Favouritest Games in the Whole Wide World by Matei "Ambient.Impact" Stanca

Introduction

This is where I get to stand on a soap box and tell you what I think are the absolute best games that I've ever played. Clearly, I haven't played everything out there, so if I'm missing your favourite, it's entirely possible I don't consider it the gaming equivalent of having a cage full of starving and rabid rats attached to my face - I just haven't gotten around to it or no one's recommended it to me. Or I just think it's downright crap. Ooh, crippling uncertainty!

Now then: I'm biased. You've been warned. After selling my SNES and, later, my N64 (what the hell was I thinking?!), I jumped on the PC bandwagon and haven't looked back, so my nominations are horribly skewed in that direction. When I'm not playing extremely clever indie contraptions, I'm getting lost in exquisitely realized worlds, great gameplay, and well-written, well-executed stories. I tend to go for the more mature, cerebral stuff, and not necessarily the latest hyped up release. I thoroughly enjoy games that don't focus solely on action, but break it up with things like puzzle-solving, exploration, and exposition. If I just have to knock off baddies repeatedly, I don't feel like I'm using my brain for what it was meant for. I don't have a favourite genre, although I do tend to play a bit more first person shooters than others. I like RPGs, RTSs, platformers, adventure games, and even a couple of racing games, with one or two flight sims thrown in (the pew-pew kind, not the "this is your captain speaking" kind). Besides my love for single-player experiences, I've also been known to enjoy a few multiplayer games, such as Counter-Strike (way back in the early days, when it was an unofficial mod for Half-Life), StarCraft, and currently, Left 4 Dead. I tend to lean heavily towards team-based games, where I can work with other people, as opposed to a deathmatch environment, as I'm not an overly competitive player by nature.

A final word: I won't lie, a fair number of these nominations are influenced by a healthy amount of nostalgia, but that's offset by a level of quality that's stood the abrasive effect of time. While some of them are clearly outdated visually, their gameplay, atmosphere, and stories hold up well to this day. If you only play the latest and greatest, and consider the older stuff boring and meaningless, then this list is obviously not for you.

Games

So here we have it, the meat of all of this. The list is somewhat (but not entirely) ordered in terms of how near and dear to my heart the games are. Basically, the top are the most mind-shattering games I've played, but don't ignore something because it's lower down - we're still talking about quality stuff all the way to the bottom.

Half-Life series

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Fallout series

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Portal
By Valve (Portal on Wikipedia)

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Left 4 Dead

This isn't your usual co-op. Your teammates aren't optional, they aren't just additional guns to make the game a little bit easier - they make the game. The developers have managed to create the most refined co-op experience I've ever played. Not only will the "common infected" (28 Days Later-style virus-driven zombies) effectively mob you and beat you to death through their psychotic rage (they're not really interested in brains, unless it involves punching you there) if you're alone, but the creatively creepy "special infected" are almost all designed around the premise of completely disabling a player with their unique attacks, requiring help from another player. This might sound bad on paper, probably annoying as hell, but if you play with friends, it's a very rewarding experience. It becomes an interesting give-and-take relationship, a very social experience compared to other team-based games.

I've rattled on about what I like best about Left 4 Dead, but I don't want to completely ignore all the other aspects that make it a great game. There's the high amount of polish that goes into just about all Valve games. There's the fact that the characters (especially the four survivors) are amoung the most realistic in the industry, safely inhabiting the far side of the uncanny valley. Then there's the ridiculously dynamic nature of the game due to what Valve has dubbed the AI Director, a system that manages enemy spawns, health pickups, and ammo locations based on your performance up to that point. What this does is create massive replayability and unpredictability in what would otherwise be a weekend rental (the four campaigns only last about 1-2 hours in length). And I can't leave out the music system, which blends in various tracks to create the mood of the game, while giving musical cues, much like a movie, when something bad is about to happen, such as a horde of common infected approaching or a special infected spawning somewhere ahead (or behind), each with a unique sound (this becomes a big gameplay element - knowing what's going to attack you around a corner is a lifesaver). And last but not least, because of the high level of moddability of Valve's games, there's a growing number of high quality campaigns being created by the community for the PC version, such as Dead Before Dawn (a recreation of the Crossroads Mall from Dawn of the Dead), I Hate Mountains, and Death Aboard.

Deus Ex
By Ion Storm (Deus Ex on Wikipedia)

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Anachronox
By Ion Storm (Anachronox on Wikipedia)

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Banjo-Kazooie
By Rare (Banjo-Kazooie on Wikipedia)

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
By Nintendo (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Wikipedia)

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Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
By Nintendo (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island on Wikipedia)

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Super Mario World
By Nintendo (Super Mario World on Wikipedia)

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Donkey Kong Country series
By Rare (Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest, Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Double Trouble!)

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StarCraft
By Blizzard Entertainment (StarCraft on Wikipedia)

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Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance
By Totally Games (Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance on Wikipedia)

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Psychonauts
By Double Fine Productions (Psychonauts on Wikipedia)

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System Shock 2
By Irrational Games & Looking Glass Studios (System Shock 2 on Wikipedia)

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BioShock
By 2K Boston/2K Australia (BioShock on Wikipedia)

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Chrono Trigger
By Square (Chrono Trigger on Wikipedia)

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Super Metroid
By Nintendo (Super Metroid on Wikipedia)

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Conker's Bad Fur Day
By Rare (Conker's Bad Fur Day on Wikipedia)

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Max Payne series
By Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne)

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Homeworld series
By Relic Entertainment (Homeworld), Barking Dog Studios (Homeworld: Cataclysm)

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World of Goo
By 2D Boy (World of Goo on Wikipedia)

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Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness
By Hothead Games (Penny Arcade Adventures: OtRSPoD on Wikipedia)

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Sam & Max episodes
By Telltale Games (Sam & Max Save the World (a.k.a. Season One), Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space (a.k.a. Season Two))

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American McGee's Alice
By Rogue Entertainment (American McGee's Alice on Wikipedia)

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No One Lives Forever
By Monolith Productions (No One Lives Forever on Wikipedia)

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