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Top 50 Games of the Ever 2009

Once a year on this blog, I lose myself in the banality of lists.  These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things 2009 is still to follow, perhaps during a hungover tomorrow or something, but for now you get to see me working out where I stand on games at this very moment in time.

It’s my Top 50 Games of the Ever.  Last time I did this, over at my now infrequoblog at HonestGamers, was during the summer of 2008. I hope to keep these as annual things around new year now.  It strikes me that lists like this are great in two different formats.  They’re great for large-scale concensus stuff (ie. Readers’ Top 100), and they’re great as personal snapshots.  This, clearly, is the latter.  Comparing this year’s and last year’s lists is really interesting, as it’s not only new releases that move things around.  Returning to old games has led me to realise I didn’t get them first time out, or that I’m just not that into them any more.  So without further ado, here are 50 games, ranked in order of favouriteness.

50. Resident Evil 4 [Last year: n/a]
49. The Longest Journey [Last year: 42]
48. American McGee’s Alice [Last year: 35]
47. The Witcher [Last year: 48]
46. Planescape: Torment [Last year: 10]
45. The Path [Last year: n/a]
44. The Nomad Soul [Last year: 39]
43. Pathologic [Last year: n/a]
42. Far Cry [Last year: 13]
41. Team Fortress 2 [Last year: 11]

Resi 4 is the only one of the series I ever liked. Planescape takes an enormo-plunge – I returned to it earlier this year and, while I still love the writing, the game moves at such an astonishingly slow pace that I found myself glossing.  The Path, which I predicted would be a big talking point at the start of the year, ended up being just that – and I still love it.  I rediscovered Pathologic after Quinns wrote loads about it, and realised just how wonderful it is.  Far Cry plunges too, mainly because of its sequel.  Just like TF2, which plunges mainly because I played so much Left 4 Dead and sequel this year.

40. No One Lives Forever [Last year: 20]
39. Empire: Total War [Last year: n/a]
38. ICO [Last year: 18]
37. Eternal Darkness [Last year: 45]
36. Wii Sports [Last year: 38]
35. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time [Last year: 19]
34. Thief II: The Metal Age [Last year: 27]
33. System Shock [Last year: n/a]
32. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker [Last year: 32]
30. Halo: Combat Evolved [Last year: 31]

Empire was brilliant despite the bugs.  Eternal Darkness is still exactly how to do survival horror.  Wii Sports is still the most drunken fun I’ve had with a game.  Ocarina’s another victim of the “my goodness, it feels slow these days” curse.  I rediscovered the majesty of System Shock.  Wind Waker is now my favourite Zelda game. Halo’s still so solid it hurts.

30. Dragon Age: Origins [Last year: n/a]
29. Half-Life [Last year: 16]
28. Far Cry 2 [Last year: n/a]
27. Counter-Strike [Last year: 15]
26. Mario Kart: Double Dash [Last year: 14]
25. STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl [Last year: n/a]
24. Batman: Arkham Asylum [Last year: n/a]
23. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion [Last year: 23]
22. Okami [Last year: n/a]
21. Dear Esther [Last year: n/a]

Dragon Age’s detailed lore never stops amazing me.  Half-Life’s still exceptional, but showing its age, and Xen seems less and less acceptable.  Far Cry 2 was nearly top ten material, if it weren’t for a few design problems.  Old STALKER replaces new STALKER, mainly because I’d not played old STALKER when I did the last list.  Batman is TIGHT!  Oblivion refuses to budge.  Wow, Okami is really very good, isn’t it?  Can’t believe I didn’t play it until this year.  Dear Esther is a mod! A mod! On this list! How could it be? Well, because it’s really astonishingly brilliant, is why.

