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Jan 06

For Love Of The Game Episode 4 – Games of the Decade (The Greats)

So we say goodbye to the year 2010 and in the last ten years we’ve had Xbox and PS2 fight it out over supremacy, Sega ducking out of the race with Dreamcast, Nintendo being flat last to rising to the top with Wii, PSP coming and basically going, the eminent rise of emulation, the next gen war between PS3 and 360 and many a brilliant game to distract us from our normal lives.

So which ones have made the bigger impact upon us? Here’s my list of the greats.

SHADOW OF THE COLLOSUS
Playstation 2 – 2005

This one’s a no-brainer. Anyone who doesn’t realize what this game meant to the PS2 and general console gaming obviously is too young to understand what real gameplay is. SotC was, and still to this day, is a marvel to behold. The crazy situation, which is never explained but you still understand what you are fighting for. The simple controls, that work perfectly. The sheer size of your enemies and the feeling of complete insignificance when they tower over you and the strange bittersweet feeling of toppling your collosus foe but not really knowing if they were the “bad guy” or if you had just slayed a wonderful creature of nature for your own selfish reasons. The complexity within its simplicity has known no equal and is one of the few PS2 games that holds up in the graphics department against the next gen consoles.

SHENMUE (series)
Dreamcast – 2000-2001

I still am yet to come across a game that has as much attention to detail in the game’s world than Shenmue 1. You can buy a can of Coke from a vending machine and read the ingredients on the can! Every person in the Japanese village had voice and they had their daily routine. You can literally follow someone from their house, to their work, watch them set up the store for the days business, talk and serve customers, pop out for smoke-o, close up, clean up, go do their own grocery shopping and head back home with their shopping bags, creepy though this may sound. And this is with every individual person in the game world. Then the seasons kick in. Rain, sunshine, play the game long enough and even snow will fall and build up. In the Autumn time, all the trees leaves change colour and fall. The game may have been a tad rigid for controls, but the way that world feels alive is second only to the matrix itself.

HALO (series)
Xbox/Xbox360 – 2002-2010

Halo is an undeniable legend. The first game launched a whole console single-handedly and was talk of the town for years to come. Halo 2 was the first console game to warrant a “special edition” that actually had extra content (some would argue that a gold coloured cartridge in 1986 makes a collectors edition – I disagree). Halo 2 brought console gaming to the internet and was a prime example of what Xbox Live could do. Subsequent sequels seem to have earnt some luke-warm responses but the legacy is forever etched in stone. Halo was a great game. Love them or hate them, you can not say they didn’t push forward the entire industry and helped make non-gamers realize that interactive entertainment is not just child’s play anymore, we’re taking over! Plus they’re responsible for the Red vs Blue series.

SILENT HILL 2 & SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES
Ps2/Wii – 2002/2010

The entire series does not deserve mention but I honestly think these 2 entrants are worthy contenders. Silent Hill 2 was one of the first games that had multiple endings, 7 in fact, that had genuine parameters that had to be met to get the different outcomes. These parameters were completely based on the kind of gamer you are and the ending changed accordingly to screw with your head as much as possible. The final epiphany in Silent Hill 2 (if played correctly) still stands as one of the greatest moments in my gaming life and truly changed my outlook on games forever. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is here because the series, as a whole, took a nose dive to shithouse quality and this crap covered Phoenix rose from the stinky ashes and showed everyone that the Wii was for adults too. And this was not a game that would have fared well on the bigger console brethren because the Wii’s exclusive abilities were used to their fullest. Another reason it’s here is for it’s chilling climax and psychological profile of the player during the credits.

DONKEY KONG COUNTRY RETURNS
Wii – 2010

Okay, I can hear you all saying I’m biased. And you’re probably right. But I have many reasons for this being here. First of all, it’s just freakin’ brilliant. Gameplay-wise, you would be hard pressed to find something that feels this right. Second of all, you have to think about how easily they could have stuffed this up. If retro studios had wanted a big money spinner, they would have exploited the old boss King K Rool and his beloved Kremlings and stuffed heaps of cheap cameos from the 15 or so different “Kongs” from all the other games and, most horridly, brought back that filthy “DK-Rap” bullshit from DK64. What they essentially did was serve up a plate of pure fun and challenge. No glitz and glamour. No self-praising crap. Nothing that would cheapen the experience in any way. It’s like they want the hardcore fans approval to go nuts on a sequel and I think it’s safe to say they have been given the green light across the board. Another thing with DKCR is that the controls are so simple. Ultimately there is 3 buttons (besides the remote waggle) and games that use 12 don’t even touch this greatness.

BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
Ps3/Xbox360 – 2008

To hell with people who heavily criticize a game for having an easy last boss fight. When I have been working my guy up like mad for 8 or 9 hours, suiting him up with all the gadgets and buffing his armour and attacks, I would like to know that time and effort has not gone to waste. I want to kick the big bad guys ass all over coz that’s what I’m supposed to do and the only reason I haven’t done it yet is because he has a million henchmen trying to stop me. Batman really changed things, hopefully forever. This game was made with a lot of love and if you ever wanted to feel like a bad-ass vigilante then here’s your simulator. The flowing combat system was revolutionary. One button. ONE BUTTON, and you could watch the best choreographed fight scene you’ve ever seen with a nice slow-mo on the final hit. Just to make you feel more like a bad-ass. All the elements were at work to create this game and I don’t think anyone really knew what they were in for before it came out. And we all love surprises!

HALF LIFE 2
PC – 2004

If you don’t think Half life 2 is responsible for major changes in the gaming industry, you’re an idiot, plain and simple. Half Life 2 was the first game to use the Source Engine, a powerful building block foundation to make interactive environments that recognized the laws of physics. Weight and gravity now had a place in gaming and it accelerated that step toward hyper reality so much faster. But not only was it’s engine impressive, but it’s voice acting and general story telling were leaps and bounds ahead of any of its rivals. Half Life 2 even had vehicle use that didn’t suck and for what was primarily a first person shooter, that was a big leap back then. This was the game that made people spend hundreds of dollars upgrading their computer just so they could play it before Crysis came along. Another thing, without HL2 we wouldn’t have PORTAL which didn’t make this list because I felt the true credit lay with it’s daddy.

GEARS OF WAR (series)
Xbox360 – 2006-2008

The titles for the 360’s launch were pretty but PC gamers had most of them also. Nothing really screamed “next gen” until Gears came about. This was the first truly eye-popping game that the 360 brought out and the cover system has been ripped off by pretty much every shooter game since. Every character had weight in the world, while so many games feel like the scale is only big because the camera is too damn close. Gears felt like if it was supposed to be 7 foot tall, that’s how big it would feel. Let’s not forget the lancer, a machine gun with a chainsaw for a bayonet, which led to some sadistic grins and hearty loud wails when plunged deep into the chest of thine enemies. This game also brought the Xbox Live online system into the light for the 360. The sequel gets it’s place here for the most important reason of any sequel = “if it ain’t broke, DON’T FIX IT!!!!”

GOD OF WAR (series)
Ps2/Ps3 – 2005/2007/2010

What a very quiet release the first God of War had when it came out. Within weeks, the game that had no marketing, no advertising, purely surviving off word of mouth, had turned into the absolute must have PS2 title. Some would argue that it’s the brutality but there really isn’t any blood in the game. The red orbs you collect fool you into thinking there’s a huge spray with every death. Some would say the environment puzzles helped but the Prince of Persia series has had them since the beginning and not seen this kind of success. The adult content? One off-camera sex scene. Upgradable weapons? Not exactly an original idea. What it was, was a marriage of all these traits with clever attention to level design and a good difficulty that never made you think a section was impossible. The story was engrossing and Kratos’ character never felt clear cut good or bad. The sequels never let the original down and the world of Kratos and Zeus and all the Olympus gods felt consistant and with a game this huge in popularity, that’s an easy road to stray from. God of War will go down in history as the best out-of-left-field game ever.

