Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Today, I’ll be covering entries 60 through 51.
Let’s not waste any more time!
Just a heads up that there will be full SPOILERS for every game I’m going to talk about in this series, so be careful if I talk about something you don’t want spoiled.
60 – Unheard
Release Date: 29th March 2019
Developer: NEXT Studios
Publisher: NEXT Studios, Bilibili
Platforms: Playstation 4, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 72%
It’s a game about solving crimes with the power of hearing
(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)
Out of all the games on this list, this is the one that I’d imagine the fewest people have heard of, because this almost passed me by too, so let me explain.
At its most basic level, it’s a mystery-solving game, however, the method by which you solve these mysteries is what makes this an absolutely exceptional game in my view. Instead of searching the scene and interviewing witnesses after the fact, you get to see the 5-15 minutes in which the crime happened, except you don’t get to actually see the details. What you get is a floor-plan view of the building in which the crime took place which you can wander around as you play through the events of the scene and the only tool you have to work out what happened is sound.
You can see the outline of where everyone is at any moment, but you can’t actually see their form, you can only hear their voices. Using this information you must work out who everyone is, and answer specific questions about the crime. I can’t really be more specific without giving away partial solutions to some of the puzzles, but the way in which the game gets you to hear every conversation in a level to slowly fill in all the blanks is so very innovative and clever.
The game typically starts you off in each scenario listening to one conversation that will give a rough outline of what’s going on, but naturally, there are other conversations going on all over the scene at the exact same time and each conversation slowly fills in all of the blanks. In every conversation, you listen to you’ll learn something new about the scenario that slowly allows you to draw everything together and hit that euphoria of the “eureka” moment when you nail your target.
The game makes sure to give you just the right amount of information so that everything you need to know is there, but without explicitly giving you all of the solutions. I found myself taking notes on every level, creating a list of suspects and slowly ruling them out as I went along until the true culprit reveals themselves.
The mysteries themselves are very well thought out, for example, you’ll have to locate a stolen painting and work out who stole it, but there are also a number of fakes that other people have stolen, thinking they’re the real deal and it’s your job to use the conversations around the scene to piece together a chronology of who committed the first theft in order to determine who holds the real painting.
At £5 the game is absolutely worth it for the 5 puzzles (plus 1 as free DLC) that total to about 4 hours of game time. This is one of the most enthralling and unique puzzle games I’ve played ever and it perfectly captures the feeling on solving a mystery, so if you’re into that sort of thing, this game is a must-have.
59 – Papers, Please
Release Date: 8th August 2013
Developer: Lucas Pope
Platforms: Playstation Vita, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 92%
It’s a game about becoming corrupt.
Much like Spec Ops, Papers, Please isn’t a fun game to play, but it’s still a brilliant one. It’s dark and dreary, it feels downbeat and without joy or hope, but that’s the point.
It shows you the mechanics and then lets you run with them, always adding more stuff day in and day out, to the point where you find yourself working through a routine in your head, and about halfway through you realise that you’re treating it like you would an actual job, and that’s how this game sinks its teeth into you.
It uses the monotony of it all as a way to draw you into the world, to make you feel like this actually is your job. It gives you the idea that the safety of your country and your family relies on you. Then, once it’s established those feelings, it throws the moral dilemmas at you hard and fast. That’s what they are in Papers, Please, dilemmas, not choices, because it doesn’t present you with a “choose A or B” option, it ingrains these dilemmas into the mechanics.
I’m going to give you an example here, but I will say this game is so much better if you play it blind, you have been warned. So a woman comes through your checkpoint, and all her papers are in order, so you let her through, but she slips you two notes. One is a business card for a strip club of some description, and the other is a note, naming a man who is behind her in the queue, saying that he’s holding her against her will and forcing her to work in the club and she begs you not to let him in. The thing is, all his documents are correct, by all legal definitions, you have to let him in, and if you don’t, then you’ll suffer a fine, which means you might not be able to buy food for your family. However, if you do let him in, that woman will be forced to work in a strip club against her will, so what do you do?
The game never outright tells you to make this choice, and you’ll never discover the consequences of your actions. No matter what you do, you never see that man or the woman he was holding again. The game is confident enough in its systems and moral dilemmas that it’s perfectly happy to let you sit there and ponder over whether or not you really did the right thing. Paper, Please won’t gratify your moral compass, it won’t tell you if you were right or wrong, because the real world very rarely does.
58 – The Stanley Parable
Release Date: 17th October 2013
Developer: Galactic Cafe
Publisher: Galactic Cafe
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 88%
It’s a game about a man named Stanley.
I’d love to go deeper than that, but for The Stanley Parable saying anything more would be completely spoiling it. I know I gave the spoiler warning at the start, but seriously, if you’ve ever wanted to play this game and somehow haven’t had it spoiled for you yet, keep scrolling, you need to experience this game with fresh eyes.
In the years since The Stanley Parable, there have been many games that attempted the so-called ‘meta-narrative’ to varying degrees of success. While I’m sure The Stanely Parable wasn’t the first, it is undoubtedly the first one to do it at this high quality to bring the concept in the mainstream (spawning a bunch of cheap imitations in the process, but what can you do?).
