I don’t know why I’ve made this list. I have a cold and thinking about my childhood is warming me up so maybe that’s why. Also, I think I get my enjoyment of list making from my Dad who is obsessed with League tables and has consequently passed on a desire to rank everything in order to his oldest lad. This is by no means meant to be any kind of definitive or objective list, it’s merely a list of my favourites. I agonized over some of these but I reckon this is how my heart truly ranks them. Hopefully this should spark some healthy debate and maybe it’ll be fun to look at in ten years’ time to see how my opinions have changed.
It’s easy to look back at the five billion degree flips that we did on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and laugh, but this game really revolutionised the sports genre at the time and paved the way for other, more imaginative and mould-breaking sports games to come along. In the late 90s, all sports games seemed to be a well established sport like football, basketball or hockey and were normally sponsored by some celebrity or made by E.A. Then along came THPS with its awesome skater-punk soundtrack and twitch-timing based gameplay and basically flipped up a big middle finger to John Madden and Alan Shearer.
30. Grand Theft Auto III
This game effectively created the template by which all urban action-adventure games are now created. It might not seem like much now but at the time, being able to explore the entirety of a 3D rendered living, breathing city was a huge revolution in game design. I spent hours running around Liberty City creating havoc and avoiding the cops. This game’s legacy cannot be overstated.
29. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
This is by far the most modern title on this list. Why Skyrim and not Oblivion? Because every inch of Skyrim felt different to every other inch. Each dungeon was unique, giving the sense that these were truly built by some ancient people, every castle had its own style and decorations, every town had its own character and attitude. This really is how you do an action-RPG. At no point whilst playing this game did I ever feel as though I was re-treading the same ground and I played this game for a long, long time. Many will disagree but I feel that this was and is the best title in the series.
28. HALO: Combat Evolved
I saved up all my pennies when I was barely into my teens and bought a shiny new XBOX. I had two games with it and this was one of them. I remember staring down at the floor on this game, amazed that there appeared to be separate blades of grass instead of just a green-painted mess. But the grass was just the beginning! This game introduced me to the concept of capture the flag, sniping, camping and all of the other stuff that seems synonymous with FPS games. It was the birth of competitive console gaming and basically defined how it was to be done with a game pad from then until Modern Warfare came along.
27. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
This game was unfortunately buggy and incomplete on release which is perhaps why it has slipped below the radar of many gamers. After nearly ten years of fan-made patches and updates it is now much closer to the intended vision of the game and is easily the best way to roleplay a vampire, a genre which video games have somehow managed to screw up repeatedly over the years. But the game is more than that. Creeping around the streets of Los Angeles late at night, feasting on the blood of innocent civilians as you uncover the tense power struggles that divide the various vampire clans of modern America is a very easy way to lose 30 hours of your life.
26. Pokemon Red/Blue
Please stop laughing at me! This game was a solid RPG with excellent mechanics and a gripping story. To a 10-year-old boy, the idea of capturing and battling a bunch of vicious magical monsters seemed like the height of awesomeness. The fact that you could hook up two game boys and fight against your friends was utterly mind-blowing at the time. Every time I went on a long trip with my family I’d be sat in the back of the car or on the plane trying to catch ’em all.
25. GoldenEye 007
Nowadays when people think of console gaming their minds are often drawn to the idea of kids sitting around an XBOX or PS3 playing first-person shooters. That particular stereotype owes its existence to this game. Goldeneye was the first console game which felt like it was made for multiplayer and competitive play. The weapons were numerous and bad-ass, the mechanics were slick and intuitive and it was endless amounts of fun to plant hundreds of mines in a room and then detonate them as your mates ran through it.
24. Street Fighter II
The King of the ring; the ultimate beat-em-up. What can I say about Street Fighter that isn’t already shouted from the rooftops by it’s huge popularity, massive sales and lasting position as the poster-boy for fighting games? It basically defined the template for all fighting games that followed it and any game of this genre now measures itself up against it.
