The nostalgia wave has truly washed over me, guys. I can’t tell you how much fun and how many hours I’ve poured into video games through the years and reminiscing about my all-time favourite games had me dreamy eyed and itching to boot up these titles. In fact, I did just that with one of the games on the list and sped through it, delighting in treading familiar, yet challenging routes and galivanting towards secrets that used to be so unknown to me. That’s what it’s all about, how games make you feel. Without going on too much of a ranty tangent, I think that’s something sorely missing with today’s gaming culture. Everything is instant, from the rewards (stickers and skins in Counter-Strike still make me cringe), all the way to “pay-to-win” schemes (EA, here’s looking at you.) Many of the games below could be regarded as classics, some with HD remakes and sequels abound, but to me, they represent a more “pure” era of gaming. Expansion packs were complete games, not a new gun or “DLC”. Like I said, another rant for another day.
Now I must admit, there’s a lot of gaps in my gaming history. For example, I haven’t played notorious titles such as Silent Hill or really had my fill of Mario, shocking, I know. So I’m sure you’ll have some discrepancies with my list, but that’s okay; I encourage you to leave your personal favourites in the comments down below and we can see how our lists match up.
One thing before I get started, it would be remiss of me to not mention Counter-Strike: Source. Spoiler alert; it’s not made the list. But I did dedicate (I don’t use that term lightly) several years of my life to the game and met some of my closest friends through it so I definitely owe a lot to the crazy, weirdly net coded and sometimes random game. It was good to me too, as a team, irritate achieved plenty of success and we all had an amazing time, winning leagues, garnering a following on IRC (remember that?!) and making the hashtag cool. Memories that I’ll cherish for a lifetime. #irritate.css, idle and admire.
Self-gratification out of the way, it’s time to delve into my top 10 all-time favourite video games.
Number 10 – Metroid Prime
When I think about it, I loved my GameCube. I only owned about five titles on it, but man were they good. Metroid Prime came with my all black console and I couldn’t wait to get it fired up. As a pre-made fan of the series from Metroid II on the GameBoy, I was ready to start rolling around, high jumping and ice beaming metroids like there was no tomorrow. Boy, was I in for a treat. The game completely flipped the series on its head, literally, by changing perspective from a side-scrolling 2D platformer to a first-person shooter (FPS). This alone made it simply amazing, but for me, the environments were like nothing I’d seen before. You would get steam and mist on your visor, ice, water droplets, everything, it was simply incredible. I thought graphics couldn’t get better at the time and to be perfectly honest, the game still holds up today. The game made you feel so very alone in this vast landscape, with cavernous openings, ancient ruins, and creatures everywhere, it really did feel like a fight for survival once your ship crash-lands and you need to figure out how to get home. I truly loved the atmosphere of the game and the music helped amplify the sense of foreboding that could lurk around every corner. As an adventure game, it ticks all the boxes. Upgrades to your suit that let you revisit areas that you previously couldn’t gain access to are something I love about games, it just makes everything feel connected. One for the ages, no doubt.
Number 9 – Halo
I’ll always love Halo because it represents two firsts for me. Number one, it was the first FPS game I owned and properly played on the PC (fifteen minutes of DOOM on my cousin’s desktop don’t really count) and secondly, this game was my prize after I won my first ever video game competition (playing a game featured on this list, more on that later), hosted by my local gaming store. Immediately, I was hooked by the haunting and almost angelic melody that greets you on the startup screen. It invoked a sense of wonder and awe, perfectly complimenting the image of the ring structure that you saw in the background of the main menu. Then the tempo shifts and a real sense of urgency and adventure begins to rise up within you as you hammer the start button. Once you’re in, you’re in. The storyline is gripping from the word go, the fact that you don’t immediately have a gun is a nice change of pace that helps establish the sense of urgency as you are introduced to the game mechanics and controls. Fast forward slightly, the ability to drive vehicles is what really blew my mind. Everyone who’s played this game has had countless hours of fun online playing capture the flag, tearing up Blood Gulch in a good ol’ Warthog before getting smashed to pieces by probably the best player in the world (must be if they managed to kill you) with a trusty rocket launcher. It was here, in the multiplayer field that I was so eager to explore and succeed Sadly at the time, I was severely restricted by my 56k dial-up connection, but thankfully the intriguing storyline coupled with Legendary difficulty meant this stayed well played and re-visited for a long while. Nevertheless, I did really have a blast online and it paved the way for my future interest in the genre.