The idea of it is so straightforward, with the way the narrator tells you the choice you made before you’ve actually made it. Just the simple explanation of coming to a set of two doors and the narrator telling you that you went through the left one. Instantly, everything starts whirring in your brain, surely everyone who played it immediately had that instinct kick in where you don’t want to be told what to do. It’s such an instinctual reaction to go “no, screw you!” and then you’ve fallen right into the game’s trap.
From there, the game will take you on all sorts of adventures. Some funny, some weird and some rather grim. No matter what you do in The Stanley Parable, the game already knows you’ve done it. There are even moments where the game will trick you into thinking you beat it to the punch, only for something to be waiting for you on the other side, putting you in your place.
The Stanley Parable was made by people who truly understood how games traditionally work. The tropes and cliches. Only by having a real firm grasp on those things were they able to deconstruct it entirely to create an experience as mind-blowing and as memorable at The Stanley Parable.
57 – Super Hexagon
Release Date: 31st August 2012
Developer: Terry Cavanagh
Publisher: Terry Cavanagh
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS
Metacritic Average: 88%
It’s a game about dodging lines very, VERY fast.
Super Hexagon hits just the right spot when it comes to reflex games. Not only was it one of the first I played, but its difficulty is perfect for me. I would play it for hours and struggle like all hell, but I’d slowly but surely get better and better until suddenly I could do it. I’m not a master by any stretch, I’ve only completed the final level three times since 2012 (one of which was in front of my whole math’s class in secondary school, which is a fond memory), but I went from being hopeless at the game to being reasonably competent at it at a surprisingly steady rate.
Every death felt like a lesson, and every run got me just ever so slightly better at dodging the obstacles in front of me. The movement of the little triangle is so very precise and nails that feeling of only just being able to dodge everything in time. The soundtrack is a great listen, and it really adds to the chaotic feels that Super Hexagon goes for, the game makes it clear to you that you’re never in control, but at the same time, you never feel hopeless in your pursuits.
56 – Life is Strange
Release Date: 30th January 2015
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac, Linux, Andriod, iOS
Metacritic Average: 85%
It’s a game about being a teenage girl…with occasional time manipulation.
Life is Strange managed to create a world with countless characters, with varying personalities and colourful traits, which is impressive enough of a feat in and of itself, but what’s truly great about Life is Strange is that all of these characters mattered to me. I didn’t necessarily like all of them, or connect with all of them. Still, every single character I interacted with mattered, even in some of my favourite game stories there are characters I don’t care about *cough*Alfyn*cough* but that didn’t happen with Life is Strange.
It does such an excellent job of capturing the social structure of what school is like when you’re that age. That sense of recognising pretty much everyone, even if you don’t know them, having parents of friends that basically adopt you, or ones you find a bit off. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t long removed from that kind of social situation when I played Life is Strange, but I really found myself recognising so many situations it presents (admittedly not quite to the extremes that it goes too). The time manipulation is a clever mechanic and well-implemented, but that’s not really what everyone remembers about the game.
Those heartbreaking moments when you have to make some tough and horrible decisions in that game are things that stick with you for a long time after the fact. Not to mention the sheer weight of the final choice (and everyone’s reaction to it in all of the Youtube videos) is a moment that will go down in gaming history.
55 – Hand of Fate 2
Release Date: 7th November 2017
Developer: Defiant Development
Publisher: Defiant Development
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 82%
It’s a game about playing a tabletop RPG with a magical deck of cards.
The Hand of Fate games are compelling cases because it’s entirely true that if these games were just a regular RPG, they really wouldn’t be anything special. However, the twist of making you go through a tabletop RPG like D&D, using a deck of enchanted cards to take you through your adventure is such a genius change, and it makes the game so incredibly compelling when I’m going on my adventures.
The atmosphere of the travelling cart where you encounter the hooded & man who has these cards draws me in every time I boot up the game. The smooth and beautiful way with which the cards float their way around the space, shuffling themselves and laying them out before in such an attractive way that you cannot resist.
The scenarios that it puts before you always have a high level of intrigue to them, and every one of them brings you a unique challenge. These adventures are like a scaled-down version of what playing these tabletop RPGs can be like. Only there is the added advantage of the game having total control over the pacing, switching between combat encounters and interesting world-building seamlessly to keep thing varied.
All of the campaigns feel so carefully crafted, that you can tell there’s someone behind it like any other Dungeon Master you’ve ever played with. They keep that warm feeling of something created by someone for the love of creating it, but the medium of the video game allows them to tell it in much grander fashion. Which is what we all want for our D&D stories at the end of the day.
54 – Shovel Knight
Release Date: 26th June 2014
Developer: Yacht Club Games
Publisher: Yacht Club Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo WiiU, Windows, Mac, Linux, Amazon Fire TV
Metacritic Average: 92%
It’s a game about ridding the world of evil with a shovel.
