Welcome to part 5 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This fifth post features entries #60 to #51.
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.
“Do you join the Unity or do you die here? Join! Die! Join! Die!”
#60 – Fallout
Principal Platforms: PC | Developer: Black Isle Studios | Publisher: Interplay | Genre: RPG | Year: 1997
Here is one of the most fondly loved titles that developer Black Isle ever put out (the other being Planescape Torment), Fallout is a role playing game set in a post apocalyptic United States seeped in Fifties retro futurism and Cold War Americana.
With its rather drab palette of colours, eerie ambient music and simplistic combat, you’d think Fallout to be a false prophet at first glance but that’s before you’ve experienced the writing. Every NPC you chat with and almost every action you take in-game is accompanied by strings of incredibly well written text that develop the game’s setting much further than its meager appearance would might usually allow.
Like Wasteland before it, Fallout excels at presenting simple text that helps give the player a clearer (and often more amusing) idea of what is happening in the game world. This is especially prevalent during combat encounters where it’s quite common to see an incoming description that reads something like:
“The plasma pistol hits the raider for 9 damage, knocking him to the ground like a bowling pin in a league game.”
The setup for the story is quite straightforward, but it’s effortlessly intriguing all the same. As the proposed saviour of the underground safe haven known as Vault 13, the faceless “Vault Dweller” ventures out into the irradiated wasteland to reclaim a water purifying chip that will save the lives of his/her fellow homes people.
Along the way you’ll meet inhabitants from all sorts of post apocalyptic settlements including raiders and crime lords to simple farmers and the bizarrely mutated super mutants who seek to destroy all that they come across.
One of the more unforgiving features is a strict time limit on the discovery of the aforementioned water chip. During your first playthrough it’s entirely likely that you’ll simply run out of time trying to find it, ending up with a save file that is entirely unbeatable because you took too long roaming the wasteland. Whether the inclusion of this element is bad design or not is debatable; it certainly adds a lot of tension to the game as a whole, but at the same time it can be rather demoralizing to see all your progress go up in smoke.
Other areas of Fallout are also extremely harsh but perhaps in a more entertaining and satisfying way. Oblivious of all warnings, I remember my first playthrough came to an abrupt end after my character spent too much time in a heavily irradiated sink hole called “The Glow”. After several hours of fun searching this abandoned supply-filled military base without proper protection, my character died from radiation poisoning!
Remember kids: always keep multiple saves and don’t venture into highly irradiated sinkholes without a Geiger counter and Rad-X. Lots of Rad-X.
Fallout is also notable for the sheer amount of freedom it offers you. Practically any NPC in the game world can be killed at any time and it’s fully possible to play through the entire game as a psychotic child murderer should you so choose (although children are officially cut from the European release).
Set your starting intelligence attribute too low during character creation and you’ll be playing as an incoherent dummy who can barely communicate with others because of your repellent gargles and overall stupidity. Conversely, if you set your character’s charisma to be really high, the sheer amount of one-liners and pithy comebacks that you get access to during conversation is equally as entertaining.
However controversial it can be at times, it’s more than apparent that Fallout is a game that was made with a lot of love and I can tell you that more than fifteen years on it still shows.
This is a one-of-a-kind series that redefines what a mature and well written RPG really is.
#59 – TimeSplitters 2
Principal Platforms: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox | Developer: Free Radical Design | Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Genre: First Person Shooter | Year: 2002
No console shooter offered sheer value for money quite like TimeSplitters 2 did during its release.
With so many characters, so many levels and so many challenges to crack, this is one game that will keep the completionists occupied for many months.
TimeSplitters 2 excels as a mutliplayer extravaganza with its local split-screen mode supporting up to four players. The sheer array of different levels, settings and styles of play are staggering and it ensures that the game stays fresh for much longer than you’d expect for a game of its type.
A personal favourite is the multiplayer “virus” scenario which is essentially a warped game of chain tag. One player spawns as the “carrier” with this status being represented by a wreath of green flames enveloping their character model. The objective from here on is simple: the carrier needs to infect other players by simply touching them and anyone else needs to stay the hell away until time runs out.
All the various weapons and power ups from the core game are still in the mix of course, so it’s up to players to decide when is best to try and fight off the infected players and when is best to simply get their asses out of there!
With support for multiple AI controlled bots (who too easily get the virus) and the constant shifting of allegiances between those who are still clean, this mode of play quickly devolves into the sort of riotous fun and backstabbing that is often missing from contemporary titles.
Also worthy of mention is the custom map builder mode that allows you to create your very own levels complete with mission objectives and special events; an extremely impressive feature for a console game to be touting in 2002.