Number 8 – Dawn of War
Proof really that you should never judge a book by its cover, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War will probably be fondly remembered by many as one of the finest real-time strategy (RTS) games ever developed. But there will no doubt be some of you that didn’t give it a chance, due to that heavy Warhammer mill around its neck. Let’s not beat around the bush; Warhammer, unfortunately, doesn’t have the coolest reputation, so I was skeptical before purchase. Thank God one of my close friends knocked some sense into me and helped steer me to the correct path of purchasing this title. The “vanilla” game had four races, which were all pretty perfectly balanced, which is no easy feat. While two races (Chaos and Space Marines) were pretty much the same, Eldar and Orks offered completely different ways of playing that allowed for new tactics and innovative ideas to spring forth on the battlefield. The expansion packs all added great new content; new races, new units for existing teams, plus whole new campaigns. My favourite in the entire series was Dark Crusade, purely for it’s “conquer everyone” single-player campaign and the two new races (Tau and Necrons) that changed the entire landscape of the game, for the better. I still play the game today in it’s latest iteration; Soulstorm, albeit a heavily modified version which expands the game by roughly 3000 percent. So final verdict? Pick it up if you have got a love for RTS games and fancy something that has its own unique universe. Also, as a side note, it comes from the same developers who made Company of Heroes, which is another great RTS.
Number 7 – Super Smash Bros. Melee
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Nintendo produces the best party games. Mario Party, Mario Kart and this classic; Super Smash Bros. Melee (SSBM) to name a few. It’s more than just a party game, however. It is, at its core, a supremely smooth and intuitive fighting game. If you were to compare this game with say, Street Fighter, the two look like they belong in completely different genres. That’s okay and part of the appeal, really. Super Smash Bros. on the N64 was so different and inventive, mainly because all of your favourite Nintendo avatars were all placed into one game where you kick the everlasting proverbial out of each other. This was exciting enough, but when other elements such as unique and inventive items (Poke balls, anyone?) are added you get a whole new dimension to your fight. The stages were great too, paying homage to the various characters so everyone felt like they had a “home” stage. Melee took this and ramped it up a few gears. Returning characters were bolstered by an improved and larger roster, our beloved items were retained and enhanced with even more inventive weapons of choice and finally, the stages and single player story mode were expanded upon. Countless hours were spent on this game with my friends and in particular, my good friend John (who has played a big part in my gaming history, from persuading me to play Dawn of War to being the rock of irritate), we would take weekends apart by perfecting our techniques. More often than not, John would win, but there was one particular moment where he didn’t. Remember the competition I spoke about earlier, where I won Halo? SSBM was the chosen game of the tournament. Guess what? John didn’t enter. I think he was busy, probably out on a date. But he didn’t win Halo, did he? Joking aside, this will always be a favourite of mine and one that can be picked up and played at any time…. in fact I might be tempted this weekend.
Number 6 – Tomb Raider II
The first four Tomb Raider games are all amazing in my eyes. They all feel unique, whilst keeping the same core gameplay ideas and general feel, the adventures are huge, the areas of exploration expansive and the enemies memorable. So separating them out and picking my favourite was a tough choice, but eventually, I settled on Tomb Raider II, simply because I found I had more memories from this game. I remember being quite absurdly pleased that you could save anywhere at anytime and that’s why I put it above the first game. Also, this title was the first in which I completed 100 percent, so there’s that. Finally, the last mission where you defend your mansion Scarface style was unbelievable to me, stakes were so high and they were in my house! Sure, playing the games today might feel a little clunky and Lara doesn’t float around like other main characters, but I kind of like that. It was like you were controlling someone real and when Lara got hurt, you felt it. You wanted to keep her out of harm’s way and yet keep exploring and delving deeper to unearth what secrets each level had. Oh yeah, were there secrets. Nothing was mapped out for you, you would only receive a visual cue when the camera angle would shift and show Lara looking at something, normally a gigantic exit of some description. Then it was up to you to figure out how to get there. I love that feeling of choice and the reward when you unearth a secret that could have been there for centuries is something few titles of today are able to capture.
