Eric - 10. Pinball FX 2
Pinball FX 2, took over my life for a while. When I initially started playing, a handful of friends and I were all actively competing with each other over high scores. Even my girlfriend got into the mix and a lot of trash talk ensued. Over time, the fine people at Zen Studies continued producing more tables, including Marvel superhero themes, Plants Vs Zombies, even an RPG style table called “Epic Quest.” where you could level up and collect loot.
One thing that always stood out about Pinball FX 2 was the sense of realistic physics. You never felt that the game’s underlying mechanics cheated you. Sure, you get bad bounces, but that’s part of pinball. And once you get in the groove and pull off some serious high scores, you get the satisfaction of knowing your friends will be struggling to beat you.
Shane - 10. Organ Trail
Oregon Trail, with zombies, it's really that simple. There's not a lot to say about this game, other than it is one of two mobile platform entries that are consistently on my phone. Put in some of your friends' names, and head west, fighting bikers, undead wildlife, and the reanimated dead. Will you survive?
Eric - 9. Castle Crashers
It was a lazy afternoon at a friend’s house when I was first introduced to Castle Crashers. Admittedly, I joined the party late on this gem of a downloadable title. I've always been a sucker for couch co-op and this game handles it wonderfully. Between the fantastic art style, the character progression and the poop jokes, there was always a compelling reason to go back and play more. Action-adventure RPGs are one of my favorite genres, and Castle Crashers solidly delivers.
Shane - 9. The Room
The BEST mobile game out there right now. You're stuck in a room with a magic puzzle box and tasked with getting it open by solving a myriad of puzzles on the faces of the box. Along the way, you find journal entries - detailing the purpose of the box. The Room takes advantage of touch and accelerometer movements, making each puzzle unique and challenging to solve. There's not much that I can say about this game without giving the story away. My only advice, is to play on a tablet, with headphones - or you're doing yourself a disservice.
The experience isn't very long, but fans of the game can look forward to The Room 2, in 2014.
Eric - 8. Max Payne 3
2001’s Max Payne featured solid shooting and action mechanics, as well as a gritty vengeance storyline that got me hook, line and sinker. The “Matrix” inspired “Bullet Time” diving-and-shooting style was innovative and fun.
Fast forward to 2012 and the release of Max Payne 3 brings it all back. In this iteration, it feels eerily similar to a videogame adaptation of the 2004 film “Man on Fire”, a personal favorite of mine.
The solid shooting, dodging and bullet time mechanics all remain, sharpened from years of experience from developer Rockstar*. They are joined by a highly stylistic art direction and fantastic soundtrack. All of this combines with another dark story line to land solidly at number 8 on this list.
Shane - 8. Borderlands 2
The original Borderlands had a unique story, and revolutionary idea of what an FPS could be. With tiered based loot, and level specific instances - I quickly became obsessed with grinding through encounters with friends. Borderlands 2 expands upon this rule-set with a continuation of it's story and a barrage of new equipment to hunt for. The new classes: Commando, Siren, Gunzerker, Assassin, Mechromancer, and Psycho, offer new perks and abilities that combine well together.
For my first character, I chose Gunzerker. The 'zerker is good with heavy weapons and has the ability to dual-wield for a limited amount of time with a refillable rage meter. I enjoyed this dynamic because I could rage into combat, guns blazing, while a friend could hang back and offer support - should I become overwhelmed.
Touting hundreds of hours worth of gun-play, Borderlands is one of the best games if you're interested in couch co-op. With the addition of expansions and playable classes, I'd recommend this to anyone with some friends and an awful lot of time on their hands.
Eric - 7. Terraria
Since I’m lazy, I’m just going to link to my review.
Here is an excerpt: “The level of freedom and sense of character progression the game provides kept me coming back again and again. Want to upgrade some equipment? Go find your required materials. Planning a trip to the Underworld? Sure, try building a “Hellevator” for a straight shot to the bottom. The thrill of exploration, as well as finding unique and interesting supplies provided me with over 100 hours of enjoyment. After the latest update to version 1.2, even experienced Terrarians will be able to find something new and exciting to experience.”