TimeSplitters 2 is such an impressive game, so impressive that even its own sequel couldn’t really build much on the formula laid out here; it’s that solid.
A perfect game for anyone that likes console shooters… with monkeys.
#58 – Syndicate
Principal Platforms: PC | Developer: Bullfrog | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Genre: Strategy, Simulation | Year: 1993
Quite different from the cartooney 2D platformers of the time, Syndicate is an ultra-violent tactical shoot ’em up that takes place in a bustling isometric 3D metropolis of a dystopian future where corporations vie for supremacy on the city streets.
As a director of your very own syndicate, it’s your job to guide teams of faceless cybernetic enhanced agents on assassination missions in various locations across the globe, expanding your reach and increasing that all important bottom line.
Each mission usually takes the form of a homicidal rampage as your agents load up with Uzis, flamethrowers and rocket launchers in order to devastate any enemy agent, cop or innocent bystander unlucky enough to get in the way. It may sound morose, but Syndicate is notable for being one of the first games that does not punish you for incurring civilian casualties and it’s quite happy for you to turn any mission into an abject killing spree so long as the primary objective is met.
Of particular mention though is the ever amusing persuadertron sidearm that once deployed against an unsuspecting police officer or civilian, compels that NPC to follow your squad around like a mindless automaton. Some levels are in fact best approached by abusing the persuadertron continuously; with you amassing a flock of human followers that will fight enemy agents and handily stand in the way of any bullets coming your way.
The cyberpunk influence here is unmistakable, from the gloomy futuristic cities that form the backdrop to each massacre, to the upgradable body parts and high-tech weapons that your R&D division develops for you whilst you’re away. It’s a common theme for a game now, but back in 1993 it felt fresh.
There’s just something special about this game for me; little touches like the minigun sound effect and optional recon packets you can purchase before each mission. They’re little features that give me the impression that the developers were flying by the seat of their pants, typing code at their PC monitors and looking up another moment to declare “you know what would be cool?…”
There’s no doubting though that today Syndicate marks one of the strongest acquired tastes in retro gaming.
The audio work sounds incredibly basic by today’s standards (owing to its John Carpenter influences more than anything else) and the graphics too are certainly showing their age.
This is also not a game you can just launch into as the control scheme and movement commands for your four man team are incredibly specific. You have to know just when to inject your agents with their combat enhancing drugs to succeed in most missions too and overall it’s going to be a game that scares a lot of people away at first glance.
Some of the best games often require a bit of perseverance though, and Syndicate is certainly one that’s worth going the extra mile for.
#57 – Gears of War
Principal Platforms: Xbox 360, PC | Developer: Epic Games | Publisher: Microsoft | Genre: Third Person Shooter | Year: 2006
I revisited the original Gears of War in another article last year so allow me to summarize a little from what I said then.
The Unreal engine has certainly made for some routine sights over the years but back in 2006 Gears of War looked incredible and it still has some of that power today.
The locations are sharply rendered, the character models are huge (facial animations are a bit basic mind) and you’ll witness a detailed post-apocalyptic world filled with many convincingly ruined buildings, dilapidated tunnels and huddled human settlements.
Why the sequels chose to ditch the rather wonderful weather effects is both mystifying and unusual. One chapter plays out over the course of an actual day- you’ll begin an arduous trek in the pleasant sunlight and end in a tense nighttime firefight where the last vestiges of light you can find become crucial to your survival against a relentless army of parasitic carrion that thrive in the darkness.
Another level starts by dumping you in the middle of a fantastic rain-slicked wilderness alongside your broken transport, forcing you to quickly hike through a drenched forest to reach a hidden underground mining complex. It makes for some gorgeous views in spite of the rather brown and muddy palette that the Unreal engine is known for.
The difficulty is also a lot more rewarding in this game than in the sequels. There’s a keen focus on squad based teamwork and you’ll quickly learn how this is not a game for lone wolf players. Staying out of cover for too long is a big mistake and it pays to coordinate your efforts when playing alongside a friend. Gears of War truly excels as a two player game- as you must always try to stick close to each other in case one of you needs to be revived during combat.
After completing it again recently I’ve realized that Gears of War is easily my favourite game in Epic‘s notable series. No doubt the more sophisticated multiplayer thrills of later games will prove more popular with most players, but for me this original offers a more undiluted slice of gaming goodness that works in spite of its uninspired narrative.