23. System Shock 2
If you enjoyed the Bioshock series of games then say thankyou to System Shock 2 because she gave birth to it. This game was mind-blowingly scary. Trapped on a space ship with an insane artificial intelligence trying to kill you, your only hope was to attempt to survive whilst attempting to discover what the hell had gone wrong on this gigantic coffin, floating through space. This game seamlessly blended RPG, sci-fi and survival horror in a way that no other game has managed to surpass in the last thirteen years. It kicked ass and I will never forget the horrific sight of a mutated human attempting to kill me whilst choking out the words “please forgive me.”
22. The Longest Journey
Time seems to have forgotten this particular gem. When it was released in 1999, adventure games were no longer in the limelight and that fact, combined with the solely PC release of this game, perhaps doomed it to obscurity. Those of us who did play it found a game of infinite imagination, with a storyline straight out of a particularly awesome acid trip and possibly the coolest female protagonist of any game ever. The game was ahead of its time in so many ways, from the mature themes such as exploration of sexuality and explicit language to the excellent use of a 3D engine in an adventure game, something which was quite impressive at the time. The Longest Journey was both long and entertaining and no serious adventure games collection is complete without it.
21. Shining Force II
The Sega Megadrive was often overlooked when it came to RPGs as our friends who owned a Nintendo console were treated to the best that Japan had to offer. Shining Force II, however, was a shining (ha…ha) example of what the megadrive could offer in terms of an RPG. It had magic, battles, and an awesome plot which took you all over a beautifully crafted world. Most loved of all by me was the battle system which, at the time, felt closer to the real thing that the traditional JRPG-style of taking it in turns to slap one-another.
20. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
If you owned a PC in 1991 then the most graphically impressive thing you could play was a graphical adventure game. This is THE graphical adventure game and it is absolutely fucking hilarious. Monkey Island 2 put the player in the boots of Guybrush Threepwood, a useless moron who thinks he’s a badass pirate. The ensuing adventure is crammed full of hilarity baked into a series of excellent puzzles. What other game has you taking part in a spitting contest, purchasing a used coffin and searching for a hidden treasure called the Big Whoop? This game hasn’t lost any of its charm, even today and there are now some excellent re-makes on the steam store with updated graphics.
19. Resident Evil II
Whenever I think of scary games I think of RE2 first. This game scared the shit out of me as a kid, so much so that I never actually completed it until I was an adult. Why was it so scary? Because it got the fundamentals of survival-horror right (unlike most modern games) in as much as it was fucking hard to survive. You barely had enough ammo, first-aid supplies or information on where to go. It was hard as nails and the fear of being stranded in a zombie-infested city with nothing to protect yourself was more than enough to scare any kid in 1998.
18. Spyro The Dragon
This game is just crammed full of real imagination and beauty. Never before or since have I played a game that felt so dream-like, it had an almost sedative effect on you. The areas, sound effects and music all combined to make one truly trippy game. I play this through at least once a year just to remind myself not to take the world too seriously.
17. Golden Axe
In the early 90’s the side-scroller was king and there are so many of these games that it’s hard to choose between them. I was a Sega kid and for me there was one game that was cooler than all of the others. Golden Axe had dwarves, barbarians, axes, swords, magic and it even let you ride on a dragon. I must have completed this game hundreds of times over the last 20 years and it’s still fun today.
16. Shadow of the Colossus
This game is something of a cult calssic. Chances are you’ve either played it and know how awesome it is or you’ve never even heard of it. Shadow of the Colossus had you running around barren wastelands and forests, finding, battling and killing giant monsters in the hopes of resurrecting your dead wife (or something like that anyway.) What made this game so different was the fact that it was basically a series of boss fights. That will either sound awesome or incredibly dull to those of you who don’t know of this game. Trust me, its the former. This game basically allowed you to take your time, plan your startegy and then strike when you know you’re ready for a real brawl. It really isn’t like anything else I’ve ever played and it is no surprise to me that this game is now a collectible and tends to sell for a fair amount of money.
