- Category: Game On
- Created on Sunday, 01 September 2013 15:11
- Written by John Oliver Go
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1) Metroid Prime (2002)
Metroid Prime expertly translated the series' meticulous world design into a 3D space. No other conversion stuck to its 2D roots so reverently and yet come out of the gate being so revolutionary. If we are looking at how to translate almost 20 years of conception and invention, then Metroid Prime isn't just merely a homage to the past nor a lynchpin of modern game world creation - it is a bastion for the future to look up to. Because back in 2002, it was revelatory. But today, it is yet to be bettered.
2) Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Video games prior to Metal Gear Solid didn't know where to go. It was a new medium and developers had to keep inventing and carving out mechanics in a brave new world. This game, however, placated video games in the language of cinema and perhaps influenced the medium in more ways than expected. As games that were influenced by novels, music, and even TV shows were relegated to the niche corners of the industry, there was the Metal Gear Solid and the Hollywood-esque: a new narrative language that we are still shamefully using today.
3) Braid (2008)
Never has a game felt more cohesive yet disparate at the same time. The lush, painterly aesthetic makes it perhaps the most beautiful-looking game ever crafted, yet the rabbits are vampiric and the sad *thud* signaling the death of a human-faced goomba evokes something more sinister. The game interweaves its mechanics of time travel with its strange narrative so meticulously that you would somehow feelthat time travel doesn't just function so much as evoke regret, denial, and misunderstanding. But how does the game present its narrative? By reading books seemingly outside of the core interaction. In the end, you'll perhaps realize that this is autobiograpical of Jonathan Blow and the human condition. Braid tells us this: Never have we felt more cohesive yet disparate at the same time.
4) Bioshock Infinite (2013)
Jacques Derrida, the western philosopher, posited that it is impossible to deconstruct a worldview without being one with it. It is a violent hierarchy that is the greatest insight of Bioshock and its greatest failing. Edge Magazine, in its review of Bioshock (2007), mentioned that the first half is a parody of first-person shooters, and the second half (unable to differentiate its mechanics after the twist) is the game parodying itself. Bioshock Infinite sought to deconstruct the first person shooter as well, but seemingly concluded with an ending where, in Edge's terms, choice and consequence doesn't matter. So what's the point? In opposing the FPS worldview, the original Bioshock explicitly succumbed and was unable to deconstruct what it means to kill with merely the illusion of choice and consequence, and as such succeeded in proving its point - that we will always be steeped in this illusion.
In Bioshock Infinite, the game embraces the gleeful violence and began working towards a new FPS horizon where the more radical and explicit the illusion gets, the more engaging and fascinating the medium could become. Are we merely wasting our time playing games? Perhaps so; but we wouldn't have gotten such philosophical insights if we weren't in this violent medium in the first place. The great paradox of Bioshock Infinite is this: that we have to redundantly kill people to be wise to the benefits of redundancy.
5) Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)
The game is a masterclass of infinite replayability and the joys of playing in a room together. And who was in the room together? Friends. Family. Classmates. Your significant other. It was the game that eliminated most barriers to entry plaguing video games and suddenly began to cater to non-gamers years before the Wii would apply it as an overall blue ocean strategy and come out as the decisive winner of the current console race. It was the world's most charming toy box that most anyone could relate to while watching it in action, and the radical mayhem ensures that gamers still have their core loop intact. No split-screen, no linear arcade progression, just simple and unadulterated sit-down toy mashing. To this day, Smash Bros. is still the definitive multiplayer game in a world where online made everything single player with merely this game's illusion.
6) Starcraft II (2010)
In arguably all multiplayer games, it's 8 players trying to kill each other. In Starcraft, it's 8 players telling a story. The key ingredient of Starcraft is that it's unfathomably easy to tell what's going on despite all of the myriads of things that are going on at the same time. This inexplicably leads to emergent storytelling of the highest order, where choices that you make aren't for arbitrary moral dilemmas or scripted game-changers. Choices that you make will affect choices everyone else makes leading to a game where anything can happen and nothing could ever play the same way twice. And since you easily understand what's going on, you will shape the outcome of the story in a way that not only video games can, but in a way that only a game of Starcraft can.
7) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)
The game feels whimsical. It evokes the kind of magic that you felt as a child: of beautiful princesses and the search of ancient gods, of mystical creatures, a vast fantasy world, and a fairy tale worth remembering. At the heart of it all is the unabashed monomyth of a young boy finding the strength and courage to vanquish evil against all odds. It is a cliche that Twilight Princess embraces almost embarrassingly; and in its childlike naivete, it comes out all the richer, all the more memorable, all the more heartwarming. You will never forget saving a yeti couple's relationship while traversing through their haunted mansion, nor the sparkling, quaint evening you spend for the first time as a wolf. But more importantly, you won't forget how you saved the princess in a twilit field in a glorious sword fight to the death. Roger Ebert once said: "It's now what it's about. It's how it's about it." How ironic that it holds true for video games, and The Legend of Zelda is its personification (or should I say, gamification?).
8) Resident Evil 4 (2005)
The feeling is electric the first time, and equally so for the fifth. This is the game that finally surpassed film as the go-to genre for horror. Equally schlocky, gory and cheap in droves, why doesn't it feel as disposable as the horror movie that, for all intents and purposes, loses its power after the first time? For one, the game itself is a role-playing game where you get better over time and your guns get gleefully more exciting and empowering beyond the statistics. Blah blah blah Video game conventions. But the shock of the new, the way the game expertly coerces you into vicariously different panic situations elevates the game beyond whatever horror tropes we were thrown at since the first horror novellas were published. If horror is about suspenseful anticipation where characters squint little by little to their untimely end, this one drags you forward with wild abandon, while a chainsaw-wielding maniac nips at your toes. It is not terror. It is not suspense. It is more than abject panic as you ironically allow yourself to its whims until the very end. Whatever the feeling is, It is something new to entertainment that our vocabulary has yet to invent - and reciprocate for that matter.
9) Final Fantasy VI (1994)
The 2D adventure game was never as layered nor as innocently exhilarating as this, perhaps owing to the fact that this is the last hurrah for the 2D game space without irony, nostalgia, or the subversion that normally occupies this graphic style today. As an exercise in pure, unadulterated turn-based strategy set amidst a steampunk backdrop that would define Final Fantasy in its heyday, the 6th one proved to be the most unified, playfully diverse, and emotionally-stirring. People would never feel so attached to such primitive sprites when visuals would soon take a different turn for the realistic; but believability was never linked to realism in the first place. And in 1994 (at the dawn of the 3D revolution), despite all the graphical limitations working against it, Final Fantasy VI occupies a space in time that would prove to be, well, timeless.
10) Mass Effect (2007)
It's a giant standing on giants' shoulders. Drawing on its vast experience with the best of Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons, Bioware's centerpiece is a lush and wondrous science fiction epic with a backdrop even more enticing than the tale it masterfully tells. The Codex is genius, fleshing out a universe going beyond what normal entertainment would and sparking imagination that would help build what I would call the defining fictional universe of this current generation of video games. Posing as an epically structured intergalactic bounty hunt against a rogue alien, Mass Effect would have you look at the stars and be inspired at the stories that lie beyond - and makes you agent of them in one fell swoop.