to the hugely successful military multiplayer game Battlefield:1941 brings the combat into the current day in a global tussle for power between the United States, China and the Middle Eastern Coalition. Battlefield 2’s impressive level of detail, realistic weaponry and game play made it the hit of the year among online gamers, most of whom had to upgrade their computers to run it properly.
6. Burnout Revenge
An explosive mix of high-speed car racing and painfully realistic crashes made Burnout Revenge the best racer of the year. It’s all about over-the-top traffic pile-ups and aggressive street sprints where the aim is to shunt your competitors into walls at high speed. It’s a quick game to finish but has huge replay potential.
7. Gran Turismo 4
The console world’s best racing game returned to the PS2 to deliver more cars, more tracks and a better driving experience. Gran Turismo continues to get the mix of aesthetics and game play right, which helped it beat off competition this year from Forza Motorsport.
8. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Chaos Theory has it all, Bourne Supremacy-type gadgets, lush and realistic animation and a plot dreamt up by thriller novelist Tom Clancy. The game’s focus on stealth and espionage was a nice relief from the myriad number of shoot-em-ups released this year.
9. Sid Meier’s Pirates!
A refreshing family console game based on the old computer classic about adventure on the Spanish Main during the golden age of pirates. The ability to forge your own path, either as a legitimate trader or marauding pirate gives endless possible outcomes. A new graphics engine and lush animation brings the 17th century Caribbean to life. Strategic, exciting and ingeniously put together.
10. God of War
A hugely imaginative role player that delves into world of Greek mythology. As the Spartan warrior Kratos you embark on an odyssey to kill Ares the God of War but are faced with the deadly Medusa, Cyclops and multi-headed Hydras on the way. A good blend of puzzle solving and all out action.

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