When it comes to indie games, the phrase ‘retro-platformer’ is always an instant turn off for me. Most of them are just bad attempts at recapturing the magic of the classic SNES games, and to put it plainly, Shovel Knight puts them all to shame.
Shovel Knight takes that idea of the retro platformer and makes it it’s own. The visual and sound design are great at capturing the sense of nostalgia and joy that so many of those classic games had. It doesn’t just copy though, as it’s not afraid to mix in modern techniques and use the advantages of modern technology to refine the edges of the game and get rid of all the unwanted quirks. It doesn’t feel like a cheap imitation because quite simply, it’s not, it’s able to form an identity of its own, while still aping that retro style
On top of all that, Shovel Knight’s main mechanic is genuinely unique and innovative. The titular shovel could’ve easily been a gimmick that worked as a retextured sword, but instead, time & care were put in to make it something that worked in a way we hadn’t seen before. The way you could dig through walls, and use it to bounce off of enemies allowed for some enjoyable puzzle-platforming opportunities. At the same time, the level design absolutely nails the flow and the challenge required to really gain mastery over the mechanics.
Very rarely does a game like Shovel Knight come along, where they seek to ape the style of retro games, while still creating a unique identity for itself. Regardless, Shovel Knight somehow managed to nail that landing…then bounce off of that landing with their shovel over a pit of death onto another landing.
53 – Red Faction Guerrilla
Release Date: 2nd June 2009
Developer: Volition, Reactor Zero, Kaiko Games
Publisher: THQ, THQ Nordic
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Metacritic Average: 85%
It’s a game about destroying everything with the sledgehammer.
We’ve got an open world, powerful & varied weapons, and basically everything except the ground being fully destructible. If you’re anything like me, that sentence will have got you very excited indeed about Red Faction Guerrilla, which definitely doesn’t disappoint. The entire game is built around the core mechanic of the fully destructible structures that litter every nook and cranny of the open world. Almost every mission is focused around blowing up buildings in some way, shape or form and the massive variety in terms of both the buildings themselves, and the tools at your disposal ensure it never gets old.
Buildings can be anything from massive skyscrapers to long and wide warehouses that you can just plough a truck into and watch it crumble around you. Then you’ve got the weapons, starting off as the always popular (and extremely satisfying) sledgehammer, moving up to Arc Wielders and Remote Charges, before reaching stupidly over-the-top levels of destruction with Thermobaric Rocket Launchers and Singularity Bombs.
Red Faction Guerrilla simply focuses on making the unabashed destruction that makes this game so fun the primary focus at every opportunity and it’s a game that I will always go back to when I’m the mood for some carnage.
52 – The Binding of Issac: Rebirth
Release Date: 4th November 2014
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS
Metacritic Average: 93%
It’s a game about using your tears to kill unholy (and sometimes holy) abominations.
The modern roguelike/roguelite genre is one that the PC indie market has managed to completely oversaturate over about 5 years, but The Binding of Issac was one of the first and remains one of the best. Not only is the visual design and general aura of the game so weird and uniquely disturbing, but the gameplay has been whittled down to near perfection for the genre.
The sheer volume of different items and modifiers in the game means that you’ll never have a playthrough that looks even remotely similar to the previous one. It avoids the trap that a lot of roguelikes fall into where I’m able to fall into a pattern for each run by merely giving me completely different items every single time. It forced me to play completely different every time I boot it up.
Then once you think you’ve got the hang of the game, you go online and look at some Youtube videos of people playing the game and you’ll see that they’re in a level you’ve never seen before, fighting a boss you didn’t even know existed with the craziest items you can imagine. I will genuinely never reach the bottom of The Binding of Issac, and I think that’s fantastic.
51 – Prison Architect
Release Date: 6th October 2015
Developer: Introversion Software, Double Eleven
Publisher: Introversion Software, Double Eleven, Paradox Interactive
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux, Andriod, iOS
Metacritic Average: 83%
It’s a game about building a (mostly) functional prison.
I’d generally consider myself to not be all that big a fan of the modern builder/management sim. They generally require a somewhat creative mind to get some fun out of them, and I just can’t tap into those elements. Prison Architect manages to get around that issue; however, by limiting how much you can do at each step. I know other games in the genre try to do that, but it always feels like it’s way too much. Prison Architect, meanwhile, is very good at holding my hand through the early stages of the game so that by the time it opens up, I’ve got plans and ideas of how to move forward.
On top of that, the system with which you construct all of your facilities is extraordinarily intuitive and has quite a tactile feel to it, which makes it so much more enjoyable to build and manage things. Even though I like it because of its constraints, it can also be an almost entirely open game if you want it to be. I’ve seen people get unbelievably creative with their prisons in this game, and it absolutely blows me away that what seems like such a simple game can produce so much.
Prison Architect really ticks all the boxes of a builder/management sim. If you want something simple to introduce you to the genre, then this will do that for you, but if you’re an experienced player who wants to build some crazy stuff, that’s absolutely a viable option for you too.
And 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! Finally, make sure to come back here ton Saturday, where I’ll be releasing a sequel to my Pokemon music article!