15. Beneath a Steel Sky
This game is the height of British adventure game design. It has you playing Robert Foster, a man on the run from the cops in a dystopian future city where the rich live near the floor where the air is still clean and the poor live high up in the smog filled streets beneath a giant steel dome. Uncovering the mystery of Foster and his father’s suspicious disappearance is an experience which I wish I could undertake for the first time once more. I love this game and it’s been a huge inspiration to me as a designer.
14. Left 4 Dead
I have a mild obsession with Zombies so when Left 4 Dead came along I was a very happy bunny. Up until this point, the zombie genre had been about trying to overcome clunky controls and a lack of ammo in the hopes of surviving long enough to dodge the incredibly slow moving Zombies of games like ‘Resident Evil.’ Left 4 Dead effectively gave us unlimited ammo and a variety of cool special weapons and said “go ape shit and paint the walls with some brains.” Never had co-operation been so mandatory in a co-op game, as your survival absolutely depended on your buddies having your back. I spent many a late night pelting through the corridors of mercy hospital with my limping comrades in tow, as a torrent of hungry undead psychos chased us.
13. Sid Meier’s Civilization
This was one of the very first PC games I ever played as a little kid on my uncle’s old DOS system. It was certainly my first taste of strategy and it has stuck with me for all of these years. At the time, the idea of building a civilization, organizing a military force, negotiating with foreign warlords and kings, managing citites…it was all just fucking awesome. It set me up for who I am today and I still play it to this day.
Looking at things objectively, this game is probably the greatest JRPG of all time. It just did everything so well. The animations were slick and made the fights feel exciting and realistic, the characters were loveable without being cheesy, the art work was beatiful and the plot…the plot was awesome. You travelled through time, causing events which would effect the future. You even travelled to the end of time which was a mysterious chunk of victorian paved street, dimly lit by a street-lamp and populated by one old man with a walking stick and a bowler hat. It still sends shivers down my back just thinking about it.
Tim Schafer truly has the most awesome imagination of any game designer in the industry. In ‘Psychonauts’ he created a summer camp for kids who can jump inside the minds of sentient beings and explore the odd metaphorical worlds which exist within. That very concept alone leaves space for almost total creative freedom, but Schafer went a step further by ensuring that the minds you jump into are all in need of rescue and he treads the line between emotion and comedy perfectly, creating a world full of lovable, memorable characters which is a joy to explore again and again.
10. Mario Kart 64
When I was supposed to be working in sixth form, I was almost certainly playing this instead. I’ve never been a huge fan of driving/racing games but this one is just too much fun. There’s no better way to chill out with your mates than to kick back, have a few beers, order in a pizza and dart around some mario kart maps blowing the crap out of each other with shells.
9. Medieval II: Total War
Many people sight the previous entry in this series as their favourite and Rome: Total War was certainly a brilliant game, but I feel that the studio really perfected the formula with this one. The political power struggles and unpredictable behaviour of noble families, the religious backdrop of Islam and the Roman Catholic Church all combined to create a truly compelling strategic experience. But this game reached true levels of awesomeness when the battles commenced. Controlling your troops on the field of battle really felt like you were charging steel-clad warriors into walls of pike men or raining down fire on a group of defenceless peasants. It was awesome.
8. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
I have spent so many hours on this game, its almost hard to believe. Many console gamers will probably be completely unaware of the existance of the Warcraft series of RTS games for the PC, as it has been somewhat overshadowed by its MMO sequel ‘World of Warcraft.’ However, it is this particular gem which I remember so fondly. It had a wonderfully engaging plot and was fantastic fun to play in Skirmish mode with friends or against the A.I. The real prize-winner in this game, however, was its engine. This game has spawned so many mods that they are virtually impossible to list in this one paragraph. It virtually invented the MOBA genre which has since spawned several insanely popular games in League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth and DOTA. It popularised the turret defence and hero defence genre. The real testament to this game is in the fact that still, after ten years, Blizzard regularly patch this game to accomodate its thriving community. This is easily my favourite strategy game of all time.