#56 – NHL Hitz 2003
Principal Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox | Developer: Black Box Games | Publisher: Midway Games | Genre: Sports | Year: 2002
If you’re looking for an in-depth, meticulously crafted ice hockey simulator that makes you feel like you’re playing an accurate representation of the real thing, then quite frankly, you’re in the wrong place.
But if it’s a brutal, non-stop adrenaline pumping 3-on-3 showdown with flaming players, fist fights and booming checks that you’re after, then this is your game.
This is arcade ice hockey from the masters at Midway and a casual hockey/sports fan will be hard pressed to find a more instantly entertaining game than this. This is ice hockey where quick slap shots rule and the best defence is to just smash yourself into the guy who doesn’t have the puck!
There are still enough statistics (including speed, puck control etc.) to interest the purists and a wealth of different gameplay modes including playoffs, exhibition, multiplayer as well as various minigames to ensure that things don’t become boring.
This 2003 edition (the second of three games in the series) introduces the new franchise mode where you coach a team of initially poor players up through the ranks by completing various objectives during each match-up. You’ll subsequently earn new hockey equipment to improve your team’s statistics and overall competency during play. It’s an incredibly addictive experience bolstered by satisfying gameplay that will appeal to any player, not just those who enjoy sports games.
The graphics are extremely sharp and the audio is very effective too. Every time a player is knocked to the ice you can really feel the weight behind it and seeing another get smashed through the arena glass into the front row seats is always satisfying to witness too. All of this is bolstered by a hyperactive American commentator who lends some real authenticity to the otherwise exaggerated proceedings.
It has to be stressed how fantastic this game is to play. The action up and down the ice is fast and furious with bodies flying everywhere and big hits that make you wince with satisfaction. Unlike NHL Hitz 2002 before it, it can be quite difficult to score a goal and some of the saves that the goalies will make against your shots will have you wide-eyed and speechless.
The controls are good, the AI is impressive and overall it’s tough to find much of a fault with the game at all. The matches themselves may be simplistic and lacking depth perhaps, but the multiplayer gameplay (which features the rare 3 player specialty) is so enjoyable that it really doesn’t matter too much.
After all, what’s hockey without Hitz?
#55 – Neverwinter Nights
Principal Platforms: PC | Developer: BioWare | Publisher: Atari | Genre: RPG | Year: 2002
BioWare established a roleplaying game formula with Baldur’s Gate; a recipe for success that would eventually be built upon with Neverwinter Nights: a full 3D successor set in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of the Dungeons and Dragons RPG universe.
Much like the Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect and Dragon Age games that followed; your hero here is a faceless wanderer in a fantasy land who must make an incredible journey to destroy a great evil.
Built on BioWare‘s flagship Aurora engine, Neverwinter Nights sets many standards for those subsequent games. Upgrading a single leading character, developing relationships/romance with supporting NPCs and traveling to new locations over a 50+ hour adventure are all features here and they’re bolstered by an incredibly faithful version of the Dungeons and Dragons D20 rules system working behind the scenes.
Leveling up your character is extremely satisfying as many of the skills, feats and spells from the pen and paper RPG are present and correct with each of the many classes of hero getting access to a variety of different abilities and specializations.
Although the campaign in Neverwinter Nights is extremely long, the narrative itself is dotted with many side stories and optional quests that make key points of the game more memorable. Journeying into the enchanted woods to find a lost dryad for example may start off as a simple quest, but you can soon find yourself losing hours of your life upon discovering a dungeon entrance and plodding deeper and deeper into a another storyline that was developing alongside your initial objective.
The multiplayer is revolutionary for the time. It allows players to create their own stories and online clans from within developing online RPG scenarios made using a built-in tool set. The modding community for Neverwinter Nights may actually be one of the biggest ever and it’s amazing what certain members of that community have accomplished since the game’s initial release.
The core game is bolstered further by two quality retail expansions (that add epic level characters and gameplay into the mix), several premium modules (that predated what is now called DLC) and countless fan-made expansions and scenarios. If nothing else, this is a game built to last!
Neverwinter Nights is a game that defines my introduction to PC gaming in general and as such, I can’t think of many modern RPGs from the time that are more impressive than this one.
#54 – Ikaruga
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Dreamcast, GameCube, Xbox Live Arcade | Developer: Treasure | Publisher: Sega, Atari, ESP Software | Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up | Year: 2001
Developer Treasure is well renowned for their high quality shoot ’em ups with one of their most cherished titles of such being game called Radiant Silvergun.
Released exclusively for the Japanese Sega Saturn market in 1998, Radiant Silvergun quickly garnered a cult following for being one the best shooters ever made; a supposed masterclass in lavish games design; that is to say the game is loaded with many different weapons, ships, bosses, levels and all manner of combo scoring craziness.
