Welcome to part 7 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This seventh post features entries #40 to #31.

Be sure to read the introduction that I put together beforehand too as it gives a more detailed introduction on what I’m trying to achieve here as well as a few other random musings that you may find insightful.

If you’re looking for another post in this same series then consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all published entries and the posts in which they appear.

“Wake me, when you need me.”


 

#40 – XCOM: Enemy Within

Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 | Developer: Firaxis Games | Publisher: 2K Games | Genre: Strategy, Simulation | Year: 2012

XCOM: Enemy Within

XCOM: Enemy Within is an expanded version of XCOM: Enemy Unknown; the latest installment in the venerable XCOM series of PC games.

Despite having no prior exposure to the series firsthand, it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the appeal. One half of XCOM is a turn-based strategy affair where you command a team of soldiers in a frontline battle against aliens invading the planet and the other is a simulation scenario which sees you researching advanced technology, financing base construction and training the next generation of recruits for war against the enemies of Earth.

XCOM is far from a generic effort though, there are many subtle systems and more “hardcore” features that make this game worth sinking your teeth into. Combat is truly lethal and once your prized soldier is crossed off by a Thin Man’s Hail Mary laser blast from thirty tiles away- he’s gone forever and the resulting emotion over the fact is palpable.

Hostile aliens can be captured and interrogated if you’re skilled (and brave) enough which can lead to new technological developments much faster than simply shooting your enemies on sight.

A rare material called ‘meld’ also appears randomly in missions and once collected it can lead to incredible new discoveries including more advanced weapons, mechanized infantry and genetically modified super soldiers.

The only catch is that meld must be secured quickly once spotted (as each canister is rigged to expire); so it’ll be a tough decision of whether to break cover and collect the precious substance or ignore it in favour of better positioning.

This is because the combat portion of XCOM is incredibly tactical. Squads are made up of different troop classes and it will be up to you to decide what balance of specializations to carry into each encounter. When troops are wounded in battle, they can be out of action for a good while and you can find yourself relying on unproven rookies more often than you’d like to.

Back at HQ you’ll need to manage all sorts of concerns and as time ticks on you’ll need to have your operation fully upgraded with the latest laboratories, workshops and training modules if you have any hope of easing the world’s panic.

You’ll launch satellites to monitor the alien activity, respond to abductions with your newly outfitted squad and shoot down hostile UFOs with your squadron of Interceptor attack jets. There’s rarely a dull moment in this game and it will require nerves of steel to make it to the end relatively intact.

XCOM: Enemy Within is a fine re-imagining of a popular series then; it looks great, plays great and comes with a lot of replay hours for those who get into it. The roguelike sprinkles under the hood are an inspired touch and help give this series a real niche of its own.

“Good luck, commander!”

 

#39 – Sonic the Hedgehog

Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Developer: Sonic Team | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Platformer | Year: 1991

Sonic the Hedgehog 1 Sega Mega Drive Box Art

Sonic the Hedgehog

The plucky upstart on the video game scene as the Nineties rolled around was Sega. Deciding to compete with the dominant force of Nintendo head-on for leading share of the market, the decision was made to create a character that would rival Mario in popularity. Sonic the Hedgehog was intended to personify everything Sega felt that Mario lacked; a hip Nineties attitude, cool colour scheme and lots of speed.

The reason why Sonic succeeded though was not simply down to the character or any clever marketing angle; it was the game itself. Released in 1991, the video game titled Sonic the Hedgehog is simply amazing for its time.

The premise is once again rather simple but with many flourishes that make for an exquisite gaming experience. The major angle here is speed; Sonic is fast; really fast. Quite unlike games of the time, the levels feature many set-pieces that are dedicated to giving you this sensation of speed. One particular video highlights this rather well in less than a minute, which is impressive in its own right.

Sonic the Hedgehog would remain my favourite game for many years, its several sequels adding even more of what makes this original great to begin with. Nowadays its common to look back at this title as one of the more basic and lackluster entries in the series as the later releases would up the ante in terms of speed and characters. In some ways I guess that’s true but Sonic 1 is, more-so than its various sequels and spin-offs, a platforming game first and an exhibition of speed second.