7. Streets of Rage
It might not seem like a big thing in today’s modern world of ultra-violent, weapon-wielding action games. But in 1991 when Streets of Rage let you stick a glass bottle into the face of a gangster and then proceed to beat him with a baseball bat, you knew you were playing a game that didn’t shy away from the violent nature of melee combat. It had the perfect mechanics for a beat-em-up; simple to learn but complex to master, a variety of bosses to test your twitch-gaming reactions and an awesome soundtrack. What more could a kid want? This game just sweated awesomeness with every uppercut.
6. Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy is a series that divides gaming enthusiasts into haters and lovers. The division amongst those who love this series often comes in the deliberation over which ones are the best. I suppose that’s to be expected in a series with this many titles. For what its worth, I feel that this was the last truly brilliant Final Fantasy game. FFX had a heart-wrenching, imaginative and wonderfully compelling set of characters who fit so perfectly with a story that still haunts me to this day. The final scene is etched into the memories of everyone who ever played this game and Blitzball was probably the coolest mini-game in any RPG ever. When I think of the PS2, this is the game I imagine spinning around in the disk tray.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
This is the game that made me want to make games. It had a day and night cycle with different things happening at different times of the day, it had time travel, it let you play a musical instrument, you could play mini-games to win prizes, you could go fishing, you could ride a horse and all of this was just optional and played second-fiddle to a story so simple and straight-forward that it almost seems cliché, but you really wanted to rescue that princess. This game blew my mind in 1998 and I think I’ve been searching for a better world to explore ever since, to no avail.
4. Deus Ex
Ask anyone who was playing PC games at the turn of the Millennium what their favourite games are and I can almost guarantee you that this game will be on that list. Never before or since has a game made you feel as though you have this level of freedom. Want to run through the game guns blazing? Go for it. Want to hack and creep your way through the game? That’s fine too. There seem to be innumerable ways to play this game and I’m still discovering them over ten years later. Deus EX defined cyberpunk for my generation. To its credit, the graphics have aged significantly since its release but it still feels organic and most importantly, futuristic, even to this day.
3. Grim Fandango
In Grim Fandango, Tim Schafer created a world which felt both alien and familiar. Exploring it was a delight, with its quirky characters and dark parodies of modern western society. However, the most impressive thing about this game is the award-winning soundtrack by Peter McConnell which combines big band jazz elements with Latin grooves and folk music. All of this combines to create what will probably always be my favourite adventure game.
2. Metal Gear Solid
I played the demo of this game as a kid on my PlayStation before the game’s eventual release. It gave me the opening level to play which consisted of maybe ten minutes of gameplay. I played that level to death, finding every way of entering the Shadow Moses compound, killing every guard in every possible way, exploring every corner of it. When the game finally came out I was treated to a thrilling masterpiece of level design wrapped around one of the greatest stories ever told in a game. Metal Gear Solid made you care about everyone involved in that plot. When Sniper Wolf lay dying in the snow I genuinely felt sorry for her, despite the fact that I’d fatally wounded her just a few moments ago. I can’t think of many other games that provided such an emotional rollercoaster before or since. The game’s huge amount of voice acting was an incredible achievement at the time and Metal Gear Solid is perhaps responsible for the creation of voice-acting celebrities in the world of video games. Everyone knows who David Hayter is now.
1. Final Fantasy VII
What can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said? Love it or hate it (and I very much love it) no-one can deny the huge influence it has had on the gaming landscape. It effectively brought RPGs to the masses and introduced a whole generation of kids to concepts such as hit-points and levelling up. The characters were all damaged in their own special ways, but were all good at heart and you desperately wanted them all to find inner peace, so much so that you followed them through the plot in the hopes of giving them all the salvation that they so desperately needed. They were, of course, fictional characters. But to me, as a kid, they were just as real as anyone I knew in the real world and I think that’s why this game was so popular. It forced you to care. The game’s world was a bizarre combination of cyberpunk dystopia, medieval fantasy, eastern feudalism and 20th century suburbia which really opened up a world of possibilities in terms of plot. Nobuo Uematsu’s soundtrack proved that midi didn’t have to sound crap and has since been re-arranged and recorded multiple times. Final Fantasy 7 was a genre-defining game and one that I’ll probably still be playing when I’m all old and wrinkly.