In the wake of E3 and the plethora of announcements surrounding it, I only now began to ask myself what my favorite games were and, by extension, how they held up to this year’s E3. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely made a list before, but between 2013 and 2016, there’s been quite a few new additions to my library, and I think it’s only fair that I attempt to update that list considering how much time has passed: so here’s my (updated) list of the ten best games ever made. It’s worth noting that there are so many games I want to put on this list, and maybe I’ll tackle my top 20 so I won’t feel as bad about excluding some other games.
Honorable Mention: FEZ
I’m going to come out and say that I don’t hate indie games, but there’s very few that can really hold my interest and make me want to play more of them. Firewatch, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Outlast and Hotline Miami are some of the more recent examples I can think of that were genuinely great. But outside of that small handful, there’s not many others that can hold me for a long period of time. FEZ is a game that, if only for a brief second, broke that trend and made me see the raw potential of independently developing a game without a publisher’s demands hanging over your head. You play as a two-dimensional being named Gomez who learns that the world around him is breaking down and that there actually three more planes of reality beyond his 2D landscape. In order to save reality, you must collect cubes to restore the universe. It’s a game that refuses to take itself seriously, and has some fiendishly clever puzzles that all revolve around changing your perspective, literally and figuratively. The problem of a balcony that may be too high to reach can be solved by simply altering your plane of reality and finding a pair of platforms that allow for you to reach that higher platform. It’s almost impossible to describe in words without confusing someone, so maybe this will do a better job:
It’s a beautiful open world paired with an easygoing soundtrack and an easy to learn hard to master style of puzzles that anyone can enjoy. Bottom line: FEZ is just pure fun and it’s very hard to compete with that.
10: Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Assassin’s Creed has always been, and for the time being continues to be my favorite franchise of all time. Even at it’s absolute worst (Assassin’s Creed Unity) it’s never unredeemable and can provide one or two moments of sheer joy. The general consensus on Assassin’s Creed III was that while there were a couple things it got right, it never lived up to the promises it made of being THE defining open world game, set in The Revolutionary War with a protagonist that was complicated and endearing all at once. With a tutorial that lasted six hours (if you were a fast player), some incredibly disappointing side quests, and an ending that left a lot more questions than answers, it ended up being a victim of its own hype. But there were still some parts of the game that worked really well. The combat improved significantly from its predecessor Revelations, The American Frontier gave us the ability to run across the treetops, naval combat that was both intense and tactical, with places to travel to ranging from Rhode Island to the Caribbean, a home base that you could develop from a lonely mansion to a small village, and a treasure hunt that took you on a quest to find the hidden treasure of Captain Kidd. All in all, the game really had it’s moments. And the developers of Assassin’s Creed IV wisely looked at all the best parts of Assassin’s Creed III and threw them into IV.
Set in the beautiful West Indies and stretching all the way to Principe, Africa? Check. Naval combat? Check. Searching for a great pirate treasure? Check.
See, what makes Black Flag such an incredible game isn’t it’s gorgeous setting, the intense close combat or stealth, the 50+ islands you can visit, or the way you can leave the land and sail to the sea seamlessly. It’s the way all of these things work together that makes it such a great game. Nothing feels forced or shoved in, and beneath some stellar gameplay is a powerful story about the dangers of pursuing wealth above all else. Also, I’ll proudly admit that it’s the only game that made me shed a tear at the end. It really is the best Assassin’s Creed. Let’s not forget it’s got some incredible quotes too.
“No one honest has an easy life, Edward. And it’s aching for one that causes the most pain.”
9. Max Payne 3
Rockstar is just one of those developers that consistently makes great games, and Max Payne 3 is no exception.Despite the fact that Max Payne 2 was released in 2003 (Max Payne 3 was released in 2012, so that’s a good gap of time between sequels), Rockstar had no problem rejuvenating the franchise and making it look and play fantastic. 9 years after the events of Max Payne 2, the troubled former cop now spends his days popping pills and drowning his grief away in a bottle. All of that changes when an old friend finds Max sulking in a Hoboken bar and offers him a private security job for a wealthy Brazilian businessman, Rodrigo Branco. Moving from the cold streets of Hoboken to Sao Paulo is quite the climate change, but the transition actually works in the story’s favor. Max is a stranger in a strange land, unable to speak the language and unaccustomed to loud nightclubs and the fast-paced lifestyle of the rich and famous. When Rodrigo’s wife is kidnapped, Max’s quest to get her back drags him into a world of political conspiracy and corruption where nothing is as it seems. The neo-noir atmosphere paired with Max’s dark and fitting dialogue work well with the cinematic action set-pieces that stretch from massive sports arenas to pulse-pounding nightclubs. It’s a complicated game with twists and turns accompanied by a haunting soundtrack unlike any other. If it is the last Max Payne game, it ends on a very high note. Even if you don’t play video games, it’s worth watching a movie edit on Youtube for the enthralling dialogue and the jaw-dropping action.
8. Far Cry 3
What is the defintion of insanity? That’s one of the many questions Far Cry 3 intends to answer throughout its extensive 15 hour or so campaign, when it’s cast of rich and spoiled SoCal teens get kidnapped by pirates and stranded on a tropical island roughly off the coast of Thailand, it’s up to Jason Brody to save his friends and avenge the death of his brother. There’s just one problem: Jason’s never even fired a gun before, much less killed anyone. What makes Far Cry 3 such a fantastic game is how well every piece of the game fits together like a puzzle. Jason is trained by the Rakyat tribe in how to be a true warrior and overthrow the pirates occupying both islands in the game’s world. As the story progresses, Jason goes from loathing killing to relishing it, going so far as to laugh in joy as he sets pirates on fire with a flamethrower and torches their weed farms. Of course, there’s nothing to stop Jason either; there’s no government or laws that forbid what he does, and no one around him to warn him how close he’s circling to a pit of insanity. The more pirates you kill the more moves you can unlock to enhance your combat prowess, and all of this makes sense in the context of the story because Jason starts enjoying the act of killing so much that he naturally wants to become more proficient in slaughtering his foes. That’s not to say that that rescuing your friends is the only interesting thing about the game however. You’ll search for treasure hidden by an ancient Chinese empire, take assassination contracts, explore ancient ruins for hidden artifacts, scour the massive world for unsent letters from Japanese operatives stationed on the islands in WWII, and play poker if you’re interested in a smaller distraction.
