Here are my top 10 games in no particular order:
* ROCK BAND
My hand-eye coordination is total pants, as a dyspraxic man. Back when I was first diagnosed my parents were advised to get me playing computer games as it would help me practice my coordination skills. That was how I got my first gaming machine, a Commodore 64.
Flash forward nearly twenty years. My flatmate, Steve One, bought Guitar Hero 2 I was pressured into joining in. To my surprise, I enjoyed it. A fortnight later I’d bought GH3 so we could play guitar and bass together and we both shot up to Medium. When Rock Band came out I figured I’d be able to guitar (on Hard now) and drum. Singing was going to be a nightmare, so instead of looking like a fool in front of my friends in ones and twos, I invited all of them round, got them to dress up like rock stars and we belted out song after song until the wee hours. This has become something we do a few times a year now, each time in new, outlandish costumes. When my brother visits, or when I go to my father’s, we play Rock Band until it’s light or we’re too drunk to make even basic guitar/drum playing motions.
The first of a new wave of first person shooters. I also count Perfect Dark towards this entry as they’re pretty much the same game. At Sixth Form I would spend most lunch breaks playing these games with John Padfield and the brothers Armstrong, David and Michael, who lived mere minutes away from college. This was such a part of our lives we’d make up new game types like, “Tag”, which my current gaming group have recreated in Halo Reach.
* BALDUR’S GATE II
As a D&D player, I enjoyed the first Baldur’s Gate, but this one had a huge plot, more side-quests than Oblivion and a supporting cast you loved (or hated) having around you. I’ve replayed Baldur’s Gate II so many times as each class, race, and alignment choice changes the game. I’m trying to get through BG1 on my netbook to then move that character to BG2, also on it, now. There are mods online for extra quests, too, so it’s aged, but wonderful.
* SILENT HILL 2
Look at the forums for SH2. It’s not the Halo smack talk, or the weirdness of WoW players. It’s psychological theory. What does this monster represent? What really happened?
Without spoilers, James Sunderland’s wife died years ago, from an unspecified illness. He’s been distraught ever since, unable to move on. We open on him in a public toilet on the side of a road, looking at a dirty mirror, wondering what he’s doing here. He received a note from his dead wife, saying that she’s waiting for him in the resort town of Silent Hill. In their special place. He did exactly what a sane person wouldn’t, and went there, after her.
The town is moody and atmospheric. The supporting cast are complex and the hell you go through is completely tied to the character’s sanity, his ability to live without his wife and the potential she might be alive. Each monster reflects James’ mindset, and each thing you the player make James do that an actual human wouldn’t, is there for a reason. You’re not playing a man who’s right in the head, after all. So what can you trust?
There are people who have become massive fans of the Silent Hill games without even playing them, instead they watch people play them on YouTube and still manage to get engrossed in the story. Silent Hill 2 is one of the best horror experiences. It’ll be re-released soon on the 360 and if you don’t want to play that, at least watch the videos online. You’ll see how good horror can be.
* MARIOKART DOUBLE DASH
I love all the Mariokart series, but this is the one which had co-op play. I love co-op games. One driver, one gunner. 16 tracks and a lot more vindictive hate than you could normally throw at a Mario character. The tracks got weirder here, too. You were shot out of cannons, or drove around a cruise liner.
There was one New Year’s Eve when my brother and I both had plans which fell through. Rather than be down about it, we took my television down to the lounge, then he and I played EVERYTHING in Double Dash while drinking whatever was to hand and watching a marathon of Sliders on the second television. A perfect evening.
* MASS EFFECT 2
Technically I’d like the series put in, but this is where the combat was less clunky and the story was just as good. While there’s an alignment system, you’re saving the galaxy no matter what, the gauge is lawful/chaotic. The only problem is that if anything it’s TOO combat-heavy. There are still missions which don’t involve fighting, but not enough. I fear the third Mass Effect game becoming Gears of War with likeable characters.
