- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Video games have a tendency to want to replicate our world too much. With the potential for anything you could imagine, why not dream of something strange and bizarre? Morrowind does just this, presenting one of the most distinct and rich game worlds seeping with its own mythologies, ideologies, and politics that keep the main quest fascinating all the way up to the end.
- Resident Evil (2002)
There’s a school of game design that is so tight, so precise, that each piece of the design is essential to keeping the structural integrity of the game. This remake of the original Resident Evil is such a game. The deliberately slow controls, the enemy designs, and the maze-like mansion make for a true house of horrors where you are scraping by each encounter in a survival horror masterwork.
- Team Fortress 2
A bit of a nostalgia pick for me, in part because I’m specifically talking about the game as it existed for a brief moment in time and in part because of the experiences I had with the game. Those early years presented a purity of team-based shooting I’ll never forget with just enough classes to give everyone the experience they wanted without overloading you with choices. But my love for it is in large part because it’s where I made many friends I still talk to on a weekly basis and that’s one of the most powerful things a good multiplayer game can do: foster real community.
- Frog Fractions
Who thought an educational game about fractions would end up making the list? Of course, anyone who has played the game knows the hidden depths of this game as it quickly evolves into one of the most hilarious and delightful gaming experiences you can have. I think it was the history of boxing section that cemeted this as one of my all-time favorite games.
- Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
It’s rare that a game sucks away all my free time for a couple of weeks, but Alpha Centauri is one such game. I dumped about 80 hours into it before I cut myself off. It’s too good. The factions that actually behave according to their ideologies, the ability to customize units, the constant philosophical musings and the general sense that there’s never going to be another resources to coexist peacefully make this such a great game that I’ll dive deep down the rabbit hole if left to my own devices.
- The Last Express
The Last Express is constantly surprising. You’re confined to a train in which everyone moves about on their own schedules with their own actions and conversations, meaning that anytime you chose to do anything, you’re also missing out on something, which might be the one thing that matters. It’s a rare game in which the characters exist on their own terms instead of waiting around for player character input. It can be heavy on the trial and error side, but there’s nothing quite like it.
There’s a deep purity to Hexcells, an elegance of design that creates for this brilliant experience. Unlike Minesweeper, there is no guessing that has to be done. At any point, given the information you have there is always a process of elimination to whittle down the grid to those correct tiles. It’s all about patience and methodical thinking. It’s the video game equivalent to Sudoku and an absolute titan of the puzzle genre.
Often most noted for its writing and humor, Portal is also a masterclass of design and pacing. The slow reveal of the narrative, the incremental building of the puzzles, and the way the final act becomes this moment of breaking the rules made Portal one of the most memorable afternoons in gaming you’re likely to have.
I have never experienced anything quite like Braid. The melancholic atmosphere mixed with devilishly hard puzzles all underpinned by a surprisingly dark story resulted in a formative game experience. It felt like a game with a soulfulness to it I hadn’t felt before, like hearing a folk song for the first time. Many games since have clearly been inspired by Braid, but none have quite captured that lightning in a bottle feeling that Braid has.
- No Man’s Sky
I’m delighted this game exists. It’s one mired in controversy, marketing scandals, and unrealistic expectations, but the end product speaks to my soul. A space game that feels closer to 2001: A Space Odyssey than Star Wars: slow, contemplative and mysterious. It’s not a space action romp, but a meditative exploration of the final frontier, something I didn’t know I wanted so much out of a space game.
© James Blake Ewing 2018