As the games industry continued to grow throughout the 90s, video games quickly became highly profitable.  Along with that, video games started getting higher and higher budgets, and more critically acclaimed games were being released than ever before.

During the 2000’s, gaming had entered a brand new generation, and innovation in games was at an all-time high. The sixth console generation – the Sega Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, and Xbox – was after all the first generation where 3D gaming truly hit its stride, and it showed with the amazingly high level of quality from games during this era.

With the industry evolving, so did video game coverage – more and more video game news outlets and award shows began popping up around this time, including NAVGTR. Industry workers began seeing the title of Game of the Year as something more than just a fancy title – it was a sought-after award that many strived for. Here’s a look back at every Game of the Year winner between 2000 and 2009.

2000 – The Sims

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While simulators were nothing new at the time of The Sims’ release, none were quite like it. The Sims allowed players to manage the lives of ordinary people – everything from their friendships, to romantic relationships, to specific things like deciding when they would eat, sleep, shower, and go to the bathroom. And as a result of how you choose to manage your Sims’ lives, you essentially controlled their personality, happiness, and success in life. The game featured a fairly in-depth character creation system as well as a home customization.

The Sims also had no real end goal or way to “win” per se. The Sims was what you made of it, whether that meant becoming a millionaire, or causing your Sim to die a horrific death. Overall, The Sims has had quite the legacy, spawning several sequels and helped to kickstart the craze of sim games – nowadays, there’s a simulator for damn near everything, from Gas Station Simulator to Powerwash Simulator.

The Sims enjoyed consistent status as a Game of the Year winner in 2000, receiving the award from GameSpot, the D.I.C.E. Awards, and Game Developers Choice Awards.

Other GOTY winners: Pokemon Yellow, Deus Ex, Phantasy Star Online, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, Chrono Cross, MediEvil 2, Pokemon Stadium, Diablo II

2001 – Halo: Combat Evolved, Grand Theft Auto III

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2001 was a year absolutely jam-packed with massive games; among the various GOTY winners, the two titles that took home the most awards were also two of the most influential: Grand Theft Auto III and Halo: Combat Evolved.

Nowadays, open-world games are a dime a dozen, often populating lists of the top 10 best-selling games of the year.  But before there was Assassin’s Creed, The Witcher, God of War, The Last of Us, or Breath of the Wild, there was GTA III. The game is widely known as being the first game to feature modern 3D free-roaming gameplay. What’s more, GTA III was a highly engaging game with a massive world, engaging story, and it offered players loads to do.

It’s no wonder why it was awarded tons of GOTY awards, including publications GameSpot and Eurogamer as well as the Golden Joystick Awards and the Game Developers Choice Awards.

Where Grand Theft Auto’s third installment introduced the world to modern open-world sandbox-style gameplay, Halo instead took existing first person shooter gameplay that the previous generation popularized and simply iterated and improved upon it.

Halo: Combat Evolved iterated on shooters that came before it, such as GoldenEye, Turok, and Perfect Dark, by featuring more modernized controls, smoother gameplay, more advanced AI, better map design, and much more. And of course, the biggest innovation that Halo brought was its inclusion of online multiplayer. The title is truly innovative, and unlike shooters before it, Halo has aged incredibly well and is very much still playable today. It was awarded Game of the Year by IGN, Electronic Gaming Monthly, the D.I.C.E. Awards, and BAFTA.

Other GOTY winners: Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, Max Payne, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Serious Sam: The First Encounter

2002 – Metroid Prime

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Similarly to how Super Mario 64 perfectly translated a 2D platformer to the third dimension, Metroid Prime took the formula that the original Metroid games created and brought it too into a 3D space. The game featured rich detailed environments, excellent level design, and a satisfying progression system. It successfully took the classic “Metroidvania” gameplay that the series established and made it work in a massive 3D space, which had never been done before – and few others have managed to pull off since.

Of course, the title got two sequels as well as a remake which has been one of the best reviewed games of 2023 – additionally, a fourth entry has been announced, but there’s still no news of when players can expect its release. Metroid Prime was showered with praise when it was released in 2002, and received Game of the Year awards from Electronic Gaming Monthly, Edge, GameSpot, and Game Developers Choice Awards.

Other GOTY winners: Final Fantasy X, Battlefield 1942, Ico, Neverwinter Nights

2003 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

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Rockstar followed up Grand Theft Auto III with Vice City the following year in the tail-end of 2002, and managed to garner even more acclaim with this sequel. While it obviously didn’t innovate at the same level of its predecessor, it still managed to improve upon GTA III in nearly every way – and for that reason, players and critics absolutely loved it. Some innovations that Vice City brought to the series– and open world games in general– were: the addition of the world map in the game’s pause screen, a fully voiced cast of characters, vastly improved combat controls, an improved story, and much more.

