The Best Games of All Time series reached its end on Wednesday with my choice for the best game ever made, The Last of Us. But there were a LOT of games that deserved to be mentioned that just didn’t crack the top ten. Fortunately, we live in a world where text posts on a global network of linked digital devices are basically unlimited, so restricting myself to a top ten was ultimately rather arbitrary. To remedy that decision, I am happy to present a list of (unordered and unranked) honorable mentions, games that didn’t make the top ten cut but are worthy of mention all the same.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
This game (and series) gets a lot of flak for being analogous to an interactive movie – perhaps not to the extent that the also-great Heavy Rain does – and it isn’t an entirely unfounded claim. The game’s strength is in the unmatched cinematic presentation of the whole affair. It’s a gorgeous game with outstanding cinematography (I just used the word cinematography when talking about the gameplay of a video game; yeah, you should be starting to see why I love this game so much) and even stronger pacing. Just as you exit a fire fight you start to make your way to your destination and the side of the cliff starts to crumble, setting off a frenzied platforming segment that manages to remain unpredictable no matter how well versed in the game you are. It’s intense in the same way that adventure serials have always been. And it’s so much fun to play.
Shadow of the Colossus
Hackneyed choice? And how! But I don’t even care. This game is spectacular in every sense of the word. The sense of awe that is welled within you upon seeing the first Colossus is an unmatched experience. 13 bosses is all that there is to the game, but each one is such a compelling experience that this game feels complete despite the lack of padding that plagues most games. It’s one of the common supports for the argument of games as art (which isn’t an argument, really – it’s fact and people who refuse to acknowledge it) and it has earned that status.
Yet another hackneyed choice, but once again I don’t care. Half-Life 2 floored me the first time I played it. I was never a big first-person shooter fan, and remain to this day only a moderate fan of the genre. But Half-Life 2 was a revelation, one of the best gaming worlds I’ve yet encountered. The rotting industrial design of the entire game was intriguing and carried an odd melancholy, one that suited the ragtag resistance aspect of the plot. Wandering the streets of City 17 for both the first time and the later return trip was unsettling and grim, the police state established by the Combine creating a constant sense of oppressive powerlessness. It was a game that was powerful in its storytelling through its environment design, something few shooters manage quite as well.
This is a fantastic game that shines in how polished it is. The story of the game is relatively exciting, and has a lot of the StarCraft action that made the first game so compelling, but it really shines in how smoothly the whole thing plays. As a person who is not a huge fan of real-time strategy games, StarCraft 2 managed to be unbelievably accessible at first, and slowly cave into intricate complexity without convolution. It’s a deep strategy title that is easy to pick up and play and get sucked in to, and the clean graphical presentation makes it one of the most entertaining titles of its kind.
Oh boy, controversy! Yes, the infamous and widely reviled thirteenth installment in the long running Japanese RPG manages to earn a spot here, despite the conventional wisdom that it’s a piece of garbage. Sure, the game is dominantly a set of linear hallways along which you progress, defeating monsters and viewing cutscenes with an occasional boss thrown in. Yes, it’s frustrating that as beautiful and breathtaking as the game is, you can’t fully explore the environments. But that’s precisely the point. Final Fantasy XIII – apart from its exciting and deep (but not overly complex) battle system – exploits player agency by restricting you and controlling your ability to explore, just as the characters have been forced into the pursuit of their Focus by the cunning and manipulative fal’Cie of Cocoon and Pulse. It’s a game that uses aspects of gameplay to force players to feel the same restrictions and frustrating loss of agency that the characters do, and that’s absolutely fantastic. Add the fun battle system and the engaging character stories at play, and you’ve got a very stellar game that is woefully underappreciated.
This game’s younger brother managed to pull the #4 slot overall, but we mustn’t forget this absolute gem of video gaming. With the same tight gameplay as the original Metal Gear Solid, this sequel manages to draw upon the experience of the first game in order to pull off a complex, labyrinthine narrative that addresses the whole gamut of 21st century concerns. It constantly deceives players in order to surprise them later. It actively messes with player’s minds, giving them fake Game Over screens (FISSION MAILED) and introducing old characters under new names and adamantly refusing to acknowledge the similarities. It’s a game with a wicked sense of humor to match its lofty postmodern ambition.
Conventional wisdom holds that the first generation of Pokemon is the best in terms of Pokemon design. I agree completely: but with the important caveat that the third generation was the pinnacle of game mechanics for the storied franchise. For this reason, the Generation 3 remakes of the original Red and Blue versions (in the U.S. at least), FireRed and LeafGreen versions, are the best games in the franchise. You’re given the initial Kanto overworld and 151 Pokemon but with all the added benefit of Abilities, breeding, attack types, secondary types, and Dark and Steel types. The graphical overhaul was pleasing, and all the wonderful collecting, training, and battling was intact. The games are just fantastic and will forever bring one back to childhood.
The Mass Effect series is probably the most successful science fiction franchise of the past decade or so. Built from the ground up, it constructs an engaging world with an impressively rich history that, unlike so many space operas, manage to avoid anthropocentricity, and instead portrays a galaxy where humans are second class citizens, fighting for equal representation. It’s an interesting take and an interesting universe, but the first game in the series also happens to tell one of the best space operatic stories in recent memory – possibly ever – with its chilling tale of man vs. machine. It does all the heavy lifting of setting up the world, and still manages to tell possibly the most engaging story in the series as Commander Shepard hunts down the rouge Spectre Saren, and finds himself caught up in an ancient conflict with the sentient machine race known as the Reapers. Wrap it all up with some (admittedly clunky) RPG aspects and a wickedly fun combat system, and you’ve got a hit that has sustained two grand sequels and the promise of more to come, all of it standing on the shoulders of this fantastic experience.
An unorthodox but not entirely controversial choice, God of War is a wonderful game that, like many other titles on the ranked list, matches content to form. It’s a brutal, violent game with lots of gore and a certain gleeful aesthetic, and the player gradually becomes dulled to it due to its sheer excess. But the game is the very essence of a Greek tragedy, a fantastically written modern epic that sees Kratos consider his actions at the end of his journey, and look back on them with self-loathing. The violence serves a purpose here, and it is a wonderful thing that it does, because so few games use violence meaningfully.
I love platformers and this is one of the best ones of the stellar PS2 era. It’s cel-shaded. It uses stealth as a heavy element. It has a wonderful cast of amusing characters. It has tons of collectibles that are difficult but not frustrating. I don’t really need to sing the praises of this game; it’s just so much exuberant fun.