My Favorite Games of All Time

A few days ago, via Twitter, S+V EiC Mike Mettler posed a question on behalf of his nephew (allegedly) asking what was my favorite game of all time. I couldn’t pick just one, so I rattled off a few of my favorites.

But the creation of that short list got me thinking: Why were these games my favorites? What about them has stood the test of time (in my mind) over countless other titles over the years?

In other words, what makes a great game immortal?

In chronological order:

Space Rogue (Origin, 1989)

One commonality in the games on my list is it being the first of its kind, either ever, or at least the first of its kind I played. Space Rogue is clearly similar to the older Elite, but I had never even heard of Elite when I became infatuated with Space Rogue. Even now, 23 years later, and I still remember countless scenes and events from my tiny Apple IIc monitor. I had simply never played anything like it.

Half-Life (Sierra, 1998)

Half-Life’s blend of story, action, puzzles, and level design are still legendary (consider HL2 honorarily on my list as well). While first person shooters told a story to some extent before, it had largely been secondary to the action, or with cut scenes. HL told the story within the game. Such a compelling universe has rarely been achieved in gaming.

Counter-Strike (1999)

Initially a free mod for Half-Life, for years it was the most popular multi-player shooter, often having 3 times as many people playing online than all the other top popular shooters of the day combined. I’ve mentioned before, I spent more hours playing Counter-Strike my senior year than I did in class (and still got a 3.5 GPA thank you).

Deus Ex (Eidos, 2000)

One of the greatest games of all time. Still amazing 12 years on.

Tron 2.0 (Disney, 2003)

I think RPS summed up the game perfectly here.

What ties these together?

There’s probably something to be said about the fact that three of these games came out while I was in college, or shortly thereafter. Was this a high point in PC gaming, or was I just more impressionable at that age? That the youngest game on the list is 9 years old I explain by thinking newer games need time to ferment to be considered a true immortal. Portal, for instance, would certainly make it on a top 10 list now, and maybe in a few years top 5.

That there’s no console games on this list (again, there would be if it were a top 10). This is largely due to the fact that the PS3 and Xbox 360 were the first consoles I did any sort of real gaming on. Also, I think most console games are quite dull.

The games on this list though, do have a few other things in common, and I think that gives some insight into my psyche (maybe). For instance, there are four first person shooters and one space sim (a lost genre). The sci-fi nature of most isn’t surprising either, really, if you’ve ever read anything I’ve ever written.

But there are a lot of first-person shooters, there used to be a lot of space sims, and there are countless sci-fi games. Why these?

Uncontrollable Factors

Several on my list aren’t likely to make anyone else’s best-of list. Tron 2.0 for example, was a decent game, but it was more my love for the movie and composer that puts it on this list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great game, but in the pantheon of first person shooters, it’s far from the top.

So there are re the uncontrollable factors, factors separate from the actual game design, that influence the rankings of any favorites list. I have fond memories of Rise of the Triad, a footnote in the first person shooter realm, but it was the first game I recall playing multi-player with my friends in college. Not that Triad is worthy of being on the list, but it goes to show all the levels of subjectivity. But what about aspects that are less subjective?

Controllable Factors: The Blend

If I step back, I think what I’ve learned making this list, and looking at many other games I’ve loved/hated, is the power of the blend. None of the games on this list are stereotypical examples of their genre/category. Each has elements from other types of games, blended into one cohesive whole that is greater than its parts. As good as many of the Call of Duty-type games may be, none could elevate to a “favorite” spot (at least for me). They’re too simple. The same could be said for pure RPG games. I find them a little too boring. But combine a shooter with an RPG, and I’m in.

Deus Ex is probably the quintessential example of what I love in a video game. On one level, it’s an action shooter, on another, it’s got great RPG elements. On top of that, it’s infinitely flexible in game style, letting you play the entire game however you want (stealth, action, etc). Tie in an interesting story and a unique universe, and I’m in love. It’s the game getting out of the way, letting you experience the world as you want to, not how the game designers think you should.

Space Rogue did this blend as much as the technology could in those days. Tron 2.0 did it too, though certainly not as successfully. Half-Life, though lacking RPG elements, brought you so effortlessly into its world, it stands alone in its greatness.

And Counter-Strike? Well, I was really, really good at Counter-Strike. Its reward/punishment system was and is inherently addictive. An anomaly on this list perhaps, but in the end, the greatest games are the ones that let you escape to another reality, seamlessly. All of these games did that for me, in the most incredible and memorable way. That’s why they’re my favorites.

But that’s my story. What are your favorites, and why?