20. Giants: Citizen Kabuto [Last year: 22]
19. Left 4 Dead [Last year: n/a]
18. Half-Life 2 [Last year: 3]
17. System Shock 2 [Last year: 9]
16. Deus Ex: Invisible War [Last year: 24]
15. Mass Effect [Last year: 5]
14. LittleBigPlanet [Last year: n/a]
13. Machinarium [Last year: n/a]
12. Red Faction: Guerrilla [Last year: n/a]
11. Grand Theft Auto IV [Last year: 1]

People really need to make something else like Giants. Only Zeno Clash came close with its world design, but narrowly missed out on the list.  Half-Life 2, like its predecessor, is starting to feel like a last-generation shooter, despite still being exemplary.  Shock 2 remains one of the most tantilising pulp-horror tales in the world.  Invisible War is great, shut up.  I suspect Mass Effect might be one that keeps dropping down the list – exceptional when you play it, but fades from memory fairly quickly.  LittleBigPlanet is just the most adorable game, and gorgeously versatile.  No, wait, Machinarium is the most adorable game, and the prettiest one ever.  Red Faction: Guerrilla is just astonishingly brilliant in its unhinged chaos.  GTA4 suffers perhaps the most notable decline – having not played it in a while, it’s not the one in the series I remember most fondly now.  Still tremendous, but not Best Evah material.

10. Spelunky [Last year: n/a]
The most flabbergastingly brilliant platformer.  Brutal and oddly tactile, it manages to subtly deliver a whole load of in-depth features and throw them at you in the most gloriously unforgiving of manners.  An indie triumph.

9. Fallout 3 [Last year: n/a]
Touching the Deus Exalikes for wealth-of-options mission structure, Fallout 3 didn’t just meet expectations, but totally slashed them into pieces.  One of the most atmospheric, engrossing role-playing games in recent memory.

8. BioShock [Last year: 7]
I still prefer it to Shock 2.  Its story is more intelligent, even though the pacing is worse.  But most wonderful is Rapture itself, one of the few videogame settings that I have to continually remind myself is not a real place.

7. Super Mario Galaxy [Last year: 4]
As far as traditional videogames go, this is just about perfect.  So tightly designed, so masterfully presented, so gloriously creative at every turn.  It’s one of those that, when I first played, made me do a little squee of childlike glee.

6. Portal [Last year: 21]
This year has been the one in which I realised just how astonishing Portal is.  It’s short-form (ish) gaming at its best: the puzzles are so expertly designed, the story so flabbergastingly twisty and GLADOS one of the most brilliant characters ever to grace the medium.

5. Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind [Last year: 8]
Still my favourite fantasy RPG, all these years on.  It felt so enormous at the time.  I don’t think any game has ever matched that sense of sheer scale – even those that are technically bigger.  Morrowind delivers so much atmosphere, so much emotion, in those tiny little stories you tell yourself during your time there.  I really must find my copy.

4. Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis [Last year: 12]
The crippling meh-ness of the sequel only served as a reminder as to just how astounding the first game was.  Sure, the fierce realism of the combat was its main draw.  But for me, the main reason why Op Flash deserves all the accolades it can get is this: the final 20 minutes of the game comprises driving around the huge world, picking up various army buddies, and driving them to the pub.  Absolute game-ending perfection.

3. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines [Last year: 6]
I’ve now played Bloodlines, ooh, five or six times, I think.  I went back to it this year because Monsieur Bramwell asked me to pen some wordythings about it over at Eurogamer.  The ending snagged this time, being fucking rubbish as it is, but that first 15-20 hours… well, put it this way: if Troika had somehow found a way to tie up the story before the Hollywood sewers, and tidied up all the horrible bugs, it’d be number one in a flash.

2. Grand Theft Auto 3 [Last year: 29]
Well, that’s a big climber.  GTA4 had me absolutely mesmerised at the time, but it’s the third one that sticks in mind.  And when I think of it, I think of all the ludicrous fun we had back in the day, just driving, listening to the radio, blowing shit up, causing various degrees of chaos and generally behaving like the little teenage shits we were at the time.  And that’s fine: sometimes, that’s all you need in a game.  It was absolutely what the medium, and my group of friends, needed in the early 2000s. Wonderful.

1. Deus Ex [Last year: 2]
Because it’s Deus Ex.  And, y’know, I can’t believe I didn’t number-one it last year.  It’s the only year I’ve ever thought, for a second, that it was anything less than the greatest videogame ever made.  I’ll never make that mistake again.  Once again, I returned to it this year.  Once again, it blew away all competition.  Or snuck quietly around the back.  Or just buggered off and played basketball instead.

