Time to revive this blog with an uber-post :)
My top 20 fave games, listed in the order they were played, not of quality (they're ALL must-play as far as I'm concerned).
The Last Ninja (C64)
I was somewhere between 7 and 9 when I first played this. I seem to remember seeing it at a friend’s house first, but I never really got the chance to spend time navigating the isometric world of the titular Ninja until my mum picked up a 6 pack of C64 games at a market. Back in the 80s, there was still a fair bit of mystique to the eastern martial arts…..and there were Ninja Turtles on the telly….as such, anything with “Ninja” in the title was coveted by the kiddies, myself included.
Spy vs Spy 2 (C64)
Back in the days when games came on cassette, all you needed to make a pirate copy was a half decent, 2-deck tape-player. This meant that for every one authentic copy of a game, there were probably a hundred dodgy knock-offs being shared around the playground. The first copy of SvS2 I played was such a tape. I never actually owned an original until fairly recently, when I picked one up off EBay for the sake of sentimentality.
I’d never heard of either MAD magazine of the Spy vs Spy cartoon strip on which the game was based. All it was to me was a thrilling premise: two rival spies are parachuted onto an island. The first to collect all 3 parts of a nuclear missile and reach the safety of a submarine just off-shore is the winner. The loser is left to fry in the lava of the soon-to-erupt volcano.
It was one of the first simultaneous 2 player games I’d ever experienced and is what introduced me to the sheer and utter delight of being a sneaky, conniving bastard. I seemed to have an innate ability to build the best traps in that game and it’s one of the few titles that I have ever become such an expert at that no one wanted to play against me.
The first puzzle game I ever became addicted to. It was impossible not to be completely and utterly charmed by the suicidal, green-haired vermin.
Again, I first played it on someone else’s computer. I still had a C64 at that point, so, being unable to play it at home, I actually devised a Lemmings-style pen and paper game that used random elements and perils determined by dice rolls!
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Megadrive/Genesis)
The Sonic series, and the art style of titles up until Sonic 3, has probably been one of the biggest video game influences in my work. In the early 90s I was completely and utterly obsessed with the spiky blue one and his ovoid nemesis (who I will never refer to as anything other than “Robotnik”!). I watched the cartoon, read the comic, collected the trading cards and ate the tinned pasta-shapes in tomato sauce (once. They were horrid).
The mixture of azure skies, lush jungles and crazy technology really, really appealed to me. I think if you look through much of my art; that kinda shows through.
Sim City (Apple/PC)
Sim City introduced me to the concept of what I call “Wall Building”. If you’re a Wall Builder, you derive more pleasure from building your base than blowing up your enemy’s.
I first played it at school. There was a computer club held every lunch-break, and SimCity had found its way onto the old monochrome Apple computers they had there. I spent weeks building up a city. At the end of each session I’d print out the map and then note down what changes I would make to it the following day.
Monkey Island 2 (Apple/PC)
Another title that I first played at my school’s computer club, and my first graphic adventure. I didn’t get the chance to play the first Monkey Island game until a good few years later, so a lot of the in-jokes I obviously didn’t get. It wasn’t the humour that made me love this game, though; it was the utterly delicious environments that you guided Guybrush around, and the very cinematic feel.
I still get a little giddy hit of excitement when I order Threepwood to dig up LeGrande’s ancestor. Lightning starts up in the background, the music goes all moody…..and then his belt malfunctions….
I’d heard about Myst a long while before I got the chance to play it. There was a late-night show about computer entertainment running at the time and during one of the articals the showed a very brief bit of footage from the Library on Myst island.
I immediately fell in love with the visuals. The beautiful wood-pannelled library became a place that I HAD to visit.
When I finally did, Myst became my new obsession, not taking over from lil’ Sonic, but sitting neatly beside him. It was Myst that really made me start to savour exploration in games.
Beyond Oasis/Story of Thor (Megadrive/Genesis)
I’ve always been a Sega fanboy. Even before Sonic showed up; it was Sega consoles that I played, starting with the Master System 2.
This being the case, I never played Zelda; a game to which Story of Thor clearly owes a great deal.
Quite why it was renamed “Story of Thor” for its release here in fair Blighty, I’ll never be sure. The vibe the beautiful artwork emits is decidedly more Arabian than Nordic. Indeed; no one in the game is even called “Thor”!
Still, it’s my favourite top-down action-adventure.
Ultima Underworld (PC)
The first open-world game I ever played. “open-world” being rather ironic in this case as the entire game is set underground.
What your avatar sees during the adventure only fills about a quarter of the screen, the rest being taken up by inventory and stats, but what went on in that little bit of screen space was utterly engaging.
Up until this point, games for me had always been broken up into sections or levels. “Do anything. Go anywhere.” was just a dream. Underworld just went on and on, deeper and deeper. Almost anything you found could be picked up and used. Every character could be interacted with. You could even kill NPCs that were integral to the game’s completion and you didn’t get a game-over screen. Things just continued.
Resident Evil 2 (Dreamcast)
Its on the list because in playing Resi 2 I had one of the greatest gaming sessions in my life; playing the game, for the first time, with no knowledge of what was coming up next, from start to finish…..without saving. Took me 6 or 7 hours, I think.