Number 5 – Tekken 3
It’s worth noting at this point that my favourite games five thru two are all interchangeable depending on what mood I’m in and what I feel like playing. Right now, Tekken 3 makes it to number five. My journey with Tekken began when I was eight years old. I was introduced to this unexplainable object of wonder that was the PlayStation by my twenty-six-year-old cousin while in Australia. I was inducted into three games, all of which feature in my top five. The original Tekken was the first thing I played, a classic fighting game that pretty much ripped off Virtua Fighter to a tee, but I didn’t know anything about that. All I knew was how amazing the introduction to the game looked and how freaking badass Law was standing right in the middle of the fire. Of course, the Playstation FMV sequences now are horrifying to look at, but at the time, they were simply awesome. I realise this entry is about Tekken 3 and so far I’ve just been rambling on about the first incarnation of the series. Well, it’s to set the scene really. While the first game had great characters, decent mechanics (until you re-visit them today), Tekken 3 was revolutionary. Gone were the moon jumps from the first two games. Gone was our main protagonist, Kazuya. Instead, we got Jin, an amalgamation of Kazuya and Jun. Remember how amazing the Tekken intro was? Forget about it, Tekken 3 had two that blew it out of the water. The FMV Tekken 3 introduction was outstanding, but the arcade version was on another level. Graphics couldn’t get any better, it all looked real and it was using in-game footage! So apart from the stellar storyline, amazing roster, iconic stages with exemplary music, we also got Tekken Volleyball. Do I really need to continue?
Number 4 – Crash Bandicoot 2: The Wrath of Cortex
Naughty Dog were the dog’s bollocks before Uncharted. They managed to knock out Crash Bandicoot in 1996, Crash 2 in 1997 and Crash 3 in 1998. Back to back sequels that all built upon their predecessors and kept things fresh and interesting. Imagine that today? As far as 3D platform games go, Crash Bandicoot will always be a pioneer, along with Mario 64 and the jumping, spinning, slightly mad orange furball will always have a special place in my heart. This was the second of three games introduced to me when I discovered the PlayStation and right away I was hooked. The bright colours, insanely bouncy and catchy music fit just right with this sneaker adorning creature I was controlling. Spin, slide, jump and die in hilarious ways, Crash was loveable immediately. Although the third incarnation in the franchise, Warped, is arguably a better game and pushed things even further by introducing power-ups and time trials, the second entry will always be special to me due to that nostalgia factor of sitting wide-eyed in front of the telly in Australia, marking my first discovery into 3D platforming. I recently played this game again, this week in fact, and it’s still not a walk in the park to get 100 percent. That’s the beauty of the game, it provides a challenge for first timers and also enough of a difficulty gradient for the more experienced gamer that provides hard, but fair moments to keep you going right up until you capture that last gem.
Number 3 – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Vice City was a cultural phenomenon. A juggernaut of the early 2000’s, this was the game everyone was talking about at school. There is so much to say about this game, that I could go on for hours, but I’ll keep it brief; in short, Vice City remains to be the best entry in the Grand Theft Auto series in my opinion. I knew the lay of the land better than my own real-life streets, I could navigate to where I wanted to in no time, all the while blasting out some killer 80’s rock in my white Infernus fresh from the Vercetti Estate. The rags to riches storyline was similar to that of the iconic Scarface, mixed in with some Miami Vice and a plethora of 80’s pop culture references and it truly made for a game that transcended being just another action/adventure title. Everything felt real, the bridge being closed at the start of the game preventing you from getting to Downtown was a realistic and inventive way to make you progress in the storyline in order to unlock more features, being able to buy property was a stroke of genius and all the characters were so memorable. Who wants to bust out the Lance Vance dance right now?
