Choosing my favourite games of the last 20 years isn’t difficult and it’s certainly not as subjective as The Top Ten Best Games Of All Time, because fortunately, we all have different tastes. Putting lists together of the best this and the best that always seems self-defeating to me because everyone will have a different view. Having said that, my criteria for favourite games would be:
- Stands the test of time
- An instant hook by way of the storyline and/or game mechanics
- Unlimited saves
- Doesn’t treat the gamer like a moron
Tomb Raider Series
It’s impossible to name just one Tomb Raider game as my favourite, but as a measure of how much I enjoy playing them, I’ve gone back to all of them several times since I first moved Lara Croft around using my keyboard in 1997. The first TR games, made by Core Design, had puzzle elements throughout each game, some of which were real head-scratchers and in those early days, before the Internet speeded things up, I’d buy printed magazine guides to help me along. Moving blocks to expose secret locations or switches, timed runs and jumps, and near impossible boss fights all added to the hours of fun that I’ve had playing Tomb Raider. If I were to single one of the series out, it would be Tomb Raider II, since it’s platforming in its purest form and it holds a huge nostalgic element for me.
As the series progressed, the games evolved through developer Crystal Dynamics, the story was rebooted in 2013 and very heavy emphasis was put on Lara’s relationship with her father and her emotional state– aspects which interest me not one bit. The last in the series is Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, a technological tour de force, but ultimately nowhere near gritty enough for my tastes, so I’m hoping that, in the next game, Lara returns doing what she does best– raiding tombs, solving puzzles and eliminating the bad guys without getting over-emotional about it all.
A friend recommended Half-Life to me back in 1998 when I’d built my first 3DFX-based Pentium II machine and I’ve been playing it ever since in all its incarnations, whether that be remakes such as Black Mesa, or mods and graphical updates. Half-Life is probably one of the few games I play where the storyline plays such a vital part in the gameplay as it drives the game forward seamlessly.
It’s also a first-person shooter in the purest sense, where you actually care about the protagonist, Gordon Freeman, and his post-disaster survival is key. Furthermore, like the early Tomb Raider games, checkpoints aren’t used, allowing the player to save whenever they like.
Yes, but can it run Crysis?
Crysis roared onto the scene in 2007 when many of us were still running Pentium 4 machines and to say the game was way ahead of its time would be an understatement. Even today, the graphics in Crysis require a beefy machine to run with all the bells and whistles turned on. But more than anything, it’s the free and open-world gameplay that captures the imagination in this game. Added to which, there’s a bizarre storyline where our special forces hero freefalls into North Korea and takes on the entire NKPA, but with an enhanced nano-suit capable of cloaking, thus making him invisible momentarily. The alien battles towards the end are the one letdown in an otherwise ground-breaking game.
There’s certainly mission linearity, but you don’t have to stick to the script, so hijacking vehicles and boats that are equipped with machine guns is par for the course. Explosions are epic, the range of weapons is mouth-watering, including rocket launchers, numerous machine-gun types, grenades and of course your bare hands. This is an FPS that stands the test of time, with unlimited saves and a level of graphical detail that sets it apart.
No One Lives Forever (NOLF)
Think Austin Powers meets The Avengers with lavish doses of kitsch 60s humour in a first-person shooter which is fondly remembered by fans since it was first launched in 2000. In most games today, I skip the cut-scenes, but in NOLF they’re so entertaining that you simply can’t pass them up. Cate Archer works for UNITY as a spy working for world peace and is pitted against HARM, an organisation bent on destruction and she has an arsenal of secret weapons, many disguised as makeup and other female accessories.
The voice acting, the music and the entire tone of the game all add up to one of the most entertaining FPS stealth games ever made. And if you can’t find the game anywhere due to the never-ending IP mystery, try here at Nolf Revival.
Chip’s Challenge is frustrating, infuriating, yet highly addictive and was released through Best Of Windows Entertainment Pack in 1994 on a floppy disk. I wasted hours on Chip’s and discovered that, as a way to exercise the mind, it really did the job and it’s loads of fun, in spite of all the hair-pulling. The only drawback is that it’s a 16-bit program and won’t run on 64-bit systems. However, I managed to get it running on Windows 3.11 through DOSBox Portable, which I will probably outline in a future article. Take a look:
Forza Horizon Series
Forza Horizon 3 is probably the most fun I’ve had on a PC. It’s an arcade racer set in Australia where you race against the game AI known as drivatars and win credits and XP points. But the fun is in the speed, the crazy crashes, the stunts, and the beautifully rendered cars and locations.
You can opt for cosmetic damage only or up the ante by deciding on simulated damage and watch your car degrade in real-time with every crash and collision.
Forza Motorsport 7 is where the racing gets more serious, with tracks such as Le Mans, Brands Hatch, Nurburgring, and Indianapolis Motor Speedway being just a handful of the 30 tracks to race around. I’m no racing expert, don’t use a wheel and pedals (keyboard only for me) but the races do get seriously competitive. I’ve almost reached the end of the game with only the endurance races to complete, so come one cold, rainy weekend, I may attempt that as they take several hours to complete.
Forza Horizon 4 was released in 2018 and although it’s also lots of fun and looks absolutely stunning it’s been ruined by social media content and downright silly costumes.
Grid Racing Series
Maybe not quite as polished as Forza Motorsport, Grid 2 and Grid Motorsport are furiously competitive with very aggressive AI that will stop at nothing to push you off the track. Many gamers complain about this, but I love it as it brings out those devil horns and makes you try that much harder to win the race, bit between your teeth.
Again, there’s a great selection of tracks and the seasonal competitions are well structured, pushing you to try harder and harder each race.
Need For Speed – Hot Pursuit
You sir, are a vehicular menace!…some traffic cop.
What could be more fun than driving around the countryside in a supercar and being chased by the cops? NFS has it all, added to which, your car can be equipped with speed spikes that you eject from the rear, giving you more points as you try to outrun the law.
Max Payne was released in 2001, the sequel in 2003 and the third installment in 2013. The first two games were very much in a film noir flavour, with our hero being a framed New York cop who is struck by tragedy and gets caught up in the seedy underworld of The Bronx. It’s a classic third-person shooter, very violent (maybe not by today’s standards) and you really get a feel for the underbelly of what the New York crime scene may have been like so many years ago. One of its unique features is bullet-time, where Max is able to slow down time, allowing him to kill his opponents as if they were almost standing still.
It’s a quite unique game (parts 1 & 2) which I still play from time to time, not being burdened by checkpoints and overly long cutscenes. The first two games also have some quirky little humorous touches, excellent voice acting and a simple save system with no checkpoints.
The Hitman series has been around since 2000 and is considered to be one the best stealth shooters around, so in the various Steam sales over the last year I picked up three of the games including the latest, Hitman 2.
It’s a sharp contrast from my usually furious first-person shooters, as you need to keep Agent 47 well hidden most of the time and to take advantage of disguises, poison drinks and silent takedowns, which is all part of the fun. The key is stealth, not leaving bodies lying around and blending in so you won’t be noticed. Hitmen don’t like to be noticed, you see.
When I mentioned that these games don’t treat the gamer like a moron, what I meant was, the games (apart from TR 2013) don’t include QTEs or quick-time events and largely, you can save when you like.
The Far Cry series is also one of my favourites, now in its 6th incarnation and I simply cannot omit Alien Isolation which is the scariest game I’ve ever played. I’m not sure why I get drawn to horror survival games, because deep down I don’t enjoy having the creeps. However, I’ve just started Resident Evil 2, so that genre must have something that attracts me.