Whenever I make a top 5, I always do it the same way: I choose a topic, create a list of games that I think may make the final cut, whittle it down to the five (plus an honorable mention), rank them as I see fit, and then write the short blurbs that go along with them. That's how I've always done it, and that's how I did it here. I knew from the get-go what my top 3 were going to be, so I thought this was going to be easy.
Au contraire, my friends. After getting 60% of the list done, filling in the other 40% was a tall task. I was left with 15 games that I love and only 2 spots available. I felt like if I left out a certain game that I discrediting it as a fantastic game. But then I remembered that these lists aren't really a life-or-death kind of deal and I could just make all of the games that didn't make the cut an honorable mention.
So, here are the 13 honorable mentions that I have for this list, in no particular order (sorry, Jim, no Goat SImulator here, but I at least acknowledged it for you):
Based on what games didn't make the list, you can probably infer a few games that did make it, but I think there will still be a couple surprises. So let's get to it.
(And for those wondering, Red Faction Guerrilla was the last game to get cut.)
Ultimately, when it came down to choosing between Crackdown and Red Faction Guerrilla, I asked myself one question: Did I enjoy the destruction of Red Faction or the superhero-like empowerment of Crackdown more? And you obviously already know the answer. I picked up Crackdown on a whim, I just wanted something new to play. This was early 2007, and I had only had my Xbox 360 for about a month at the time. After the thrills of Dead Rising wore off, I headed to the local GameStop and grabbed Crackdown with very little prior knowledge about the game, kind of like how I did in the NES days. The only difference here was that this was going to be a much greater monetary investment. Luckily, the game turned out better than most had anticipated, myself included.
I'm not a Halo guy, so the added bonus of the Halo 3 demo did nothing for me, I just wanted a fun action game, and I definitely got that. The game reminded me a lot of RoboCop in that it felt futuristic, but not too futuristic. And Pacific City was so ravaged by crime and gang activity that I felt a genuine need to rid the streets of these hoodlums.
Throughout my playthrough, I very rarely drove a car. I loved going around on foot, traversing the rooftops, grabbing every agility orb I could find to level up my Agent's abilities. I could go on and on about Crackdown, but one of the things that really stood out to be was that it has great achievements. Rather than just giving you achievements for simply completing tasks, they also encouraged you to play the game in different ways and try new things in order to show you just how much fun you could have in this world. And I must say, climbing to the top of the agency building and jumping off into the pond below was ten times more exhilarating than any jump I ever made in an Assassin's Creed game.
I was cautious when it came to Far Cry 3. I had never played any other games in the series up to the point, and from what I heard about Far Cry 2, it was the type of game that you either really loved or really hated (I did eventually play it, and it wasn't my cup of tea), and that kind of reaction isn't exactly the kind that'll make you want to go out and buy the next installment of a series. But after the reviews for Far Cry 3 were a resounding "woot!," I decided to pick it up, and I had nothing less than an amazing experience. By the time I was done with the game, there was literally nothing left for me to do. Seriously, nothing. I had done everything. Well, everything except get that achievement that requires you to win at poker.
I decided to go with Far Cry 3 over its successor for a few different reasons. For one, even though I liked Pagan Min better as a character, I thought Vaas was a better villain. Two, I like the tropical island setting more than the Himalayas. I thought the weird tribal stuff in 3 was better than the weird tribal stuff in 4. And lastly, even though Far Cry 4 was one of my favorite games of last year, it's hard to argue that it isn't just an updated Far Cry 3.
The story is ridiculous (most videogame stories are), but there are still several moments from FC3 that stand out, like your numerous encounters with Vaas, destroying a marijuana field with a flamethrower while a Skrillex song plays, Sam's death, and many more. I would tell people interested in the series to go with Far Cry 3. I also considered Blood Dragon, but the only thing that held that game back for me was because it wasn't as large, and the game is rather dark. Not in setting or tone, I'm talking about the graphics. I spent a lot of time squinting at the screen. But Ubisoft has stated that they're looking into doing something different with Far Cry 5, but I say instead of doing something different, give me Blood Dragon 2 and make it the same size as a regular Far Cry game (with less squinting).
