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The Best and Worst of 2002

Join us in listing the Best & Worst of 2002! Then party like mad on New Year’s Eve.

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Out with the old and in with the new!

It’s time once again to ring out the old year and bring in a new one. 2002 was a relatively quiet year when it came to PC and gaming events. Intel reasserted itself after AMD made gains in 2001, the consoles continued to fight it out amongst themselves (and the PC didn’t die as a result), Duke Nukem still wasn’t released, and the RIAA continued its valiant fight against a business model that reflects technological advances. One of the few surprises of the year was the lack of a response from NVIDIA to ATi’s Radeon 9700 Pro challenge. We’re still awaiting hardware that will either restore NVIDIA to the GPU throne or cede the DirectX 9 round to ATi.

The staff of B3D put together our annual list of the Best and Worst of the year. In discussing our lists, our voting pretty much reflected the lack of radical news during the year. In many cases it was really difficult to name a Best or a Worst, and there is no Average category! Regardless, here’s the categories, our votes, and an attempt to sum up the impact of 2002 on life, the universe, and everything..

  • Game of the Year
    • Genre-specific
  • Worst Or Most Disappointing Game of the Year
    • Genre-specific
  • Best Hardware of the Year
  • Worst Or Most Disappointing Hardware of the Year
  • Most Underrated Game of the Year
  • Most Anticipated Game(s) of 2003
  • Biggest Computing News/Development

Each category is on a separate page so read on and put 2002 to bed!

Game of the Year

Bryan Duncan - I must disqualify myself because I only played a few hours of a handful of games. Of those few, however, No One Lives Forever 2 is the shooter I’d most like to get around to finishing some day and F1 2002 and Rallisport Challenge were the racing games I would someday hope to suck less at.

General Tso – NeverWinter Nights. I have to admit this was pretty much everything it promised to be. NWN was a very good interpretation of the 3rd Edition D&D rules for the PC. It provided a great mix of good, solid gameplay with impressive graphics all while staying true to the flavor and feel of traditional D&D. While I haven’t had as much time to play multi-player as I’d like, I found that in addition to a solid single player game NWN offers a great interface for network gaming as well. It really moves the old pen and paper D&D game to a new level when you can actually sit down with party of adventurers over the PC and see the world that you’re exploring.

Even more than just a good basic game, you actually get a game system that offers almost unlimited play options due to the included module toolset and the continued support from Bioware. There are literally thousands of free community modules being put out as well as new Bioware content so the only limit on what you can do with NWN is your free time and availability.

  • Runner UpLaser Squad Nemesis. I’ve actually more time in with this game than anything else this year. I had to put NWN first because it does have more depth to it and is a more complete gaming experience with excellent single and multi-player modes. However, LSN has occupied a lot of my free time over the past year and despite steadily playing since the game came out I still haven’t grown bored with it.

    For those of you not familiar with it, LSN is a turn-based play by e-mail game from the folks who brought you X-Com, Julian and Nick Gollop (X-Com is my all time favorite strategy game, btw). It pits 3 races (Human Marines, Machina Robots and the insectoid Spawn) against each other in squad based combat missions that involve either capturing the enemy headquarters or wiping them off the face of the planet. The best part is though that you get to play your pals via e-mail. The great thing about this approach is that it lets you play at your own pace. If you’ve got a busy schedule you can get to your turns when you have time and you don’t have to worry about setting up times when you can link up with someone else and play. You can also sit down and take your time plotting out your next move without someone breathing down your neck!

    Aside from the joy of trouncing your friends, the other beauty of LSN is its simplicity. While the graphics and sound are good, they’re kept relatively simple. This puts the emphasis on gameplay but it also makes the game useable on just about any machine. It’s a very modest 10.8MB download that’s 56k user friendly and the e-mail interface means that those same 56k users aren’t penalized in any manner like is sometimes the case with real-time online gaming.

GH Moose - Morrowind. I’m a fan of the Elder Scrolls series, so I’m probably a little biased. I love the open-ended nature of the game, I love the fact that you can pretty much design any character, item, or spell you want to, I love the modability, and I love the gameplay. All of those ‘loves’ and I still haven’t even mentioned the graphics…which are also stellar, IMO.

