The Best Year in Gaming: 2005

Last year’s stacked lineup of games for the Game Awards had us thinking: What was the best year in gaming? As part of our series on determining gaming’s best year, we’re putting together an article on each year, charting the major releases and developments of the year, and talking about both their impact and what made them great.

The year is 2005. Nothing is happening.

The conservatives are in power. The Middle East is in chaos. If you turn on the radio at any point you will be greeted by “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas. You are in school, dimly aware that civilization is falling apart but powerless to do anything about it. It’s time to tune out, and luckily we have one of the greatest years of gaming to carry us through. With World of Warcraft, Half Life 2 and Rome: Total War acting as cultural turning points that will inspire video game design for decades –

Oh, what’s that? Those are all 2004 releases? I apologize. Let me try again.

It’s a time of fantastic visions, the delivery of grand technological promise. The incredible fantasy vistas of The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion pair with the culmination of the Zelda series that has been with you from childhood in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. A new edition of Warhammer Fantasy is also released, defining –

I would like to apologize. Those are all 2006 releases. 

So what did we have in 2005?


I want you to think about the first time you heard about Shadow the Hedgehog.

Perhaps you grew up on the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons, either the cool tween adventure series or the Looney Tunes-style show for babies, or maybe both. Maybe you have fond memories of sitting alongside your friend on their birthday, playing Sonic 3 & Knuckles, staring intensely as Sonic went Super Saiyan. Maybe you were on Newgrounds watching early Sonic sprite animations. Perhaps you used to run really fast with your arms stretched out behind you in what might today be identified as a “Naruto run,” feeling the wind in your hair. But you’re a teenager now, and you’ve seen actual Dragon Ball Z and actual Naruto during the early morning anime broadcast that you can see if you finish your shower before 7am. Sonic meant something to you once, a fond childhood memory, a liminal point between childhood and teenage sentimentality.

And then one day they tell you that Sonic is back, and he’s black instead of blue, he swears, and he has a gun.

In the year of our Lord 2024 we have all kind of accepted that the Sonic the Hedgehog series is fucking weird. He’s been a werewolf and fought King Arthur and kissed a human woman and we all hate it and wish the series would die. But in 2005 this came out of nowhere. It’s like if Dora the Explorer started cooking meth, or if Thomas the Tank Engine decided out of nowhere to release a Choo Choo Charles spinoff. The series went from a standing start to maximum edgelord, with Shadow having an angsty backstory, amnesia, being a clone, possessed by the devil, shooting human soldiers with his firearm, driving a motorcycle, and basically being the platonic manifestation of Poochie. Inconceivable. Unimaginable. 

But why am I talking about this one catastrophe so much? Like, it was bad, but 2005 surely had other things going on, right?

In Cinema

The event of the year is the launch of YouTube. If you are unfamiliar with YouTube, it is a video streaming site where if you wait 5 minutes for your dial-up internet to buffer a video you can watch a 240p video of a man microwaving a fork in a yard filled with destroyed whitegoods. This was the totality of the early YouTube experience: videos of things being microwaved until they exploded. This year the internet also gives us Happy Tree Friends, a cartoon about cute animals torturing each other.

But perhaps you want to go upmarket: good news! Star Wars is in the theaters and unfortunately it’s Revenge of the Sith. You’ll go into it with a feeling of ‘let’s just get this fucking thing over with’ and are treated to the darkest and edgiest Star Wars. After the show you have competition with your brothers as to who could do the best Darth Vader ‘noooooo’. They also release a War of the Worlds movie which you’re excited for because you grew up with the Jeff Wayne musical on cassette tape, but instead it’s about 9/11 like basically all culture in that decade and you’re so tired of seeing those fucking planes flying into that fucking building. Two dark and edgy movies, then, to go with our dark and edgy Willy Wonka reboot and our dark and edgy Batman movie. Everything is dark. No one is pleasant. On television 24’s Jack Bauer is torturing a minority. You’re a nerdy kid into sci-fi, so you change the channel to Battlestar Galactica where you get to watch space commandos kill women who are pregnant after being raped by robots.

You start to realize that Shadow the Hedgehog wasn’t the weird exception. Society is just like this now. We don’t do colours any more. Everything is black. Everyone has guns. America is at war. Batman says, “I don’t have to save you,” and watches as his mentor is violently crushed to death by a train. You remember him from the Justice League cartoon. He wasn’t like that then.

In Video Games

You load up the hottest new release of the year and it’s God of War, a dark and edgy game about a heavily muscled man murdering the Greek pantheon in spectacularly brutal ways. You think about Shadow the Hedgehog. You had the choice to be a good guy in that game. Being a good guy means not shooting cops.

Jade Empire releases. It’s a vast, janky wuxia RPG where if you are a good male you can get a threesome with two girls, and if you’re an evil female you can have a lesbian romance by corrupting a pure hearted shrine maiden. This is progressive for the time. Shadow of the Colossus launches and feels like a spectacular breath of fresh air – not because it’s not dark and edgy, everything is in 2005 – but because it’s quiet and contemplative. But the big event is Civilization 4, which isn’t good but it’s the only strategy game to release this entire year and so you’ll play it all year long, grinding the world into radioactive ash. The closest thing to a sense of colourful whimsy you encounter is Psychonauts which is an okay Banjo-Kazooie style platformer thing which gives you the power fantasy of breaking into the minds of insanely paranoid spies and generals and forcing them to not be dark and edgy for five goddamn minutes. 

