10. BioShock – Irrational Games (Xbox 360, 2007)
BioShock has one of the most unique and well-realized worlds of any game. Rapture and the tale of its fall from utopia to dystopia are harrowing and had my full attention the whole time I was playing. The thing I didn’t realize about BioShock until near the end of the game was that Rapture was my favourite character in the game. Rapture has a personality and a speaks to the player in a meaningful way. A way more meaningful than any person in the game did. The first time I walked up to a Big Daddy and he showed absolutely no interest in me but was entirely focused on protecting this little girl running around in front of him I was so confused. The big bad enemy that we had seen in the trailers and in the previews was entirely optional to fight. Of course, I took a shot at him and was completely destroyed in seconds. But the fact that I was given a choice to fight the character who was on the cover of the freaking game is still so cool.
The audio logs that I found scattered throughout Rapture filled in the blanks about what was around me and really made me care about the place I was in. The characters are all engaging, complex explorations of the human experience in a world tainted by Ayn Rand’s toxic ideology. And you want to talk about a meaningful ending in a game, the last act of BioShock is something else. After giving me the somewhat lacklustre choices with what to do with the Little Sisters the ending I received reflected those decisions and feels true to how I played.
9. Batman: Arkham Asylum – Rocksteady Studios (PS3, 2009)
Batman has always been my favourite superhero. As a child, I loved Batman Begins and casually read the comics. But it wasn’t until I discovered Batman: Arkham Asylum at my Aunt’s house one Christmas that I truly fell in love with the character. The set up is predictable enough. I was not surprised at all when the Joker escaped Batman’s custody as he was being returned to the Asylum. Duh. What I was surprised by was how awesome it was to be Batman. Rocksteady perfected third-person fighting and captured exactly how I imagined it would feel to be the Batman. They perfected it so much that dozens of games afterwards would adopt this game’s style of combat.
Stealth in this game is exactly how I imagined it would be to take out cowering thugs from the shadows. These predator scenarios are my favourite part of the game and probably my favourite stealth in any game. There’s nothing quite like dropping down from a gargoyle and hanging an unsuspecting thug while watching the other enemies freak out. It’s a fantastic game that perfectly executes its vision that captures the experience of Batman in a way comics and movies never quite could for me.
8. Sid Meier’s Civilization IV – Firaxis Games (PC, 2005)
Civilization IV was one of the first times I ever played games with my Dad, which would eventually become a longstanding tradition. The complete span of recorded history at my fingertips, mine to mould and shape any way I want. A whole world to explore and conquer, the ability to rewrite history. That concept blew my 7-year old mind. I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours playing through recorded time as different world leaders aiming for different victories, while the only one I could seem to win was cultural.
I bought every single expansion for Civilization IV and played through each one exploring every single new unit, scenario, science and building. I’ve played every Civilization game since and while I’ve enjoyed them all none have captured as much of my time and love as Civilization IV. There’s something special about this turn based delight that won my adoration as a child and to this day.
7. INSIDE – Playdead (Xbox One, 2016)
On opposite ends of my list, both INSIDE and LIMBO bookend my gradual shift from AAA games towards indie games as my favourite kinds of video games. Playing LIMBO way back when was just dipping my toes into the possibilities of indie games. Playing INSIDE was like doing a cannonball into the endless, amazing opportunities indie games present. It’s an unblemished example of what indie games can and should strive to be.
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into INSIDE. I wasn’t exactly sure what just happened when I was done INSIDE. All I knew was for those couple hours I was absolutely mesmerized by this small boy’s adventure to the right of the screen, searching for an escape, belaboured by countless obstacles and facing insurmountable opposition. The subtle movements, complete lack of dialogue and music made this an experience I really needed to pay attentions to and I’m so glad I did.
6. Super Mario Galaxy – Nintendo (Wii, 2007)
The only other Mario game I had played a lot before Super Mario Galaxy was Super Mario 64. These two games are so different in setting but so similar in gameplay that it felt like talking to an old friend moving Mario through the dusty galaxy. The way that gravity comes into play in Super Mario Galaxy is incredible. Jumping off a ledge just to see Mario’s trajectory curve and land on a new planet is magical. The worlds I visited in this game were all wonderful. I never got tired of soaring through space hopping from planet to planet stomping goombas and manoeuvring obstacles. Super Mario Galaxy is exceptional.
5. Hotline Miami – Dennaton Games (PS3, 2012)
I’ve never done a hard drug but after playing Hotline Miami I’m pretty sure I get the gist of it. The heart pounding, head bobbing action of this impeccable arcade action game make it one of the most glorious experiences of my life. Pure, raw, perfect gameplay. Combos and chains, thrown guns and heads smashed into bathroom floors have been infused into my brain. I’ll never have an experience like my time playing Hotline Miami again, it was a come to Jesus moment for my relationship with video games. If Jesus was a cocaine fueled, blood splattering murder house set to pounding electronic dance music.
