UPDATE: I promised to expand this list to include my top ten favourite games quite a while ago (back when this blog was still brand spanking new), so here’s me finally getting around to doing it! This one is going to be a little more difficult than the last one, because once we’re out of the top 5 I can think of a ridiculous number of games I love for many different reasons and in many different ways, but I’d said I’d do it goddamit, so I will!
I’ll mark the titles of the new additions with the word ‘new’, because as you’ll soon discover I’ve actually replaced one of my previous top 5 games with a new one, so it won’t be as straightforward as simply adding entries 6-10. Let me just say now, it might surprise you which game got forced out of my top 5 and which one replaced it!
As I haven’t done anything like this yet and this is still a fairly new blog, I thought it might be nice to write down a list of my all-time favourite games both to introduce myself a bit more and to recommend a few games to you guys as well. Keep in mind that I’m not necessarily saying these are objectively-speaking the ‘best games ever’ even within their respective genres, so if you think any of them are a load of rubbish, that’s absolutely fine! These are just games that captivated me in some way and brought me immense personal enjoyment. I think whether you like a game or not is mostly a subjective experience. I’m not suggesting that a game can’t be judged only on its technical merit. I’m merely saying that enjoyment and preference, the things that are probably most important to your average gamer simply can’t be quantified in any meaningful way. For instance, I can’t deny that the first Uncharted and LA Noire were technically superb games that made great strides in animation, but they just didn’t have that extra quality that makes a game pop to me. There are lots of people, however, that would probably strongly disagree with my opinion of Uncharted and I completely respect that. There are even some games that I spent a lot of time on, like World of Warcraft, but looking back on, although the game brought me a great deal of immediate pleasure, I can’t say it’s a game that brought me much lasting enjoyment. I think the best reviews of games that I’ve read are the ones that try to weave those two elements: personal experience and objective judgment, together rather than attempt to ignore or deny the existence of your personal feelings. Although, this piece might be leaning more towards the ‘personal’ side than usual, that’s the kind of style that I’ll be trying to bring my blog and I hope it’s one you enjoy!
Last thing I’ll say on my choice of games is that it was a lot harder than I thought it would be to list only a few of my top games. There are lots of games I really liked, but just didn’t make the final cut. Why didn’t these games make the list? Sometimes, like the games I mentioned above, despite being decent in quality and fairly fun, they simply didn’t fulfill that core need that I have, that all gamers have. You know, that part of you that is only satisfied by playing a really good game that works for you. Clearly that core need is different, whether it’s a desire for an excellent narrative or just a need for escapism and I think it’s what makes you pick this game rather than that one. Of course, there are some I love to bits, but just didn’t quite make the top 5 like the original Fable, or the first Halo, Goldeneye or Unreal Tournament. You can probably see a bit of a trend here, I love RPGs, first-person shooters and and open-world games, although as I’ve mentioned before I’m open to playing anything really.
I’m sticking to the best of the best for me, but I may add to this as I find new games that I think are worthy of ‘the list’ and maybe add on a few more if I get the time. Also, as these are not full reviews of the game, they’re probably less detailed than you might expect if you’ve read any of my other pieces as I really just wanted to write down some of my personal thoughts and feelings on them. If there are any games on there that you haven’t played before, I’d really suggest you give it a shot and see if you can’t get the same kind of pleasure I got out of it.
1. Mass Effect trilogy
It’s perhaps a bit of a cheat to put a trilogy as my favourite game, but ME 1,2 and 3 were by far the best games I have ever played. Not only did I immediately fall in love with the Mass Effect Universe, but it actually quickly overtook the other great similar-shaped obsession of my life – Star Wars, which believe me, it took a lot do. ME is more than just guns and lasers and sci-fi (which, don’t get me wrong, you’d never find me complaining about). It’s more than even the individual story being told or the characters being portrayed, amazing as they are. It’s less like exploring a game environment as it is being dropped into another fully formed and richly detailed universe, full of different cultures and ideas and histories and each person you meet throughout your journey has their own story that you may or may not learn about, but which exists all the same.
Of course, it’s not just about the wider picture – its also definitely about Shepherd and co. The interactions, the dialogue – all so beautifully written – make them feel like real, breathing, living people that you truly grow to care about. They’re your friends, your teammates, the people you can count in. Shepherd himself seems to be an avatar for most people, although not exclusively. For me certainly, he was an extension of myself, the kind of person that I would want to be and to an extent already was. It wasn’t even a conscious decision, I just created the character that I wanted to. However, he was also completely his own person: a brave, brash, well-meaning Vanguard who often rushed headlong into decisions, who talked with his fists rather than his mouth. In the end, he became a weird mixture of my older brother, friend, ward and a part of myself. Of course this type of character creation isn’t unique to ME and there are games that give you many more options in terms of customisation, but there was something about ME – the way the narrative was told so personally and the choices that you had to make were so emotionally difficult that you become invested in Shepherd’s story, in his universe and the decision that you have to make. I have never come across another game so immersive before or since nor affected me on such a personal level.