  • Genre-specific: RacingNeed For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2. After the Steaming Pile that was Porsche Unleashed (at least IMO), I lost faith in the Need for Speed series, which I’ve always liked…but Hot Pursuit 2 brought the fun back for me. Make no mistake, this is not a sim-type game, but it’s arcade racing at its most fun.
  • Genre-specific: RTSAge of Mythology. Really, I think if I had gotten my hands on this earlier in the year it could’ve kicked Morrowind off the list. The games controls are similar enough to Age of Empires II that it’s easy to get into, while the strategy variations that come about via god combinations really make for an interesting game. I’m looking forward to an expansion pack for this one, though – I’d like a few more cultures to play as and a few more map choices.

Gene - Battlefield 1942 and Neverwinter Nights were certainly the best games of 2002, IMHO. Having to pick one, I’ll go with BF1942 for its great diversity: aircraft, naval, and mechanized equipment, all in addition to the good old FPS. NWN had and has so much potential through its DM authoring suite. However, it’s difficult for people to implement that system well enough to create immersive on-line universes. IMO, NWN fell a little short of expectations.

Björn Tidal – Well, I’m a bit torn here between Battlefield 1942 and Age of Mythology. In the end I’ll go for BF1942. While the game had some problems in the beginning with lag, the last version now runs great and I’ve been in several 48 people games with no visible lag. The maps are diverse and there is something in the game for most people. The fun part is that when you find a server where people play as a team the game lifts to a new level.

  • Runner upAge of Mythology

Scooter – For multiplayer, BF1942. This is the most fun game I have ever played. Single player I would have to say WarCraft III.

  • Runner upUT2K3

Topaz – I haven’t actually bought any games this year, although I did play a lot of free downloadable demos, like UT 2003 and James Bond 007 Nightfire. I have played a fair amount of Team Fortress Classic online, however. So believe it or not, I’m picking Half-Life, for it’s incredible staying power and Valve’s support of the modding community.

Shanewu – Didn’t have time to play very much, unfortunately, but my favorites for the year are Soldier of Fortune II and No One Lives Forever 2.

Worst Or Most Disappointing Game of the Year

Bryan DuncanBarbie Sparkling Ice Show, because I had such high hopes for it being the first truly immersive Barbie sim! Nah, not really. Just see my excuses in Game of the Year.

General TsoUnreal Tournament 2003. I hate to say it, but I was pretty underwhelmed with UT 2003. It’s got purty graphics and all but it just doesn’t have the right feel anymore. I was really looking forward to this one and once I got it I was like, “eh, it’s okay”. I think a lot of the criticism that it plays like Quake 3 is correct. If you’re a Q3A fan I guess that’s a good thing but if you liked the old UT it’s not so good. Personally, I’ll be leaving the original on my machine for the near future.

GH Moose – Unreal Tournament 2003. I’ve taken to calling it UT2kQ3 because it feels entirely too much like Quake3 for my tastes. The game falls in much the same category Quake3 did in my opinion – great technology but bad implementation.

GeneMechwarrior: Mercenaries. I love the game but it really should have just been an expansion (read cheaper) to Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance since it’s really just a big collection of bug fixes and minor additions to that engine/game.

Björn TidalUnreal Tournament 2003. It’s not bad at all but I was disappointed in it. I don’t like Q3A at all and was very disappointed in that I think that UT2K3 felt more like a sequel to Q3A than to UT.

Scooter - Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator 3. Buggy as heck and it can’t touch IL2.

Topaz - UT 2003 (the demo). I had high hopes for this one, but the gameplay just didn’t work for me. I felt like I was only 2 feet (.6 m) tall and running a million miles an hour. I still have high hopes for Unreal2, though.

Shanewu – I’d have to say Unreal Tourney 2003. Never really played it but all the talk of it being Unreal Quake Tourney makes me disappointed enough. Who needs another damn Quake? Not me. I liked Unreal Tourney a lot, and I wanted a new version of it, not a new Quake wannabe.

Best Hardware of the Year

Bryan DuncanUSB 2.0 going mainstream. Plug n’ Play with speed and Windows actually likes it (XP does, anyway). I love it when peripherals are easy to make work and work well and USB 2.0 is a prime facilitator of that.

General Tso – I might take some flack for this one but I think I might have to say the GeForce4 Ti4200 cards. These cards really came into their own this year with a good number of manufacturers offering a wide array of card features. I know they aren’t as revolutionary as ATI’s Radeon 9700′s but the fact that the 4200′s are offering great game performance and features at a price point that most folks can afford makes them one of the best ‘bang for the buck’ deals of the year.