Vice City was an incredible game at the time of its release, and players can play it today through Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy: The Definitive Edition though the quality level of the recent collection is mixed, to say the least. Vice City won GOTY from multiple sources, including BAFTA, G-Phoria Awards, Teen Choice Awards, and more.

Other GOTY winners: The Legend of Zelda The Wind Waker, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Call of Duty, Madden NFL 2004, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Final Fantasy XI, Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, Ratchet and Clank Going Commando, Karaoke Revolution, Disgea

2004 – Half-Life 2

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You really can’t discuss innovative video games without mentioning Half-Life 2. This first-person shooter by Valve was absolutely groundbreaking when it was released back in 2004. Not only was it a huge leap visually, but it also introduced the gravity gun – a weapon that allowed players to manipulate objects within their environment and opened the game up to some truly memorable and exciting physics-based puzzles.

Looked at from a modern perspective, it’s easy to take Half-Life 2 for granted, as it was one of the very first games to establish what are now standards in gaming including in-game cutscenes (storytelling without breaking from the first-person perspective or taking away control from the player), advanced enemy AI, highly detailed character facial animations, and the aforementioned advanced physics. The game was many years ahead of its time and did so many things right; looking back, it’s easy to see why so many gamers are still clamoring for a third entry into the series.

Half-Life 2 was awarded Game of the Year by BAFTA, NAVGTR, Game Developers Choice Awards, IGN, Edge Magazine, and more.

Other GOTY winners: Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Katamari Damacy, World of Warcraft, Doom 3, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Rome Total War, The Sims 2, City of Heroes, Fable

2005 – Resident Evil 4

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When discussing survival horror games, it’s almost impossible not to mention the Resident Evil series. The series itself coined the term “survival horror” with its first installment in 1996, and then it redefined it with its fourth entry, Resident Evil 4, in 2005. The title completely redefined survival horror – and action games in general – through its introduction of the over-the-shoulder camera that virtually every third-person action game would later adopt.

While many other GOTY winners released in 2005 were great games in their own way, none left quite as big of an impact as RE4 and its legacy. Many fans argue that Resident Evil 4 is the greatest game of all time, due in part to its incredibly fluid shooter gameplay, campy story, and memorable level design.

And though the game has aged like fine wine, it still got remade from the ground up recently, which gave the game’s visuals a nice face-lift and further improved the game’s already great controls. While arguably unnecessary, the RE4 remake has been highly praised by both gamers and critics alike and is currently one of the most successful games of the year. It will be interesting to see if history repeats itself again at the game awards, nearly twenty years later.

It was awarded Game of the Year by Spike TV Video Game Awards, Game Informer, Game FAQs, GameSpot, and many others.

Other GOTY winners: Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, Civilization IV, F.E.A.R., Psychonauts, Battlefield 2, Burnout Revenge, Digital Devil Saga, Guild Wars, Guitar Hero, Jade Empire, Myst V: End of Ages, Tekken 5 

2006 – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

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The Elder Scrolls has always been an exciting series, both on paper and in practice. It’s always been rather untraditional, with the series taking an RPG – a genre that has always traditionally been turn-based – and turning it into a real-time first-person game instead. Oblivion iterated on the series and improved upon its predecessors in nearly every single way, with a larger open world, vastly improved visuals, deeper RPG mechanics, improved combat, a better class system, and much more.

Oblivion was one of the largest and deepest RPGs when it was first released back in 2006, but to this day it still remains an excellent game. 40 different media outlets and award shows awarded it Game of the Year, including G4TV, Golden Joysticks, Washington Post, CBS News, and many others.

Other GOTY winners:

  • Gears of War – 34
  • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess – 26
  • Okami – 3
  • Wii Sports – 3
  • Company of Heroes – 2
  • Final Fantasy XII – 2
  • Dead Rising – 1
  • Destroy All Humans! 2 – 1
  • Guitar Hero – 1
  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter – 1

2007 – BioShock, Super Mario Galaxy

Some of the greatest games are often those that are difficult to categorize into one single genre. This is very much the case for BioShock. Blending together first-person-shooter elements with survival horror and action/adventure, with a great story thrown in for good measure, BioShock is unlike any game that came before it. The game introduces the player to the world of Rapture, an Atlantis-like underwater city, and a cast of unique and disturbing characters. Among these are the now-iconic Big Daddies, giant metallic creatures wielding massive drills.

BioShock is a thrilling ride from beginning to end, and was one of the very first AAA titles to bring blockbuster-level action to consoles – and it sticks in countless gamers’ minds as one of the best experiences on the seventh generation of consoles. It was awarded 47 GOTY awards in total, from media outlets and award shows such as Game Informer, NAVGTR, Destructoid, BAFTA, Spike TV Video Game Awards, and many more.