No surprises here, I'm sure a lot of you expected an Elder Scrolls game to make it on the list somewhere, and here it is. While Skyrim hasn't turned out to be the type of game that I go back to periodically (even though I still haven't played the add-ons), it was basically the only game that I played for the entire winter of 2011. For roughly three months, every free moment was spent leveling up my Wood Elf, roaming the countryside, slaying dragons and trolls, and all the awesomeness that came in this vast package (which is what I call my junk).
I found the world of Skyrim so engrossing that I did something that I don't normally do in games, I played without purpose. I very rarely fast traveled unless I was doing a mission. I would spend hours at a time just walking around seeing what I could find. Oh, a new dungeon, better go in and kill everybody. What's this? A coven of witches? Better go in and kill everybody. The Stormcloaks need me to go kill a bunch of people? Better go in and--you get the idea.
The game wasn't without its flaws, but that's to be expected with such a large game. I actually wound up having to start a new game because something I had done had caused a bug that prevented me from progressing in the story (which has since been patched). But no amount of glitches or bugs were able to deter me stalking my enemies from the shadows, finding the exact right moment to let my arrows fly directly into their skulls. One of these days, I promise I'm going to go play the DLC packs.
Oh hey, Dustin put a Borderlands game on a list, go figure. Yeah, I know, I talk about the Borderlands series a lot. The series holds a special place in my heart for many reasons that I've explained in depth in previous blogs, so I'll spare you all from having to hear them again. Borderlands 2 took everything that I loved about the original and made it better. More humor, bigger and more diverse areas, more weapons and elemental types, more enemies, more, more, and did I mention more?
Perhaps that's the word that best describes Borderlands 2. It's Borderlands, but more, and that's perfectly alright with me. I need more than one hand to count how many times my wife and I played through the game. The add-ons weren't quite on par with the ones from the original, but they were still quite good, and Assault on Dungeon Keep is basically an entirely new game. It's the best DLC the series has seen thus far, despite how much I hate Tiny Tina.
Even though I hate the swerve that Gearbox pulled by telling us The Pre-Sequel was only one last generation consoles (I should have known better), I'll still pick up the Handsome Collection when I eventually buy an Xbox One (gotta get my characters carried over), and I'll have just as much fun playing through Borderlands 2 for the umpteenth time as I did the first. But screw The Pre-Sequel, I won't touch it. Okay, that's not true...Dustin's a stinkin' liar.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a week-long series of blogs wherein I explained why I felt that The Simpsons: Hit & Run was the best. Licensed game. Ever. Admittedly, I'm biased, being as big of a fan of the show that I am. The game is basically Grand Theft Auto: Springfield, and that couldn't have been a better idea than it turned out to be. At the time, the show had 13 seasons worth of material to work with, and you'll see references from every single one of them. If you know as much about the show as I do, you'll be smiling the entire time you play, because at every corner is a clever little nod to the show.
What's interesting is that the game doesn't really have combat. You have flying cameras in the shape of wasps that you can destroy, but other than that, your attack button is nothing more than a way to break things to gain more coins. Your character can't die, either, so in some ways it's not like GTA at all, but the mission structure and vehicular mayhem is identical. They split the town of Springfield into three separate levels, so it's not open-world in the sense of Skyrim where you can walk from one end of the world to the other, but I choose to look at this the same way I did old GTAgames. You had to progress a certain amount before you can see the rest of the world, which is what they did here.
I think even non-fans would find Hit & Run to be a one of the better open-world games out there. It's just as good now as it was in 2003, and I still revisit it every few years or so, and I continue to notice little things I either never noticed before or had forgotten about. The Simpsons: Hit & Run, I feel, deserves more credit than just being a great licensed game or great Simpsons game, it's just a great game, period.
Thanks for reading, and don't forget that you can find me elsewhere on the internet.