I could go on about the narrative, the incredible mood-inducing soundtracks, the fun that you can have with different classes and abilities, the fairly intuitive controls, but this might end up turning to a ME review, rather than a brief recommendation, so I’ll leave it there. If you haven’t played this, do yourself the biggest favour you’ll ever do for yourself and just play these games. Maybe you won’t like it, it’s been known to happen, but at least you’ll be able to see what all the fuss is about, right?
Oh and between the three games, I’d probably say the best one for me was actually ME 3 followed by 1 and then 2, despite the debacle that was the ending. It had the tightest most emotional narrative (yes, I cried a lot alright?!) and the best character development, not to mention the fact that they ironed out a lot of the issues I was having with the combat system in 1 and 2. Just ignore the last 10 minutes.
2. Knights of the Old Republic 1&2
Again, I know I’m cheating by putting two games here, but I think it would genuinely be a tie here, since I think they both deserve to be here for different reasons. KOTOR 1 & 2 sat at my no. 1 spot for quite a while, really since I first picked them up and played them many years ago. I like the same thing about these games as I do about the Mass Effect games (not surprising considering the huge influence they had on the ME series) – decent character customisation options, interesting and actually useful squad members (unlike with so many other games with NPC squads) and a Light side/Dark side alignment system that not only affects your appearance and powers, but has an impact on the people around you and how they behave towards you on a more personal level than just I hate you/I like you. Like the ME games, KOTOR 1 and 2 both had incredible stories with just the right amount of intrigue and mystery to keep you on the edge of your seat right until the end. Although I’ve loved Star Wars since I was a kid, it was the KOTOR franchise that made me into the die-hard Star Wars fan I am today. I confess that I love these games even more than the movies. What they succeeded in doing that the movies didn’t was really flesh out the Star Wars universe into a more three-dimensional creation with a more realistic history and culture. You also get the chance to actually explore some of your favourite planets from the movies and interact with the locals. It was these games that really got me into the Star Wars mythology and proved to me that there was more to it than just cool sci-fi. Also, it doesn’t hurt that you get to use lightsabers.
Both of the games utilise an interesting blended turn-based and real-time combat system, which is a bit difficult to explain. Suffice it to say it that I thought it worked really well, even though I’m not generally a big fan of turn-based games (I do realise there’s much debate over whether KOTOR should be classified as turn-based at all, but I believe it is to an extent). With such a focus on the narrative and player choices and by implementing those elements so well, it didn’t really seem like a down-side at all, even for someone who tends to prefer games with more action and well… guns, to be honest. In the end, it was all in the details – the engaging characters, the delving into Star Wars history and the cast of brilliant NPCs.
Although KOTOR 1 was one of the most critically acclaimed games of its period, I’m well aware that not everyone shared my opinion of KOTOR 2. The game was pretty buggy and I can’t deny the blip that was the ending of KOTOR 2 and other issues that were the result of it being rushed out. Evidence of a fair amount of content that was not included in the final game, but can still be found in the game files prove that the game was simply not what it was meant to be. However, although KOTOR 1 was overall probably a better game, KOTOR 2 had some of the most memorable characters to date and just so much potential. True, KOTOR 2 didn’t have the incredible plot twist that KOTOR 1 did, but it still had a mostly well-told story with probably more general intrigue throughout. Good news is that after many years, there’s a restored content mod out to fix some of the more undesirable aspects of the game anyway, including that dreaded ending!
If I have to rank them, I’d say… myfavouriteisKOTOR2. There. I said it, alright?
3. Half Life 2
I don’t think I need to go on too much about this one as I’d probably only be preaching to the converted. Half Life 2 is probably one of the most well-rounded games on this list. The physics, graphics, weapons, enemies, narrative, characters, soundtrack, AI, pacing, setting and level design are all incredible. It’s a challenging game, both in terms of the combat and the puzzles that HL is famed for, but more in a satisfying kind of way than that frustrating rage-quit variety. It also got that off-beat, sometimes dark humour that Valve is known for and is set in a beautifully rendered dystopian future or near-future that is even creepier for looking so much like our own world.
The HL franchise also has one of the best protagonists in video game history. How could you not like Gordon Freeman? He’s the champion of geeks everywhere. He’s one of us! Well, maybe a little tougher and more silent than most of us, but you know… Although my favourite character has to be Dog. Gordon Freeman would be nowhere without Alyx’s robo-pup.
