A Movie Blog by Craig Koban

 

[ ARCHIVES ]

 

MY TOP 5 FAVORITE VIDEO GAMES OF ALL-TIME

 

September 19, 2014

 

 

Why so serious, Craig? 

Video games are indeed an art form. 

How could they not be?  They’re the product of limitlessly talented game designers, artists, and technical wizards that collectively pour in an ungodly amount of time to fully realize the fantastical worlds that millions of gamers around the world cathartically immerse themselves in.  

Like movies, video games – the great and memorable ones, to be sure – have a transformative power over those that play them.  They’re a form of ethereal escape from the everyday, and some of the finest examples that I’ve ever played act as a form of pure our-of-body escapism in the same manner that movies work on our collective subconscious.  It has been frequently commented on by many gamers that time seems to stand still while one is “in-the-zone” of a game’s hypnotic power.  I wholeheartedly agree.  There’s a reason that hours upon hours of time seem to spontaneously whisk by at a lightning pace while playing the games we love; we become so insatiably involved with the characters and vicariously live through them, their universes and the struggles that they face that we quickly forget our everyday surroundings outside of the game.  Games and movies are highly rare forms of entertainment that are able to maintain that Svengali-like grip on viewers and players.  

As a result, to say that video games are not a fully engaging art form would be foolhardy at best. 

The movies, I have often said, are my first true love.  Alas, I’ve often cheated on the cinema with video games.  I lovingly wrote a previous blog (which you can read HERE) about my lifelong history as a gamer, but recently I’ve toyed around with the idea of posting a blog about my favorite video games of all-time...and narrowing down a list to just five titles.  Yikes.  That seemed especially daunting considering that I’ve played on systems as far ranging as the Intellivision in the late 70's and early 80's to the modern day Xbox One.  Yet, I dared myself to hone down a list to a manageable – but very challenging – five games that have stayed with me well after playing them.  That was my essential benchmark for my picks.  That, and I also aimed for variety as well (it would feel wrong to only mention games in one genre or to only list modern-gen titles without referencing ones that I adored on now archaic home consoles).  And, much like I do with my Top 10 movie compilations, this list is a deeply personal one.  The five games listed below are the ones that I’ve had a strong emotional attachment to, in some form or another, during the course of my gaming life and ones that I sunk an inordinate amount of my life into.   

That’s what great art does...right?  It makes obsessive junkies of us all.

So, without further adieu, here are my TOP FIVE FAVORITE VIDEO GAMES OF ALL TIME!!!

 

   

 

Sega Genesis / 1991

 

I’m Canadian, which means that I’m programmed and biologically hardwired to essentially love hockey.  I’ve been playing video games of the sport for over 25 years (remember BLADES OF STEEL for the NES, people?), but my true love of the genre began because of NHL HOCKEY, the very first hockey game launched by EA Sports on home consoles way, way back in the day in 1991. This was also the very first video game that I purchased with my own money for the very first video game console (Sega Genesis, still my all-time favorite) that I also, in turn, bought with my own money.  To a 16-year-old lad…I felt mightily empowered. 

There have been countless iterations of this now iconic franchise over the last two-plus decades, to be sure.  Yet, what makes me place NHL HOCKEY on this TOP 5 list is the fact that it was the very first hockey game of its kind to use the actual NHL teams, the actual NHL stadiums, and, most importantly, the actual NHL jerseys and colors!  This was unprecedented for its time.  As for the gameplay itself, it launched the whole vertical top-down view that has ostensibly become a standard for the hockey video game genre even to this day.  Even though extremely rudimentary by today’s standards, the hockey action in this game - for its time - was extraordinary for its fluidity and sense of realism.  Looking at NHL HOCKEY within a proper context and viewfinder into the past, the game felt as close to duplicating the visceral look and feel of Canada’s greatest pastime unlike any other that preceded it.  Some of my fondest gaming memories were playing as the Pittsburgh Penguins (my lifelong go-to team) over and over…and over…again until I literally wore out not one, but two Genesis game controllers.   