Shane - 7. Gone Home
Gone Home is an exploration game that takes place in the Pacific Northwest in 1995. You play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a girl returning home to her family's mansion - finding it hopelessly empty during a major storm. Wandering through the house, you're encouraged to turn on lights and pick up pieces of media that provide depth to your surroundings. Not all of the items are important, however, some of them engage narrative elements, read in the voice of Kaitlin's sister, Samantha. Sam acts as the narrator of the story, reading from a diary she has written while Kaitlin was away.
Gone Home is less of a conventional game, and more of an interactive narrative, but I felt a real connection when I walked through the lightning lit halls of the house. There were a few times that I got the feeling that I was being followed, and I was convinced that at any moment, I was going to be accosted by a supernatural being. Thankfully, that fear is never substantiated. Instead, you're treated to an ultra-personal view into the life of a girl who is struggling with defining herself. Her family doesn't understand her and, at times, she really doesn't quite understand herself.
Possibly the most impressing feature to note, is the soundtrack. Comprised of punk rock cassettes disbursed throughout the house, the music set the mood for teenage angst - something that I'd not personally reflected on in some time.
Eric - 6. Forza Motorsports 4
I like cars. I like racing. Because of economic realities, I am unable to fully indulge in those interests. That’s where the Forza racing games come in. The mind-blowing level of detail on the cars, both inside, outside, and even down to the sound they make is unparalleled. This is my chance to drive all the cars I can only dream about, in real world environments I’ll likely never visit.
Forza allows you to turn off traction control, just like at a track. ABS? That can go too. When I nail an apex, mash the throttle and come flying out of that turn in a cloud of tire smoke-all from the perspective of a helmet cam- it can be hard to remember I’m sitting on my couch. And best of all, when I do miss the braking zones and fly off the track, I can just hit the reset button and avoid all the nasty realities of making mistakes on a real track.
At it’s core, Forza is essentially car porn. Sweet, dirty, nasty car porn.
Shane - 6. Pokémon X
Look out, nostalgia bomb!
Pokémon X, part of the X and Y series recently released for the Nintendo 3DS, is the latest installment of the internationally revered franchise. This version is packed to the gills with new 'mons, and features to boot. The most hype worthy being, mega-evolutions! Now, your prized Charizard can hold a stone to evolve one last time, into a veritable firestorm of a being. (The first transformation was easily one of the most giddy moments I've had, holding a Game boy). Mega-evolutions can only happen once per encounter, and require the Pokémon to hold their respective stone for the duration of said encounter. During the evolution, the monsters gain additional points to their base stats, and in some cases look like harbingers of the Poke-pocalypse.
This game adds an extensive overhaul of the online functions, making it easier to battle and trade with friends. What? You have no friends that still play Pokémon? It's ok! As you play the game you are able to see users that are in your general area, giving you an opportunity to play with someone new.
Undoubtedly, the best feature of this new version is the ability to customize your character with clothing options. Yeah, I know, I'm getting worked up about what digital threads my avatar is wearing. However, being a fan of RPG games, customization is key in immersion. I don't want to look like my friend, I want to have my blonde hair, and all black clothes - so I can go for that brooding Pokemaster look. Yeah, maybe it's time to move on to the next game.
Eric - 5. Skyrim
In 2002, my best friend Anderson bought me a copy of The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind for Christmas, stating “I heard this is a great game for people who don’t have a life, because once you start playing it, your life ceases to exist.” I can’t tell you how many hours of my life were poured into that fantasy world. Then Oblivion came, the next entry in The Elder Scrolls saga, and further improved on everything that made Morrowind great.