Super Mario Galaxy nearly tied BioShock, with it receiving 35 GOTY awards the same year. Mario’s third console outing was met with a massive amount of praise when it first launched, and for good reason. The game brought Mario into outer space, which brought heaps of new potential for the red plumber. Tons of new power-ups, gravity mechanics, 3D-degree explorable planets, new enemies, and much more made the game stand apart from all of Mario’s previous adventures, and made for a killer 3D platformer.

Super Mario Galaxy remains one of the best Wii games, and 3D platforming games in general, to this day. While it didn’t break new ground in the same way that BioShock did, it did however display that older types of games – namely the 3D platformer, which had started losing popularity during this console generation – weren’t dead yet, and still had tons of life left. It received GOTY from media outlets such as Gametrailers, NeoGAF, Punch Jump, and GameSpot.

Other GOTY winners:

  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – 23
  • Portal – 13
  • Halo 3 – 7
  • Rock Band – 6
  • Crysis – 4
  • Mass Effect – 4
  • The Orange Box – 4
  • The Witcher – 2
  • Assassin’s Creed – 1
  • Company of Heroes – 1
  • Crackdown – 1
  • Guitar Hero III – 1
  • Ratchet & Clank – 1

2008 – Fallout 3

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After just two years, Bethesda shot back again with another heavy-hitting title, Fallout 3. For those who are less familiar with it, the post-apocalyptic series began life as a 2D isometric RPG with turn-based combat and fairly basic visuals. But ten years after the second installment,  Bethesda finally launched Fallout 3, which completely reinvented the series. Fallout 3 essentially combines the real-time first-person gameplay of the Elder Scrolls series with the deep RPG elements that made the original Fallout games so exciting. Additionally, the game also introduced tons of new things, including deep shooter mechanics, a massive free-roaming open world, and tons more.

Fallout 3 essentially was everything that players loved about the Elder Scrolls series, but set within a futuristic post-apocalyptic world. This meant futuristic weapons that could target enemies’ specific body parts, making in-game choices that truly changed the game’s story in meaningful ways, and creating a world that felt more immersive than ever before.

Fallout 3 was awarded Game of the Year from 69 different award shows and media outlets, including Eurogamer, IGN, Game Developers Choice Awards, Game Critics Awards, and more.

Other GOTY winners:

  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots – 40
  • Grand Theft Auto IV – 39
  • LittleBigPlanet – 25
  • Gears of War 2 – 8
  • Left 4 Dead – 7
  • Fable II – 6
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl – 3
  • Rock Band 2 – 2
  • Wii Fit – 2
  • Call of Duty: World at War – 1
  • Dead Space – 1
  • Guitar Hero World Tour – 1
  • Saints Row 2 – 1
  • Spore – 1
  • Valkyria Chronicles – 1
  • World of Goo – 1

2009 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

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Video games have a lot in common with films. Many games aim to directly emulate or recreate iconic films, with the intention of throwing the player directly into a blockbuster-style action film. Naughty Dog set out to do this back in 2006, with the first Uncharted game. The game was largely created in order to showcase what the PlayStation 3 was capable of, and pushed the hardware to its limits. And while it was impressive for its time, many fans agree that the series didn’t fully come into its own until its sequel – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

While improving upon the gameplay and visuals of the first game, Uncharted 2 featured a grander scale, bigger and better set pieces, and an exciting sense of adventure. While the gameplay is solid, the game’s biggest thing going for it was its cinematic presentation. The game harkened back to action movies of the 80’s and was reminiscent of Indiana Jones in particular. Uncharted 2 proved that games could be just as cinematic and engaging as films, while also providing fun gameplay.

The PS3 exclusive absolutely cleaned up in 2009, taking home a whopping 115 GOTY awards; it was awarded GOTY by IGN, Associated Press, Spike TV Video Game Awards, Destructoid, GamingBolt, Eurogamer, and many others.

Other GOTY winners:

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum – 29
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – 26
  • Dragon Age: Origins – 21
  • Assassin’s Creed II – 14
  • Demon’s Souls – 4
  • Borderlands – 2
  • Street Fighter IV – 2
  • Anno 1404 – 1
  • Call of Duty: World at War – 1
  • Dead Space Extraction – 1
  • Killzone 2 – 1
  • Left 4 Dead 2 – 1

Nominate Your Game Today

The Game of the Year award is one of the highest honors that a game developer can receive. If your team has recently developed a game that they feel is worthy of winning, then consider submitting! NAVGTR invites all developers to submit their games to its annual game awards. Nominate your game today.