10. Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005)
9. Jak II (2003)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Now we’re getting somewhere! The Jak series was most wonderful in its first three installments, back when the PlayStation 2 was the most popular gaming machine on the planet. The original instalment, Jak and Daxter, was a creative platformer that filled most of the genre’s tropes like a well-worn pair of old boots. It was fun and inventive, but overall, not really a must-have. Jak II, on the other hand, took the series from light-hearted platforming, to edgy, dark, adult-oriented GTA-style action gaming. The plot involves the crew of the original Jak and Daxter, being teleported to a strange futuristic world. While most of the cast escape imprisonment, Jak is capture, and experimented on with Dark Eco, which ruins his brain and body, allowing him to turn into a perpetual Frankenstein’s monster at will. The game starts off as an innocent platforming game set in a dark city – then you learn how to jack hover-cars and shoot guns. GTA-lite hardly does it justice – the game has more structure than Grand Theft Auto, and the world, in which an evil Baron domineers over the slums, is insanely well-realised; and fun to traverse, with the futuristic hover-traffic being able to switch between three tiers of heights. At any moment you could be down in the streets with the people, to hovering high above the rooftops. It’s exhilarating and intuitive.
Oh yes, and eventually Jak also gets his hand on a hover-board – and if you’ve ever had fantasies of riding around a city Marty McFly style on a floating skateboard, pulling off tricks and pissing off the gobsmacked public – this game has your number on that one. All this, and the fact that the game is genuinely hilarious and well-written, add up – Jak II is possibly the best game on PlayStation 2. They made a sequel, Jak 3, but it wasn’t quite as tight as Jak II, kind of spreading itself too thin across wasteland Mad Max-esque buggy driving and hardcore shooty-action. Then they made some fairly average racing games for PS2 and PSP. Naughty Dog went on to make the hugely successful Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, but honestly, I think Jak II is their magnum opus.
8. Super Mario 64 (1996)
7. Black (2006)
6. Crysis (2007)
Crysis has long been the butt of jokes against PC gaming. “You need a super computer from the future to play it.” “It only has good graphics and the gameplay sucks.” “Halo is great, derp.” The thing is, Crysis is actually genuinely AMAZING. It’s not amazing enough to make my Top 5, nostalgia prevents it from getting that far, but if I went through this list logically, saying “which games is the most well-made”, Crysis would… rank very highly. Like #2 or something. But this isn’t Top 10 best games damn it, this is “my favourite” games, and tell you what - Crysis sure is one of those. The story concerns Koreans covering up a conspiracy on some uncharted island. They kidnap an American science team, the sons of bitches. So the government ever-so-tastefully send in the most overpowered dicks in the whole army, nanosuit-equipped badasses who throw giant rocks, turn invisible, can run faster than a speeding train and absorb bullets without dying like a sponge absorbs water. The story doesn’t doesn’t get in the way of the core gameplay experience though, which is why Crysis stands out for me. It one of very few games that touts open-world free choice and actually provides on this promise. Sure, the missions go through in a linear progression, but during each mission you can take whatever approach you fancy.
You can go in all guns blazing and wreck up the shit; you can go in stealth like a sneaky bastard and backstab every Korean bastard like a filthy rat; or you can run straight in, hijack a vehicle, and completely bypass all but your main objective. You can truly play how you like, from your weapon load-out to what pre-mission sandwich your mum packs you – and it turns Crysis from a game that only goes to challenge Pixar visually, to a game that is actually good. The fucking great graphics improve the immersion, and combined with the free choices and non-linear mission structure, Crysis is a lot like King Kong in that it has an atmosphere the draws you right in. Unlike King Kong however, which is pseudo-horror in nature, Crysis has some fantastic balls-to-the-wall action sequences. There’s something so childishly gleeful about combining your nanosuit’s powers to pull off a perfect run; shooting distant targets before jumping onto a roof, crashing through the ceiling and punching to death everyone inside before turning on Maximum Speed and rushing out the door to catch up with an enemy helicopter, jumping off a cliff and narrowly making the jump, barely being able to celebrate your success as you hold onto the skids, punching out the pilot and hijacking the vehicle to turn it around on your former attackers. When Crysis flows it is one of the most exciting and exhilarating non-scripted free playing can be. Best of all? Crysis plays like a game from the future, even three years after release. In 2007, the computer needed to run Crysis was a hypothetical one. Today, a mid-range PC can run Crysis smoothly on High to Very High settings – and yet this is still the benchmark for PC gaming! No game has caught up with Crysis from a design standpoint yet, when technically every game made since 2008 should have. No, Crysis still stands tall as bastion of excellent design philosophy, and I can’t wait to see what Crytek can do with Crysis 2. Chances are it’ll suck, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt – they know how to craft an excellent game. I’m holding my breath in anticipation, that’s for sure.
5. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
As classic and fun as Super Mario 64 is, there is a Super Mario 64 clone that I feel does everything SM64 does, but better. That game is Banjo-Kazooie, a hilarious platforming romp with your new best friends Banjo, a honeybear, and Kazooie, an annoying squawking dipshit who won’t ever shut up. These friends enter the wicked witch Gruntilda’s lair looking for Banjo’s kidnapped sister, the “most beautiful person in the land,” whom Gruntilda plans to steal her good looks and become the new most beautiful person in the land. It rips pages from fairy tales and fantasy, but it does it in such an inventive and funny way, it feels completely fresh.
The design of Banjo and Kazooie and their supporting cast are especially awesome; Bottles the blind mole takes the cake for most domineering tutorial teacher ever. At one point Bottles even threatens to wipe your game save, and when you’re a kid with three hours of gameplay under your belt, that’s a fucking evil thing to threaten. The level design and humour is where Banjo-Kazooie trumps Super Mario. Every world is unique and fresh from the last, and every item – from arbritrary health pick-ups (honeycombs) to the “Stars”, Jigsaw pieces or “Jiggies,” have eyes, and they speak. Everything is characterized, which makes the game so much more cartoon than SM64. Which is never a bad thing; and is luckily helped by phenomenally good writing, Gruntilda’s dialog in particular funny as hell, with all her lines rhyming (of course). A delightfully dark tone also lays beneath the kiddy aesthetic – Banjo-Kazooie drags these cartoons to the depths of hell and back, and it gets genuinely freaky in some of the later levels when you drown to death and whatnot in the unforeseen depths of Grunty’s castle. Banjo-Kazooie became a cult classic for Rare, and while a technically superior sequel was produced (and a kind of lackluster vehicle-based adventure for Xbox 360 some years later), it is the original that stands out to me as the better title. But all this would be in vein if I didn’t mention the atrociously catchy soundtrack. From the main theme played on, well, banjo and kazoo, to Grunty’s “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic”-inspired castle theme, the music in Banjo-Kazooie is possibly its biggest star, with every track guaranteed to be lodged in your head months after playing. Well done Banjo-Kazooie, you have successfully destroyed my brain.
4. Half-Life 2: Episode Two (2007)
Developer: Valve Corporation
3. God of War II (2007)
Developer: SCE Studios Santa Monica
Of all the games I’ve ever played, God of War II has the best opening sequence. Kratos, the biggest gaming bad-ass EVER, is sitting on his throne at Mount Olympus as the newly crowned God of War. However, there are those that defy his power (idiots), so he goes to Rome to tear the city apart. He is beamed down from the heavens and is shown in his God-form, a giant lumbering unstoppable beast, rampaging through the city, tearing up enemies like butter. Zeus, however, will have none of it, so he zaps Kratos and removes his God-like powers, reducing him to the size of a mere mortal. He also zaps the Colossus of Rhodes, essentially turning the massive golden statue into a giant lumbering unstoppable beast, rampaging through the city, tearing up enemies like butter – except most of those “enemies” are you. Thus begins the biggest, most exciting boss fight in videogame history, and I’ll be damned if any game proves otherwise. From launching yourself at the massive statue’s face like an ant with a slingshot, to escaping its grasp by mashing buttons a lot, to tearing a hole in his abdomen and crawling inside his guts to reveal a insanely well-designed platforming section before tearing a hole in his face from the inside, God of War II’s opening scenes are some of the best in all of videogaming, and an excellent example of how to hook your audience so well their gums bleed for months afterwards.
Of course, the standard Devil May Cry-esque combat is mostly unchanged, but the epic nature of all the levels and set-pieces balance out the unintuitive design principles of it all. God of War II is an exciting, fast-paced romp through ancient mythology where you play as a bad-ass making sure that everything that isn't you, dies painfully. It’s amazing. Actually I take Jak II back, God of War II is the best game on PlayStation 2. Oh wait, it’s on PS3 now, in amazing HD-ness, so I guess GoWII can have the PS3 while Jak II has the PS2. Okay, I take back taking back Jak II. Umm... eh.