I feel that the major examples of speed in this game come in the opening act. The Green Hill Zone is the time where it’s perhaps easiest to appreciate this accelerated gameplay. The later levels including the Marble and Labyrinth Zones for instance, tend to be more methodical offerings where thoughtful platforming takes centre stage over raw speed. The latter zone in fact often takes Sonic underwater, dramatically reducing that revered element of velocity. It is in this way that I find the first Sonic to be very unique from the sequels that would follow.

A notable element of Sonic the Hedgehog‘s speed though is not simply in moving quickly but also in how speed actually functions as a concept. Play any platforming game from around the time this game came out and I would be positive that none will feature a playable character who not only speeds up when running down a hill but also slows down when moving up a sharp incline. The speed feels real here; truly a masterpiece in programming acumen for the time.

The fact that Sonic the Hedgehog is even compared to the highly respected Super Mario Bros. in the first place is testament to the level of quality that has been achieved in this game. The numerous ‘clones’ that followed in Sonic’s wake (a trend that video games will seemingly never grow out of), also featured an abundance of animal protagonists with ‘tude that further galvanizes the effect that this game and its character had on the market at the time.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a special game that helped bring me into a fraternity that I have not presently escaped from. The famous three second “Se-ga” chant introduced during the start-up sequence  alone (a sound file that takes up an eighth of the cartridge’s memory!) still resonates with many players today.

The high-action gameplay, impressive graphics, catchy music and even the unforgettable level select cheat code all combine to make Sonic the Hedgehog one of the finest games of my generation and it’s still one of my favourites nearly 25 years on.

 

#38 – Sonic CD

Principal Platforms: Mega-CD, PC | Developer: Sonic Team | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Platformer | Year: 1993

Sonic CD (Sega Mega-CD)

For the longest time Sonic CD was my #1 favourite video game; a title possessed of a rare quality for the time it was released.

Developed as a showpiece for CD-ROM technology, it was hoped that Sonic CD would pave the way for a new generation of quality disc-based games and whilst it is a fine title in its own right, ultimately the grand vision never materialized like Sega once hoped.

Sonic CD appealed to me as a youngster for its sharp 2D graphics and flourishes of 3D, for its excellent soundtrack (in the European/Japanese version at least) and its robust palette of different levels.

Sharing much in common with the first game in the series, this lesser-known title in Sonic’s library consists of 7 different stages interwoven with the theme of time travel. When Sonic passes certain posts in the game world he gains the ability to transport himself through time by gaining enough speed for several seconds (an obvious inspiration from Back to the Future).

Each stage features a design for the current time period (whether it’s a good/bad future, present or the past) complete with new colours, different enemy patterns and an alternate arrangement of both the level layout and music. Such variety for a game released in 1993 is stunning (as each level essentially comes in four flavours) and it helps set Sonic CD apart from the generally lacklustre titles that call the Sega Mega CD console home.

Although the method of time travel is clunky, it remains an interesting mechanic and part of the game’s advanced challenge as the only way to secure a truly good ending is to visit levels in the past and destroy a robot-producing factory present in each one.

When you add in an impressive 3D bonus stage, a time attack mode and other unlockables that save to your console’s internal memory; you’ve got a truly great Mega CD title that keeps very small company.

The Sega published HD remaster helmed by wizard programmer Christian Whitehead is the best way to experience Sonic CD today though, and after many years the game is finally reaching the larger audience it deserved on current generation consoles and mobile devices.

The time this game spent as my #1 video game was time admittedly obstructed by nostalgia, as very few people I spoke to then had any knowledge of this special game at all; making the whole thing feel like a more personal experience than usual.

The gameplay isn’t as fast or exciting as Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the challenge is a bit lax and overall the final encounter is a bit of a let down.

But Sonic CD is still a good follow on from the original and it stands as a good example of what the Mega CD could do if given the proper consideration.

 

#37 – Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Developer: Sonic Team, Sega Technical Institute | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Platformer | Year: 1992

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Sega Mega Drive)

It’s true that these Sonic games are so close in terms of quality that it’s difficult to select one to go above the other. Ultimately though, I think you have to give credit to the sequel that practically defines what an essential Mega Drive purchase truly is.

A hotly anticipated title at the time, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 would go on to cement Sega‘s growing reputation for quality games. With better graphics, faster gameplay and a ton of additional levels, Sonic 2 improves on every facet of the original and is everything the quintessential 16-bit sequel should be.