4. Night in the Woods – Infinite Fall (PS4, 2017)
Never has a game touched me on such an intimate level before Night in the Woods. Mae’s return to her rural hometown felt so real for me growing up in a small town myself. The shabby guys standing out front of the bar (or Timmies), the well-meaning church goers, the local gossip and most of all the personal relationships you develop with the people of your town. Sometimes by choice, and sometimes by the nature of living so close with so little to do.
As I said in my review, Mae’s friends are my favourite characters I’ve ever met in a story, game or otherwise. The genuine, heartfelt conversations between the others and Mae make for some of the most interesting, funny and heart-wrenching dialogue I’ve ever read. The scene with Angus and Mae looking at the stars broke me. I cried harder than I had in years… I’ll never forget the furry denizens of Possum Springs, I’ll always remember my time with them fondly.
3. Super Mario 64 – Nintendo (N64, 1996)
Super Mario 64 is the second video game I ever played. My Aunt lived with us when I was younger and she brought her N64 and some games. I would often sit in the basement in front of our old tube T.V. and sort through them, admiring the pictures on the cartridges. But the first one I ever put into the top and turned on was Super Mario 64. The first time Mario’s giant head popped up on my screen I was mesmerized. I spent hours just running around in front of the castle triple jumping and climbing trees. I was fascinated by how Mario moved and how I could adjust my camera to fit where I was going. Once I discovered that I could open doors I began gleefully moving through the castle, jumping off walls and butt slamming the tiled floor. My progression was slow but meaningful. It was exactly the kind of game I needed to play at such an early, inexperienced time in my life.
Super Mario 64 was seminal in teaching me how games worked and how to play them. I never beat Super Mario 64 but I spent enough hours with it to confidently say it is one of my absolute favourite games and one of the greatest games ever made. Its impact on the industry was enormous. It taught people how three-dimensional games would be made and it taught players how games should be explored. It showed everyone what the future of video games was and it was a hugely important step in me becoming the passionate fan of games I am today.
2. The Last of Us – Naughty Dog Inc. (PS3, 2013)
I hadn’t seen any trailers for The Last of Us when I got it. I purchased it on the Naughty Dog brand alone. I was such a big fan of the Uncharted trilogy that all I needed to know was the same studio was making this game. Little did I know just how special this game would be to me. At the time of this writing, I have beaten The Last of Us eight times. I know every inch of this game. I know every line before it’s said and what’s around every corner of every building. I’ve collected everything twice across PS3 and the Remastered version for PS4. I’ve done everything you can do in The Last of Us twice.
Joel and Ellie’s journey is my favourite story ever told in any medium: game, film, novel or otherwise. It’s personal and meaningful. It’s extraordinary. I was involved in this game in a way I have never been with any other game, and it’s clear from the community of passionate fans who’ve exploded around this game I’m not alone. The Last of Us is special and will go down in history as one of the greatest pieces of art ever crafted. I cannot express how excited I am for The Last of Us: Part II.
1. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus – Sucker Punch Productions (PS2, 2002)
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus was my first taste of video games. I don’t even remember how young I was but I was at my friend Tim’s house when I first played it. We were in his basement, he handed me his PS2 controller and said, “Check this out!” I watched an opening cinematic of a Raccoon sliding down rooftops and smashing through chimneys. It ended with him jumping into the night lit up by the moon. He landed on the next roof and the words “Press Start” appeared on the screen. I looked down at the controller having never used one before. Pressing start the Raccoon on my screen pulled out his binoculars and zoomed in on the police station. A nerdy, bespectacled Turtle in the corner of my screen gave me my instructions and the camera pulled back and I was now in control, although I didn’t know it.
“Move around!” Tim encouraged me. After fumbling for a time I discovered the left thumbstick allowed me to move the Raccoon around the roof. This was incredible. I spent a while just changing how far over I was pushing the thumb stick and watching Sly tip toe, then walk, and then sprint. “This is amazing! What is this?” I asked Tim. “It’s a video game!” he told me. That was my first encounter with the magical world of digital wonder. I trace my entire history with and passion for video games back to this moment, in Tim’s basement. This was when I knew that video games were going to be a big part of my life.
I’ve beaten Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus more times than I can count. I simply cannot express how much I love this game in words.
That’s it, my 100 favourite video games. For now, at least. Thank you so much for your interest and I would absolutely love to hear about what you think of my list, what you liked and didn’t, and what your favourite games are in the comments! Thanks for reading!