Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Today, I’ll be covering entries 70 through 61.
Let’s not waste any more time!
70 – PixelJunk Shooter Ultimate
Release Date: 10th December 2009
Developer: Q-Games, Double Eleven
Publisher: Q-Games, Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 90%
It’s a game about liquid physics.
Pixel Junk Shooter is a game that is fun on multiple levels. On one level, it’s an intelligent puzzle game, with combat elements that mean you’ve always got something to do. Then on another level, it’s one of the most surprisingly fun co-op experiences I’ve ever played.
It’s a rare occasion where I’d recommend playing this game with another person rather than on your own because it adds so much to the experience. Solving the puzzles and defeating the enemies is fun enough on your own, but suddenly it becomes a chaotic ball of fun when you add a second player. It feels like the developers knew this and leaned into it with their design.
Once you’ve got the hang of the game, the combat becomes relatively basic, and the puzzles don’t have the most difficult of solutions to work out, but executing them is surprisingly hard. This is partly because each level seems to be designed almost by the pixel to require precise and skilled movement of both yourself and the different liquids you get to play around with. However, it’s partly down to the fact that your co-op partner just got the lava suit and won’t stop spraying it everywhere.
I often found the puzzles becoming secondary while playing through this game as me and my co-op partner (usually my brother) would simply mess about the entire time. Let me tell you when one of us picks up the lava suit, and the other has the water suit, it is a battle for the ages.
Pixel Junk Shooter knows exactly the mindset its players will have going into it and designs an experience that will maximise fun, while still carrying a compelling singleplayer experience.
69 – Spec Ops: The Line
Release Date: 26th June 2012
Developer: Yager Development
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 77%
It’s a game about realising what a horrible person you are.
Another game here that is better the less you know going into it, Spec Ops: The Line keeps its cards hidden for as long as it possibly can. Spec Ops presents itself as a generic military shooter, with pretty basic shooting mechanics, but an extra level of tactics behind it to keep things interesting. After a few hours, it still feels like your standard military shooter, but it’s going a little bit off the rails. As Spec Ops progresses, things start to feel more and more uneasy, with the main character making some questionable decisions, and commit certain acts which have significant consequences.
I’m speaking in very vague terms here, so I don’t spoil it, but when the game finally reveals what it’s been doing the entire time, it was one hell of a narrative gut-punch. It’s a very dark and depressing twist, but one that really makes an impact on you, especially if you’ve just been treating the game like a standard military shooter up until that point. The narrative takes the military shooter – a genre I have very little interest in – and blows it wide open, deconstructing some of the more ‘grand’ elements we take for granted.
68 – Grow Home
Release Date: 4th February 2015
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
Platforms: Playstation 4, Windows, Linux
Metacritic Average: 75%
It’s a game about climbing.
I’ve talked a lot so far in this series about the focus of games. What makes so many of these weird experimental/indie games so great is their grasp on precisely what they want to build. They don’t worry about appealing to as many different audiences as possible, so they don’t overstuff their worlds with a load of guff. What games like Grow Home do that make them so great is that they focus on a singular core mechanic and refine it until it’s as close to perfection as it can possibly be.
The climbing mechanics in Grow Home are without a shadow of a doubt the best I’ve ever played. They’re incredibly intuitive – just click one of the mouse buttons depending on what hand you want to move and then drag the mouse – but mastery over those mechanics takes time and skill to achieve.
It’s not just Grow Home’s mechanics that receive a sharp level of focus either, because the world also feels very refined and polished in its design. The game makes it very clear what your goal is right from the start, so every single mechanic is built around helping you to achieve that goal. There isn’t a tremendous amount of openness or exploration to be had in Grow Home, but it doesn’t need it. It’s a game that drops you off in the world, throws about every challenge it can at you centred around the climbing mechanics and then sends you on your way before it has a chance to get competitive.
Grow Home is all the proof you need that a great core mechanic is all you need to make a fantastic game.
67 – Pool Nation
Release Date: 5th September 2012
Developer: Cherry Pop Games
Publisher: Cherry Pop Games, Wired Productions
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Windows
Metacritic Average: 81%
It’s a game where you play Pool.
The so-called “Pub Game” genre – things like Pool, Darts & Air Hockey – is one that I don’t think ever gets enough attention. In real life, they’re the kinds of games that you’re not really all that good at, but you play it with your friends because it’s a fun way to kill 3 hours.
VR has added a lot to this genre, and the VR version of Pool Nation is also enjoyable, but there’s something about the nature of the regular Pool Nation that holds my attention for much longer. There’s not a lot I can say about the mechanics, because I’m not going to sit here and review the game of Pool, but the control scheme in Pool Nation is one that I don’t think has ever been topped for a pool game.