GH MooseGeForce4 Ti4200. I had a hard time deciding in this category. I was thinking about giving the nod to an ATI product or two (9500 Pro and 9700 Pro), a CPU technology (Hyperthreading), or a hard drive (Western Digital SE drives), but it came down to the Ti4200 mainly because of a high-quality feature set combined with a very good price. The 9500 Pro was another serious contender for this spot in my mind, but it didn’t get the nod because it’s hard to get at the moment, it’s more expensive, it’s a late arrival, and I’m not entirely sure I trust the drivers. I could very well regret passing up the 9500 Pro for the Ti 4200 later, but you gotta choose something.

Gene – The ever growing pen drive market has intriged me. I really like the Northgate 3-in-1 USB Flash Drive which is more than just a pen drive, it includes a fully functional e-mail program (java?) and it’s a portable MP3 player.

Björn Tidal – ATI’s 9500 Pro and 9700/9700 Pro definitely are good candidates, as is the X-Box, but I think I will say the ASUS A7N8X Deluxe nForce2. This mobo has everything: 6 USB2 ports, 2 Firewire ports, Serial ATA, Dual LAN, Soundstorm Digital Audio. And, of course, the nForce2 chipset. Sure, it is a bit more expensive but you get what you pay for.

  • Runner upX-Box (Note: Yes, we know the X-Box was released in 2001 but Björn lives in Sweden and couldn’t get his until 2002).

ScooternForce 2 Chipset. Too bad it came out so late, but it gives AMD a fighting chance against the Intel beast. The board that offers the most bang for the buck is ASUS’ A7N8X Deluxe nForce2.

  • Runner upGeForce4 Ti4200

Topaz – It pains me to say this but, I’m compelled to select the ATi Radeon 9700 series; ATi has the best hardware currently available to the buying public. I’m quite wary of ATi’s drivers, though, and personally I’m not yet ready to put one in my machine. I sure do wish the GeForceFX was out…

ShanewunForce2 mobos.  Great performance and awesome features! I hope AMD can gain a little ground with these boards being so popular.

Worst or Most Disappointing Hardware of the Year

Bryan Duncan - NVIDIA GeForce4 MX. It wasn’t a bad card, but it was unnecessary. Why settle for the last generation of DirectX when the current gen could be had for very little money more? It should have never been branded as a GeForce4, especially when the Ti 4200 was a superior card for about the same price.

General Tso – I’m inclined to agree with Bryan about the GeForce4 MX cards being the most disappointing hardware of the year. In a way I think it’s sort of unfair because it’s not that they’re bad cards, but not having DX 8.x support at this point in the game is inexcusable. Add in the controversy of branding them GeForce4′s even though their capabilities were less than the GeForce3′s and you’ve got some major strikes against them. For the lower end price range they’re probably okay as long as you know what you’re getting into. The problem really is that with that GeForce4 name on them a lot of folks expected a lot more than they got.

GH MooseGF4MX series. For reasons already stated, just not quite up to the GF4 name. Pretty good card for the money, but not even as good as a GF3.

GeneD-Link wireless networking products. I helped my father-in-law setup two different D-Link wireless products (access point and a router), and neither would penetrate a single, uninsulated wall in his house. They’re cheap but they’re only worth using if you buy the $70-$100 booster antennas….no thanks.

Björn Tidal – I really haven’t experienced something horrible this year. I’ve probably been lucky.

ScooterATi’s drivers. I do not want to say the 9xxx cards are bad hardware. They are very powerful cards. But ATi’s driver problems continue to plague them. I have a 9700 Pro and it sits on a shelf collecting dust because of driver bugs. My Ti4600 runs all my programs bug-free.

TopazNVIDIA GeForce4 MX, but the problem is the name actually. They should not have used the 4, since the lack of pixel shaders makes it incompatible with the rest of the line.

Shanewu – All the stuff too expensive for me to buy…

Most Underrated Game of the Year

Bryan Duncan - Hard to answer that when you don’t play anything. But I will take the liberty of creating my own category:

Most Overrated Game of the Year

SIMS anything! I’m so freaking sick of The Sims! Why do the lamest premises score the biggest with the public? First Myst, then Tycoon everything, now Sims. I dread when Sims Online launches, it’s all we’ll freaking hear about!