Despite owning an original copy of the game, I’ve rarely been able to work around the space-hogging import headaches of the Saturn in order to give the game a fair shake. What I have played of Radiant Silvergun has been positive, but my initial experience was too fleeting to properly consider the game for this particular list.
When I played Treasure‘s arcade follow up Ikaruga for the first time however, the parallels were immediately obvious. If Radiant Silvergun is a poster child for outlandish shmup design, then Ikaruga easily reigns supreme over the minimalist school of thought.
Featuring only five levels, a couple of generic ships, no power ups and a single central mechanic of firepower, Ikaruga is about as gloriously simple in concept as a shmup can get. If any game in fact personifies the old phrase “simple to learn, tough to master” though, it’s Ikaruga.
An extremely fast and immensely challenging game, Ikaruga‘s entire premise is based on the yin and yang; the harmony created by black and white. When your ship is white you shoot white lasers and become immune to white coloured projectiles with the inverse being true for when you switch to black; something that can be triggered instantaneously during gameplay.
Your own lasers deal amplified damage to enemies of the opposite colour, but you have to be careful because if your own ship is ever hit by a projectile of the opposite colour then it’s going to cost you a life.
Aside from a few additional flourishes including a powerful smart laser and combo system, that’s all there really is to Ikaruga; that and five levels of bullet hell that require split-second reaction speed and mental processing to see through to the end.
The graphics are undeniably polished throughout with every level accentuating the theme of black and white in some way. Enemy ship design is also inspired with battles taking place in high speed tunnel sections, more deliberately paced industrial looking areas and even across the bow of a gigantic cylindrical boss that counts as a stage all to itself!
The audio is beautiful, the challenge never lets up and the teamwork required when playing the game with two players is nothing short of inspired. For a game with such a simple premise, Ikaruga is relentlessly addictive and like all good “hard games” it encourages you to do better, to learn enemy patterns and persevere in the face of overwhelming odds.
Whereas difficulty this high is usually a barrier in similar games, Ikaruga keeps things just short and simple enough to keep you wanting another try.
A work of art.
#53 – Flashback
Principal Platforms: Amiga, MS-DOS, Mega Drive, SNES | Developer: Delphine Software International | Publisher: U.S Gold | Genre: Platformer | Year: 1992
The influence of Jordan Mechner’s smash-hit Prince of Persia are well documented and as much as I love that rather excellent game, it’s a would-be spiritual successor called Flashback that marks my favourite rotoscoped title of choice.
Commonly advertised as the “CD-ROM game on a cartridge”, Flashback lives up to that moniker with a Prince of Persia standard of quality rotoscoped animation, cinematic cutscenes and story-driven adventuring.
The game begins with you in control of Conrad; a scientist who is marooned in a hostile jungle with no memory of how he arrived there. After finding a recorded message that explains where he must go for answers, Conrad ventures to the city of New Washington where he must piece together the fragments of his identity and save Earth from an alien invasion.
It may sound routine, but the level of interactive storytelling in Flashback is truly marvelous for a game made in 1992. The second level sees Conrad getting a job to scrape together funds and before you know it you’re off to explore alien motherships and futuristic game shows where the penalty for losing is death.
All of this is backed up by the aforementioned animation which looks superb for a 16-bit title and unlike its cult favourite stablemate Another World, Flashback impresses further with its more involving gameplay.
Being a platform game at heart, there are plenty of maneuvers to execute including rolls, jumps and pistol shots. Items can be stored in your personal inventory, terminals can be accessed to open locked doors and rocks can be thrown to distract enemies.
The controls can be a bit awkward at times (what with old fashioned d-pads being required for play) and the game could definitely have used a few more checkpoints here and there. The replay value is also somewhat lacking as there’s not much else to see on your subsequent playthroughs.
Regardless, this a 16-bit gem from the one-time masters at Delphine Software and it remains a classic game no matter how bad its 2013 remake was in both premise and execution.
#52 – Lylat Wars
Principal Platforms: Nintendo 64 | Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: 3D Shoot ‘Em Up | Year: 1997
More immediately known as Star Fox 64 in other parts of the world, Lylat Wars is an immensely satisfying N64 entry in Nintendo‘s popular on-rails shooter series.
Quite a cinematic game at times, your team of interstellar heroes travel to various planets/levels of varying difficulty as they shoot down enemies and accomplish mission objectives on their way to planet Venom and the showdown with the evil entity (he always looked like an ape to me…) known as Andross.