The whole game is able to capture the very causal feel that comes with playing a game of Pool in the pub. Yes, you care about the game to a certain extent, but it’s more just a tool for you and your mates to piss about a bit and have a nice time. Something in the sound design feels so very real, and when you combine it with the fact that Pool is a game I enjoy playing anyway, you’ve got yourself something I’m bound to sink a lot of time into.
66 – Katana ZERO
Release Date: 18th April 2019
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 83%
It’s a game about taking drugs and slicing people in half with a katana.
(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)
One of my favourite things a game can accomplish is to be one specific thing while disguising itself as something else. To explain what I mean by that, let’s take a look at Katana ZERO.
When you star Katana ZERO, the impression I got from it is that it was going to be a fast-paced hack and slash, where you slice your way through waves of enemies feeling like a katana-wielding action hero and while the second part of that statement is true, Katana ZERO is in fact not a hack and slash, but a very clever and high-octane puzzle game.
The goal of each room is to introduce every enemy in the general vicinity to your Katana, usually by separating them from most of their limbs in the process, but if you go charging madly into every room, you’ll most certainly fail almost instantly. Instead, every room in the game is cleverly designed to be “solvable”, with a distinct order and pattern in which you need to show everyone their own spleen before removing their head in what can only be described as a “flourish” of blood. Every time I entered a room, I would instantly scour the whole place looking for the one weak spot where I could start my slicing rampage, running through a mental checklist every time I failed and restarted a room, which gave incredibly satisfying feeling when my master plan was executed to perfection.
What makes Katana ZERO stands out though, is the fact that it has that element of chaos to it. I could make the most ingenious plans ever, but that doesn’t mean I was good enough to pull them off perfectly all the time and that was where the game was at its most fun; when plans went wrong. Once a plan went wrong, it would be easy to just take the death and try again, but I think doing that takes out a huge element of the sheer joy that this game brings you when you improvise. Admittedly, my improvised plans very rarely bore fruit, but that didn’t stop it being an absolute blast when I missed my second strike, which sent me sailing into a room of armoured guards, causing me to panic, throw a firebomb which killed the armoured guards but alerted everyone within a 5-mile radius to my presence, at which point I went on a killing spree, slicing every neck I could lay my eyes on before finally being gunned down.
In addition to that…well…clusterfuck, the game has simplistic but masterfully styled visuals with great uses of colours and effect to create a depressingly beautiful cyberpunk dystopia, a feeling only helped by the brilliant choices that were made with the music, which helped elevate the already fantastically designed boss-fights to epic clashes and nail-biting encounters.
Katana ZERO is a game that strikes that perfect balance between careful & tactical planning and total chaos that makes for an incredibly focused and fun game, all tied together with a clever story that keeps you interested and invested in the world all the way to the credits.
65 – Intrusion 2
Release Date: 11th September 2012
Developer: Aleksey Abramenko
Publisher: Aleksey Abramenko, VAP Games
Platforms: Windows, Linux
Metacritic Average: 80%
It’s a game about shooting everything lots of times.
Intrusion takes a formula that worked in the past – in this case, the side-scrolling shooter – and adds on all the lessons and improvements in game design that we’ve learnt since the genre’s golden era to make an entertaining game.
It seems quite hard at first, but you don’t actually have to spend much time with it to get the hang of it. It plays off the design philosophies of the old Castlevania or Mega-Man games where if you’re good enough you could definitely go through the entire thing without taking a single hit, but it’s just tricky enough to challenge even experienced players of the genre. All of the bullets move just slow enough to dodge, but not slow enough to make it easy, and the level design finds a way to make each of these challenges feel new every single time.
On top of that, it has some of the best boss fights I’ve ever seen in a game. It keeps that idea that every single attack is dodgeable, but overwhelms you with spectacle. Every boss had clearly recognised patterns that manage to inject their own sense of personality into every fight. Be it using their gun as a motorbike, wagging their giant mechanical finger at you before smashing you in the face with it, or eating its way through a building to get to you. It’s a game so very full of character that I can’t help but smile at it, even when I’m getting my arse kicked.
64 – The Ship
Release Date: 30th July 2006
Publisher: Mindscape, Merscom, Blazing Griffin Ltd
Metacritic Average: 78%
It’s a game about murdering people on a cruise ship.
I feel like The Ship was a game that passed most people by at the time, and yet, the ideas it innovated can be seen through a couple of popular genres today.
It innovated a style of multiplayer gameplay that would be the inspiration for the Assassin’s Creed multiplayer mode a few years later, and I’m surprised no-one else has really taken the idea and ran with it outside of the odd indie title. The setting is one that allows for a large and varied map design, with big open decks with pools and bars; the tight corridors with the passenger’s rooms; and even into the bowels of the engine rooms in the ship. The whole thing has an air of class and charm to it that is the perfect comedic juxtaposition with the murder tournament that’s happening around you.