The world is deep and bigger than what we see in the game, and the supporting cast are engaging. The goal is to earn the loyalty of this rag-tag rogues gallery before taking on the big bad. And act two of a trilogy’s always the best one.
* DYNASTY WARRIORS 7
Based on Luo Guanzhong’s “Romance of Three Kingdoms”, the first recorded novel with chapters. You hack. You slash. You pick one of normally about 40+ characters from three or so kingdoms from the 80-year history, then play out scenarios.
It looks simple, you run around with a weapon and kill thousands of enemies, but there’s a lot of hidden complexity. Do I go for the supplies and lower their ability to attack, take down some generals, maybe I could cut a hole in their forces for my soldiers to run through. The animations and characters are exagerrated in a way eccentric Japanese people can do. The latest version actually goes entirely through the story of each faction, almost always ending in their fall. The saddest thing is that in the conflict, NONE of the Three Kingdoms won.
I like to walk a lot, out in the South Downs. When I can’t but I want to go outside, I play Oblivion. The free roaming first person role-playing game sold me on the 360. The main story was pish, but wow, there was so much of this game, and it was so very pretty. I like games which emphasise character and character interaction, but in this game it’s your interaction with the world, the isolation, the beauty and the madness. And it works.
The sad thing is that it’s aged really badly in the graphics department, but the sequel, Skyrim, looks set to be just as huge and beautiful as it’s predecessor, as well as featuring actual dragons roaming the skies, looking to murder you.
* SUPER MARIO WORLD
The GoldenEye of two-dimensional platformers. The prototype everything else is measured against. Non-simultanious two-player meant my brother and I would take turns and egg each other on, or point out where to go next on the non-linear level maps. Great. It’s available on pretty much everything Nintendo put out from its native SNES onwards. There’s no excuse to stop you getting it.
* DRAGON QUEST 9
I wanted to say a Final Fantasy, but they bore me. In fact, on my beloved Guardian Gamesblog, just talking about the Final Fantasies completely un-sold me on having loved that series.
This is everything that the FF games do, done right. You play a character you create, who’s an angel. But something goes wrong and you fall to Earth. You run around with a party (also of your making), travelling from town to town, looking for people who have been corrupted by falling bits of the heavens. Each story and each side-quest shows how brilliant humans are, they build a sympathy through love and loss, and with an enemy who wants to wipe the slate clean from humankind, you realise the game itself has trained you to like people, to want to save them. So many games don’t do that.
For a DS game it’s packed with so much stuff, and skips the nonsense of FF games like random battles. You can see and flee from the strange, silly and monstrous monsters.
Yes. I love Minecraft.
It’s like Lego meets survival horror.
You’re on an island. Alone. Everything’s made of resources and you can build anything. But at night, monsters come out. You need shelter, you need food and water, but once you’re sorted for those, get a project. My brother and I play this online and we’ve made a skyscraper inside a mountain. One side of the mountain is just the glass side of our building so we’re always looking out on the strangely beautiful, cubic landscape.
We’re also making a castle on a lake of lava under the skyscraper. And we made a Mayan-looking temple to a hell-dimension.
On my own, I’m re-creating Castle Ravenloft from D&D. It cuts an imposing view and is both a chilled & nerve-wracking time.
Sims 3. Yes, I played The Sims. I loved The Sims. It, along with my brother and an old VHS of Clueless, led to the massive revamp of what would eventually become my novel, Lightning, but that’s a story for another day.
But.. where is Grim Fandango?
A gamer sin of mine, along with never having finished Half-Life 2 (yeah, mock, it’ll still not be the hell my brother puts me through DAILY for that), but I’ve never actually owned Grim Fandango. I’ve seen some of it and if Good Old Games ever get it in, then I’ll have a go. Until then, alas, I am without Manny Calavera in my life.
Also, Monkey *freakin’* Island