12 Angry Men (Lumet, 1957)

My Top Five Favourite Video Games of Last Generation

Red Dead Redemption  (Rockstar - PS3, Xbox 360)



Red Dead Redemption is without a doubt the best western game out there (even if there are only a tiny few) and although less successful than its sandbox counterpart GTA series I found it ten times more enjoyable than the overrated GTA IV. It revolves around the former gang-member John Marston who is forced to hunt down his previous criminal affiliates in order to release his family from corrupt Government custardy.  John meets a host of well rounded characters on his journey and there are many enjoyable side quests and distractions to keep you busy even without touching the main story. It is also beautiful in terms of animation and graphics, the horses look almost too real and it is fun to just ride around on horseback listening to the ambient music and feeling like Clint Eastwood (my dad once saw me playing this game and asked what film I was watching). 

You'll explore areas in both America and Mexico as you engage in a riveting story that is cliched but ultimately 100% satisfying, definitely capped off by the great ending. What surprised me the most about the ending was that after you've achieved your ultimate goal to get get rid of your former gang mate Dutch. After a climatic assault on his heavily armed camp you'd expect the game to end on this note - since standard video game logic dictates that the most difficult level that leads to the death of the villain will be the final mission; but this is obviously far from the case. You travel on horseback to your family and continue to work on your land, catching up with your wife & son and performing homestead tasks including cattle herding and hunting. You settle into a false sense of security as you're led to believe that the government have kept their word and are going to allow you anonymity, but again this is far from the case and you're forced to repel dozens of government soldiers when they attack your home. Video games are interactive and because of this they are able to use certain mechanics to inform the story elements that would simply be impossible in a film or TV show. After saving his family and forcing them to escape, John opens the doors of the barn to face the last of the government soldiers. The game automatically enters the 'Red Dead' mode that slows down time and allows you to tag enemies before shooting them, it has served you well throughout the game and makes you feel completely invincible. Red Dead Redemption makes you believe that you can survive this encounter by initiating this mechanic, making it all the more shocking when you're violently gunned down after the first bullet leaves your barrel. 

The pacing present in the last hour or so of Red Dead Redemption is seldom seen in video games and it is alot more memorable for it, although the whole package is excellent it was this game's climax that really stuck with me.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda - PS3, Xbox 360, PC)



141 main quests, 143 miscellaneous quests and god knows how many hours (I'm too scared to look at this number) later and I've only scratched the surface of Skyrim. This does not include the Dark Brotherhood, Companions, Thieves Guild, Daedric or College of Winterhold storylines, my quest log has dozens of activities left still to complete... AND that's not to mention the quests I am yet to stumble upon. Jim Sterling has stated Skyrim puts the majority of other titles on the market to shame; many developers believe that multiplayer add ons are essential if customers are to keep games rather than trading them in. The notion that audiences become bored if there is only a single player element of game has been proved wrong countless times, not least by a game that is literally impossible to complete - infinitely spawning quests, over 340 locations to discover and a time consuming yet addictive and engaging levelling system means that Skyrim is one of the most fully realised game-worlds ever created. 

Adventuring across the diverse environment that includes lush green forests to harsh mountainous terrain you'll encounter everything from friendly villagers to deadly smugglers, fire breathing dragons and spider infested caves. You're free to make your character who ever you want them to be, each race that you choose from has a different selection of advantages and there are hundreds of different combinations of armour, weapons and spells at the players disposal. Skyrim lets you create your own story; whether you want to diligently undertake main missions or veer off and peacefully admire the nighttime northern lights as you explore the scenery that has been painstakingly crafted. Which ever path you choose you're guaranteed to get completely lost in the world of Skyrim... there is simply so much to discover and it is one of the most absorbing and detailed role playing games released.

Journey (That Game Company - PS3)


The main reason games have never achieved mass cultural acceptance is because most people continue to believe that games are aimed at adolescent toss rags" - Charlie Brooker being 100% right.