I’ll say this: it’s too long.  Seriously.  Yeah, it’s only 30 hours or so, which is tiny compared to some.  But it could be tightened.  That’s jusy ridiculous nitpicking, though, as Deus Ex remains the absolute pinnacle of complex gaming, intelligent and thoughtful throughout, stupid glitches bedamned.  Cool, sexy and innovative, it’s also the best.  The best at being a really good videogame, man!

A Game I Forgot About Until Just Now:
Braid.

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5 responses »

  1. Not a bad list, Lewis. You’ve picked a top 4 which consists of four games I would really like to like but I have major issues with, although in two cases I think that’s due to timing. OpFlash seemed unplayably punishing at the time, although maybe I’d feel differently now – I liked messing around with the editor though. I played GTAIII after Vice City and San Andreas, and seemingly in contradiction with everyone, I’ve always far preferred the later, whereas GTAIII felt a bit clumsy to me, especially with little things like absurdly aggressive enemy gangs that made driving around near-impossible… I actually preferred GTA2, that’d be on my list.

    Vampire I liked, but it had some unforgiveably dire sections. To me it’s a flawed gem, but it’s more flaw than gem. There are some wonderful ideas there, but too often they’re drowned out by brokenness, lazy sections of design, and general clunkiness. Deus Ex, I’ve never liked. Again, I played it far too late but it’s so clunky I can never get past the early sections – every time I try I’m vaguely saddened at the thought that, like Baldur’s Gate, it’s something I missed out on and will probably never appreciate.

    I sort of agree with you about Invisible War though – I enjoyed that quite a lot, by contrast, although the unified ammo pool is still a completely stupid idea.

    Reply
  2. I thought the unified ammo pool was a marvellous decision. What Invisible War did tremendously well was offer the player everything on a plate, and saying “you choose”. So it did things like making crates transparent, or having all the various routes around levels obvious at the very start of a mission. The ammo pool fits in with this idea: that it’s all about what you want to do at that moment, not what you’ve backed yourself into a corner to do because of how you’ve played so far.

    Bloodlines – hey, did you ever play it patched? Much more stable. I suspect the awful sections you’re talking about are the first half hour, the three-hour stretch in the Hollywood sewers, and Chinatown. Yeah, they’re a nightmare. But that’s probably a quarter of the game. The rest is so astonishingly great.

    Deus Ex – maybe because I played it when it didn’t feel clunky, but I still feel I can go back to that and love it every time. JD feels sorta the same as you, though – it was his favourite game ever back in 2000, but now he can’t stomach it.

    You’re right: Baldur’s Gate feels terribly old now. Planescape does too, hence its plummeting down the list.

    Reply
  3. I thoroughly agree with all those good things about IW except the ammo pool – you could fire a rocket launcher about three times, and then not be able to fire a pistol afterwards… it drove me insane.

    As for Bloodlines, yes I’ve played the most patched-up version, I believe… and yeah, those sections make up most of the awfulness, I’d be tempted to add the ship section to the list as well though. Guess I just don’t think the rest is as astonishingly great as you do 😉

    With Deus Ex I do think it’s the time issue that’s killed it… I love the idea of it but in practice I find it a bind to play.

    Reply
  4. The ship bit of Bloodlines never bothered me that much, mainly because it’s only about five minutes long. I don’t remember it being particularly awful, but I do remember it being one of those “oh, that part…” moments on each replay.

    As for the ammo pool thing – never thought about it that way, actually. But then, I never was a rocket launcher Deus Ex player. In fact, through both games, I found myself mainly sticking to the pistol. They seemed to know how to do a good pistol, that Ion Storm lot.

    Reply
  5. Kimon Keramidas

    Great list. As always inspires some argumentation, some wonder, and a whole deal of wanting to play games you’ve never played before.

    Was skeptical of Far Cry 2. Will give that a try. Have to play Deus Ex one of these days. Its always been on that dirty little list of games I feel I should play. Not too much NES love on your list. Some of those games are nuggets of perfection. Tecmo Super Bowl will forever be a great to me.

    Been reading your blog for a little bit now and look forward to reading it more now. Happy 2010.

    Reply

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