General Tso – Hmmm, nothing I can think of. Most of what I played got the reviews it deserved. And it was all good.

GH Moose – Not so much underrated as underplayed – Arx Fatalis, Divine Divinity, Moonbase Commander, probably a couple of others.

GeneLaser Squad Nemesis. This play by e-mail game, which General Tso and I have been playing for a while, has seen little or no press and it’s such a blast. A true, good old-fashioned, turn-based strategy game based on the old X-Com games.

Björn TidalWorld War II Online. OK, it was originally released in June 2001, and thus not really a 2002 game, but(!) the game has undergone so many changes, patches, and development that anyone who played the game 1 year ago will almost feel like it is a new game if they try it today. It’s still frustrating sometimes but manual supply is now slowly being implemented, attrition has been added, new planes, new tanks, new scout vehicles, etc. is being added – the game just keeps moving toward becoming that ultimate online warfare game that all wargamers dream about. Oh, if you decide to try it out, go Allied. We Axis need more opponents since we sweep the map regularly now.

Scooter – Can’t think of any.

Topaz – Free game demos for download. I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment from the numerous demos that have been released, thanks to broadband ‘net access. And not only are they fun, but I can avoid wasting my hard-earned money on games (like UT2003) that look great, but just aren’t my style.

ShanewuTic-Tac-Toe

Most Anticipated Game(s) of 2003

Bryan Duncan - I guess Doom III so we can finally use the features that have been in our video cards for a year now and we’ll finally have a new benchmark standard to play with. I am curious to see if Halo for the PC actually gets released in 2003 and if it generates the same excitement it got on the Xbox. Oh, and I’m anxiously waiting for Duke Nukem Forever.

General TsoUFO: Aftermath. The latest installment in the X-Com saga. While not from the original team, the work so far looks very good and I’m really hoping they keep the flavor of the game. As I mentioned above in the LSN discussion, X-Com was my all time favorite PC game so this is the number one game I’ve been keeping an eye out for. It’d be great to have the Gollop brothers re-visit the series but until they do I’m willing to give Altar Interactive (Aftermath’s developers) a try!

GH MooseDoom3. I’m hoping it will bring back that old Doom feeling. However, I’m not sure if I should be calling this ‘most anticipated’ or ‘most feared’ – if the gameplay isn’t there I’ll take it entirely too personally because it will be soiling a good game franchise – imagine how you’d feel if Daikatana was Doom3 and you’d catch my level of fear…

GeneDoom 3! Enough said. id is due for a big hit, and hopefully this one fits the bill.

Björn Tidal – Well, Doom 3 really isn’t that exciting for me. I don’t think I am looking forward to any specific game right now.

ScooterLock-On, Doom 3, and Unreal 2.

TopazDoom 3, of course! I really like dark, creepy, scary games (I get off on the adrenalin rush!). Unreal 2 has potential. Duke Nukem would be awesome, but I’m not holding my breath, waiting for it.

Shanewu – Tic-Tac-Toe 2003XP

Biggest Computing News/Development

Bryan Duncan - The jackbooted thugs of the entertainment industry continuing to bully people into submission while utterly failing to find ways to make profits from new digital trends. Piracy is bad, but trying to close Pandora’s box is just stupid and wasteful.

General TsoPen based tablet PC’s. While we’re just starting to see the impact of this form factor, I think it’s going to end up making big inroads in the years to come. I might even venture to speculate that the tablet, at least the variety with keyboard as well as touch screens (like the Toshiba Portégé 3500), will replace conventional laptops in the near future.

Basically, you get the input convenience of a PDA and the ability for folks who aren’t computer savvy to fill in forms, make notes, update records, etc., with the simple stroke of a pen. When hooked to a wireless network the design really comes into its own and allows for instant update of record databases and on the go access to those same databases.

While they’ll likely be geared more as a business tool, I can also see some value in them for sitting on the couch and surfing, too. It’s a lot easier to sit in a La-Z-Boy lounger with a tablet than it is to balance a conventional laptop.

They’re going to require a price drop before they become more mainstream, though.

