What can change the nature of a man? It’s the question that drives forward this classic RPG in what many consider to be the best story told in all of gaming. And this is a game you’ll want to play for the story. The combat isn’t terrible, but it’s the wisdom/charisma builds that unlock all the fascinating conversations that keep Planescape: Torment the high bar by which many still judge any video game story.
The joy of discovery and exploration taps into some primal part of me that simply loves enjoying beauty and nature for its own sake. Fez bottles up that feeling into game form. A world in which you discover the 2D plain you live on is actually layered with 3D spaces could have become some sort of platforming challenge, but the game focuses on keeping most of the game inclined to simple area traversal and some devilish puzzle-solving. It also boasts what I’d call the best soundtrack in the medium.
Back in the days when most video game stories were bad, Metal Gear Solid is a mix of genius and stupid. Playing into real-world ideas of nuclear warfare, private military, expansion of military battle, the futility of war, and other socio-political thoughts, it’s also filled with hammy dialogue and over-the-top voice performances. But there’s one thing that can’t be denied: the gameplay and level design is top notch here and results in one of the best realized video game spaces of all time: Shadow Moses.
- Sonic & Knuckles
Much of my youth was spent playing the old Sonic the Hedgehog games on Sega Genesis. As an adult, Sonic & Knuckles feels like it has the most consistent series of stages. The game is filled interesting mechanics and it allows you to play Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 with Knuckles, which I can assure you blew my mind as a kid. It seemed like magic and to this day, sometimes playing these games still feels the same way.
Myst was such a formative part of my childhood but it has not aged well. Cyan’s spiritual success to the series, Obduction, evokes many of those feelings and experiences but with a much more cohesive set of worlds and far more logical puzzles. Plus, it’s one of the few games that has made my jaw drop from the shere awe and scale of certain moments. Beautiful, thoughtful and otherworldly, Cyan captures lightning in a bottle once again.
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords
It’s rare that a video game makes you rethink your view of morality, but The Sith Lords did just that as it challenged my rather simplistic teenager outlook of a world with easily categorized good and evil people. A heavy critique of a lot of Star Wars fiction as well as just a damn good story in its own right, The Sith Lords delves into the murky world of the ethics of a world in which our actions can be judged not simply by their own merit, but by the impact they have on other people.
- Far Cry 2
This game depicts an indifferent, harsh world that you have to endure instead of subdue. Weapons constantly degrade, enemy patrols drop on you at the worst times, and you’re plagued with malaria. Lots of moments in Far Cry 2 are not traditionally fun, but they are tense and nerve-wracking, resulting in all kinds of improvisational moments where a situation goes from bad to worse. Few firefights in gaming have felt as high-stakes or as thrilling as the ones I’ve had in Far Cry 2.
- Thief 2
There’s something immensely satisfying about sneaking through spaces and taking everything that isn’t nailed to the floor. Thief 2 is the game that got it the best with a strong emphasis on verticality, a scaling difficulty system that forced you to explore more of the map to steal even more things, and some of the best map design of the era.
- Thirty Flights of Loving
Ever since playing Gravity Bone, I knew Blendo Games was something special. There was something about the way the game conveyed so much wordlessly that entranced me. Thirty Flights of Loving refined this even further into the tale of a heist gone wrong told with the kind of skill and precision that found a way to play with time in such a way to condense and linger on just the right moments.
Hitman is the realization of such a specific fantasy: the idea of being an untraceable assassin. As the series has progressed, the simulations and interactions have gotten better and better to the point that this version is filled full of creative and absurd ways to kill your targets. It’s a game where failure is getting into an all-out gunfight and success is a quick and silent murder surrounded by a lengthy setup and a sly exit.
© James Blake Ewing 2018