2. Psychonauts (2005)
Developer: Double Fine Productions
I want Double Fine’s babies. Psychonauts has developed a cult following in recent years, with publisher Majesco claiming bankruptcy after Psychonauts was not a commercial success. It was a critical success though, and honestly… it’s probably the greatest game you’ve never played. The story of Psychonauts development and reception is a sad one, but the game truly is brilliant. It’s a great injustice that it was overlooked at release, but with the dedicated Double Fine fans it produced, I think Tim Schafer really has struck gold with this one. The story focuses on young psychic Razputin, a boy who has escaped from the circus to sneak into a summer camp of the psychically gifted. He wants to be a Psychonaut one day – psychic, mind-power-equipped Secret Agents who fight within the battlefields of the human brain. The game is hilarious as ever, and has a wonderful cartoon aesthetic that has kept the game time-locked and fresh even after more than five years. The dialog is the wittiest, most consistently enjoyable I have ever heard in a game. The cast of characters are varied and awesome, from the Ralph Wiggum-esque kid who has to wear a tinfoil hat so he doesn’t make people’s brains explode, to the summer camp janitor who appears as Raz’s psychic guide, frequently popping out his ears to give him a tutorial (or just to, y’know, point out a plot point). However. As frequently awesome the writing is, it is the level design that push Psychonauts into classic territory. The best way to think of it is – “what if Chris Nolan was high when writing Inception?” The levels take place in the deep subconscious of the characters mind, creating trippy, surreal worlds in which the platforming takes place. It truly is the most inventive, hilarious level design ever – the most notable of which, a level which takes place in the mind of a carnivorous, deadly “LungFish,” the inhabitants of which see you as a giant Godzilla-esque monster. You stomp around a city filled with tiny LungFish men, women, children and babies, as they fly LungFish biplanes and blimps. They’ve also started a resistance to take down the forces controlling the mind, and so enlist you, “Gargauntaur”, to knock down some radio towers and stuff. Whatever, Psychonauts is genuine, heart-achingly funny genius of a game, one that every single person who can must experience and play for themselves. Available on Xbox 360 through the arcade, and on PC over Steam, there’s no excuse for missing out on the most unique, quirky, fun and sheer inventive game of all time. Tim Schafer and Double Fine deserve more respect than they got for this, especially financially. It’s high time karma worked its thing and saw that everybody in the gaming world realizes Psychonauts is one of the best games ever made.
1. Portal (2007)
Developer: Valve Corporation
It’s motherfucking Portal, bitch, what do you want me to say? Portal. Is. Perfect. Pitch-black humour. A brain-meltingly ingenious gameplay mechanic. A surreal, minimalist plot. Possibly the perfect running length for anything. Cake. Jonathan Coulton. I shouldn’t have to justify this. Portal is the best game Valve has ever made, and I’m not even skeptical – Portal 2 will be the best game of all time. Yeah, it’s not right to preemptively judge a sequel like Portal 2 but fuck you, I’m a Valve fanboy here. Portal is the best thing ever made by a human. Live with it.
So... there you have it. My Top 10 videogames. What do you think? Are my tastes in games exquisite? Or do they make you want to spew up bile all over my well-worn joystick-happy thumbs so I no longer taint the gaming scene with my unjust opinions? Well, whatever stance you take, let me know - I love to hear from you guys. I must stress, regardless of what I said in the opening blurb? This is not the penultimate list. And it's far from permanent. My taste in games more or less fluctuates every day. But as far as I can see from here, this is the Top 10 I'm happy with. In a month's, or even a week's time, it'll probably be radically different, so don't complain when you respond about this - I want your opinions, not your fanboy "why isn't Modern Warfare 2 on the list ;-;" rants!
I also avoided multiplayer games like Team Fortress 2, which could easily make the Top 5 hands down, so don't complain about that either - I plan to do a Top 5 Multiplayer games sometime next month. Until then, I'm done with lists! Eheh. See you next time, folks!
Andrew Deavin has been playing games forever, but he has been judging games for only a few years. Is judging games the best way to enjoy them? In a way, no. But if you condemn most games to shit - the few that poke their head out of the pile will truly be the ones that blow you way. ...and that's worth all the disappointment in the world.