The gameplay itself is largely unchanged, but the overall spectacle itself seems more alive in this second outing. The stages are more expansive, the robot enemies are more varied and Sonic’s new ‘speed dash’ move ensures guaranteed momentum when you want it most (which is usually most of the time!)

The stages themselves are shorter than the first game (something that improves pacing nicely) and the boss encounters with Sonic’s nemesis Dr. Robotnik are more interesting and a lot more memorable than before. The special stages have been redesigned too and represent a real graphical showcase, although I’d argue that they’re not as enjoyable in practice as they rely far too much on memorization and timing rather than precision gameplay skills.

Players that are dedicated enough to collect all seven of the chaos emeralds hidden in these stages however, are rewarded with the amazing benefit of changing Sonic into Super Sonic; a transformation that grants golden spikes, invincibility and even faster speeds. It even comes with its own theme tune; what’s not to like?

Of particular mention also is the inclusion of a versus mode where 2 players race head-to-head to the finishing line across four of the game’s preexisting stages. Although the split-screen is rather skewed to fit both players’ position on-screen, the mode is still quite enjoyable with the inclusion of scoring modifiers and an exclusive body swapping power-up leading to some fun finishes.

Overall, this is still a sequel worth celebrating today. The gameplay is fast, the challenge is tough and the graphics are a 2D showpiece accompanied by some of the most upbeat tunes of the 16-bit era.

It’s the Mega Drive‘s best selling game for a reason; Sonic the Hedgehog 2 has still got it.

 

#36 – Silent Scope

Principal Platforms: Arcade, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Dreamcast | Developer: Konami | Publisher: Konami | Genre: Arcade | Year: 1999

Silent Scope (Arcade)

Analyzing the video game industry and discussing the viewpoints of whether the arcades are truly “dead” or not is an article in itself and even then it’s an article that has been already been published many times over already.

For me at least, arcade gaming was pretty close to a non-factor growing up in England during the Nineties, and once home consoles were able to achieve parity on a graphical level, the end was near for the once respected term of “arcade perfect”.

But here we have a bit of an anomaly. Somewhat of a mainstay in arcade game culture, Silent Scope; the game that uses a fairly realistic rifle light gun as its showpiece, is an easy title to recommend when talking about the genre.

A game that looks incredibly appealing on the arcade floor, Silent Scope requires players to physically alter the position of their head and body in order to shoot accurately. The sniper rifle’s scope displays a magnified view of a small portion of the screen, representing the sniper’s long-range view of the area where the rifle is pointed.

Your job as a player is to quickly spot enemies on-screen (that look like little specks away from the scope) and line them up for quick but accurate shots. Silent Scope belongs to the fraternity of classic light gun shooting games that prides itself on accuracy above showy carnage. Shooting wildly in-game actually prompts your handler to whisper “calm down”; further encouraging to take your time during the all important aim.

Despite the rather morose setup of assassinating criminals though, Silent Scope tries to keep things light with its ‘babe sighting’ power-ups, training missions and absurd boss encounters that run the gamut of a hidden guy with a flamethrower to you one-on-one with a harrier jet!

Although the game is quite short (there’s only three levels in total), it’s amazing how far even a beginner player can get on a single credit. It’s hard for me to think of many arcade games that constitute decent value for money for time spent playing, but I definitely think Silent Scope is one of them.

There have been several attempts to bring this game to home consoles including several compilations, trimmed down rifle peripherals and even releases that weren’t compatible with a light gun at all! Needless to say, none of these home versions can really capture what makes the game so wonderfully captivating on the original arcade cabinet.

A tense and exciting shooter, Silent Scope will likely remain my arcade game of choice for years to come.

“Wow!”

 

#35 – Fallout 2

Principal Platforms: PC | Developer: Black Isle Studios | Publisher: Interplay | Genre: RPG | Year: 1998

Fallout 2

There are many purists that will declare Fallout 2 an inferior successor to the original game in the series. Those critics suggest that Fallout is a purer role-playing experience, that the post apocalyptic setting is better realized with fewer pop culture references and concessions to wacky humour that its sequel has in droves.

The funny thing here is that the people who suggest that are actually correct, at least as far as a roleplaying experience goes.