It’s won numerous ‘Game of the Year’ awards, a couple of ‘Game of the Decade’ awards and was named ‘Game of the Decade’ at VGA 2012. That pretty much speaks for itself. I’d say HL2 is a must-play if there ever was one!
The only thing that mars my experience of the game is the thought that HL 3 may never emerge. I still have hope and will faithfully await Gordon Freeman’s return.
4. Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines
This is one that you may not have heard of. I often get a lot of blank stares when I mention this game as well as the occasional lone voice that chimes in with, “oh yeah, I’ve played that. It’s awesome!”
VTMB is an open-world RPG and is set in the White Wolf universe. You play as a newly-turned vampire belonging to one of seven possible clans, each with their own unique skill set, appearances and personalities. VTMB is a hugely ambitious game that generally manages to pull it off and with pizzaz. It’s one the darkest, grittiest, dirtiest, sexiest games I have ever played and some of the most terrifying levels ever. It’s full of sex (though nothing graphic) and blood and stuff that gives me chills just thinking about it. The setting is Los Angeles and although the various locations are mostly similar to the real thing, it’s also LA like you’ve never seen it before. Think LA, but darker and more dangerous. Much darker. Much more dangerous. It was also the first third-party game to utilise Valve’s Source engine.
I won’t deny that there were a lot of problems with this game including a multitude of bugs that almost stopped me playing the game the first time round. However, the world created and the different vampire clans are just too interesting to not look past it. In my opinion VTMB is one of the most under-rated games of the last couple of decades.
5. Far Cry 3 (NEW!)
DUM DUM DUM! W-what?! That’s right, I bumped A Link to the Past down from 5 to 6, but don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3 is necessarily a better game and trust me, my love for the Zelda games remain true. The truth is that I just enjoyed Far Cry 3 more. *Le gasp! Yup I said it, I probably liked playing Far Cry 3 more than A Link to the Past. I do think it’s a bit of an unfair comparison though, considering how long ago I played that Zelda game. Not only is my memory of it very fuzzy, the technology since then has improved so much and the industry has matured so much that it’s very difficult to compare such an old game from my childhood with a recent game that was clearly meant to impress in a very different way. I’m not saying that new games will always be better than old games at all, just that they’re quite difficult to compare directly. In most areas – story, gameplay and so on, Far Cry 3 was simply a more fun and immersive experience for me, which is what I really look for in a game, while Zelda has that sense of hazy nostalgia creeping in. I think at some point I’ll make a retro game list, so I can talk about some of my old gaming loves to my heart’s content.
I won’t go on much about Far Cry 3, because I wrote a full review on it for this blog and went into quite a lot of detail about just why I love the game so much. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out here. To me, despite its flaws, Far Cry 3 is an open world game done right (you can also check out the article I wrote here about how I think many open world games get it wrong). To sum it up though, there were several things I loved about Far Cry 3 that propelled it into my top 5. It’s unbelievably fun, it feels like there’s limitless ways of approaching goals, the combat – whether you took the stealthy or guns blazing approach was just good badass fun, the controls are super smooth, the character development was convincing and the plot was interesting. Above anything though, Far Cry 3 was not afraid to be different and underneath its seemingly shallow veneer it explores many issues that other developers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole and that’s what made the game stick in my memory afterwards. It didn’t answer all your questions either. Unlike many games, this one is a thinker.
6. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
An oldie, but a goodie. That’s probably a bit of an understatement considering it’s widely hailed as one of the best classics in video game history. It was the third game in the Legend of Zelda series and reverted to a top-down perspective that more closely resembled the first game than the second. A Link to the Past was an amazing game that introduced many of the elements that are now considered Zelda trademarks, like the introduction of parallel world and certain weapons as well as the overall structure, which has been adapted and re-adapted by later Zelda games.
Now, the truth is, I played this a long time ago and have very little recollection of pretty much any of the details. All I know is that this was one of the games that defined my childhood. I also remember it being devilishly difficult. There are no lengthy tutorials or hint-giving or hand-holding of any kind. It’s also, for that reason, one of the most satisfying games I have ever played. Its atmosphere also perfectly captures that childish wonder that comes along with Zelda games and it’s truly a world like no other. As a result of not remembering too much about the game beyond the fact that it’s awesome, I’ll just leave it there. If you haven’t played this and you’re up for a challenge and a journey into video game history, then you really should play this ASAP.
7. Portal 1 & 2 (NEW!)
Oh Valve, what can I say? You did it again. Both of these games were just all-round fantastic games. I’m usually not a huge puzzle game fan, but they were both just such an incredibly solid games, I just couldn’t not include them on here. What’s not to like about them? They’re both challenging, fun, hilarious and have one of the most interesting plots and some of the most memorable characters I’ve ever come across (Wheatley and GLaDOS anyone?) The game was well designed and the writing was some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. I thought about putting this further down, but I just couldn’t. They’re both too good.