Then 2011 came along, and the release of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim happened. Impressively, it holds true to the classic game that came out 9 years prior, but cranks everything up to 11. The open world is massive. And it’s not just the size of the world, but the absolute density of things to do within that world. I spent hours just wandering the landscape, interacting with the citizens of Skyrim, exploring the cities and dungeons spread throughout.
The melee combat was a slight disappointment, but that small criticism was overshadowed completely by how totally absorbed I became in the world.
Shane - 5. Halo: Reach
You either come home with your shield – or on it.
I was initially reluctant to play this game. Throughout high school and college, I had way too many late nights of Spartan fueled co-op. Not to mention the drinking. Needless to say, I became burnt out with the series and subsequently took a few years to breathe. Earlier this year, my girlfriend brought me back to Halo after years of inactive service. From a cooperative standpoint, it’s hard to find a series that’s as engaging, when couch-playing with two friends.
Reach introduces a host of new characters into the fold, while providing a prequel to Halo: CE. Starting off as a newbie in a Spartan suit, you go from the baby of the group – to a full fledged badass by the end of the campaign. While the power-ups, with the exception of sprint, were underwhelming – the combat is sharp and entirely effective. Most encounters involve using a vehicle to traverse typical Halo landscape, stopping to fight a few waves of enemies, and taking off to approach your next objective. There isn’t an immense amount of variety, but Reach is highly story driven. It is especially hard to remain unattached to the characters in this installment, as they are constantly fighting alongside you and giving you feedback.
The latter half of the experience is extremely moving. The humans, who are quickly losing ground, push off from Reach leaving their home behind as the Spartans cover their departure. At the bitter end, the Spartans are akin to the warriors of old, battling without the fear of death. I felt honored and humbled to combat alongside them, proving to the Covenant that the human race was worth defending.
Eric - 4. GTA:V
Grand Theft Auto has been a staple of my gaming diet, dating back to the release of GTA 3. Over the years, the controls have become so intuitive that even people who casually play games can pick up the controller and get started right away.
The fifth major installment of GTA goes big on story, introducing three separate characters whose lives intertwine to form the main story line. Switching from character to character throughout the story makes it feel like I’m playing three different yet similar games. In past installments, the character’s history and motivations aren’t always at the forefront of the story, but here they shine. The heists mechanic is an absolute masterpiece, and is made so much better by the multifaceted approaches made possible by controlling three unique characters in real time.
GTA:V contains all the elements I expect from the GTA Franchise. Great driving mechanics, realistic and fleshed-out worlds, so-so shooting mechanics, and a satirical skewering of modern culture. A lot of games do driving better, and a whole lot do the shooting better, but I’m not sure anything else cuts down the culture of Americans quite like GTA does. Journalist Tom Bissel described it as “dumping battery acid all over everything”. Nothing is safe from this criticism, from the bullshit yogis preaching ‘namaste’, to the toxic gamer culture of my peers, to the never ending chase of the almighty dollar and everything in between. GTA just cuts it all to shreds. While this echoes a lot of my sentiments about our American culture, I wonder if they could go deeper, and possibly suggest solutions other than to burn it all down.
Shane - 4. The Walking Dead
Telltale Games, The Walking Dead: Season One, offers an alternate view into one of my favorite comic book universes. The series, originally released episodically, does an overwhelmingly impressive job at creating suspense through tough choices made in each episode. Going with your gut can often go sideways, as each choice carries over into the next installment. I paused the game often, if only to ponder the negative effects of my actions as things unfolded.
Fans of The Walking Dead will enjoy cameos from noteworthy characters in the comic book and television series, though I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoyed, "Choose your own Adventure", books as well. Expect an episodic review of The Walking Dead: Season Two, in the near future, as Telltale has slated it's next season release for this November.
