Despite the haughty dismissal often afforded to video games by the cultural elite, the medium has emerged from the underground of the eighties and nineties and exploded into the forefront of the entertainment scene. Perhaps the most unexpected development from their increase in popularity is their progression as a story-telling medium. Some of the greatest stories I have ever encountered have been in the form of video games. Over on IGN.com the editorial staff have been compiling their favourite games of all time and it has inspired me to take a look back over my own history with video games from Sega to Sony and present to you, my ten favourite games of all time.
In reverese order:
10) Unreal Tournament
Unreal Tournament on PC had me hooked. It was a game based solely around multiplayer and it was sublime. The endlessly customisable options and frenetic, run and gun gameplay was complimented by intelligent A.I., a great soundtrack and a buttery smooth framerate. It did every classic shooter game (deathmatch, capture the flag, etc…) with style and awe and it was never bettered.
9) Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness & Beyond The Dark Portal
I played Warcraft II on the Sega Saturn and it was my first foray into the RTS genre. Before the juggernaut online World of Warcraft (which I never bothered with), developers Blizzard were kings of the Real Time Strategy game and Warcraft II was a glorious Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones mash-up with depth and character. I lost hours to Tides of Darkness and its expansion pack Beyond The Dark Portal, gathering resources like wood and oil and forging catapults and battle ships to stop the Orcish Horde.
8) The Sims
Who knew the mundane tasks of everyday life could make for a compelling video game? Maxis did, and when they unleashed The Sims on PC in 2000 they enslaved millions to its intensive micromanagement and quirky humour. In all honesty I still got a twinge of excitement when researching screenshots for this post and recalling the feeling of achievement when I bought my struggling Sim his first sofa.
7) Pokémon Red
In 1999 Pokémon ruled all. I have probably sunk more hours into this game than any other. It was always on my person, every spare moment was spent battling and completing the Pokédex. There was no escape from the phenomenon that was Pokémon and with my treasured Bulbasaur, I caught them all. I even took my team on the road. Pokémon Championship 2000 toured the UK and my best friend and I went to Belfast to compete. Perhaps that was Pokémon’s biggest achievement: it brought a social element into the game through the trade mechanic and multiplayer battles.
6) Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus on PS2 was one of those games that made you stop and stare. It was a gorgeous, challenging and thought-provoking game that centred on a young man’s attempt to save the life of a girl. To do so, he is tasked by the celestial voices of a temple to find and slay 16 gigantic colossi, beasts that roam the expanse of this forbidden land, and release the power that resides within them.
It was a lonely game that made the player think about the consequences of his or her actions. Each colossus was a challenge, a level and a boss in one and taking each one down was an achievement, except one which filled you with regret. Here you were in a sacred land and each majestic creature you felled took with it a piece of your soul. Who was really the villain of this story?
To this day, a masterful experience.
5) Final Fantasy VII
I spent an entire summer playing only Final Fantasy VII. Its story and characters are among the most iconic in gaming and the love and care in its telling make it one of the most memorable games in existence. From the dilapidated ruin of Sector 7, to the scarred town of Nibelheim and the rustic charm of Cosmo Canyon, the world of Midgar was vibrant and alive. It is the cream of the RPG crop and one which has inspired countless imitators.
4) Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles
My earliest gaming experience was playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog on my uncle Cormac’s Sega Mega Drive. I was the obligatory bored child at an adults dinner party and my aunt Alison sat me on a tall chair in front of a portable television in the kitchen and showed me Sonic the Hedgehog, quite possibly the greatest thing my three-year old eyes had ever seen.
Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were two parts of one epic game. Each was playable on its own but the S&K cartridge had a lock-on feature which allowed you to connect it to the Sonic 3 cartridge to play the full Sonic 3 & Knuckles game. It was the Sonic formula at its absolute zenith and is probably the purest gameplay experience this side of Mario.
3) Final Fantasy X
I fell in love with Final Fantasy X. The characters, the story, the battle system: each was perfect in Square’s first PS2 entry in the series. It was also the first to feature voice-acting.
FFX felt like a grand adventure. Protecting Yuna on her pilgrimage became my life’s goal. The player’s character, Tidus, was a man out of time, as new to this world as we were, and every new experience or location resonated because of it. I grew to care about my allies, about the people of Spira and the ideals of different people when confronted with disaster and tragedy and when the final emotional wallop hit near the end, I was devastated.
It pays to invest in Final Fantasy X. It had a rich levelling up system and side-quests as well an engaging art design heavily inspired by Japan’s Okinawa region. The way it channelled the player’s emotions with savage, often emotionally charged boss battles, and quiet delicate character moments was expertly handled by the geniuses at Square. They still haven’t yet returned to those heights.
2) Resident Evil 2
I can’t remember how many times I have played through Resident Evil 2. It is a focused, tense, gory masterpiece. Depending on which disc you started playing, you took on the role of Leon S. Kennedy or Claire Redfield (sister of Resident Evil 1’s Chris Redfield) and played alternate stories as you tried to escape the city and uncover the truth of the Umbrella Corporation’s bio-weapons programme.
The game was pitch perfect in it’s script, music and art direction. The gameplay featured the original’s “tank” controls but instead of a hindrance they became a way of making you claustrophobic, enhancing the idea that you really were trapped here, that the dead are slowly closing in around you and there’s not enough ammo.
I can still hear the ominous chimes of the R.C.P.D. Main Hall in my dreams.
1) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Metal Gear Solid 3 is the greatest game I have ever played. It is an emotionally gruelling, often astonishing game. Taking place in the mid sixties, you play Snake, a special ops soldier sent into the Russian jungle to kill your old mentor who has defected.
The trek behind enemy lines will test you every step of the way as you try to remain hidden with camouflage, infiltrating camps and bases, taking out guards and tending to your injuries. The boss battles against the Cobra Unit are expertly realised. There is one in particular, a real time sniper battle across miles of jungle with a Cobra member called The End, that is a true highlight. It tests your endurance and your tracking abilities as you lay in wait, listening for bird calls and setting traps, peering through your scope for hours in the hope of catching a glimpse of the old sniper. And it really can last hours.
The battle is followed by a 3 or 4 minute ladder climb that gives you time to take in the awesomeness of what just happened.
The story is a juggernaut, dealing with betrayal, patriotism, guilt and survival. The cast is iconic: Snake, The Boss, Eva, Ocelot, the Cobra Unit… Each are fully realised with motivations and goals and fears, propelling the story, the finale of which is an absolute powerhouse. I won’t spoil it, so much to say as I was left speechless in front of the TV screen, on the brink of tears as the credits rolled.
All Metal Gear games are special but Metal Gear Solid 3 was perhaps the series at the point of true art.
Sim City 2000, DMC Devil May Cry, Devil May Cry 3, Final Fantasy IX, Doom, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Sega Worldwide Soccer ‘98, Valora Valley Golf, God of War 3, Batman: Arkham City.