Your ship’s movement is limited to up, down, left, and right, to target enemies and take evasive action when a missile comes your way. Although you’ll find yourself holding down the fire button a lot, this isn’t a mindless shooter. Most of this comes down to the peerless level design which presents an abundance of unique and exciting scenarios from arena based boss battles and dogfights amidst asteroid belts to underwater submarine sections and the unforgettable train chase level where you switch out your star craft for a fully mobile attack tank!
The outstanding ingenuity present in each level is definitely this game’s strongest point and it’s only made better by the wealth of secrets and bonuses that are waiting to be discovered in each one.
The story is pretty basic as are the cringe-worthy lines of dialogue from your various comrades, but Lylat Wars holds it all together through mostly intuitive controls and some fantastic 64-bit graphics.
The replay value is also bolstered because of the many divergent paths that the story can take based on your performance. Because the levels are so interesting, it’s a good incentive to keep you replaying the game multiple times in order to experience them all.
When you factor in a serviceable mutliplayer mode with unlockable extras, you have a surefire recipe for success that’s guaranteed to put a smile on a few faces.
The comment about replay value however leads to what is undoubtedly this game’s biggest weakness: the lack of a level select feature.
Clearly inspired by arcade titles, Lylat Wars doggedly sticks to a lives system and there’s no way to practice individual levels without first reaching them by playing from the beginning. Considering how long and how difficult certain levels can be, the lack of any kind of save feature or level select is a curiously negligent omission on Nintendo‘s part as it forces players into long sessions of gaming that can’t easily be interrupted.
Nevertheless, Lylat Wars represents one of the finest Nintendo 64 shoot ’em ups around and I’ll be surprised if it isn’t considered a high point for its respective series.
#51 – Power Stone 2
Principal Platforms: Arcade, Dreamcast | Developer: Capcom | Publisher: Eidos, Capcom | Genre: 3D Beat ‘Em Up | Year: 2000
When I first started composing this list, the first entry I added to my notes was Power Stone 2; right here at #51 present and unchanged.
I’ve actually had somewhat of a love-hate relationship with this game for years; everything I like about its attractive beat ’em up gameplay being somehow sullied by something I coined before on this top 100 list, namely: the “Capcom annoyance factor”.
Take the grand adventure mode where you fight battles and collect treasure to expand your arsenal of fun weapons and items- only playable with one player.
Why, Capcom? This is a Power Stone game; a title that prides itself on quick multiplayer thrills and party atmosphere- why are you forcing me to play on my own!? Do you not think that’s somewhat going against our strengths here?…
Take the roster, back with all your favourite characters and six new additions!… That totally suck.
Who wants to play as a nerdy-looking sentient puppet? Or a slow, ugly obese chef? Or a dainty posh lass complete with umbrella and rubber duck inner tube? It’s not just Street Fighter III where Capcom loves to ruin characters is it?
Take also the more mature elements of the first game- which have now been completely axed to allow such farcical sights as characters who act like complete imbeciles during victory poses, costume parts such as bunny ears and cat tails, and an end boss who takes the form of a giant green monster sitting at an oversized tea set, who spits coffee at you. Awful.
Aside from a twitchy targeting system and a disappointing lack of levels, Power Stone 2 does little else wrong and delivers frantic multiplayer thrills where they count the most. Featuring free-for-all and team-based play across interactive levels, this is a fantastic multiplayer party game. With a zoomed-out camera angle, up to four players beat each other senseless with a wide assortment of weapons and items including standard swords, sticks and crates to the more outlandish giant hammers, beanstalks and magic potions.
Each level is stunningly feature-packed and often moves from one “scene” to the next. You may start aboard an airborne carrier with working turrets and flying eagles (who can offer you a quick lift), only for the craft to break apart and send you all barging into each other during the free fall that follows. Once you land you find yourself in a courtyard with working catapults, a moat that dispenses treasure chests and even a drivable tank that can fire explosive shells at nearby players.
Whilst the gameplay as a whole is not perfectly balanced (each character from the first game is missing basic attacks, sadly), the fun that ensues is usually worth the sacrifice and it’s possible to lose many hours playing the same levels over and over again because of the enjoyment to be had in each one.
The Dreamcast version features a shop menu where you can mix collected items together to form new ones and it certainly adds a nice bit of longevity to the package as a whole. And despite my many criticisms with the game, I have to concede that this is perhaps the best mutliplayer game ever released for the Dreamcast console and it’s one that I keep coming back to even today.
Power Stone 2 is a marvelously entertaining game then, but one with just a few too many typical Capcom flaws for me to justify a place in the top 50.
So close and yet so far.