NHL HOCKEY, visually at least, most certainly does not hold up to its many successors, which, obviously enough, had the luxury of improving the series with exponential advancements in game engineering technology over the years.  Yet, to the then adolescent video game player in me, I was in a state of sports loving nirvana playing NHL HOCKEY.  

 

 

 

 

 

SNES / 1992

SHORYUKEN!!!!

Is there any gamer alive that has not played Capcom’s legendary, side-scrolling fighting game?

I vividly recall squandering many quarters and many hours of my teenage life playing the original STREET FIGHTER in arcades in the late 1980’s and focused even more of my gaming attention on its arcade sequel, STREET FIGHTER II: THE WORLD WARRIOR in the early 1990’s.  Taken for granted now, this game was a pioneering original when released, as it gave players an opportunity to pick fighters from around the globe – each with their own unique fighting skill set – to battle against other players or the computer.  When you were done mastering one character…you would move on to the next…and so on and so on. 

When STREET FIGHTER II was eventually ported to home consoles back in 1992 it was my singular reason for purchasing a SNES system.  I will never forget my excitement buying this game, hurriedly running home, and popping it into my newly acquired console.  I think it would be safe to say that most arcade game ports previous to this one were, for the most part, laughably mediocre.  STREET FIGHTER II broke that dubious stigma; it was the very first arcade-to-home-console translation that, for me, felt lovingly faithful in look, feel, and gameplay to its antecedent.  Everything just seemed adoringly preserved on the SNES, even though the game system at the time clearly couldn’t match the processing power and graphics integrity of the arcade version.  Nonetheless, this was STREET FREAKIN' FIGHTER II and I was playing it at home.  How rad was that?

And I played this game…a lot.  I was lucky enough to have first period spare in my senior year of high school when STREET FIGHTER II was released, which meant that I didn’t have to be at class in the morning until after 10 am.  As a result, I could stay up later into the night, which allowed for me the geeky pleasure of discovering and gorging on classic STAR TREK reruns on CBC and playing STREET FIGHTER II until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.  For the first time in my young gaming life, I never felt the need to gather up change and journey out to the arcade to play my favorite fighting game…because I could play it on my 20” TV in my bedroom until wee hours of the morning.  And that is why STREET FIGHTER II makes the cut here. 

 

 

 

 

Xbox / 2003

 

The original KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC for the original Xbox is the single greatest STAR WARS video game of all-time.  

It was also the very first game for the Xbox that I fastidiously and joyously played all the way through not once, but twice.  It was also one of the very first RPG games that I played on a console, so that alone left a lasting impression on me. 

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC was developed by BioWare (Canadian company, by the way!) and was released in 2003.  It immediately struck a chord with me within just a few minutes of playing it.  Not only was it the first STAR WARS themed video game that truly made me feel like I was an active participant in George Lucas’ sprawling space fantasy universe (it had all the sound effects, John Williams’ triumphant and iconic music cues, and many of the noteworthy planets from the film series), but it also told a thoroughly enthralling, epically staged, and exemplarily paced narrative – set 4000 years before the events of the first STAR WARS film – during which time a vile Dark Lord of the Sith and his apprentice have unleashed their full armada against the Republic…and it’s up to you (as the main protagonist) to stop the them.   

In many ways, STAR WARS: KOTOR had a storyline – even with a late breaking, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK-like plot twist – that holds up as well as any of the Expanded Universe narratives.  Aside from its superlative storyline, the game made me feel like I was an actual part of the larger STAR WARS universe in ways that no other STAR WARS game before it was able to.  The round-based combat system was fantastic and intuitive – which allowed players to control multiple characters in your party and assign actions – and the RPG elements (which contained dialogue choices and actions that could fundamentally alter your individual game and story) gave the game a sense of meaningful consequence.  Your actions felt like they had dire repercussions at any one point in the game, which required, as a result, multiple playthroughs.  And, yes, rocking out on Jedi powers and crafting your own lightsabers was sublimely enjoyable.  There is a reason that this game won multiple game-of-the-year honors over ten years ago.  If Disney wants to make more standalone STAR WARS films after the new Sequel Trilogy then I would suggest adapting this game to the silver screen.  

