Video Gaming goes hand in hand with technology. Many graphical and processiong power advancements the gaming industry develops become more mainstream in the rest of the tech world as technology is diffused across industries. Most avid gamers have their favorite games that they have played. The list below contains my favorite console games that I’ve played throughout my life, and rationales for why I think they should be considered amongst the best in the medium.
1.) Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Red Dead Redemption was the spiritual successor of the relatively obscure Red Dead Revolver, and a reboot of the then nasscient Red Dead series. Rockstar took a bunch of inspiration from their flagship series, Grand Theft Auto when developing Red Dead Redemption. The gameplay and mechanics are almost identical to those of GTA IV, but while the Grand Theft Auto series is a satirical mirror of modern society, Red Dead Redemption was a hauntingly beautiful yet serious gritty view of life and survival in the old Wild West. Consequently, the violence that causes the Grand Theft Auto series much criticism as a glorification of crime actually plays out much differently as grit and survival in the harsh world of Edwardian era Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Set in 1911, there’s a sorrowful and melancholy theme of survival in a traditional way of life clashing with modernity and technical advancements that, much like the Grand Theft Auto series, helps draw a lens of sorts onto the prevalent themes in society today of advancements in technology clashing with the culture, traditions and laws of our age. While the gameplay, detail and open world setting of Red Dead Redemption were revolutionary and quite advance when the game was first released in 2010, what really sets Red Dead Redemption apart was the great story it told. I won’t give away any spoilers, but the plot, story and cinematics were reminiscent of the inspirational and renown works of Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and John Ford in the Western Genre, and despite being a video game, Red Dead Redemption could probably compete with any of their works as one of the best narratives in the Western genre.
2.) Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009)
While later entries in the Assassin’s Creed series, like AC Black Flag and AC Origins, might be considered technically more impressive than AC 2, the series owes it’s success to Assassin’s Creed 2 and the rise of one of gaming’s greatest protagonist, Ezio Auditore da Firenze. The open world environment, classic story of redemption and revenge, impressively scored soundtrack by Jesper Kyd, and well developed characters all were great contributors to the success of Assassin’s Creed 2, but what really made this a title that I enjoyed was the beautifully realized setting. AC 2 transported the player into a beautifully rendered and well researched world of Renaissance Italy, with digital recreations of 1470’s Florence and Venice allowing you to explore and feel these great world cities in a sandbox environment as they conceivable existed in their nadir at the apex of the Venetian Empire and Florentine Republics’ power and influence. After the glitchy, frustrating and not fully realized potential that the first Assassin’s Creed demonstrated with it’s take on 3rd Crusade era Levant, AC 2 improved on what worked, and vastly rehauled what didn’t in order to make an awe inspiring entry that brought in many new fans. It was a make or break moment for what is now Ubisoft’s flagship franchise (and Prince of Persia spinoff) that Ubisoft got just right in order to make the series and allow it to grow into the cultural force that it is in today’s world of video gaming.
3.) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
I may be a bit nostalgic with this title given that it was the very first console game that I ever owned, but Ocarina of Time is generally ranked as the best video game ever produced. Two decades after it’s release, some of the groundbreaking features and innovations are still permeating and influencing games released today. Target-locking and context-sensative buttons, both features that are quite ubiquitous in most action/adventure titles today were both introduced in Ocarina of Time. The story, open world environment, and character development were all also revolutionary for the time and the game engine pushed the envelope of what the Nintendo 64 was capable of handling. Not only has this title single handedly shaped the themes, stories, characters and tropes of all subsequent entries in the Zelda series, it gave Nintendo a franchise not containing the word’s ‘Super’ or ‘Mario’ in the title to be able to market as a flagship for future consoles. The 3D, open world is one of the single greatest influences on the video gaming world, while the prevalence of the Ocarina instrument that Link uses led to a cult popularity for the artistry of Ocarina music in the early 2000s.
4.) Halo 2 (2004)
In almost all Sci-Fi trilogies, the second entry is always the best entry. Same goes for Bungie’s original Halo trilogy. Despite being a first person shoot-em up, there’s surprisingly well thought out character and story development with a great soundtrack to boot. Halo 2 marks the introduction of the Arbiter, a 26th century leader of the alien Elite species leading the Elites in rebellion against the Covenant’s theocratic leaders and eventually joining Master Chief and the UNSC (a unified government of all human planets and colonies) in order to thwart a common enemy in Gravemind and the Flood. There are beautifully imagined battles, like the Covenant siege of the UNSC capital New Mombasa, Kenya Province. The game also builds on the previous entry, as the Elites, Covenant, Flood and UNSC compete for dominance in the Milky Way galaxy while seeking the elusive Ark that can control the ancient Halo installations, which are the eponymous planetary sized weapons of mass destruction that grant the controllers power over the cosmos. Also, like most great second entries in sci-fi trilogies, there’s a surprising cliffhanger that leaves the player clamoring for Halo 3.
5.) NBA Jam (1993)
While definitely more of a throwback to the era of arcade style games, NBA Jam was one of the most influential video games in the sporting genre. Playing 2v2 basketball with rosters from the 1992-1993 NBA season, they conspicously did not have Michael Jordan in the game, but it was still almost unfair to play with that vaunted Bulls roster since Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were about as dominant as Utah’s Karl Malone and John Stockton in this game. Many popular sporting phrases originated from NBA Jam, with terms like “He’s On Fire”, “Heating Up”, “Boom Shaka Laka”, “Razzle Dazzle”, “From Downtown” and my personal favorite, “He’s got his degree from dunking on U”. Indeed, NBA Jam may be the video game that has contributed the most to sporting lexicon. Also, it was chalk full of easter eggs and hidden cheat codes. By entering the right initials or pressing the right button combination, you could unlock secret game modes like the slippery floor mode, a full separate battle tank game, or a slew of hidden characters to play with, including then president Bill Clinton, then first lady Hillary Clinton, funk musician George Clinton, the late Beastie Boys frontman Adam Yauch, the longtime Crowned Prince of England Charles, Mortal Kombat’s Reptile, the game’s play-by-play announcer Marv Albert, the mysterious young boy Air Dog, WNBA legend Carol Blazejowski, the annoying Toasty guy from Mortal Kombat (in reality a game developer for both NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat named Dan Forden), or team specific unlockable characters like Benny the Bull mascot for Chicago, then Bronco’s QB John Elway for the Denver Nuggets, or Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air character for the Philadelphia 76ers. Truly an arcade style favorite that grew the success of the inhome video game console.