  • Runner upUSB Pen drives! As goofy as it may seem, I see these things making a huge impact and this was the first year that they really took off. We tested a bunch of them in the middle part of the year and they’re generally great products. Small, fast, reliable and useable on most PC’s these days. Add in a wide variety of capacities up to and including 1GB sizes, and the fact that you can boot from some of them, and I can’t see any reason to have a floppy drive anymore. The good old 1.44MB floppy served its purpose for over a decade now but it’s simply too small and too slow to continue on much longer. The Pen Drive may be the final nail in its coffin.

GH MooseLawsuits. Everybody sued everybody this year, or it seems like it. Of special note, RIAA vs. everyone, Intel vs. VIA, Intergraph vs. the semiconductor industry, etc. It seems like there’s been an awful lot of action in the legal arena, and it annoys me often enough that it gets the nod for the biggest news.

GeneDDR SDRAM and the mobo chipsets to follow it (nForce, KT333, etc.) Faster RAM is finally beginning to break down the computer system bottlenecks, creating much higher performing systems and not just bloated CPU speeds.

Björn TidalATi’s ‘comeback’. Regardless of ‘true’ sales figures and marketshare, ATi has captured a large mindshare among gamers and users and now are, if not dominating, at least level with NVIDIA. Who would have expected this one year ago?

ScooterHyperthreading is a very interesting move. I hope to play with an Intel machine with this in 2003.

Topaz – Microsoft’s escape from becoming a regulated industry.

Shanewu – Not really the biggest and not necessarily news of 2002, but I think one of the coolest is the USB Flash drive…very handy and convenient and hopefully will help kill that damned floppy.

Looking back over our lists, one thing becomes apparent: 2002 was kind of a boring year. Here’s our impressions of the categories from our lists.

Hardware

When the majority of our staff picks NVIDIA’s bargain card as Hardware of the Year, you know something is up. We’ve reached a point where hardware is impatiently waiting for software to catch up, and that is reflected in our voting. Just because you can buy tomorrow’s DirectX 9 card today doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Let’s face it, when Doom 3 comes out it will be months before you see anything else use its engine and you’ll have new video card choices on the market. And Doom 3 still won’t take full advantage of all your GPU’s power!

USB pen drives also indicate our leanings toward simplicity and functionality (at least for this year). They’re affordable, they work, and they do exactly what they promise. Why can’t more stuff be that way?

A very positive trend is the fact that only Gene could name hardware that truly sucked ass. The rest of us just dumped on NVIDIA for trying to pull a fast one with the naming convention on the GeForce4 MX. Well, except for Scott; you knew that he had to find something to pin on ATi. ;)

One could say, if one is given to introspection and deep thought, that our hardware lists are indicative of leaner, more cautious times. But since we aren’t given to that kind of brain activity we’ll just say that PC enthusiasists are learning patience is a virtue when it comes to hardware purchases. No one here is trying to convince you to not spend your money on the latest and greatest, we’re just saying you don’t really need to at this point.

Software

How long have we been waiting for the next killer app? After Quake and Half-Life there just hasn’t been that universal OMG! hit. There were certainly good games released in 2002, but one couldn’t escape the feeling that if you peeked ahead into 2003 there was surely something out there that would blow us away. Maybe it’s Doom 3, maybe it isn’t. All we know is that there’s a lot of anxious gamers hoping id is really going to give us a Doom game and not just another technology demo.

There apparently isn’t much new under the sun in the gaming world. All of our choices were sequels or games that built on predecessors. They may have done that very well, such as AoM and NWN, but they weren’t really new. Is 2003 the year that we’ll see the game that breaks the mold? We’ll see, but we doubt it.

Computing News

As we stated in the introduction, 2002 was the year of the status quo. Intel gained on AMD, but AMD didn’t go away. Microsoft continued to keep its fleet of lawyers busy, but avoided a breakup. And, as GH Moose and Bryan cited, the lawsuit (or the threat of one) remained the weapon of choice when a company lost its competetive advantage.

One of the few surprises of the year was ATi’s 4th quarter bragging rights victory over NVIDIA. Whether or not the NV30 can blow away the 9700 Pro and whatever else ATi has in its labs looks to be one of the more interesting developments of 2003.

Perhaps the lack of earth shattering news is a good thing. After such a tumultuous 2001 we were all ready for business as usual.

 

We hope your 2002 was a good one and that 2003 will bring you fortune and cheer. Happy New Year from Björn3D!

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