Although I had a great time with the original Rock Band when I spent time with my friends in-person, it was only after the release of the second iteration (featuring online co-op) that I really dug my fingers in. Harmonix had by this time created quite a large library of tunes compatible with any game in the series, and I would download some of my favorite songs to "play" along to from time to time. The note layouts were generally pretty intuitive, even if sometimes it seemed like the Rock Band track was actually more difficult than the actual song (I play actual guitar as well as plastic guitar). Also, if it weren't for Rock Band, I'd have never heard of Bang Camaro, a great rock band that plays retro-styled tunes.
I had a fantastic time playing this co-op open world action game. Mercenaries 2 is very similar to later hits in the genre like Saints Row The Third, but the game allows you to wield much larger firepower and enact much greater destruction. Whereas in Saints Row you can use a rocket launcher to destroy a tank, in Mercenaries you can call in an air strike to destroy a building. The destruction physics that follow such an action are quite impressive as well. However, Mercenaries 2 has this level of jank that just really endeared the game to me. Things could certainly be a little glitchy, but I could listen to Peter Stormare deliver Mattias Nilsson's stilted dialogue all day long. "Bumper Cars!"
Gears of War 2 brought the same levels of blood, viscera, weight, and impact that the series has become known for, but did important work in introducing players to the unique characteristics of their adversary and the world of Sera. Torture Barges, Rock Worms, Tickers, Rift Worms - all of these were introduced in Gears of War 2. The tickers magnificently ratcheted up the tension felt by the player, and the level that takes place inside the Rift Worm is likely the most memorable in the entire series.
"Bill!?" Unfortunately, there's really no reason to play the original Left 4 Dead at this point, unless you just want a simpler experience. All of the original game's maps are now playable in the sequel. Left 4 Dead lacks the Adrenaline Shot, the Bile Bomb, the Defibrillator, and four of the special infected that populate the levels of its sequel. However, Left 4 Dead deserves credit for popularizing such a unique form of cooperative multiplayer gameplay. Without Left 4 Dead, there would be no Vermintide, World War Z, Space Hulk: Deathwing, or Contagion.
Red Alert 3 remains the only REAL co-op RTS I've ever played. Spellforce, the 8-Bit series, and Dawn of War II have some aspects of RTS to them, but they fall short. Red Alert 3 contains three separate faction campaigns that were designed for co-op play from the ground up. Players are given distinct bases in slightly different parts of the map, and some tactics may be more useful at one base than another. For instance, one base might be located on the water, and that player might pour much of their resources into building a seafaring fleet. I've played through these campaigns at least 3-4 times, completing them on various difficulties and trying each of the different base locations and roles. Red Alert 3, much like its predecessor, contains wonderfully campy FMV videos, showcasing the brilliant comedic timing of J.K. Simmons and Tim Curry. Another fascinating thing about this game is the way that it made RTS controls intuitive on a controller through radial menus. My first playthrough was on an XBOX 360.
I've always had friends that were into Civilization games, but I had never experienced them for myself. But when Civilization Revolution purported to capture the spirit of the series in a more streamlined form, I decided to give it a shot. I absolutely loved it. I liked the various non-violent win conditions, and the unique characteristics of each leader. Civ: Rev's short three hour games allowed me to try various strategies and leaders without being bogged down for hours and hours at a time. However, it still maintained the addictive "one more turn" nature that the series is known for. I later played Civilization 5 on PC - it was enjoyable enough, but Revolution is more my style. I recently picked up Revolution 2 on mobile, and I'm excited to give it a spin.
Although I can't say I loved the direction that Monolith took the story, Condemned's visceral melee combat remains at satisfying as ever. What other game allows you to grab a utility pipe directly off of the wall, smack an opponent in the face with it, grab that enemy while he's reeling, and slam his head into a CRT television? The shooting mechanics are satisfying as well, but it's more difficult to stand out in that arena - shooters are done often and done well. I did find the detective mechanics intriguing, and thought they did well at periodically creating respite for the player. However, the game will be remembered for its intensity - both the "bear" scene, and the scene in which the player fights an armored knight using medieval weapons in a museum, are absolutely fantastic.
I've always slightly preferred the Guitar Hero series over Rock Band. First of all, I always play the guitar in these plastic instrument games, and Guitar Hero is designed from the ground up with this in mind. I also feel that it's slightly more forgiving than Rock Band, which makes playing on higher difficulties more palatable. However, in the end, these games live and die by their tracklists. And simply put, Guitar Hero World Tour has the best tracklist of any of these games. When I'm not jamming to Jimi Hendrix (my favorite guitarist), I'm being introduced to great foreign artists that I haven't heard of, like the Dutch singer Anouk with her song "Good God." And although I must confess that I haven't messed with it, World Tour includes a GH Tunes tool that allows players to create and upload their own songs.
Although I might consider Alan Wake to be close, Dead Space is definitely the best third-person shooter I've ever played. Isaac's isolation creates a sense of desperation, as well as the fact that he's using engineering suits and tools to confront the Necromorph menace that weren't designed for this job. The sound design (which is as good as any game I've ever played) wonderfully ratchets up the tension with the ship's groans, enemy clangs, and the muted vacuum of space. Isaac has limited inventory space, which can create tough decisions about what to carry forwards. The world is also inescapable - the player's HUD is limited with health and ammo displayed on the suit and weapon, and the game projects menus and logs in front of the player rather than removing you from the gameplay. Lastly, I have to mention the limb-removing mechanic that is necessary for success in the game. The novelty of attacking limbs (instead of endlessly pursuing headshots) and the subsequent crippling of enemy movement is some of the most satisfying shooting I've experienced to date. EA's closing of Visceral was a crime against humanity.
Of all the Bethesda-style games out there, Fallout 3 is my favorite. Much like New Vegas, I enjoyed the music, the perks & skills, the scrounging, the environmental storytelling, and the way that your dialogue options change based on your characters strengths and weaknesses. I also always appreciate the VATS system featured in these Fallout games. It sort of "papers over" the awkward combat engine that Bethesda uses. But something about the characters and settings in this game just resonated with me more than those in its sequel. The vaults (including Tranquility), Megaton, and the dilapidated ruins of the D.C. National Mall. Characters like Three Dog (the radio DJ) and Liberty Prime (the enormous anti-Communism robot) just stuck with me, years after I'd originally played the game.