Welcome to the first installment of Five Favorites! Every week, I’ll be picking my five favorite things from whatever the hell I feel like and presenting them to you in a way that hopefully won’t hurt your beautiful little brains. In return, I hope you’ll share with me your top five in the selected category so we can all argue about how much our respective opinions suck!
For my ‘Five Favorites’ commencement, I thought I’d choose something every gamer I know would sell their first-born for: games I wish I could experience again for the first time. In life, there are few things more pleasurable or mesmerizing than stepping into an unknown world for the first time. Sure, there’s always far too many forgettable games that fill your collection, but every once in a while a game will come into your life that will completely change everything; they will impact you so deeply and blow your frakkin’ mind so exponentially that nothing will ever compare. In honor of those games, I’ve picked my five favorites that I wish I could wipe from my mind for the sole purpose of experiencing them once more for the first time.
5. The Walking Dead
Telltale Game’s first major episodic adventure definitely changed the confines of the gaming industry. They’ve mastered the true art of choice and consequence, leaving gamers to really feel the depth and impact of their moral compass. With a slew of multi-dimensional characters and a unique aesthetic, The Walking Dead: Season One stands as a testament to innovation and creative finesse. My personal journey with the game was a feels-ridden adventure, with tough choice after tough choice that made me re-think everything I thought I knew about gaming — and even life in general. In this game, there’s no right decision. You have to do what’s necessary to survive, even if it means hurting the ones you care about most. From the first episode to the last, The Walking Dead is a terrifyingly heart-wrenching ride through a zombie-riddled southern landscape — and no one is safe.
When the concept of a walking game was brought up to me, I’ll admit that I was a little adamant on what exactly the industry’s need for one was. It wasn’t until I lost myself in Journey that I realized this was so much more than just a game of exploration. For a lot of people (including myself), Journey was an emotional ride that dealt with love, loss, and the search to be whole again. The vague avatar and vast, serene landscapes allows players to project themselves and their emotions into the game, creating an experience that is uniquely different to every person who plays. It’s not often that a game so beautifully impactful comes into our lives, and it’s experiences like this that truly show the depth of the human complex that’s projected into the gaming landscape. Journey has morphed from a game into a completely therapeutic experience, helping all of us cope with whatever it is that keeps up awake at night. Sometimes, just sometimes, we need a break from all the bloodshed and berserking to remember exactly why we started gaming in the fist place.
3. Beyond: Two Souls
Quantic Dream is exemplary when it comes to creating not just games, but pure cinematic experiences. With such titles like Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain under their belt, Quantic Dream really had step up their game, both visually and conceptually, if they were to wow gamers with a new project. A lot of folks I know are really torn when it comes to Beyond: Two Souls, but I knew the instant I pressed start that I had already fallen in love with the game. The acting is incredible, with Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe taking point, and the cinematic feel makes it not a game, but an experience. What the game lacked in combat, it made up for with interesting exploration mechanics; using Aiden to not only fight off souls from the Infraworld, but to aid or impair Jodie, made the game much more impressive. The non-linear, timeline-based adaptive story kept gamers on their toes while expressing the often real-world struggles of an impressively developed female protagonist.
Oh, Mr. Bubbles. The Bioshock franchise is one of my all-time favorites (and I’ve got the tattoos to show it), so it’s no surprise that Irrational’s first entry made my list. Bioshock‘s journey through Rapture was not only something right out of a horror novel, but something incredibly unique. It brought together over-used concepts like sleeper agents, hidden cities, and standard FPS elements to create one of the most well-written and addictive games to hit shelves in the past 20 years. It threw a plethora of diverse and high-level psychology and philosophy (thanks, Ayn Rand) at gamers in a way that was both subtle and easily understandable. It parodied failing economic climates and radical idealism while also letting you shoot the crap out of everything and everyone. The major climactic twist and crazed speech — whether you expected it or not — is one of the most iconic moments in gaming history. From the mind of Ken Levine, the Bioshock universe is both confusing and intelligent, and it’s the number one reason why the games are so alluring.
1. The Last of Us
I know — like this choice is at all shocking, right? The Last of Us is, in my opinion, one of the most profound and prolific games of the last generation — and perhaps one of the best stories ever told. I know, them some fightin’ words, but if you’ve played more than an hour of the game, you’re probably thinking the same thing I am. Naughty Dog really has a way with storytelling, and it’s most apparent in the 2013 hit The Last of Us. It’s raked in a countless number of awards on both the Game of the Year and acting font, as well as writing, sound, and just about anything else you can think of. With exceptionally dimensional characters — of all races and sexual identities (!!!) — The Last of Us is a salute to the true art of storytelling in a modern setting. With a slew of post-apocalyptic games on the market, it’s hard to stand out in the RPG genre — but Naughty Dog hit the nail on the head by introducing an ever-so-terribly flawed and dynamic Joel, as well as one of the most intelligent and non-annoying AI’s in gaming history — Ellie. From seamless gameplay to astonishingly marveled aesthetics, The Last of Us is one of the few games that can make a grown man cry like a blubbering idiot. And in the end, what more could you ask for?
Have an idea for a Five Favorites list? Questions, comments, or concerns? Shoot Emily an email at emilyATmaxlevel.org, or follow her on Twitter @yamelme and let her know!