However, the game’s real feat was in setting a standard for open world games with its innovative outposts system. See, enemies cover the map from head to toe, and the only way to change that is to take over the plethora of enemy outposts across the two islands. Each time you take over an outpost, it allows for the rebel forces to increase their patrols in that area and push back the pirates. The more you takeover, the safer the island becomes. While the concept in and of itself is unique enough, what really made the outposts fun was how they allowed and encouraged anyone to take it over the way they wanted it too. You could run in with an AK-47, have the enemies sound an alarm and put holes in anything that moves, or you could play without ever alerting anyone to your presence. You could conquer any outpost with nothing more than a recurve bow and a knife, and never let your enemies know of your presence until it’s too late. There’s even opportunities that allow you to never even set foot in an outpost. For instance, maybe the pirates have decided to keep a bear or a tiger locked up in a cage. Shoot off the lock with a sniper rifle or a bow and let the wild animal feast on it’s prey. To this day that same system is in just about every open world game, and we have Far Cry 3 to thank for that. Featuring some of the best villains of all time, a truly fantastic story, intense combat and takedowns to rival Rambo, and plenty of activities all set in a gorgeous tropical setting make Far Cry 3 a game that set a new standard very few have been able to successfully replicate since. This is one title not to be missed.
“We all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.” Those 12 words describe the Bioshock franchise in a nutshell.While I know some people hated the final entry in the trilogy (Bioshock: Infinite), I found it to be a very difficult toss-up between the two. At the end of the day though, there’s still something about the first entry that cements it as a classic well-loved by many. It’s the 1960s. You play as a man named Jack whose plane crashes over the Atlantic Ocean. In the middle of the ocean you find a lighthouse that takes you to what appears to be an underwater utopia, the city of Rapture. Built by Andrew Ryan, a man against all forms of government and gods, the city was designed as a place free from the rest of the world, but as soon as you enter it something feels wrong. It’s dark, water is pouring through cracks in the walls, debris and litter are scattered everywhere, and worst of all the citizens faces have become so deformed that they wear masks to hide how horrific they look. What happened to this wondrous place and why are questions that get answered down the line, but what sets Bioshock apart nearly ten years later is that it embraces how strange it is. DNA-altering plasmids give you the ability to shoot fire (among many other things) right from your fingertips. Zombified girls dubbed “Little Sisters” wander the world protected by tragic creatures named “Big Daddies.”
And yet with all of these weird sci-fi components thrown together, Bioshock still finds a way to tell a riveting story that touches on what it really means to be free from authority and what humanity looks like even at the bottom of the ocean. A large part of this is accomplished by choosing to either save or destroy the little sisters mentioned earlier. Upon defeating their big daddy you can choose whether or not to heal them or kill them for more power. What makes this mechanic so incredible is that 1) this was one of the first games to experiment with challenging the player morally. There were games that let you make good or bad decisions before, but there weren’t many that gave you a benefit to being a bad guy. Killing the little sisters would mean more power for your character, but saving them would prove that you wouldn’t be a monster like the rest of Rapture’s ilk and the choice you make has a major impact on the ending as well, which is not something the game warns you about. In the end, your choices really do make you. Though the game hasn’t aged well over the years, it’s story and message are timeless. Though I haven’t read it I’d recommend the book adaption for anyone not willing to dive into a reasonably aged game, which will undoubtedly look much better when the Bioshock collection releases this September.
6. Uncharted 4
I recently published a review on this game, and if you’d like a much more in-depth analysis, I’d recommend you check there. But to sum it all up, Uncharted 4 is currently in the lead for Game of the Year, without question. It’s the first game that looks and runs as beautifully as it does in the trailers and at press conferences, and makes sure it’s got something for every type of player. Puzzles? Check. Dynamic combat? Check. Beautiful locales across the globe? Check. An incredible story with a very powerful lesson? Check. Nathan Drake has been retired from treasure hunting for years, until his thought-to-be-dead brother Sam returns into Nathan’s life, and tempts Nate into one last hunt for the greatest pirate treasure of all time. It’s a story that has a lot to say about letting go and the consequences of leaving those closest to you behind. But the game doesn’t stop with a good story. As I mentioned earlier, Uncharted 4 plays beautifully. It brings back the cinematic close combat of previous entries and still manages to add in an all-new stealth system as well. The stealth system itself is a neat, if not groundbreaking addition to the game, but what makes it stand out is the ability to slip by entire waves of enemies unnoticed if you’re careful. Even the climbing sections of the game are improved with the ability to move Nate’s arm in the direction of the nearest ledge, which feels more real than jumping up entire cliff sides. The bottom line is there’s nothing tedious about the game, and it’s still fun to replay a chapter for the third or fourth time because it feels like a new experience each time you play. You can only see your favorite movie so many times before you know each twist and each punch. Uncharted 4 ensures that each time you play, it’s always a little bit different, and even when it’s the same, the dialogue and set-pieces are so well done, you couldn’t care less. It normally takes me months to decide if a game is worthy of my top ten list, but this game is such a masterpiece, it made it’s way to number six on the list in three. Make no mistake, this is not a game you want to miss out on.