Thursday, February 9, 2017

My Top 10 Favorite Modern Video Games

Chad Huskins is the EVVY Award-winning writer of the new sci-fi novel Zero Star, please support indie writers like us by going to the link:

So, what are the greatest games to play?

We all know that if you include classics such as Super Mario Bros., we could be here until Doomsday debating where it falls on the list of greatest games of all time.  Pac-ManZeldaGalaga, all of these games are like the Citizen Kane of video games, the progenitors that developed various new concepts--for example, Zelda kind of brought console users RPGs--and therefore will always hold special crowns.

However, in this article I am going to list only the video games I feel are the best out of the "new slew" of games that have come out since PlayStation and the N64 literally changed the way we approached video games, and how video games were primed and ready to keep gamers for life.  In other words, the kinds of games that have been around since video games "matured".  I'm going to list the best of the best, and explain why I feel they deserve their places on the list.

The criteria I'm going to use is as follows:

-  The game must be a GAME and not merely a story you follow along with amazing graphics, its developers must have kept the concept of interactivity in mind and not focused SOLELY on story (though I love a good story), because the difference between a movie and a game is that a game is interactive.

-  The game must be tremendous fun and engage the player, not just a time waster.

-  The game must have re-playability.  This is incredibly important to me, because games cost $60 while going to a movie costs $15 and DVDs cost, at most, $50, and that's with special edition stuff shoved in.  Therefore, a game had better be diverse, and present new experiences and challenges with at least ONE additional playthrough.

-  The game must not rely on online gameplay to "make its case" for awesomeness.  It must be playable by someone that doesn't have access to the Internet.  This is because I believe a game should be playable by oneself, not dependent on others logging on with you.

-  And finally, the game must not be just for idiots.  It doesn't have to be as mind-bendy as Inception, but it has to at least make you think and/or engage the player's imagination, if not with the story then with the gameplay, preferably both.  I'm not trying to be elitist, just talking about quality here.

With all that said, let's get to it:

10.  Assassin's Creed II
Yes, I am including this game here and not its predecessor because, while the first one was innovative for its time, it still had tremendous flaws that held it back.  Flaws such as repetitive investigation steps in order to advance a mission, having to listen to Al Maulim every single time you died or turned your game back on (and not being able to skip through his spiel).

In Assassin's Creed II, though, everything changed.  The world grew larger, the story more engaging, and the investigations more involved.  There was also more interactivity with the world around you, and tons of puzzles and side quests to keep even the most jaded gamer (me) involved.

The re-playability of this game is obvious: all you have to do is go around and play the game as you see fit, as any sandbox game should be.  However, Assassin's Creen II and all in this series still suffer from one little problem, which puts it low on my list, and that is the tendency in these games to guide the player along each mission, essentially "base-touching" on one's way to kill a target.  Examples include waypoints that one MUST touch in order to proceed in the story.  There were many times that I and my friends found another way into a castle than what the game's developers had intended, but we COULD NOT initiate the target because we HAD to go through the EXACT window that the developers intended for us to go through.

This is a big no-no for me, as I am not allowed to truly figure out these assassinations on my own.  I feel like I'm being held by the hand, and if it's truly a sandbox game, then take your hands off of me and let me play.

9.  The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
Never heard of this game before?  You're not alone.  But this game was the progenitor to Prototype, Infamous, and other such interactive games where you can run around a city and destroy anyone and everything around you.  Obscure as it is, the game is a game changer.

This game is still incredibly fun, listening to the Hulk grunt and rage as he smashes into buses, tears them apart, and then bends them around his hands to create steel boxing gloves.  Also, the player is able to unlock numerous kinds of Hulks from all throughout Hulk mythology, including my favorite, Grey Hulk, otherwise known as "Joe Fixit."  This Hulk came from an era in the comics when Bruce Banner was able to control the Hulk somewhat, diminishing his strength a little in order to gain more intelligence.  This Hulk took on the personality of Joe Fixit and got involved in the underworld a little.

In Ultimate Destruction, the player gets to smash up a city while helicopters rain down hell on you, and you get to listen to Joe Fixit grumbling, "You're messin' up my suit!" and "Extra power to!"

