I didn’t manage to do all my research and other pre-blogging stuff in time for an actual blog entry this Sunday, so I decided to list my favorite video games of all time in this post. While I usually don’t like making such lists, I find them fun to read whenever other people have made them, so I suppose there’s no harm in it.
The order corresponds to my current feelings, and if you asked me tomorrow, some of them could have changed places – but that’s how it is with lists of favorites. Nonetheless, these 10 are probably my absolute Top 10, and not likely to change, except for the order. Enjoy!
#10: Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars 
I’ve been a fan of the C&C series since the first game back in 1995, and I especially loved the first Red Alert game. It wasn’t until 2007, however, that Electronic Arts released the game that would become the absolute pinnacle of the franchise, and real-time strategy, for me. I wasn’t even thinking about it at the time, but I played it so much that I eventually became really good, even though I only played against AI opponents at first. I did try my hand at multiplayer and did pretty well there too, but back then, I was a bit shy in the multiplayer scene so I dropped it pretty quick.
In my opinion, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is a near-perfect real-time strategy game (at least if you forget about the stupid Scrin that pretty much wreck the whole game). It has good balance and a nicely paced gameplay, built around simple economics and core mechanics, without restricting the player too much. I’ve spent dozens of hours with this game, and every now and then, still fire it up for a while to play a few missions.
– – – – – – – –
#9: StarCraft 
Still in the sphere of real-time strategy, Blizzard‘s StarCraft featured roughly as good gameplay mechanics as Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, but had one key thing that places it above the latter: a story that just won’t quit. I remember this as one of the few strategy games (or war-themed games) that I actually played just to hear more on the plot, and to see how everything ends. The ending of the Brood War expansion was shocking, to say the least, and the last couple of sentences in the epilogue still give me shivers. Of course, all that was blown to hell with the release of StarCraft II, which is a good game but totally undermined the lingering feeling that was left at the end of the first game.
Back when I was a kid, I actually bought StarCraft practically by accident. I had played Blizzard‘s WarCraft II before and thought it was a good game, one worth purchasing if I ever had a good deal on it. Then one day, in my local bookstore (which still used to carry computer games back then – they don’t anymore), I found a bundle with three games in it: WarCraft II, Diablo, and StarCraft. I basically bought the pack for WarCraft II, but ended up having dozens of hours of fun with Diablo and especially StarCraft, both of which were completely new to me.
– – – – – – – –
#8: Fallout: New Vegas 
I have always loved a good RPG, starting with JRPGs (mostly Final Fantasy), then proceeding to Baldur’s Gate and its like and finally ending up sampling all kinds of modern role-playing games. Of such games, there are only a couple that stand out for the better, and Fallout: New Vegas is definitely one of them. While its open game world doesn’t do anything unusual by itself, the amount of things to do, the believable mythology of the world and the way the player is immersed in everything is truly spectacular. I could have included one of the first to Fallout games in this list instead of New Vegas, but the honest truth is that to date, I must have spent tenfold the time I spent on the first two combined on this one. It doesn’t mean I love the classic games any less, but the fact remains that Fallout: New Vegas has earned this spot on my list.
When I think about Fallout: New Vegas, the first thing that comes to mind is some poor schmuck, alone in the wasteland trying to survive, and struck by some calamity to make his life even worse. This would be a quest-giving NPC, no one specific, but one of the ones who aren’t important or linked to anyone or anything of consequence, and you can just help them or leave them to their fate. Those people, and things like them, are what make Fallout such a fantastic franchise, and a unique mythology: seeing what people are doing and have done to survive. Furthermore, I love finding deserted places where someone has once been, and out of the clues left there deducing what must have happened to them. This is present in other games as well, but New Vegas is one of the ones where it’s done really well.
– – – – – – – –
#7: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island 
Yes, I picked the weird baby-themed sequel instead of the legendary first Super Mario World. The reason is simple: I’ve played this game much more, and felt much more joy with it than the previous game. I do think the first World was fantastic as well, but out of the two, Yoshi’s Island is the one that makes my list.
When I was playing this game as a child, I already recognized this game as something different than most games. For one, you control Yoshi who, unlike practically every other platformer or action game character out there, can not die from being hit. Instead, there’s always a chance to grab baby Mario before the Koopas get to him first. Besides that, the game’s music is invariably memorable, its levels are distinct, varying and challenging, and of course, the art style is simply unique. This remains one of the games that I believe I will always remember vividly, due to the impression it made on me when I first played it.
– – – – – – – –
#6: X-COM: Terror from the Deep 
Even though it’s the first one that is the classic, X-COM: Terror from the Deep holds a special place in my heart for the same reason a couple of other entries on this list do: This is the game that I used to play the most, compared to its related titles. Even though I’ve later played both UFO: Enemy Unknown and X-COM: Terror from the Deep pretty equally, this one still manages to stay just a bit above its predecessor.
Not only is the game’s visual atmosphere very threatening (the feeling of being at the bottom of an ocean is surprisingly immersive, considering the modest graphics), but it also features more memorable music, in my opinion. An exception to this might be the sort of Terminator-esque in-mission background music from the first one. Also, I find most of the alien species in the second game more interesting – I still haven’t seen anything quite as awesome as a Tasoth anywhere else, and the Lobsterman remains the absolute epitomy of a tough-as-nails, scary-as-hell type of enemy.
While a lot of people say Terror is simply a re-tint of the original with changes only in a few sprites and names of things, for me at least, it is sufficiently distinct from the first game. It is long, interesting, super difficult, and has given me genuine enjoyment over the years.
