Part two? Part two? Oh my goodness, you're totally lost, aren't you? Part one's right here, and it ended with this really rad cliffhanger with a car chase and everything. Basically, you have to read it, or part two won't make a lick of sense to you. So get to it. Or try your luck with part two. But you'd have to be, like, some kind of mega-genius to even begin to comprehend the complexities of an ordered list like this one without proper introduction.
“Eh. Metal Gear’s all right, I guess.”
No one has ever said this. You either love the zany stealth franchise and all its fat men on rollerskates, nanotech vampires, and cyborg ninjas -- despite their tendency to speak in cryptic psycho-babble for 45 minutes at a time – or you completely reject it as the human body would an amputated arm that occasionally takes control of your brain and tries to conquer the world. Point is, Metal Gear’s crazy, Japanese, and crazy.
And I love it.
Metal Gear Solid 3, in my opinion, is the height of Snake and co.’s adventures, with creator Hideo Kojima’s eccentricities toned down just enough to create an emotionally captivating tale that’s still unabashedly strange – but not mind-bogglingly so. The game mixed tense “hide in plain sight” stealth sections, battles with everything from masochistic bee men to ancient wheelchair-bound snipers, and a backstab-heavy plot that’d make even James Bond’s head spin to create a balanced concoction of Kojima’s mad science that actually didn’t eventually explode in players’ faces. (The game's bosses, however, did.) After Metal Gear Solid 2’s many missteps, I kept waiting for MGS3 to take a colossal leap off the deep end, but it never did. Instead, it upped the ante at a near-perfect pace, culminating in my favorite boss fight of all time.
The battle with “The End,” as the aforementioned seemingly comatose oldster was known, absolutely blew me away. In a single confrontation, I was forced to make use of nearly every skill Metal Gear Solid had ever taught me. He used a sniper rifle, so naturally, I evaded, gave him the slip, and tip-toed until I was right behind him. Metal Gear Stealth 101, in other words. But then he did something that surprised me: he sprinted like a six-legged cheetah. On his brittle old stick-legs. So much for the wheelchair.
Eventually, after ducking Lord only knows how many shots and scrambling into the underbrush every time I saw the sun glint off anything even resembling a sniper scope, I took him by surprise again. But this time, I went for broke. I hastily fumbled for a grenade, pulled the pin, and chucked it – just in time to see that The End had the same idea. Two tree-rattling explosions later, he was covered in leaves and sprawled out on the ground, and I was thanking my lucky stars that his was only a flash grenade.
And then I took a breath for the first time in an hour. Epic.
I’ve written more about Fallout 3 than any other single game in history. Of everything in life, this is the thing of which I am most certain. Simply put, Fallout 3 is everything I’ve ever wanted from a videogame. Well, so long as you steer clear of the main quest, anyway.
The game world is the sort of thing I’ve dreamed of since I was a child. Not the “earth destroyed by bombs” part, mind you, but the sprawling world full of eccentric characters and tiny nooks and crannies that – at first – seemed innocuous enough, but actually teemed with all the carrots and sticks an adventurer could ever want. Fallout 3’s world was its main character, and everywhere I looked, I saw different facets of its personality. For a couple weeks, I toured the world five hours at a time, and each time, I had the privilege of sinking my senses into something strange and new. Everywhere I looked – from dank caves to abandoned office buildings – I found treasure troves of information. I’d spend hours hunting for clues, wondering “What was this place like before the bomb dropped?,” “Why are these people dead?” or “What kind of person used to live here?” Rarely did Fallout 3 leave my questions unanswered.
Fallout 3 reveled in the idea that it’s not the destination that counts; rather, it’s how you get there that matters. It single-handedly brought the wide-eyed, slack-jawed magic back to videogames that’d gone missing after I came to understand the simple 1’s and 0’s that actually comprise videogame worlds. If I had to pick a favorite game of all time, right now, it’d probably be Fallout 3.
I’m actually more of a Rock Band kind of guy, myself, but Guitar Hero set this rolling stone into motion, so I’m giving credit where credit’s due. Like it or not, Guitar Hero was one of the most significant gaming events of the last decade – in part giving rise to the casual revolution, and contributing greatly to one of its central tenets: looking utterly ridiculous. But despite the goofy-looking plastic instruments and most players’ tendency to stand completely still and stare directly at the screen as though its scrolling notes were oncoming 18-wheelers, the game’s incredibly fun.