Fallout 2 is a more amusing game, and there are many times where the silly spectacle of certain situations take over from the presentation of the punishing adversity of life in an irradiated wasteland.

Ultimately though, Fallout 2 is a better game than its prequel because it offers a much bigger world to adventure in, more perks with which to upgrade your character and a longer story with many more replay hours.

As a direct sequel in form, function and storyline, Fallout 2 looks extremely similar to the original but possesses a lot more depth. There are many more well written conversations to be had with the various inhabitants of this world and the sheer number of optional side quests and stories present in the game’s code is extremely impressive.

A more satirical and clever game than its predecessor, the new antagonists in this sequel are the United States government and their unstoppable army of armoured soldiers intent on dominating what’s left of the known world.

Your character, a descendent of the original game’s Vault Dweller, ventures out from the relative safety of their tribal village in search of the fabled Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K.); a MacGuffin that will save his/her people from the rapidly declining conditions of the wasteland. On this journey you’ll come across plenty of new NPCs and other returning characters that are always a delight to interact with, even when they’re telling you to f**k off!

With a generous helping of fun combat, great plot twists and strong replay value, Fallout 2 might not be all that different from the original, but it’s surely the sequel that it deserved.

After all: war never changes.

 

#34 – Rayman 2: The Great Escape

Principal Platforms: Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 | Developer: Ubisoft | Publisher: Ubisoft | Genre: 3D Platformer | Year: 1999

Rayman 2: The Great Escape

Here we have a critically acclaimed sequel that no industry expert could ever have predicted.

Rayman 2 has to be one of the most impressive sequels of all time as it effortlessly reworks the few good points of the mediocre original into a totally different game that feels fresh, exciting and magnificent in execution.

Rayman was a vivid but ultimately generic and frustrating platforming experience released for the 32-bit systems, garnering tepid reviews and accomplishing very little. Rayman 2 is the complete opposite. Judging by the demo alone, I could tell that Rayman’s new adventure was shaping up to be something very special indeed.

Ditching the antiquated 2D view in favour of a full 3D platforming adventure, Rayman 2 comes loaded with personality, unique characters, unique sounds and a certain je ne sais quoi that only French developer Ubisoft (and perhaps Rare) could accomplish at the time.

The Nintendo 64 version was released to begin with but I think it’s the Sega Dreamcast that can claim to have the definitive build. The slightly better camera angle gives you a better view of the picturesque game world and also included are a few hidden mini-games, one of which being a fun maze chase game that supports up to four simultaneous players!

In terms of graphics, Rayman 2 is simply incredible and raised the standards for its time. Several 2D sprites are replaced by 3D models, a widescreen mode is present (a rarity for a game released in 2000) and the whole show runs in glorious sixty frames per second. This is to say nothing of how the game takes advantage of the Dreamcast‘s VGA hardware to produce crisp visuals that look incredible even on modern LCD televisions.

Whilst a dip in playability hits in its final quarter (the difficulty gets unreasonable towards the end) it fails to truly upset what is a spectacular adventure and easily the most unexpected video game surprises I’ve played in recent years.

 

#33 – Deus Ex

Principal Platforms: PC, PlayStation 2 | Developer: Ion Storm | Publisher: Eidos interactive | Genre: RPG | Year: 2000

Deus Ex

From the opening level alone, Deus Ex immediately establishes itself as a class apart.

By the time I acquired a PC of my own, Deus Ex had already succeeded Half Life as the cutting edge game of choice and as such it was one the first titles I owned on the format.

With so many well realized characters, set pieces and working objects ranging from hacking tools to working vending machines, Deus Ex followed Duke Nukem 3D‘s example by offering one of the most interactive game worlds ever seen.

Although playing around with the basket ball on the junkie-owned court in the first open level was fairly pointless in of itself, it’s the little touches like these that gave Deus Ex a reputation for exceptional realism and believability.

Ultracool protagonist JC Denton visits many detailed environments over the course of the story and the open nature of each one forms a basis for the game’s lasting appeal. Whether you storm into a hostage filled room guns blazing, enter quietly through an open window or hack the code lock on the front door; there are many different approaches to each situation you find yourself in.

