And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels. I never even touched most of what the game had to offer, but ultimately I didn’t need to. The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself.
Soulcalibur is that rare sequel that supplants the original. The successor to 1995’s Soul Edge, Soulcalibur perfected the formula for 3D weapon-based fighting games. A smash-hit in arcades and the first “must-have” game for the Dreamcast system, Soulcalibur is remembered for its balance, imaginative characters, and smooth combat. In the flood of new fighting game franchises that were introduced in the mid-90s, Soulcalibur separated itself from the pack because the core gameplay mechanics were so strong. Any fighter – whether a ninja, pirate, knight, or warrior monk – could challenge any other and the outcome would depend on the skill of the player. There is a reason why this fantastical tale of swords and souls has spawned so many sequels.
2008's GTA 4 may have been the reason that I bought an Xbox 360, but RDR is the reason I kept it. Not only did I get completely lost in the massive single-player world, to the point where I'd started talking with a bit of a drawl because I was so used to hearing it, but it also drew me into online gaming unlike anything I'd played before. Sure, CoD was fun for a bit and racing games were okay, but never before had I so successfully crafted my own stories and adventures (with friends and strangers alike) than in Red Dead's Free Roam mode.
Most of all, it was scary – like, actually scary: an exploration of the depths of human depravity and the effects it has on the people and places around us that few video games have handled with such a disturbing grace and maturity. As a hardened horror fan who’s tough to frighten, I appreciate Silent Hill 2’s ability to stick with me even a decade later.
Civilization IV is a great turn-based strategy game on its own, but it wasn’t until the Beyond the Sword expansion that it became truly legendary, and the highlight of the 28-year-old Civilization series. The changes it makes are sweeping: it adds corporations, which add another religion-like layer, fleshes out the espionage system and victory conditions, and enhances the AI to put up a great fight.
Super Metroid’s minimalistic environmental storytelling set a bar, way back in 1994, that I believe has still yet to be eclipsed. The planet Zebes is atmospheric, oppressive, and extremely lethal. At first glance, there doesn’t even appear to be any story. But then you start to look more closely. The parasite-riddled dead soldier outside of an early boss room. The crashed, half-submerged alien spaceship that may or may not be haunted. The techno lair of the space pirates hiding under your nose the entire game. It’s brilliant and confident. It doesn’t explain to you what each new area is all about. It’s all there, for you to figure out (or ignore) on your own.
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