Eric - 3. Fallout: New Vegas
I was introduced to the Fallout universe with the release of Fallout 3. Because of my history with games like Skyrim, Fallout got me hooked. The massive, post-apocalyptic open world was begging me to explore it. (In case you haven’t noticed, open world sandbox games are some of my absolute favorites.) Donning my hazmat suit and stepping out into the Capital Wastelands to scavenge and forge my way ahead absorbed me completely, and hundreds of hours later, I still wanted more.
Then Fallout: New Vegas hit. It retained all of the same things that made me love the previous game: a sprawling wasteland to explore, incredibly unique characters to interact with, dozens of weapons and armor to find, buy or craft all blended into an incredibly compelling story of revenge.
It starts with you getting murdered. Well, not fully, but you do have a bullet in your head meant to snuff you out. A robot drags you from your shallow grave, and a local doctor nurses you back to health. Revenge is an incredible motivator for me, so there was always this innate drive to progress, find the bastard that tried to kill me, and exact my own punishment.
Of course, that’s just the tip of the crazy Mojave iceberg in terms of what New Vegas offers. I found myself in a constant balancing act, trying to maintain relationships with all of the opposing factions in the game. Help the pseudo-Roman gladiator slavers, and you’re bound to wind up on the wrong side of the law. Work with the local government, and the raiders will put a bounty on your head. This constant back and forth with various sects is precisely why I have three-and-a-half playthroughs of New Vegas.
Shane - 3. Minecraft
There was a point in my life where I spent more time inside of this game, than I did living in the real world. For a few months when I was unemployed, my time was vastly spent fulfilling mayoral and architectural duties within a world that my girlfriend and I created. We built cities, and destroyed them. We mined resources 'till our pickaxe arms ached. We killed zombies and dragons, retiring nightly in our meticulously constructed castle to await the next sunrise.
Minecraft addictions are interesting, because they give you a sense of satisfaction that nothing else on a computer can compare to. When you step back from a plaza, comprised of hundreds of thousands of blocks - and bustling with NPC's, it's akin to realizing you are a god. This creation is yours entirely, and you're free to do with it as you please. That's a highly overwhelming feeling. Then, you visit some of the player-created servers, and want to blow your brains out. I had only created a city. These folks, together, had created a world. One with it's own economy, and trade. There were jobs and massive scale buildings, air-ships, and underground fortresses of lava. Some players were there to help, while others would rather trick you into following them back to an undisclosed location - where you were killed and stripped of goods.
I took a step back from Minecraft, quite a few updates ago. My schedule is busier now, and I know how strong of a grip that the game can have on me. Sometimes I consider coming back, but I know that I'd need to take a weeks worth of vacation to get a decent return on my effort. Nevertheless, Minecraft remains near and dear to my heart.
Eric - 2. Mass Effect
Growing up with Star Wars, and Star Trek, I’ve always had a fascination with space, technology, aliens and the idea that humans could interact on that level. Mass Effect was the chance to explore that concept, as in that universe, humans are struggling to have a voice in the intergalactic council of rulers.
You play as Commander Shepard, who recently obtains Spectre status, and is able to operate somewhere outside of the law. You are tasked with tracking down a rogue Spectre who no longer follows the council’s orders. The story twists and turns as you learn more about this rogue Spectre, and what his ultimate goal is.
I spent tons of time in this game simply talking to people. In Mass Effect, all of your actions and conversations are weighted as either good, or evil. As you progress and your character slants one way or the other, it affects how people react to you. While Mass Effect wasn’t the first game to implement some type of morality system, I still think they implemented it well.
As an introduction to the Mass Effect universe, which gets fleshed out more over the next two games in the series, this game delivers. There are so many technologies, worlds and alien races to explore and each one has an incredible depth of details. All of the weapons, the psionic abilities, and tech tools meld to create an immensely enjoyable world to live, fight, and even love in.
Shane - 2. Left 4 Dead 2
Don't give me shit about having three zombie games on my list! They're totally different, I swear! Left 4 Dead 2, though having a terrible name, is my go to Valve game. Fundamentally, it's the same objective every time, but the objective doesn't define the journey. Did you hear that? Someone alerted the horde, and now you're going to have to take refuge in that small house, praying that the undead won't breach through the doors and windows to eat your tasty-tasty brains.