It’s that good. 

 

 

Xbox 360 / 2007-2012

 

About a year ago I did a CTV segment regarding what I thought were the most cinematic video games that I ever played.  I placed the MASS EFFECT trilogy very high on that list.  No other video game has had the aura of a lavish and monumentally scaled and staged movie universe as much as this BioWare produced science fiction/role-playing/third person shooter did.  

None by a long shot. 

In a nutshell, MASS EFFECT is like the love child of STAR TREK and STAR WARS.  I mean that as a sincere compliment.  The sheer density of MASS EFFECT's galaxy and time spanning mythology arguably equals that of what George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry envisioned.  The first game introduced us to Commander Shepard, who – at the risk of overly simplify the sheer vastness and limitless complexity of the game’s narrative arc – is called upon to save the entire universe from a race of enormously powerful mechanical alien beings knows as the Reapers.  Trust me…that’s just scraping the surface of whole overriding plot of this three game series, as it obsessively – but wonderfully and with consummate artistic brilliance – constructs a fantasy world replete with countless extraterrestrial beings and planets that gives the series an overwhelming sensation of the depth and care to detail that went into developing and executing this universe.  

There’s a reason that the MASS EFFECT games were considered technological benchmarks by which future sci-fi games – and RPG in general – would be compared to.  As I went on the series’ enthralling journey with my Shepard (you could carry forward your version of the created character – as well as all of his/her story choices – from a pervious game into a new game) I just knew that I was a part of a groundbreaking game series.   I have never played a game – before or since – with the unrestrained ambition of MASS EFFECT.   Like STAR WARS before it, this game is one to utterly lose and immerse yourself in.  Remember what I said earlier regarding games as as a form of pure out-of-body escapism?  This game is the perfect embodiment of such a notion 

 

 

 

Xbox 360 / 2010

 

RED DEAD REDEMPTION is the first video game ever that I achieved a personal 100 per cent completion on.  I did everything in this game…literally.  I even killed multiple, man-hungry grizzly bears with just a knife!  Granted, I was murder-death-killed a bazillion times by these godless killing machines in trying to do so...but that just made getting the 100 per cent achievement all the sweeter.  

Released in 2010, RED DEAD REDEMPTION seemed to have the initial moniker of being “GRAND THEFT AUTO in the wild west,” a superficial comparison that eventually went away when it was revealed what an awe-inspiring original the game was.  Published by Rockstar (to be fair, they also made the GRAND THEFT AUTO series), RED DEAD REDEMPTION – a spiritual sequel to 2004’s RED DEAD REVOLVER – was set in the American frontier in the early 20th Century where you play as John Marston, an ex-outlaw that forces himself to spring into action when his family is taken hostage by the government.  The government, alas, wants Marston's unique skill set to be used for bounty hunting purposes, which places the hero in a tough predicament. 

I’ve rarely played a game as naturally authentic and atmospheric as this one.  Being a rather large fan of classic movie westerns, RED DEAD REDEMPTION positively nailed both the beauty and oppressive nature of its world and always had an aura of a living, breathing Sergio Leone western come breathtakingly to life.  The third-person gameplay in the game’s expansive and large open-world environment was thrilling to travel trough (especially on horseback!) as your traverse through all sorts of missions spanning from the western U.S. to Mexico.  The film’s overall story was as good as any western film could have offered up, and it builds towards some wonderful twists and turns – not to mention an intense and deeply emotional finale – that made Marston’s journey all the more meaningful and personal.  Combine that with an absolutely addictive multiplayer component – allowing up to 16 people to engage in either co-op or competitive battles – and what you are left with is an instant classic. 

 

 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

  H O M E