This is combined with a satisfying character progression system that allows JC to increase his proficiency in everything from firearms, lock picking, computer hacking and even swimming. Because of the range of non-violent solutions to each scenario, Deus Ex is often considered to be closer to an RPG than it is a straight shooter; something that was a very new and exciting prospect in 2000.

In a similar vein to another PC classic Thief; Deus Ex blends stealth, gunplay and a mature cyberpunk setting to great effect and has created an enduring legacy for its legion of dedicated fans.

The game’s final quarter is a bit weak though and many aspects of the story form a labyrinthine mess of conspiracy angles when you get down to it, but none of that spoils what is an excellent game and one rightly regarded for letting players take their own individual approach to the task at hand.

Deus Ex is the game that taught other games how to grow up and reach a wider audience.

Exceptional.

 

#32 – Halo 3

Principal Platforms: Xbox 360 | Developer: Bungie | Publisher: Microsoft | Genre: First-person Shooter | Year: 2007

Halo 3

After the disappointment of Halo 2, developers Bungie returned in 2007 with Halo 3 for the Xbox 360; a critically acclaimed sequel that, this time, deserved the hype it received.

A massive sequel, Halo 3 increases the franchise’s renown for innovation by introducing a huge raft of now common features, customization options and a campaign story featuring support for up to four simultaneous online players.

The story is harder to fully comprehend and appreciate when compared to the original game definitely, but the overall pacing and payoff in the narrative is certainly better than Halo 2‘s lacklustre effort.

The Master Chief himself looks great in the sharp HD graphics and the raft of new vehicles, weapons and other toys he gets access to are nothing but complimentary to the gameplay experience. There are very few ‘dud’ levels in the campaign and each encounter with the enemy is bolstered by good level design, thoughtful set pieces and yet another stirring soundtrack.

The multiplayer maps included with the game are also very strong with lots of asymmetrical designs that prove more interesting than the norm. The online components go a step further though and offer rarely-seen features to keep players interested. Consider the saved replays, which let you save a replay of any game session and watch it back frame-by-frame from different angles before sharing it on Bungie‘s own servers. It’s very impressive.

With plenty of achievements, alternate multiplayer modes and even a level editor, Halo 3 is one of the best Xbox 360 games for sheer lasting appeal and it will take you hundreds of hours to exhaust all of the content contained within.

Another class act from the class of 2007, Halo 3 is one of the series’ best entries to date.

 

#31 – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

Principal Platforms: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox | Developer: Neversoft | Publisher: Activision | Genre: Sports | Year: 2001

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (PS2)

The zenith of the video game “extreme sports” craze that began in the late Nineties, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is a stunning sequel for this genre-leading series that packs in more tricks, more features and more quality gameplay than your brain can handle.

From creating your own personal skater to editing your own purpose-built levels, the wealth of options in this game are dizzying. The extensive single player campaign is still here, but this time the challenge has been beefed up with plenty of high scores, collectibles and secret characters to earn as the game goes on.

Tony Hawk’s 3 introduces the ‘revert’ as its main new feature; a transitional skating maneuver that links the combos you perform together. The points you can earn from your massive strings of tricks and ollies are now greatly increased which means mastering this new technique is key to your long-term success.

It may sound simple, but it adds just the right amount of added depth to the existing formula to make it all the more enticing to play. It’s not enough to just fire off a few spins and kick flips any more as the points for continuing into more complicated combos are too good to pass up.

Adding to this is the size of the game’s levels which are simply huge in comparison to the previous titles in the series. You can expect to skate through large parks, ocean liners, smelting foundries and even a UFO holding facility on your way to being the best digital skater who ever existed.

There are also a lot of special moves that your character can activate that all range from grind, vert, and lip tricks that are executed with simple entry commands in-game. Performing these tricks is just as satisfying as it’s always been of course, but they now look even better due to the enhanced graphics and faster moving gameplay.

Following on from this release, the Tony Hawk‘s series would take a drastic change in direction by removing the usual level time limits and pursuing a more open world format of skating. Without the pressure to perform well in an allotted time though, the game feels less engaging and personally I rank Tony Hawk’s 3 as the best entry in the series having played up to the disappointing Tony Hawk’s 4.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 is the real deal then. An uncompromising and rewarding sports game that delivers all the heavy thrills, heavy content and heavy music that the series is known for best.

In a word: awesome.