L4D2 capitalizes on being one of the most casual first-person shooters. If you don't like your group, back out, and the spot will kept by an AI while the next user cycles into the server. There's no pressure here, just hectic blast-em-up fun. Playing with friends can be rewarding, especially when you use the post stats for bragging rights. Yeah, I did the most damage to the tank, you're welcome guys. Oh, and thanks for waking up the witch, again.
Eric - 1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty 4 revolutionized the first person shooter genre. It completely up heaved the old conventions on multiplayer shooters. It also is the reason why I bought into this generation of gaming and picked up an Xbox 360. Anyone who has been gaming in these past 6 or 7 years will know fully what Call of Duty has become, and what it has done to the current gaming landscape.
At the time of Modern Warfare’s release, I bought a 360 to get in on the action, and remember many, many nights of staying up till sunrise, mopping up virtual enemies with my buddies.
When is a game more than the sum of its parts? When that game forms lasting friendships. I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of the guys I ran with in Modern Warfare over all these years. One of the last conversations I had with a friend before his untimely passing was about Modern Warfare and how we needed to schedule a time to get together and play.
With annual releases after COD 4, I think some level of fatigue is setting in. Call of Duty: Ghosts was just recently released, and while I haven’t had a chance (or the motivation) to pick it up myself, some of the reviews are mixed. Are they afraid of innovating too much, and changing a winning formula, or are they trying to capture lightning in a bottle again to match the transformative original Modern Warfare? Either way, I maintain that Modern Warfare was and is the definitive game of this generation.
Shane - 1. Bioshock
"A man chooses, a slave obeys".
Bioshock is still my favorite console game, because it has both story, and substance. To this day, the audio diaries are, in my opinion, the most effective method that a game has approached it's narrative. Throughout the crumbling spaces of Rapture, the logs provide an overwhelming sense of sadness and regret for what the city might have been. Add the painstakingly detailed environments, and gripping story elements that bond well thematically - and it's easy to see why so many people got caught up in the experience.
The combat mechanics are decently proportioned, and the combination of plasmids and weapons promote various ways to approach the same encounters. See some splicers hanging out in the water? Surprise them with a shock, and kill three birds with one bolt. Equally impressive was the ability to hack bots and turrets, giving the player some friends to level the playing field.
At the core, Rapture is a new and wondrous place, filled with characters that you're reluctant to trust. Andrew Ryan has some massive ideas that society didn't seem ready for, and even moving his city underwater couldn't shelter his peers from that inevitable corruption. Fontaine, seeking to make a buck off of black market trade, strikes a deal with Dr. Tenenbaum to harvest ADAM from genetically modified orphan girls (Little Sisters). Rapturians used the ADAM to then enhance their own DNA - creating mutative powers. Fontaine later was thought to perish in a battle using his "spliced" allies to try and overthrow Ryan. Then arose Atlas, the man who spoke for the lower class, the people that Rapture had forgotten. It was at this point, that Ryan created the Big Daddies - protectors of the Little Sisters and guardians of Rapture. Their harmonious society continued crumbling from there, entering the era of Jack - the player character.
With the Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea expansion looming, I'm more than ready to take a trip back to the ill-fated city - I've still got more questions that need answering.
With all the games that arrested so much of our attention, it was hard to fit everything into 10, so consider this the best of the rest!
Eric Denton - Honorable Mention
Supreme Commander: An RTS of unmatched scale based on a personal old-school favorite, “Total Annihilation.” Starcraft what?
Borderlands 2: Billions of loot options and solid gunplay. Cliché, but it’s Diablo with guns!
Battlefield: Bad Company 2: Another solid FPS for the vehicle driving, destruction addled gamer. The humor in the single-player should not be overlooked
Fable 2: One of the best action-adventure RPGs out there. This iteration is far and away the best of the Fable franchise. A classic!
