Today’s top 10
PC Gamer recently released the yearly update to their Top 100 Games of All Time list and have also set up a rather intriguing bit of democracy in the form of a public all-time voting system. Having duly registered and voted, I thought I’d give a quick rundown on my choices and why they were picked…
In reverse order:
This golden oldie dates back to a time when I didn’t even have a suitable gaming machine and had to make do with popping round friends’ houses to sample the latest delights. Sort-of follow-up to Another World, Flashback was an ambitious platform adventure that melded the super slick animation of Prince of Persia with the plot of Total Recall, resulting in something that was quite unique in terms of production values and storytelling. Anybody that played this back in the day no doubt spent the first half hour of gameplay simply unholstering and holstering the gun, over and over, marvelling at Conrad Hart’s rotoed leather jacket.
9. The Secret of Monkey Island
A game that needs no introduction, unless you’re some kind of young thing that doesn’t respect his gaming history, Monkey Island is a genre classic, the very pinnacle of the point-and-click adventure. Well, unless you prefer Sam & Max. Or Full Throttle. Or Grim Fandango (ok, ok, so you didn’t actually point or click in that game, but it’s the same genre!). The piratical adventures of Guybrush Threepwood riffed on all the great pirate stories and also succeeded in being one of the funniest games ever made. They don’t write ‘em like this anymore (well, unless you’re Tim Schafer – see below).
8. Knights of the Old Republic
Bioware still haven’t surpassed the storytelling in this Star Wars-set roleplaying epic and, tellingly, neither has George Lucas. KotOR captures the magic of Star Wars as we remember it from our childhoods, hitting all the right notes and showing an understanding for both the fans and the source material that was sorely lacking from the movie prequels. Bioware’s two subsequent games, Jade Empire and Mass Effect, haven’t come anywhere near to the effortless sleight of hand performed by the game’s narrative, which is always in service to the wonderfully memorable characters.
As you may have noticed elsewhere on this site, I’m not too keen on Bethesda’s Oblivion or their forthcoming, seemingly dreary interpretation of the Fallout series. Part of this negativity comes from my massively positive experience with their earlier game Morrowind, a majestic achievement in experimental gameplay and unbridled ambition. There’s a depth of imagination and maturity to the island landscape of Vvardenfell that no other game has come close to bettering. Despite clunky combat, Morrowind remains one of the most atmospheric games ever made, packed full of fascinating politics, religion and incidental stories waiting to be stumbled across. Please, Bethesda, bring back the team that made this classic!
The big surprise of 2007 was Portal, a tiny little FPS that snuck into The Orange Box compilation. While most of us were eager to get our hands on Half Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress, it was Portal that turned out to be the collection’s gem. Taking the portal concept tentatively explored in the much more generic (but still good fun) Prey, Portal follows it through to its natural conclusion, crafting a unique series of puzzle before pulling one of the best and most mischievous plot twists in gaming history. Portal is evidence that short games most definitely have a future.
Brit developer Introversion’s breakout game, Darwinia melds Cannon Fodder with the RTS genre to create a highly unique experience. Its TRON-inspired world is a marvel of imagination and lateral game design. Click here for my full review.
4. Deus Ex
Though the passing years have dated the turn-of-the-millennium, conspiracy-laden, X Files-inspired story, Deus Ex remains a milestone in game narratives. Throwing out all the established rules of both the FPS and RPG, it depicts a nightmarish urban future blighted by terrorist fervour and overactive government surveillance following an attack on New York (it’s worth noting, though, that the game was released pre-9/11). Playing as cybernetically enhanced operative JC Denton the plot interweaves conspiracy theories, paranoia and globe-trotting to tremendous effect. The scope of the game is seemingly limitless and it’s a tragedy that no other developer has yet attempted to follow in its footsteps.
3. Beyond Good & Evil
On the surface, this is a typical console platformer mixed with a smidgeon of stealth gameplay and a quirky art design. Beyond Good & Evil is very much greater than the sum of its parts, though, mostly due to its charming characters and world, which have an innocence and exuberance that is pleasantly distant from the usual marines-with-guns theme prevalent in the industry. That the protagonist is a woman is probably no coincidence, nor the fact that the few marines-with-guns that are present are most certainly the bad guys. Discarding weaponry for a camera and explosions for wit, this is a rare and memorable experience indeed.
2. Half Life 2
For me, game design doesn’t get much better than Half Life 2 and its episodic follow-ups. Valve have honed their craft to such a degree that their achievements appear effortless; they leap over boundaries and hurdles that bring down other developers, constantly innovating and pushing the enevelope in unexpected directions. On the surface, Half Life 2 sounds fairly generic – you are the lone warrior that can stop an alien invasion. What really lingers in the mind are the characters, subtle, indirect storytelling, natural environments and instantly appealing combat. Throw in what remains to this day some of the most iconic and efficient art and level design in gaming history and there’s no way to look at Half Life 2 as anything other than a classic.
Endlessly inventive, Psychonauts is always bringing you something new. Just as you think you’ve got it sussed, it pulls another genius idea from the mind of creator Tim Schafer and wraps it in wildly imaginative and gleeful vision and sound. This is another game that refuses to play by the rules, despite initial impressions of being a standard platformer. Given that Psychonauts is about the power of the human mind, it’s appropriate that it is so full of ideas. Fresh, funny and fabulous.
Disclaimer: As with all ‘top 10′ style lists, ask me in a month, or even tomorrow, and I’ll probably give you a completely different selection.