WORLD OF WARCRAFT
PC – 2004

12 million people pay approximately $18 every month to keep their account active on this game. 12 MILLION. That means around $216 MILLION a month and yet somehow, Activision bought the company. WoW made us realize the threat of video game addiction. We’ve all heard the crazy stories like campfire boogie man tales of people being shot, stabbed, divorced and even dying in their own filth over World of bloody Warcraft. That being said, it has survived this long with many attempted rivals falling at it’s feet because it’s so simple to get to grips with WoW. Anyone can start playing and find something for them. Even if it’s not going out and fighting or raiding, some people just work toward getting their gold up. I’ve even heard of people who just stay in the main city and dance. That’s all they do, dance. All day long. Then you have the people who suit up and raid the other side constantly. There is so much variety in the gameplay but it never feels deliberate. It’s like the template is there and you can do with it as you wish, like a box of Lego blocks.

THE SIMS (series)
It’s on every bloody thing! – 2000-2010

Ah, the game that blurred the gender gap for gaming. If you know a girl gamer, she most probably started on The Sims or was introduced to gaming through her friend who was into The Sims. Basically a virtual fish tank of people, The Sims took the world by storm and has been ported to every gaming platform, spawned countless expansions and sequels and has kept many gamers from direct sunlight. It’s appeal really comes from the same idea as living a life vicariously through a pet. You can dress them they way you wish you did, get them your ideal job, build the house of your dreams so they can live in it and furnish it the way you want. A toilet in the kitchen next to the bed by the fireplace? Why not?! The endless possibilities and imagination are what keeps this franchise alive and, let’s face it, it will be around for the next ten years too. Then the next after that.

UNCHARTED 2
Ps3 – 2009

Now the first Uncharted was, and still is, good but the second one was such a leap forward that it does leave the first so far behind that it’s just ridiculous. PS3 gamers finally got to see why the hell they stuck with their fat black clunky consoles: because nothing else could do this! The graphics are the first thing that hits you in the face, then the fluid animations of everything from you to the snow you’re kicking as you walk, to the motion blur of trees whipping by as you cling to the side of a speeding train. Then you realize “my god the action just never stops!” but it never feels unfair as the level design has been meticulously well thought out. Then the awesome voice acting makes you see that Nolan North has single-handedly made a gaming icon that can rival any Master Chief or Duke Nukem in only 2 games. His witty dialogue and loveable happy-go-UNlucky nature help reminisce of a time when there were only 3 Indiana Jones movies.

GRAND THEFT AUTO 3 and up
Ps2/Xbox/PC/Ps3/360 – 2001-2009

GTA is a game name that will forever carry a sea of hardcore, blood thristy, sadistic fans. GTA brought controversy to the game world and proved that it sold units even in the electronic industry. The Rockstar approach to game making: no holds barred. It seems strange to think of a time when having your way with a hooker and then beating her to death to get your money back was frowned upon. It seems to be quite common place today. GTA3 especially made other game makers pay attention with the way the game world was presented, the seamless change between third person shooter to high speed driving and, within this concept, it created it’s own genre, the sandbox game. There are many things to like and hate about GTA but every new release sells like hot cakes in Ethiopia so the fan base is ever growing. One other thing I’d like to point out is that Rockstar have said from the beginning that GTA is an adult game like Scarface is an adult movie and when you think about it, there aren’t that many adult series of games out there.

CALL OF DUTY (series)
Ps2/Xbox/PC/Ps3/360 – 2003-2010

Do I really need to explain why these games are here?! They make more money than the church and are played by more people than you could ever know in your whole life. Whether you are a Treyarch or Infinity Ward fan, you’ve played at least one of these games and most likely, loved the shit out of it. CoD4 Modern Warfare broke the mold where every war game was set in World War 2 and brought us into 20th century combat. CoD4 is still my favourite out of them all and I still enjoy playing it after all these years. The 2 top selling entertainment products of all time are both Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty Black Ops. I’m interested to see what will happen next because the company supposedly making the next Modern Warfare has only 9 or so employees now and Activision have already said it’ll be out november 2011…. hmmmm.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other fantastically great games that have chewed up my dwindling amount of “me” time. There are many honourable mentions like The Darkness and New Mario Bros on Wii and Dead Space that are good games but these ones are standouts that have made an impact on more than just the gamer. They have impacted a stereotype or made other companies sit up and pay attention. They transcend gamer preferences and make hardcore and casual gamers alike take notice. The few, the proud. GAME ON!

– Stubby