Journey
Along with Shadow of the Colossus, this is probably the game most likely to be chosen by fans of the industry when people claim video games are unsophisticated, mindless first person shooting simulators. There is no killing and no guns, instead you simply play as a cloaked figure that has to travel to the peak of a mountain in the distance. Navigating sand dunes, snowy passes and tunnels your character can slide down hills and fly into the distance using a scarf that acts as a sort of power up which allows you to lift off the ground for as long as it is lit. 

Despite its simplicity it is effective largely due to its unique, anonymous and seamless multiplayer integration. During your travels, you may at any point encounter another online player nestling within the environment, contact between the two cloaked figures is minimal (just a simple tap of the circle button and you can 'chirp' to your partner) but oddly, because of this vagueness it is more effective than any other online game that I have played. Maybe this is just my bad luck, but my average life span on GTAV online free roam is about 10 seconds before another player RPG's my car. On my first play-thorough of Journey there were certain points were I was unsure of how to progress; my companion had clearly played before and would wait for me if I fell behind and rush to my aid when I got attacked. I would use the 'chirp' mechanic to signal a 'thank you' in the best way that I could and although he or she could have been Japanese for all I knew, they would understand and chirp back as if to say 'you're welcome'. You don't need this partner to complete the game but you feel compelled to stick beside one another so you can experience the beauty of the environments with someone else. 

Journey also boasts one of the most beautiful scores composed for any game and is comparable to any film music too. Austin Wintory's work meant that Journey became the first and to date only video game score to be nominated for a Grammy award. If there was one game that I had to make someone play in to in order to convince them of the worth of video games it would be this one; anyone can play it, be it a hardcore gamer or a complete novice & is not quite like anything else out there.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Konami - Wii, PS2, PSP)


Silent Hill Shattered Memories
I could talk about and analyse this for hours (maybe I will in a future blog). My second favourite Silent Hill game after Silent Hill 2 (my favourite game of all time), Shattered Memories is a 're-imagining' of the first Silent Hill release and you again play as Harry Mason armed only with a flashlight as he searches for his daughter Cheryl after a car crash. The more you progress, you'll encounter different characters, areas and as the name suggests you'll stumble across memories of the individuals living within the town as it becomes increasingly apparent that things simply aren't right with either Silent Hill or Harry's mental state. 

A lot of people hate this game... SH fans are quite famously hard to please but recently that seems understandable given the the move from a Japanese to an American developer, resulting in the lacklustre releases of Origins and Homecoming. With quick time events, dodge moves and an inability to run away from rather than fight enemies, both of these games tended to be more bothered with combat and action rather than SH's trademark psychological horror. As Zero Punctuation has matter-of-factly summarised: 'the Japanese approach to horror tends to be slow building, oppressive, emphasising the horror of being totally alone, while American horror is more about putting a fucking chainsaw on your arm and slicing your way through waves of slavering baddies'. Well, the first message you see in this game is a warning telling you that the game 'psychologically profiles' you whilst playing.... that's more like it.  

Silent Hill Shattered MemoriesLike Journey, it's hard to explain why this game is so effective without playing it but the game's 'psych profile' that watches your every move as you interact with the characters and surroundings within the town creates one of the creepiest experiences you'll have with a video game. You'll spend your time exploring, escaping from monsters as well as experiencing first personal psychoanalytic sessions that become increasingly unhinged. These sessions believe it or not aren't quite as upbeat & funny as the time that you'll spend with Dr Friedlander in GTA V but you'll be presented with various different ways of answering questions which will tailor the journey to you (e.g. in one test Dr Kaufman gives you a picture of a family outside their house to colour in - if you rush it and don't stay within the lines you're seen as an inpatient player and Harry will have a short temper in the next cutscene). As well as the in-game experience varying on the decisions that you make (the appearance of the characters, dialogue & the appearance of the monsters), there are four different endings that alter depending on how you approached the the game like in standard SH fashion. However, in a total departure for the series - the is absolutely no combat, sure there are monsters but when Shattered Memories shifts into the 'otherworld' all you can do is run for your life & try to escape. 