The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction also had a pretty good storyline for a comic book video game, which is much welcome in these types of games where so little time is spent on such matters.  Banner has exiled himself in the American badlands, where he's attempting to finally cure himself of the monster.  His cabin is destroyed by a missile launched by the NSA and a black ops sector known only as the "Division."  The Abomination gets involved eventually, and there are some terrific knockdown, drag-out fights.  The story never gets in the way of the fun of smashing up the city and evolving into new Hulk powers.

But despite its fun story, destructible environments, and openness, Ultimate Destruction was relatively short.  However, as long as you partake in the re-playability of this game, you can make it last and, in my humble opinion, it's well worth the money spent.

8.  Journey
This game is brand new this year, and comes from a relatively obscure company called simply Thatgamecompany.  The developers have been behind two other indie games that have defied contemporary video game tropes, starting with Flow, where the player plays as a small, multi-segmented worm or snake-like creature that swims through an aquatic environment, and there are no menus or guidelines, and the game begins immediately.

With Journey, they've created a very similiar experience, where the player exists only as a cloaked stranger, some sort of alien in an alien world, where there is no possibility of communicating with anyone or anything else...unless you use online play, where you can meet one (and only one) other traveler such as yourself.  There is no chance of dying in Journey.  There are no boss fights or enemies to kill, only exploration and puzzles.

There is no real context for the journey given to the player.  All you know is that you exist and you're there.  The environment is kind of like the planet Tatooine in Star Wars, all sand and sun, but gorgeously rendered, like you're playing inside a movie made by Miyazaki.

In this modern era where online gaming is dominated by either angry gamers screaming "Hacker!" at one another in Call of Duty-style games, or crying about losing ranks/levels in World of WarcraftJourney is a welcome respite.  It's relaxing, beautiful, mysterious, and another game changer.

It's very short--you can beat it in about 1 1/2 hours--but it has great re-playability, and for only $15 you just can't beat that.

7.  Grand Theft Auto...IV...maybe III?
Though the series as a whole has been innovative, re-playable, extremely fun and incredibly interactive, I would mark GTA IV as the first in the series that combined story, interactivity and sandboxing seamlessly, and took it to a whole new level.  Each one has gotten better and better, and the developers have made stronger storylines each time, ensuring that we the gamers don't get tired of just running over pimps and stealing cars without some kind of context.

With GTA IV, Rockstar Games made decisions matter within the context of that story and the gameplay.  There are tough choices to be made, including choosing between loyalty for a gang member set to change his ways, and another one that's had your back for a long time.

The re-playability speaks for itself: it's a sandbox game, perhaps the original sandbox game, at least in our modern understanding of the genre.  It isn't necessary to play online, although they added this feature with this game, and if the gods are good, this series will remain this way, always available as an exhilirating single-player game.

6.  Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
This series probably kick-started the need for good storytelling in video games with the first one on PlayStation, but the original was just getting "revved up" with the concept and its sequel was hampered by a weak sauce main character (I'm sorry, but I just can't stand hearing Raiden whine about how much life sucks all emo-like while he tries to save the world).

With Snake Eater, Hideo Kojima and his company amped it back up with a complex story set in the Cold War, a powerful stealth system set in the wilderness, and some of the most enjoyable boss fights in video game history (the battle with the sniper known only as "The End" is still the focus of a great many video game tall tales amongst me and my friends).

In the fourth installment of this series, the graphics increased, as did the action sequences (some pretty fancy ones, too), but...*sigh*...we got the return of Raiden.  Not as a playable character (thank God) but as a whiner in every facet of the story, doing feats so incredible that one has to ask, "Why does anyone need Snake when Raiden can stop an aircraft carrier...WITH HIS ARM?!"  His presence weakens the story, and the cut scenes...

The cut scenes in MGS 4 are tooooooooooooooooo looooooooooooong.  Way, way too long.  I've always enjoyed the colorful characters and story that the MGS series brings to the table, but when a cut scene goes on for 25 minutes, you have to ask yourself, "If they want to make movies, then why are these developers making video games instead?"  They forgot the cardinal rule of video gaming: let the player play through the story.

This is why Snake Eater, in my opinion, is still the best of the series.  It also has one very key re-playable feature that I and my friends discovered: you can play through the whole game several times with a different experience each time if you start the game with one kind of camouflage and challenge yourself to play through the whole game with that one camo.  HINT:  The red brick camouflage is the hardest, and the funnest!