There are some other games that made it big this year, but I’ve never played them. Resident Evil 4 was popular but I have no stomach for horror. I hear it was good! Then there was a barely differentiated mass of gray-brown military shooters including Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Battlefield 2, Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening, etc, etc. If you’re a loyalist to any of these series you must forgive me for thinking they blend together into an undifferentiated mass of grizzled men shooting firearms, but I’ll note that these are all sequels or spinoffs. Nothing new or memorable starts this year in this space and I’d be surprised if anyone still played or even clearly remembered any of it in 2024.

Resident Evil 4

TheChirurgeon: As much as I hate to step on Thanqol’s toes here, I’m going to jump in and go to bat for a few of these games. Resident Evil 4 completely reinvented the franchise and while I personally don’t feel like it did so for the better in the long run, the game itself deserves the praise it gets as one of the best games of all time. It’s a taught action game that trades a lot of the atmosphere and horror of the series’ prior games for run-and-gun thrills and quicktime events, which it helped popularize. At the very least Resident Evil 4 changed shooters for years to come, bringing the over-the-shoulder third-person view into vogue at a time when everything was first-person. The game was a critical success when it released on the Gamecube of all consoles in January 2005 and a commercial success when it released on the PlayStation 2 in October.

God of War

TheChirurgeon: It’s every bit as edgy as Thanqol suggests, but the original God of War deserves a nod for more than just that. The original game puts a lot of effort into its fantastic setting in the maze atop Kronos’ back, and there are open world games which don’t manage to create the feeling of scope and scale that the original God of War does with far less impressive hardware.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory

TheChirurgeon: Chaos Theory didn’t have the sweet mercs-vs.-spies multiplayer of Pandora Tomorrow, but it did have an amazing co-op campaign with some innovative mechanics. Few games are capable of giving you the visceral thrill of pulling off an effective heist like getting through a level of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory with a friend.

Guitar Hero

TheChirurgeon: It’s worth mentioning Guitar Hero, which released in November for the PlayStation 2 with an innovative guitar controller. Well, innovative in the US – GuitarFreaks was already a hit in Japan since 1999, but was little known in the US until Harmonix and RedOctane teamed up to bring the controller stateside. It’s a simple but addictive premise, and by matching the colored buttons and play bar to the rhythm you can more or less emulate the thrill of playing some of your favorite jukebox hits. Guitar Hero was a massive success and would go on to spawn an entire music game movement, ultimately culminating in Rock Band and Guitar Hero III giving us home pretend band/karaoke setups.

On the Tabletop

So it is in tabletop gaming we at last find our solace.

D&D Third Edition has been out for five years and the splatbook treadmill is running thin, and so the designers are getting experimental. There’s only so much that can be done with the core system, and so we’re getting stuff that’ll never be used in any game ever, like Magic of Incarnum, the chakra-based magic system that I don’t think anyone anywhere has played a serious campaign with. Heroes of Battle tries to make fighters into wizards by giving them a magic system with hundreds of different stances and special sword moves. Sandstorm is a nice, relaxed environmental book about adventuring in the deep desert, and its companion Stormwrack is about taking your D&D party underwater. These books are honestly charming, just lovely inspirational material you can daydream about for years.

On the tabletop, the wargame of Infinity is released. Finding details of this edition proved almost impossible, so I asked a veteran of the early days of the game what it was like and he said:

“I played one game of Infinity back when it first released. It was such a bad gaming experience that I almost asked my opponent to leave my house afterwards.”

It’s going to take a minute for that one to work itself out.

The other notable release of the year is the board game Twilight Struggle, a two-player game about the Cold War. It’s very clever – as the designers say, “Twilight Struggle basically accepts all of the internal logic of the Cold War as true—even those parts of it that are demonstrably false.” This means that domino theory is real and if the Soviets can cause one country to turn communist then it’s only a matter of time before their neighbours fall too. The USA is forced to launch coups to prevent the runaway tide of communism from sweeping over the world, and as the war escalates then more and more attention is forced into poor bloody Africa which becomes the victims of endless CIA and KGB backed coups, countercoups and realignments. It’s a good time and you can pick up the modern video game adaptation on Steam.

Why It Was the Best Year in Gaming

There’s no getting away from it: 2005 sucked. It sucked to live through; it sucked to be a part of. Media broadly has a lead time, and so the stuff that was being released in 2005 was being made in 2003 when America was gearing up to launch an unprovoked invasion for lies and oil. Culture was defined by revenge, militarism and guns. America was back, but it was dark. It wasn’t America for kids any more. America had a cool scar. And it was going to start shooting people.

I still think about Shadow the Hedgehog. I think about him in the same way as I think of the Lucky Stripe Green Goes To War commercial. In WW2 the demands of rationing meant less fancy packaging and so the companies involved created a metafiction where their cigarettes or cocktail weiners or whatever got killed off so they could retire their branding. 

Maybe Shadow the Hedgehog would still have been made in a year when culture wasn’t composed entirely out of darkness and edge – Sonic Team’s subsequent record, including the game that they release next year, Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), shows that by this point in time they had gone demonstrably insane. But in 2005, Shadow the Hedgehog wasn’t just the game of the year – it was the game of the year. Nothing captured the zeitgeist more totally than giving Sonic the Hedgehog a gun and letting him say swears. 

This article is part of a larger series on the best year in gaming. For more years, click this link. Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at