But it is not these sequences alone that are the real draw of the game; for me it's the way that the story gets into your mind and leaves you thinking about the subtle intricacies of its plot long after you've completed it, SH:SM waits right until the end to tie up all the loose ends but even then you'll still be thinking about it. The characters you encounter and the disturbing scenarios that you find yourself trying to understand leaves you wanting to dissect the experience piece by piece and like most of the best films, SH:SM is a game you can re-play and notice new things with each walkthrough. Criminally underrated, it is often dismissed because of how much of how different it was compared to the SH games that came before. 

The Last Of Us (Naughty Dog - PS3)


The Last of Us

Is there any more to say about The Last Of Us that hasn't already been said? The most awarded video game in history (if Wikipedia is to be believed) and what a way to end the 7th console generation.  After one of the most gripping introductory sequences of any game I've played you're thrown into a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by a fungal-like pandemic full of infected creatures and bandits. 

You play as Joel, a smuggler as he reluctantly travels across America with a young girl named Ellie - who was born after the outbreak and who's immunity to the disease is seen as the only chance left for a cure.  The combat throughout is is hectic, sticky, desperate and unrelentingly brutal; with limited supplies and a real time inventory system there are moments where you escape encounters with enemies by the skin of your teeth and nothing to defend yourself with except a shiv and a brick.  The best aspects of the game's stealth system is that when you are spotted, you can simply move out of the line of sight of the enemies and in many occasions when you're short of ammo (you very often will be) you'll often be able to escape the gunfight and proceed to the next area without having to engage every single enemy so long as your fast and skillful enough. But as satisfying as it is to get through areas without being detected, the stealth kills are just as disturbing and visceral as ones you'll make with a shotgun, perhaps more so - when you strangle a smuggler from behind he will claw at your face as you're forced to acknowledge the fact that you're choking the life from his body, at one point a character called Bill dismisses the threats of the infected creatures in the game, stating that "its the normal people that scare me". 

The Last Of UsAs good and as the gameplay is, what made reviewers and players fall in love with the game was the relationship between Joel and Ellie - when he's first saddled with her, Joel is a deeply selfish man only out for what ever benefits him, reluctant to care for anyone else because of what the outbreak has taken away from him. Neither of them trust each other but by the end of the game they have been through hell together and experienced the darkest realities of what humans can do to one another, by the time Joel is consoling Ellie, using the same affectionate nicknames that he gave to Sarah it's clear that she has basically become his surrogate daughter  (Creative director Neil Druckman also pointed out the significance of the very first and last shots of the game being the faces of Sarah and Ellie).  And I agree with Jim Sterling, it ended perfectly - after discovering that the only way to create a vaccine that will save humanity is to kill Ellie, Joel goes on a rampage to save her, one of the last surgeons left in the world.  Joel is not the generic hero that you would expect to be playing as in a AAA game which makes his behavior one that has been discussed by fans. Although barbaric and in many way similar to the supposed 'bad guys' that you've spend the last 15 hours killing,  Joel is a character whose actions are actually justified after considering everything  that he experienced. After fighting cannibals and ruthless bandits that have a total disregard for anyone but themselves throughout the kill or be killed world of The Last of Us, it's clear that he simply feels that humanity does not deserve to be saved - remember it was a human not an infected clicker that took his daughter away from him. 

Also... the giraffes - My favourite moment in gaming history. 

Honorable Mentions....


Uncharted 2 & 3 (Naughty Dog - PS3)

Uncharted 2

L.A Noire (Team Bondi - PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

LA Noire

Papers, Please (Lucas Pope - PC, Mac)

Paper's Please

Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Development - Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

Spec Ops: The Line

Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar - Xbox 360, PS3)

GTA V

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Frictional Games - PC, Mac)


Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Portal 1 & 2 (Valve - PC, Mac, Xbox 360, PS3)


Portal

The Walking Dead (Telltale Games - PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox) 


The Walking Dead






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