The game also adds extra layers to its gameplay, with each kill being assigned a monetary value based on what weapon you used; the value of the weapon being determined by how commonly it’s been used in that game. In addition to this, you’ve got the fact that you need to be consistently subtle in your kills. Security guards, cameras and even other passengers can cause you to be caught in your actions, resulting in a fine and being locked up for precious seconds that could be spent killing. It stops you mindlessly running around hacking people to bits and instead forces you to think more strategically to achieve your goals.
It’s a style of multiplayer gameplay that has you constantly scheming and planning a few steps ahead while being on edge that your killer could round the corner wielding an axe at any second. The atmosphere the game produces is simultaneously charming and tense, which mixes in just the right way to make one hell of a fun game.
63 – Far Cry 3
Release Date: 29th November 2012
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows
Metacritic Average: 91%
It’s a game about taking drugs and being eaten by tigers.
As I’ve said before, First Person Shooters are one of my least favourite genres, so for any game in the FPS genre to adequately capture my enthusiasm for it, it has to have something unique. Enter, Far Cry 3.
I know many people prefer Far Cry 2 to 3, but I was too young to notice when 2 came out, and while I enjoy going back on it now, it didn’t have that first-time rush that 3 does for me. The thing with Far Cry is it takes the standard shooter format and meshes it with your standard Ubisoft formula (before it got way too bloated). It made it an open world, added survival and crafting elements (again, they were still new back then) and of course, bases & radio towers (those weren’t).
The bases in Far Cry 3 were the main thing that put it over the top for me because it managed to make both rousing success and catastrophic failure feel just as fun to play out. It feels awesome to take down a base completely unseen. Either through taking some good vantage points and sniping them all down one by one or by getting in there with your knife and getting your hands dirty. However, it’s equally as fun when you attempt those tactics, it goes very wrong indeed, and the thing devolves into an all-out gunfight, with bullets flying everywhere, explosions going off and the occasional tiger getting involved.
Sure, it could get repetitive to the point where that very fact is why I didn’t enjoy Far Cry 4, but once every couple of years, I will drop into Far Cry 3 and have a lot of fun taking down some bases and messing around in the open world.
62 – Portal
Release Date: 10th October 2007
Developer: Valve Corporation
Publisher: Valve Corporation
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
Metacritic Average: 90%
It’s a game about thinking with portals.
I don’t think there’s a game that has stuck so hard in the general gaming consciousness quite like Portal. It’s not the most famous game ever made by a long stretch, but it feels like pretty much everyone in the gaming sphere has played – or at least seen someone else play – Portal.
As a puzzle game it’s pretty good, again, not the best ever but certainly a sound challenge the first time you play it, but that’s not why it’s so good, or why it’s been remembered so fondly for so long. Portal is a game that just seems to have an endless amount of character to it. The way it plays its humour, so subtle yet hilariously dark, it’s something that had never really been done to that extent in games so far. Many other games following Portal would attempt to ape its style, most would fail, but the ones that succeeded are still remembered today as beloved titles (a couple we will be talking about a little later down the line). In fact, with GLaDOS carrying the whole thing, you could even argue it was the progenitor of the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope in games.
Portal is a quick and focused experience that leaves a considerable mark on you when you play it and spits you out when you’re still wanting more. It’s a game that I will continue to go back and play, time and time again over the years – not to mention the countless attempts at copycats that it’s spawned – because it’s truly a game that never goes out of style.
61 – Fallout 4
Release Date: 10th November 2015
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Metacritic Average: 88%
It’s a game about exploring the American wasteland [insert topical political joke here].
It took me a while to crack Fallout 4, so much so that until 2019, when I was finally able to get into it, I only had about 7 hours of total playtime in the game. The weird thing is: I really don’t know why it took me so long. Sure, it’s a first-person shooter, but having played Fallout 4 for an extended period, it honestly doesn’t play like one, which to me, is a huge plus.
There’s a much more tactile feeling to the combat in Fallout than in most other shooters I’ve played. Pretty much all of the guns feel utterly different from one another, which is something I can’t say about most other games that I’ve played in the genre. Not to mention that the VATs system means you can almost play the game as a turn-based strategy if you really want to.
On top of that, the world-building is excellent. While I don’t find myself becoming as attached to the characters as I do in The Elder Scrolls games, I find it exciting to learn more about the world and what exactly society is like after America got destroyed. I love investigating the abandoned buildings and finding the terminals that teach me about how this place used to be before the bombs dropped. Or even better, what’s been going on in the places where society has started to rebuild itself. There just aren’t many games out there that pay that much attention the detail of their worlds.
So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think of all these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. The next entry in this series will be uploaded next Wednesday, but in the meantime, come back here on Saturday, where I’ll be covering WWE’s Extreme Rules!