Half Life (PC)
Games were never truly cinematic for me until HalfLife. This game made me feel like I was in an action flick, with its sci-fi atmosphere and huge set-pieces.
What I really liked about the HalfLife world, though, was how everything looked and felt as though it had a purpose. Black Messa was designed not as a game world, but as a functional secret laboratory. There was nothing superfluous about it. Everything you saw was logically placed, which made the invading creatures feel even more alien.
HalfLife was also one of the first games I played over LAN. My coworkers hated it when I joined a map if tripmines were available. Remember Spy vs Spy 2?
Codename Eagle (PC)
Bugs aside; Codename Eagle is one of the finest, most fun multiplayer games I’ve ever played, with the added bonus of being set in a time-period that I really love.
The forerunner to the Battlefield series, it’s hideously ugly by today’s standards, but I’ve yet to play another game in which you can launch a jeep off a cliff, into a passing enemy helicopter, yourself jumping clear and parachuting down into an enemy stronghold, hurling grenades and destroying their bi-planes en route.
It was the first game you can call a true toybox. Its makers gave you the tools, an island to play on and then said “Right; have at!”.
As I said, though, there were some bugs. There were occasions where you could be shooting at someone with a pistol and you’d suddenly, for no reason what-so-ever, explode into a shower of bloody red giblets.
Tenacious D had just appeared at the time we were playing this, so when that happened we said the victim had been hit by a “mind bullet”.
Skies of Arcadia (Dreamcast)
This took over from Shining Force 2 as my all time faveourite RPG. It’s like playing a really good anime series (one of those rare ones that actually make sense). Pirates, airships, floating islands and a brilliant soundtrack.
The characters were all thoroughly likable and in no way annoying (a rarity!), the story was compelling and when it was all over I had that bizarre feeling of emptiness, knowing that there was nothing left to experience in that perfectly crafted world.
Where the hell is the sequel?!
Elite is legendary…..it’s also dull. Freelancer took the concept of interstellar travel and trade and made it exciting, cutting out all the boring stuff and replacing it with glowing nebulas, plasma discharges and a pretty good conspiracy story.
Yet again; exploration is what I really love about this title. If you want to ignore the space lanes, point your ship toward the strange shapes in the distance and hit the hyperdrive, you can. There are so many sights in Freelancer’s universe which you will only witness if you partake in a little wanderlust.
What first drew my attention to Ico was a description in Edge magazine that compared it to the design of old-style games in which you solve one puzzle and more on to the next. I liked that idea, and the lonely setting reminded me a lot of Myst.
I could tell it was something special just by the arty look of its cover (I think some people elsewhere in the world missed out on this) and actually bought a copy some time before I bought a PS2 on which to play it, thinking that it was going to be one of those titles that would become collectable very quickly through their limited print-run.
GTA Vice City (PS2)
The definitive GTA experience in my book, and the best of the series thus far. It had the best script, the best actors, the best soundtrack and it made me feel all nostalgic about the 80s!
San Andreas was bigger, but felt emptier, and GTA4 just lost the fun altogether.
Silent Hill 2 (PS2)
Probably the most terrifying and intelligent game I have ever played. In fact; I think calling it a mere “game” is an insult. It’s not something you play, it’s something you experience.
From when James first leaves the public restroom and wanders down that path amid the creaking trees, to the final showdown in a ruined warehouse, the world of Silent Hill is nothing if not a supreme example of horror, filled with creeping evil and madness. Kinda Lovecraftian, just with less fish and more rust. It’s a benchmark that nothing else has yet to surpass, including later instalments of the franchise.
I’ve not said this about any of the other games on my list, but Portal is about as close to perfection as any game that I have played. The puzzles are brilliant, navigation is never frustrating and any time you make a mistake, you’ll only ever blame yourself and never the game.
The true triumph, though, is the design of the world. Aperture Laboratories is an enigmatic and mysterious place. There is no narrative to explain what the hell happened before you were brought out of stasis, only clues tucked away in the dilapidated inner workings of the facility. That, and the increasingly psychotic ravings of the homicidal GlaDOS super computer.
You come away from it with a sense of accomplishment, but wanting more. A sure sign of its quality.
Team Fortress (360)
There are few titles that have as pure a sense of fun about them as TF2. The promotional videos had me in stitches and the 1950s art style had me drooling with anticipation. When I finally got around to playing it (the first multiplayer session I’d engaged in for a good few years) I wasn’t disappointed. The only thing that keeps me from playing it 24/7 is my dodgy BT broadband connection.
Fallout 3 (360)
Urban decay has always held a strange allure for me. I like modern ruins; old 1950s to 1960s buildings that have been left to rot, have plants growing out of them and are covered in cheap posters and advertising. They have such character and mystery about them.
Imagine my glee, then, at finding a game that presents a whole world like this!
The desolation of the Capitol Wasteland is both horrifying and beautiful. You’d think that the never ending boulder field would get boring after a while, but I never once used the fast-move option. There’s so much hidden away.
Looking across the wastes at the remains of DC as the sun sets is one of the most memorable moments I’ve had in gaming.