Sleeping Dogs: An open-world sandbox game similar to GTA or Saints Row, with a Hong Kong twist. Solid melee combat, middling shooting, and fun driving combine with an amazingly engaging story of an undercover cop living on both sides of the law.
Hotline Miami: A confusing, painfully difficult game. Suffering the hundreds of deaths per level grants you access to some incredibly tight gameplay. Overhead slaughterhouse action combines with trippy visuals and an eerie soundtrack to create a truly unique experience. Ultra violence at its best!
Saints Row 4: What do you get when you mix one of the wackiest sandbox games with elements of The Matrix, Mass Effect, and every superhero game ever made? An amazing simulator of what we all wish our life was actually like.
Dark Souls: Another confusing and painfully difficult game, but the difficulty here comes from the completely unforgiving strength of your enemies and the realistic weakness of your character. You must dodge and block every attack, otherwise you won’t last long. Checkpoints are few and far between, requiring you to trek back through a hellscape of enemies you just narrowly defeated. This is another game that offers a brief opportunity to feel like you have super powers upon making almost any progress at all. Is it all just for bragging rights, or am I really that masochistic?
Shane Hardesty - Honorable Mention
Saints Row the 3rd: By far the most entertaining sandbox style game to hit the console generation. The co-op in this game blew GTA:IV out of the water, simply because you could approach the entire campaign with two people. It seems like a given, but it blew my mind the first time around. The ability to unlock new powers and abilities also added to the allure of this Saints Row.
Farcry 3: Though there was much left to be desired for in terms of the story, this game introduced one of my favorite characters this cycle – Vaas Montenegro. Michael Mando did a bang-up job voicing the happy-go-lucky, and often crazy, antagonist of Farcry 3. Vaas is quite possibly the only antagonist that I’ve been sad to see perish. I would also argue that his death was way too soon in the storyline, I was looking forward to following him down the rabbit-hole a bit more.
Mass Effect 3: Though I enjoyed the previous two Mass Effect games, I played through the third the most. The relationships you form make your eventual decisions in the game difficult, and give reason to consider every option thoroughly.
Retro City Rampage: Take Grand Theft Auto, give it some pop culture references, render it in classic 16-bit style – and you have Retro City Rampage. There’s everything from TMNT to Back to the Future references, and enough fun to keep you deep in the game for a decent period of time. The recent graphical update adds an even sharper look to the game, adding to the immersion of the experience.
Scribblenauts Unlimited: The Scribblenauts games are pretty straightforward. As Max, you use your magic notebook to bring pretty much any noun into your game. Call forth Cthulu and make him fight Jesus with a jetpack. It’s all there. Your mind is the only boundary.
Reus: An excellent 2D god-game where you use titan-like elementals to form a planet. Villagers spawn under certain conditions and develop their areas, eventually warring with nearby civilizations. Will you save the people, or let them burn in their own fiery demise? It’s your choice.
Cave Story +: A Metroid-Vania style side-scroller with extra moxy. The levels are sometimes unbelievably difficult, but are simplified with power-ups that you obtain along the way.
Fez: All the hype was true. Fez takes a conventional 2D platforming concept and spins it in three hundred and sixty degrees, allowing the player to approach jumping through levels from different angles. With awesome music, tough puzzles, and charm – Fez appeals to both casual and full-time gamers, alike.
Hotline Miami: Bright lights, bang-bangs, and blood galore. Hotline rewards the player for being quick and calculated. Kill or be killed, and then kill again. This game is beyond weird, but it’s the kind of weird that keeps you reloading for more.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf: The most recent venture into living in a city populated with strange, but cute, little animals. AC: NL conned my household into two 3DS systems, with just cause. This game is as addictive as they come. With new items in the store everyday, there are thousands of combinations in decorating your domicile. It literally took me months to put this one down.