Sure, it looks silly, but I’ll be damned if I don’t feel like an audience-awing, camera-punching rockstar after nailing a tough solo. On top of that, Guitar Hero took huge strides in broadening my then-meager musical horizons, and also inspired me to pick up an actual guitar in an (admittedly sad) attempt to unlock its melodic mysteries. So yes, I suck at guitar, but Guitar Hero got me interested in the wider world of music, and I’m forever thankful for that.
There’s no way to do this without sounding incredibly cheesy, so I’m just gonna throw it out there: The Darkness is my darkhorse pick on this list. Geddit? Yeah. Anyway, despite initially being born in the shadow of Starbreeze’s previous (and excellent) game – The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay – The Darkness was its own creature; far-removed from Riddick, sure, but arguably better for it. As far as videogame stories go, The Darkness was incredibly forward-thinking, conjuring up some of the most memorable scenes in all of gaming.
Those of you who’ve followed this column in the past will likely remember the scene in which tough-as-nails mafia bad boy Jackie Estacado and his girlfriend spend an evening together watching old movies. In real time. If you so choose, you can sit curled up on a dusty, coming-apart-at-the-seams sofa watching a grainy version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” for more than an hour. And it’s brilliant. Eventually, Jackie’s girlfriend falls asleep on his shoulder, and you can choose to stay or leave. It’s up to you. I stayed. In my opinion, this is the most authentic instance of romance ever conveyed in a videogame. It’s simple and mundane, as romance often is. And when the game’s story takes a turn for the tragic, it stokes your emotional fires that much more.
Of course, the first-person person-shooting and creepy Darkness powers were equal parts brutal and thrilling, but The Darkness is one of the few games I’ll remember not for the action, but for an uneventful hour of downtime that I willingly endured. And, better still, enjoyed.
Crackdown’s an odd duck among today’s overproduced, overindulgently cinematic triple-A videogames. Even Microsoft knew this, so – in an act that proved its total lack of faith – the publisher bundled Crackdown with Halo 3’s public beta test, delicious bait meant to disguise the proverbial hook. For my money, though, Crackdown stole the show. Halo 3 was nice and all, but Crackdown’s superheroic-antics and addictive upgrade system could have actually stabbed me in the mouth – as hooks are wont to do – and I still would have kept on coming back for more.
Crackdown was refreshing precisely because it chose to eschew cut-scenes, characterization, or – indeed – a plot in favor of simply laying down a few basic laws and letting you run wild. Time and time again, its gameplay conceits defied reason and logic in favor of fun. Instead of trying to be something that it wasn’t, Crackdown was a videogame, pure and simple. While many modern videogames get complex novelizations and things of the like, if Crackdown were a book, it’d be one page long, and it’d read, “Jumping high is hella fun.”
So yeah. It’d be a pretty horrible book.
Dragon Age made me do things in a videogame that I’ve never done before. Ridiculous things. Things that I’d rather not talk about for fear of being approached on the street and summarily laughed at, then hung from a flagpole. But I’m going to tell you anyway, because I’m making a point.
At one point during my time with the game, I weighed my options and ultimately decided to delete my then-current save file in favor of one from four hours before. Four hours of my life wasted, with the knowledge that I’d have to spend another four hours doing everything nearly the same way all over again. And why, you ask, would I commit such a cardinal sin against time, progress, and common sense? Because I regretted a choice I’d made concerning one of my party members, and I was so heartbroken that I couldn’t bear to continue without rectifying the problem.
Dragon Age’s cast of characters was so well developed that even rubbing one of them the wrong way crushed me under a mountain of actual, honest-to-God regret. And occasionally – as in the above situation – grief. The game’s genius, then, lies in its knowledge of your bond with its characters, and its manipulations of your emotions based on that. Party members in Dragon Age aren’t blindly loyal drones. In previous BioWare games, party members would buck on occasion, but after a bit of smooth-talking, they’d once again trot along happily in your wake. Dragon Age, meanwhile, uses its incredibly memorable cast as the impetus for many of the toughest choices you’ll have to make over the course of the game.
I’ll admit it: Dragon Age made me cry. And I loved it.
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Where’s Deus Ex? Or Classic Videogame X, for that matter? Well, I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t played those. I really, really, really want to, but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Therefore, all of my opinions are wrong. As is this list. Yes – that’s right – my opinions are wrong. Just like all other opinions that conflict with your own. So why not let me know about your favorite games of the decade? Preferably without calling my intelligence/integrity into question every other sentence, since I’ve already done that myself. Thanks for reading!