There were a lot of folks who were upset about this game – they felt that it didn’t live up to the legacy of the 1993 and 1996 games. However, for a newcomer, this world of corporate wars was fresh and exciting. Tech played an extensive role in the game – in this future, everyone has an internal chip in their brain. These chips can not only be hacked to change a person’s behavior, but they can be extracted after death to provide new abilities for the killer. Grenades can be defused via hacking, and bullet-deflection shields can be hacked to make a target vulnerable. The DART overlay allowed the player to identify enemies through walls, and players could shoot bullets that seek around corners or even shoot through the walls themselves with certain high-powered rifles. The game oozed style, and featured a challenging four-player cooperative mode.
While the story really went off the rails for me in the Darkness II, the central concept remains as cool as ever. The son of a crime boss, on his 21st birthday, manifests a dark power that allows him to throw projectiles via tentacle arms, summon goblin-esque minions, and create plague swarms and black holes from nothingness. The Darkness II couples the feeling of being a predator (similar to Rocksteady’s Batman offerings) with the gruesome carnage of eating enemy hearts to gain strength, all from a first-person perspective. The Darkness itself is brilliantly voiced by Mike Patton, who is just unmistakably malicious. The game also featured an enjoyable cooperative mode alongside its campaign, though I wish it were more substantial.
Just an extremely solid open-world action game. Sleeping dogs has great music, an impactful melee combat system with environmental takedowns, a meaningful upgrade system, capable driving mechanics, and an intriguing story. Developer United Front came out of nowhere to deliver a comprehensively better open-world action game than Rockstar, although the latter developer had an eleven-year head start in the genre.
Hitman: Absolution is a supremely stupid story. However, like Splinter Cell: Conviction, it made an extremely specialized stealth franchise into some more accessible to the masses (myself included). Had Absolution never existed, I might never have felt like this was a franchise “for me.” Since its release, I’ve gone on to enjoy both the 2016 and 2018 Hitman titles. I found that the information given to the player to be sufficient for a stealth game (the “instinct” ability), and I appreciated playing such a cold and calculating predator. This was my first time seeing costume changes as a stealth mechanic, and I thought it was quite clever. I also liked the inclusion of the “Contracts” mode, in which players could create challenges within certain game environments for their friends to try.
“Do you like hurting other people?” Well, if Hotline Miami is any indication…absolutely. Hotline Miami featured a soundtrack that was absolutely incredible, one that I still think about and listen to eight years later. It featured precision mechanics such as a target lock-on ability and camera pan that allowed you to create a plan and enact bloodshed upon your foes. Playing the game, for me, consisted of periods of planning punctuated by bursts of action. I liked how quickly both the player and enemies can be slain, and how quickly you’re able to jump back into the fray following a mistake. Hotline Miami’s influence can be seen even in games today (2020), and I am a very big fan of its brand of difficulty.
Whenever I close my eyes, I can easily call to mind the warm, earnest tone Dave Fennoy employed in voicing Lee, the playable character in The Walking Dead’s first season. In a way that is almost as effortless, I can call to mind the soft and demure tone of Melissa Hutchison’s Clementine. These characters were so human, despite the ongoing apocalypse, and Lee’s guidance of Clementine served as a vehicle for his own redemption. Season One paved the way for an avalanche of episodic and narrative games. Although all of the games on this list are exceptional (in my eyes), only one made me shed tears at its conclusion.
2012 must’ve just been a year for franchise reboots and restarts. It had been 6 years since the previous Hitman game, 11 years since the previous X-COM, and 16 years since the previous Syndicate. Either way, I liked what XCOM brought to the table. The game was challenging and required tactical thinking, but didn’t include the same time pressure and spawns that made the following game (XCOM 2) so frustrating for me. Although I’ve heard friends talk about the “one more turn” syndrome in Civilization, I did not anticipate Firaxis’ ability to create the same phenomenon in XCOM. But goodness, I was so hooked. In the time I was playing Enemy Unknown, I don’t think I went to bed before three in the morning. There were always crucial decisions to be made, projects finishing, materials to collect, armor to craft, etc.
An excellent cooperative game in which you prevent enemies from reaching your core by deploying traps along their route. You could get away with calling it tower defense I suppose, but there aren’t actually any towers. I found the third-person combat engaging, and appreciated the choices of traps and trap upgrades, weapons, and trinkets. Orcs Must Die also has a great sense of style – I liked the cartoon graphics and the personality of the War Mage and Sorceress. The game could be challenging as well, and required players to take advantage of the unique topography of each of the game’s maps.
Though this game simply didn’t “work” for some of my friends, it resonated very well with me. I loved the music (I learned how to play guitar when I was young after listening to Jimi Hendrix), the sandy environments, and the game’s commentary on the reality of war. So many aspects of the game were carefully considered, from the loading screen tips (“Do you feel like a hero yet?”) to the mounting aggression and frustration in the voices of the other soldiers that accompany you on your mission. How can you make ethical decisions with incomplete information, when both sides have lethal weapons? When these weapons snuff out lives instantly, prohibiting any clarifying conversation?
The best stealth game ever made. Mark of the Ninja proved that stealth doesn’t have to mean trial and error, and that a game can remain tense while giving you all of the information necessary to make tactical decisions. Are you in the dark? Did that enemy hear you? These answers are clearly visible on screen. Game critics have produced multiple videos on the exceptional design decisions that went into the creation of this title. And the costumes, techniques, attack items, and distraction items expanded your moveset just as your opposition became more capable. Even now, eight years later, I still hunt for stealth games that can provide the same level of satisfaction. Few games even try, and those that do try never measure up. Perhaps it’s a fool’s errand, though – how do you upgrade on perfection?