The originator for the basis of this list was a very small list that I created for the first gaming website I ever worked for, ByteSizeGaming, and as I started to write the first half of this list, I had to wonder to myself if my list had changed in the four years. The answer was surprising: a little bit, but not nearly as much as I thought it might. Turns out that my top five games of all time are fairly sturdy, with the exception with one option. These are the games that stuck with me throughout the years, and these are the games that I consider my favorite games of all time. So, without further ado, let us continue:
God Of War III (PS3)
“My vengeance ends now.”
In 2010, I got my hands on the original God Of War, and it was an amazing experience coupled with a story that tells itself like a Greek epic should, complete with a list of who’s who in Greek mythology, plowing through with all of the grace of a stick blender. But that’s not the game that kicks off my top 5. Instead, we push forward to a year later, during a ten hour marathon of God Of War III. It was an all-night gaming session of sheer balls-to-the-wall excitement, and when the sun came up, I realised just how exhausted I was getting so invested in a game. The game is not without its faults: the story is a little bit contrived in places, and Kratos can’t seem to choose between pitiful anti-hero or walking smoothie maker. Yet, what makes this game is the sheer scale of the title. Epic is an understatement. When your initial boss fight has you slay the god of the sea, you know the game is going to go places you never thought it would.
What really captures my feelings of the game is the greatest boss fight in that game, and quite possibly my favorite boss fight of all time: the brawl with Hercules. Kratos has clashed with titans many times in the series, but none quite as personal and harrowing as this one. When the Cestus came on and the fisticuffs began in earnest, it merely sealed the deal. Brutal, vengeful and enormous in scale and ambition, God Of War III is a bombastic cacophony of epicosity quite unlike anything I have ever played, and will remain to this day one of the most fantastic games I have had the pleasure of playing. Thank God that the legacy is continuing into 2017 so that my inner bro can get hyped over ripping Norse mythology’s best and brightest a new asshole.
“I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose Rapture.”
In every video game player’s upbringing, there are games you play that are good, games you play that are bad, and then there are the games that you use as your own personalized benchmark of quality. “Yes, Bottle Rocket Simulator 20XX was a good game and I had fun, but was it quite as good as [blank]?” Everyone has the game that fills that space; the game that without question sets the bar for gaming experiences to come. For some people, that is Final Fantasy VII, or Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night, or Ocarina Of Time, or even Half-Life 2. In 2008, my own benchmark game was released in the form of Bioshock. When I put that disc in my computer and descended into the underwater city for the first time, I knew it was going to blow my poor unsuspecting adolescent mind.
Granted, the difficulty curve is a tad out of whack due to instant spawns in close proximity to every difficult section of the game. However, the atmosphere and sound quality was so immaculate that it almost seems like a blessing to spawn back from where you are, just so you can appreciate the game’s setting all over again. Bioshock is one of the most beautiful games I have had the pleasure of playing, and the killer story (or the first two-thirds of it, at any rate) and one of the most tragic beasts in video gaming lore all just puts the icing on the cake. Will a game be better that Bioshock? I hope so. That doesn’t stop me from using Bioshock as the yardstick to which I compare all games in design, story and gameplay unification.
Mass Effect 2 (PC)
“We need a leader, and surround them with the brightest, the toughest, the deadliest allies we can find. The team will have to be strong, their resolve unquestionable.”
People will be a tad surprised that there are not many RPGs on this list, and the reason for that is simple: they were never very high on my go-to games as a kid. They never grabbed me in the same way that the previous games on the list – games that had come to my attention before – that when one eventually did come along and blow me out of the water, it was an earth-shattering moment. That game was Final Fantasy X, and it would be on this list if not for relative ambivalence towards Final Fantasy as a franchise. I mention it only because Final Fantasy X led me to try a science-fiction RPG shooter in the form of Mass Effect, which led to this entrant in my list: the incomparable Mass Effect 2.
Never in any video game I have ever played have I felt that my options meant so much. Every step that you take in the shoes of your very own incarnation of Commander Shepherd dictates how your suicide mission will end. The final mission, for the record, is no exaggeration. It is dangerous, and if you are not careful, you can lose your best friends, and even die yourself if you royally hash the whole thing. Think The Dirty Dozen in space. The meticulous attention to detail in character design, storyline/gameplay integration and the scale of what you were doing culminates in the best sci-fi game I have ever played. And just to be clear, my Commander Shepherd is the most badass renegade this side of Ilios and she will kick you in the knackers so hard your ancestors will be feeling tingles in their nether regions for decades.
Spec Ops: The Line (PS3)
“…you’re here because you wanted to feel like something you’re not: a hero.”
Throughout these games, there has been a massive focus in the fun that I had playing the game. Even in the darkest points of the games above this one, I can always say, after I put the game down, that at least it was a fun experience. Spec Ops: The Line is not one of those games. In fact, Spec Ops: The Line is the most confronting, grimmest and darkest games I have ever played. Then again, I have always been a sucker for media forms that take the genre and style so seriously that when the rug gets yanked out from underneath you, you never saw it coming. When I initially played Spec Ops: The Line, I was ready for another ploddy third person shooter with generic desert environments and chest-high walls. What I got was something much more intelligent than the gung-ho components it sported.
The last time I wrote this list, I debated for the longest time if it should be on this list. It seemed wrong; the game is certainly far from perfect. The multiplayer is superfluous and the gunplay isn’t always up to par. Looking back on it now, I feel I have finally found the words to describe why I love it. If you stare long enough into the nooks and crannies of video games, the games begin to stare back at you, becoming reflections of the trends of their players. The longer you play Spec Ops: The Line, the more it plays off your actions until the moment you complete the game and you realized the game has played you this whole time. Spec Ops: The Line is a game so masterfully self-reflexive that it is almost terrifying. It is a sign of the times, a hallmark in the growing maturity of video game growth, and it is why I will never forget, and love it to pieces.
“Tim is off on a search to rescue the Princess. She has been snatched by a horrible and evil monster. This happened because Tim made a mistake.”
And then there’s this. This game is, without question, my most beloved of them all. The other titles were not ranked, because I couldn’t justify where they should sit in the hierarchy of my love for the medium. This is the exception to that rule.
From the opening chord and the burning skies of the title screen to the final sequence that simply twisted the dagger on an amazing story, Braid is a sublime experience from beginning to end. It is a game I have played so many times I can do the first world with my eyes shut. Sometimes I prefer to, because the music is so incredible. That leaves me with a small conundrum: if I close my eyes, I can’t appreciate the artwork of the game, which is always as if I am playing in a watercolour painting. The concept of time is illustrated both in the sensational writing and the mechanics of platforming and puzzle solving in a way so awesome I ran out of superlatives to describe them in detail.
My only gripe is that the game can get caught up in its own pretentiousness at times, but when the game looks, sounds and plays as well as it does, such transgressions can be forgiven. With continuing playthroughs, the secrets that await you if you go above and beyond the boundaries of the game grow, in much the same way as the character Tim steps beyond the boundaries of science in his tale for forgiveness and redemption. And the ending. Oh my word, the ending. Not even Bioshock’s twist caught me off guard as well as Braid‘s wonderful, last second twist.
In the making of this list, games shifted and rearranged themselves. Some fell off the list entirely and some clawed their way back on. But none of them were as constant as Braid. This game is simply marvelous, and the epitome of everything I stand for as a video game consumer.
What do you think? Did I miss out any of yours? What are your all-time greats? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter at @potatozoneahoy.