– – – – – – – –
#5: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night 
While any of the first three Castlevania games have what it takes to make the list, I decided to go with the one that is not just a classic but one that I’d readily play any day and have the most fun with. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, while released on the Sony PlayStation, definitely looks (and feels) like a SNES game, and that’s a good thing. It didn’t go with the new generation bandwagon and try to do something overly ambitious like a lot of games of its time – those games usually didn’t stand the test of time very well, but Symphony is as good today as it was 17 years ago.
Faithful to the originals in sense of gameplay, Symphony of the Night features a game world (or castle) that you will get to know pretty well as you play the game. Instead of beating stages one by one, you go criss-cross across the fairly large map over and over, finding power-ups and ways to progress, and then returning to already visited areas with passages that you couldn’t reach before. To some, that may sound tedious, but it is actually really fulfilling, and a little brain exercise to remember where you need to go is always good.
I love this game. I love the Castlevania series in total, but this game is the best there is. It might as well be higher up on the list, but the Top 5 are really hard to put in order.
– – – – – – – –
#4: Resident Evil (GameCube) 
These days it’s pretty common to see reboots and remakes of old games, and a lot of times, they are pretty good but may raise the question, “was this really necessary?” If there’s one game that epitomizes how a remake should be done, it’s Resident Evil. It improved on every single aspect of the original game, added new things, and in the end managed to feel like the same chilling experience from 6 years prior.
One of its most unique merits is that it is actually scary. It doesn’t just startle and shock you, or repulse you with graphic violence or disturbing images, but it invokes dread, with its subtle sound effects, spectacular lighting and shadow effects, and truly masterful camera angles. Throughout the game, it makes you feel tense, scared for the next time you will be scared, knowing it’s right around the corner. Once you get used to the game, it’s still thrilling to play, since it gives very little mercy – it’s a fairly difficult game, and that’s always commendable, especially in this day and age.
The GameCube remake of Resident Evil greatly improves the plot by adding new details and streamlining the existing storyline, and most importantly, using good voice actors and an actual, usable translation of the script. I know the original’s dialogue was legendary, but for a real, serious gaming experience, this one is the way to go, no question about it.
– – – – – – – –
#3: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind 
To me, the definition of an open-world role-playing game is this: Morrowind. I bought it after considering between it and Icewind Dale, and while the latter is also fantastic, I’m glad I picked Morrowind. It simply blew my mind: I had never seen such vastness in a game world, or such freedom to play as you wished.
Even though the graphics are outdated today, back when I was playing it it looked amazing. And to be honest, it still does: a little imagination is all it takes, along with the will to look past the graphical deficiencies, and Vvardenfell looks indescribably awesome. Of course, there are mods to do that for you – not a bad idea if you’re thinking about experiencing this masterpiece of a game for the first time, but feel iffy about the outdated graphics. The irritating combat can be overhauled with mods, as well.
My primary character, a Dark Elf Thief, explored Vvardenfell for what must have been several hundred hours. At a certain point, during the summer when I played this game the most, I literally got up around noon, played for probably 12-18 hours, slept until noon next day, and repeated. For several weeks. That’s how good this game is – I barely ate, I didn’t go outside, I did absolutely nothing else but played Morrowind. And the best thing is, there are still loads of locations I haven’t seen once.
– – – – – – – –
#2: Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker 
Here’s another case where I had some trouble picking which game from the franchise should I place on the list. The third game, and the first internationally known title, Metal Gear Solid, released in 1998, would have been an obvious choice, but I really wanted to focus on this one. I was awestruck when I played Peace Walker for the first time – with all its deviations from the titles that came before it, it was just immeasurably fun to play. I loved how CQC worked in it, I couldn’t get enough of recruiting new people for Mother Base, and I was genuinely trapped by the well-written, well-directed plot delivered through graphic novel style semi-static cutscenes with fantastic voice acting.
Metal Gear is by far my absolute number one favorite game franchise. In fact, it overwhelmingly beats any other type of franchise, as well – any movie, TV series, book, comic book, or anything else conceivable. The story is simply larger than life, its characters are invariably crafted with unique expertise, and each new entry in the series brings in something new, keeping the franchise progressing in terms of gameplay as well as story. Oh, and this is nearly the only video game franchise that has made me cry, and it has done it at least three times: I cried when Meryl died the first time I finished Metal Gear Solid, I cried when I heard The Best Is Yet to Come on the Heliport in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and I cried when at the end of the same game, Otacon tells Sunny that Snake “is very sick”, and he had to “go away to get better” – and at this time, it seemed apparent that Snake had shot himself at Arlington Cemetery. Which, by the way, is how it should have ended, and in my heart, it did. Big Boss never showed up (being dead and all), and Snake died. Sue me.
– – – – – – – –
#1: NetHack [1987 onwards]
My number 1 may seem like an oddity to some, but since around the time I first played NetHack in 2001 (if memory serves), it has been clear that it is the best game I have ever played, and the only game I would rate a pure 10/10. It took me a while to get decent at it, and I still don’t consider myself good – after 13 years, I still haven’t even beaten the game. I haven’t even made it halfway there – I’ve never found the stupid amulet. But this is a game that isn’t about beating it – it’s about the various journeys towards that goal, and their abrupt and merciless ends. While not the first game of its kind, to me, NetHack is where the roguelike genre was perfected, and that hasn’t been reached since – not even close.
The game itself is far too vast to describe. It is a hard game to get into, and an even harder game to beat, but once you learn the ropes, the possibilities are infinite. The game provides you with countless “war stories” to tell others, especially of some of your friends actually play NetHack. There are hundreds of little secrets, easter eggs and tactics to find out, and I know I’m still learning – once every while, I find out something about something that I didn’t know before, and on each run after that I will remember that.
So in short, there has never been a game more perfect than NetHack, and I can’t see how there could be – this game just can’t be improved any further.