Number 2 – Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
The last of the trilogy of games that were my awakening into gaming and what a true gem this is. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee or Abe for short to eight year old me, remains one of the most difficult yet rewarding games I’ve ever played. As an avatar, poor Abe is pretty useless. Everything kills him, and quickly too. There’s no life bar, you just die. The deaths are gory too, you get exploded into chunky, fleshy pieces of meat when a buzzsaw descends on your head unexpectedly for example, which is a pretty shocking visual, especially if you’re young. But what Abe does have in his arsenal is the ability to possess certain things, which later (spoiler alert) transcends into becoming a kickass doom creature of pain that rips everything on the screen into nothing. Pretty cool, right? The 2D platformer offers the player a fresh challenge with every new screen. The transition into the next screen is done in such a way that your eye is naturally able to briefly take in what’s in front of you, so if you’re sprinting in a chase, for example, you get time to react and adapt on the move. The game is fair, but wow is it difficult. There is a lot of trial and error as you encounter and explore the game, you travel the journey with Abe, which is what makes it so memorable and relatable. You really feel his plight and in the same way I had a connection with Lara, I wanted to keep Abe safe and get him to firstly escape his slavery and then help his fellow Mudokons in the uprising against the man. Of course, there’s social commentary there, but as a young gamer I was so deeply immersed in the rich worlds (seriously, they’re beautiful even today) and extensive challenges and puzzle solving to worry about social implications. I love this game so much to the point I’m considering getting a PlayStation 4 simply to play the HD remake, New ‘N’ Tasty. I remember feeling such a vast array of emotions while playing this; fear, joy, surprise, and excitement. No game has made me feel like that and it’s truly a treasure.
Number 1 – Deus Ex
Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at our destination. The game that will remain the top of my list until I take my last breath; Deus Ex. I try and replay the game yearly and I never tire of it, there’s just so many layers and variations of play style. This was one of the first games I remember having so much choice. Choice of dialogue that directly affected the outcome of the mission, choice of play style that again had ramifications down the line of how your peers perceived you; go in all guns blazing and your brother takes umbrage whilst your more ruthless partner praises your technique. The first conversation you have presents you with choices – in this case, weaponry. You can elect to go stealth, an avatar of fire and death (rocket launcher), or finally, grab a sniper rifle to “pick ’em off from a distance”. So in the very first level, in the very first conversation, you are already made to choose how you will approach the situations you’ll face. I love this because it causes you to actually think about what you’re going to do, rather than just tearing into everything without so much as a second thought, (such games as Crysis and Far Cry suffer from this, in my opinion). The game is not an all-out FPS, however, by involving RPG elements such as upgrading your augs and skillsets, the player is again presented with multiple ways to customise how they approach the game. Once again, choice is key as skills and augs cannot be reversed, so one must think carefully before devoting themselves towards a certain path, (e.g. training to be good at close combat or ranged weaponry). The difficulty is a welcome breath of fresh air, too often games are pandering to the masses and therefore the complexity and difficulty level tends to be set quite low. Games today are also extremely forgiving, I go back again to the Far Cry series; in 3 and 4 I never felt there was a real punishment for dying. You simply respawn close to where you died, weapons and other items intact. In Deus Ex, if you die you reload from your last save point. The game doesn’t autosave for you, so once again you have to be cautious in your approach and remember to save before certain situations. The learning curve is rather harsh, certainly, but I argue that it again lends to the whole feel of the game. Everything you do matters. This leads me to exploration. You can, of course, bulldoze through the game if you desire, but you’ll miss so much. So many secret areas that actually develop the storyline and offer great benefit to the player, for example providing additional skill points, (which can be hard to come by) and weapon upgrades. Plenty of FPS games are very linear in their approach, single player not being a focus of the game. Which in today’s age of DLC and Multiplayer, is understandable from a corporate viewpoint.
To conclude then I’ll end with the game’s best feature; the story. This is without a doubt the best storyline I’ve ever experienced in a game. There are so many moments that made me pause and take my hands off the keyboard and exclaim “NO WAY” as I was shocked at certain twists that happened. There are so many layers and intricate details woven expertly into a terrific tapestry which has you bounding along and really uncovering the story yourself, eager to see what was coming next and most importantly, you never feel like you’re having your hand held.
That’s the list. How does it match up to your own gaming experiences? Anything that makes your eyes pop in madness as to how I could possibly include that? Get involved! Comment and share your own thoughts, I’d love to read them.