5.  Batman: Arkham City
Wow!!  Talk about a fun game.  I mean a really, really fun game.  A really, really fun game with a story, too?  Get right outta town!

Arkham City is the sequel to Arkham Asylum, and while the first was fun, there are no words to describe just how fun City is.  Not only are you constantly fighting bad guys in the streets and on rooftops, not only are you using forensic detective work to solve the mysteries, not only are you fighting Batman's greatest enemies, and not only are you constantly solving the Riddler's amazingly fun puzzles, but you're also Batman!  And I mean, Batman!  Like never before, gliding around the skies, and kicking ass!  You are Batman in ways that no other game has ever allowed you to be.

The best part is, you don't even have to be a Batman fan to enjoy this game.  Just forget that you're Batman.  There is a variegated assortment of challenges for all players, from using new techniques to fighting off multiple opponents to finding innovative solutions to the Riddler's puzzles.

This game had a story but never forgot what it was:  a game!

4.  Goldeneye
There isn't a gamer under 35 years of age that doesn't have a ton of stories about this one.  Yes, it had a story.  Yes, it had multiplayer.  Yes, it was one of the greatest party games of that era in video gaming.  But I mentioned above that I was judging the games on this list on an important criteria: it could be played alone.

Goldeneye followed the story of the movie by the same name, and it did it pretty well considering the time and the graphics available at the time.  It introduced modern first-person shooting to millions of console owners, 3D enviornments (not just the old side scrollers), and enemies coming out from behind every corner, literally jumping out at you.

The various levels and various kinds of environments granted it the re-playability, and it ignited the possibilities in future gamers' minds, as well as future game developers (the list of how many modern developers list this as one of their most inspiring games from their youth is endless).  This is key, because I feel that all art should inspire the next generation of artists with possibilities, and attempt to lay groundwork for the next up-and-comers to stand on.

3.  Mass Effect 2
You're crazy if you don't like this game.  There, I said it.

The first Mass Effect was a pretty strong start.  Mass Effect 3 was very cool but a bit of a disappointment.  But Mass Effect 2 was pure perfection in RPG gameplay.

The series started off with great promise, like Assassin's Creed, but, also like AC, it didn't fully take flight with what gamers wanted and needed out of an RPG series until that second installment.  Complex characters, very complex decisions, gorgeous art direction, a vast galaxy to explore...what more could a gamer want?

Mass Effect 2 also had great re-playability thanks to the fact that the player can make different decisions each time, accomplish goals in a different order, and alter the outcome.

2.  Shadow of the Colossus
This game is either unknown to you, comes recommended by every friend that's played it, or it's one of your top five games of all time.  Much like JourneyShadow of the Colossus doesn't force a story on you.  It presents you with a character and a beautiful world, allowing you to fill in the blanks yourself, and all you do is wander this gorgeous scenery and explore...and, oh yeah, defeat sixteen massive colossi.

This game is nothing but boss fights.  There is no leveling, no fighting of underbosses and minions, and no gaining of any new skills besides your "grip gauge" going up and allowing you to climb higher and longer.  You use that increased grip to climb each colossus and find its weak points, meanwhile they buck and try to fling you off.  Epic music, epic fights, and epic times ensue.

It's simplicity matched with spectacle.

The art and design of this game is stupendous, and quite honestly makes the most powerful argument for video games as an artform.  Personally, this one would be at my number one spot, but we'll discuss why it's not down below.

1.  The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim
I know, I know, most of you probably think I'm following the bandwagon, but I'm not.  Actually, I would put this a little farther down the list...if it weren't for the criteria I set above.  Up above, I said that an important part of this list had to do with re-playability and getting your money's worth out of a game.  Welp, you won't ever get much more fun-per-dollar than this one.

Hundreds of hours of gameplay if you want it.  That's right, hundreds.

So much to see, do, and experience.  It just never ends.  It just...never...ends.

I flipflopped with putting Skyrim at number one or number two, since it's sometimes hard to play, depending on whether you got it on computer, Xbox, or PlayStation, becuase of lag and bugs.  Sometimes the game suffers from extreme lag, to the point that PS3 players find it absolutely unplayable.  It's been somewhat fixed since then, thanks to downloadable patches, but trust me, it can still have problems that hamper gameplay.

But I still put this game ahead of my personal favorite, Shadow of the Colossus, because of its re-playability, which is absolutely unmatched in modern gaming.

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