Since video game awards season is now upon us, I felt like it would a good time to look back and see which games I love most as a fan of the medium. This is just my personal list of top 5 games which I personally feel have pushed the medium forward throughout my years of playing games as well as making an enormous impact on me. They are not ranked by quality because each in its own way is a perfect experience that has had a profound impact on me so ranking them would be impossible.
5. Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater
Hideo Kojima’s 2004 masterpiece was one of the first games I ever played in my early teens. It knocked down an entire wall for me when I experienced it, showing me how cinematic a game could be, and it still holds up as the best Kojima game so far in my opinion. Set in the 1960s, thirty years before the original game, the game puts you in the boots of the series’ central antagonist, Big Boss. It twists your perception of him so you really understand why he did the things he did in previous installments. You also get to meet a young Revolver Ocelot who brings a lot of levity to the game while also providing an amazing boss battle. The game is filled with philosophical themes about nuclear war, absolute power, corruption, and so much more. Each character represents and embodies part of each of those themes in ways both subtle and unsubtle, mixed in with Kojima’s avant-garde storytelling. All together the game is so unique in both tone and style; you really will never play any other game like it. The boss battles are a highlight – some of the best in the series – and the surprising comicality of the boss battles just increases the enjoyment factor. Comical is the last thing that could be said about the last act though, because that is when all of the themes shine and the game slowly starts to show what it’s really about. When you defeat the final boss in a game you usually feel satisfied, right? Not in this game. Without giving away any spoilers, when you finish off the final boss you are left with a feeling of sadness and betrayal. Rather than getting a huge showdown with explosions you instead get a haunting feeling, as if you don’t want to fight but it is your duty. It’s really something special and I can’t speak highly enough about the whole experience. Snake Eater was recently ported to Xbox One so I’d highly recommend checking it out.
4. Red Dead Redemption 2
A prequel to the original Red Dead Redemption and probably the most recent game on the list, Rockstar’s latest is not only a technical marvel but has some of the most engaging storytelling I’ve seen in any entertainment medium. The game grabs you instantly from the start and never lets go. It makes you care about and invest in the tiniest of characters, sometimes even the NPCs you meet randomly around the world. Out of all the many perfections of the game, its biggest strengths are its atmosphere and writing. It’s a big, beautiful, yet unforgiving world you explore in the game and it’s always unpredictable and fun to sandbox in. The writing is some of the best work Rockstar has ever done, filled to the brim with 3-dimensional characters. It is truly everything you can ask for an open world game. Red Dead 2 has set a precedent for all games in this genre in the future to follow, which is going to lead to a lot of exciting new innovations in the industry and I really can’t wait for it. Overall, this is a must-play game and a huge leap forward for the next era of gaming, I cannot recommend it enough. If you want to know more about the game make sure to check my Red Dead Redemption 2 review.
3. Witcher 3
Monsters, swords, big battles, vampires, kings, witches, and more battles. That’s the best way to describe Witcher 3. If you love Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones and want to experience something similar in video game form, then this is the game for you. I personally never cared much about the franchise until early this year when I picked up the Game of the Year edition. I went in not expecting much, but it’s safe to say the game blew me away. It’s so full of deep lore and fantastical characters that it became really addicting really quick. Admittedly it hasn’t aged as well in terms of controls, and grinding for better gear is tedious, especially early on in the game. You level up very slowly outside the main quests. It can exhaust you for hours, and yet even with all those problems it is one of my favorite games of all time. It has deep, unique quests, main or otherwise. The world is so fun to play in that even when it’s a chore sometimes it’s still very rewarding. The DLCs are fun and unique; each area you travel to has its own feel, from dirty cities to kingdoms out of a fairy-tale. Character customization is robust and gives you a lot of options to play around with. You will find your Geralt to look very ragged at first, as most legendary equipment requires you to be at a certain level, but the grind is worth it because even as you grind you mostly find yourself enjoying all that the expansive world offers. Combat is smooth and satisfying; you always find yourself improvising with different signs and potions to get the upper hand. The story is really personal and well-written with a lot of emotional punches. Besides making me a fan of the series from now on, Witcher 3 is also one of the best if not the best RPG of all time.
2. The Last of us
I finally played The Last of Us when it was remastered for PS4 with absolutely no idea what this game was about – just that people loved it. It broke all my expectations, truly feeling like a movie. The game has elements of horror perfectly blended with third person shooter elements, and all the action feels like it’s there to move the story forward rather than tacked on. The actual gameplay is nothing fancy, although it gets the job done, but the primary force of the game is the writing and characters. The game instantly makes you love both of the main characters and will then just as quickly break your heart. Both Joel and Ellie are incredibly multi-layered, with an arc that feels natural and well-written – you could sit and watch these characters interact for hours. Nothing feels forced or shoehorned in which allows you to be invested in the story from the start. The graphics look amazing and still hold up to this day, especially in the remastered edition, and the voice acting is stellar. Heartfelt and chilling are the best ways to describe this gem of a game.
1. God of War (2018)
Those of you who have read my God Of War review already know how much I love this game, and here is where my own personal biases will be obvious. As a student of mythology, this game ticked off all the boxes of a true Norse epic for me in addition to offering some of the best hand-to-hand combat I’ve ever seen in the medium. It is a beautiful looking game too, with amazing mo-cap performances and acting for each character. Atreus in particular is a rare example of a game getting a child’s behavior and attitude right. Especially considering the fantastical things happening around him, he still manages to be childlike and fun to watch. Kratos himself is turned into a full three-dimensional character with flaws and insecurities, displaying an intriguing evolution from his previous outings. The score and the art design convey a grand operatic vibe to the Nordic backdrop that’s breathtaking at every turn. Overall, the game strikes an extremely delicate balance between elements of RPGS, open-world games, and story-driven games, any one of which could have gone wrong but Santa Monica Studios handled it all perfectly. It never feels like a chore and is always fun and exciting to play, with spectacular boss battles continuing to be a series strong point. It is not only one of the greatest exclusives to ever come for the PS4, but also one of the greatest games the medium has to offer.