Portal will always have a special place in my heart, but I enjoyed Portal 2 more and thought that overall it was a much better game. At first I was a little wary – Portal was a short and sweet experience (after all, it was included as part of The Orange Box and was never intended to become a full game), so I was concerned about how they could keep us entertained with hours upon hours of puzzles and GLaDOS’ dry and witty one-liners. In the end, Valve really outdid themselves. The expanded scale of the game allowed greater depth and really gave the chance for the story and characters to properly develop. I was in stitches for large portions of the game. I would advise against drinking anything while playing this or at least laying down some paper towels to mop up the mess you’re going to make.
8. Borderlands 2 (NEW!)
It seems I’ve been playing a lot of excellent games recently, haven’t I? Again, I’ve written quite an extensive review about this game here, so I’ll keep my description here fairly brief. With the exception of Portal 2, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that’s made me laugh as hard as Borderlands 2 did. It was just everything I love in a video game – it was fun, challenging and had an interesting story and characters. It’s the kind of game that’s full of explosions, gunfire, terrible jokes, a ridiculous number of sidequests, completely off-the-wall characters that you would not want to mess with and over-the-top nonsensical plotlines. However, all of that is also backed up by solid gameplay, a satisfying range of weapons and abilities, generally good writing, a unique art style and an immersive fully realised world. It’s definitely one of the few games that I can genuinely see myself replaying many times. It may not be the deepest game and it has its problems, but I still love Borderlands 2 for what it is – a crazy good time.
9. BioShock Infinite (NEW!)
It might surprise some of you (or not) that I put Borderlands 2 above BioShock Infinite, considering how much I gushed about the latter. I think BioShock Infinite was a fascinating game and a much needed breath of fresh air in the industry, but in truth I just enjoyed playing Borderlands 2 more. The thing that stood out to me the most about BI was the message it was sending – that AAA games can be thoughtful, insightful and meaningful, the triple ‘ful’ if you will (I just made that up, please don’t quote me). The only major thing that I thought was lacking a bit was the combat system, which wouldn’t have been such a big deal if they hadn’t gone down the first-person shooter route. I agree with the sentiment of many other gamers and reviewers across the internet that as a shooter it wasn’t that great and detracted from what we were all really there for, the fantastic story and the simultaneously dark and technicoloured world that Irrational Games created. I point this out because the game was generally such a powerful experience. I think it’s safe to say that BioShock Infinite has one the most lasting, well-written and enthralling storylines I’ve ever seen in a game and I can think of few games that so deserve to be in my top 10! If you haven’t played it yet, please do yourself a favour and play it as soon as you can. It’s exactly the kind of game that I was hoping would come along, one that would stick with me long after it had ended and that I’ll probably still find myself obsessing over from time to time a few years down the line.
Check out my full review of BioShock Infinite for more of my thoughts on the game.
10. Bully (NEW!)
I won’t blame you if you haven’t heard of this game. In my eyes, Rockstar’s Bully was a hugely underrated and unnecessarily controversial game. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but it’s definitely worth giving it a shot if you like the sound of a game that’s a lot like the GTA series in some ways, but on a much smaller scale (I found the size of some those games a barrier to really getting into them, personally) and with a much tighter, shorter and more focused storyline. Of course I’m not saying Bully is better than GTA or anything like that, just that they’re similar and very different. I’m not a huge GTA fan though, so my preference would definitely be Bully.
In the game you’re a kid called Jimmy Hopkins, a troublemaker who’s forced to attend a prestigious boarding school by his mother. Sure, Jimmy’s got his own personality, but what surprised me was just how many options you had. One of the best things about this game is choice, which as you probably know by now, I love in my games. From customizing how you look (there are a lot of choices there), to deciding who you want to hang out with, whether you want to join a clique, who you want to ‘date’ or whether you do well in school or slack off, it’s all up to you. It might sound a bit like… going to school, but although the setting and events might be somewhat familiar, Bully puts a humorous, slightly more badass spin on the experience. The game is bursting with over-the-top fights scenes and sometimes high speed chases (I told you it was a bit like GTA)! I also love the cartoon-y look of the game, which really suits its humorous tone and school setting.
As I said before, I feel this is game is misunderstood by many (especially those who haven’t played it). The main character is not a bully, not unless you want him to be. In fact, my Jimmy Hopkins was a semi-vigilante, jumping in to save kids whenever they were bullied. He starts off as an outcast and it’s up to you how you want to navigate high school life. For anyone who’s ever been in the unfortunate position of being an outsider, this game is oddly cathartic. You might find yourself getting attached to the little guy and the world of Bully before you know it!
You know what? I have an urge to replay the game now. Perhaps there’ll be an LP in the future? Hmm, we shall see!