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Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

These are the video games that have defined their genre. They are the standard by which all other games in their category are judged.

Best Flight Combat Game of All Time

Wing Commander 3 (1994)

Platform: PC
Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: Origin Systems

Wing Commander 3 Box Art

The popular vote here is of course Tie Fighter. While great, Tie Fighter did not measure up to Wing Commander 3. Keep reading because I am going to convince you why.

Wing Commander 3’s impact on games is still felt very clearly even today. Wing Commander 3 is what I like to call the Star Wars of video games. This goes a lot further than just having Mark Hamill star as the protagonist. Like Star Wars did for movies, Wing Commander 3 literally invented the big-budget blockbluster style of games. Costing a then unheard of 4 million dollars to create and packed into 4 CD-ROMs (when CD-ROMs had just come out), Wing Commander was unabashedly pushing the envelope and spared no expense in doing so. Marketed as the world’s first interactive movie, Wing Commander 3 broke new ground by using an enormous amount of full motion videos to tell a branching story through and included the use of CGI backgrounds and greenscreens. This was technology that was not even broadly in use for films at the time.

Behind the ground-breaking wrapper of Wing Commander 3 there was an amazing core game. Wing Commander 3 brought the Wing Commander series into polygonal 3D for the first time. The game was among the first to use full motion video to not only tell the story, but in-game as well. Right out the gate, Wing Commander 3 blew minds its technology by having your wingman communicate and respond to orders through full video on the bottom of your HUD. During the game the other crewmembers’ disposition towards you and the mission selection were influenced by conversation trees as well as how well you performed on previous missions.

To sum up Wing Commander 3, it married great mission design, the ability to select your fighter, select your armaments, select your wingman, branching missions and a branching storyline told through hours of full motion video into one of the most insanely fun packages ever put onto a disc. This game from top to bottom was every gamer’s wet dream.

Best Turn Based Tactical Game of All Time
X-COM: UFO Defense (1993)
Platform: PC
Developer: Mythos Games
Publisher: Microprose

X-COM Box Art

Incredibly deep, X-COM has still never been matched as a strategy role-playing game. X-COM’s two distinct gameplay phases placed you in charge of Earth’s defense against an alien invasion.

The first phase was the world map. This is where the player first chooses a spot for their base and where the player would manage their funding to recruit, research technology and equip their soldiers. Financial resources came through successfully repelling aliens and earning the approval of a ten-nation league. If the player is not active or effective in combating the alien threat funding would dry up and even result in some of the nations signing treaties with the invaders and completely yanking any financial support for the player.

Each member of your squad could be named, leveled up and equipped like an RPG and this really helped you grow attached to them. Interceptor planes could be placed on patrol to defend the skies and shoot down alien craft. Alien ships could also land and it was up to you to send out small squads of soldiers to kill the aliens at these sites and bring back their artifacts and bodies for the research. Research of these alien artifacts unlocked new equipment and weapons to give you an edge on your next encounter. Once the player landed their squad at the crash or landing sites the game would shift to the second phase.

The second phase consisted of turn-based tactical squad gameplay. This gameplay phase was incredibly well executed and introduced such tactical staples as line-of-sight and opportunity attacks. Even the time of day would be taken into account and affect your soldiers’ vision. One of the greatest moments in gaming history was moving your solider around a corner and having an alien pop into view right in front of you and not having the action points to respond.

X-COM is a game with so such depth and when taken as a whole is so much more than a sum of its parts. It is the title that invented the modern turn-based tactical game and has yet to be equaled since.

Best MMO of All Time
World of Warcraft (2004)
Platform: PC, Mac
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment

WoW Box Art

When the topic of MMOs comes up, what game immediately pops up?

World of Warcraft was created from the ground up using what Blizzard calls the “donut design.” This is where outside of the donut consists of the casual players while the center is where the hardcore players reside. WoW is a game built for casual players with enough depth to draw in the hardcore players. This philosophy is easier said than done. Through expert design choices and more layers of polish than the MMO space had ever seen before, WoW revolutionized the MMO genre. The more than 10 million active players speaks to the successful execution of Blizzard’s donut design.

As with most MMO’s they continue to evolve and World of Warcraft is no exception. Not content with the donut, Blizzard has created a new category of user, dubbed the casual-hardcore. With the introduction of the arena system and invention of separate branches of gear optimized specifically for Player-Versus-Player (PVP) as well as for Player-Versus-Environment (PVE), Blizzard has separated their users and allowed the creation a new audience entirely in the casual-hardcore player. This is a player who wishes to only play PVP and not be hamstrung by the need for gear obtainable only through PVE raiding. The PVP gear is entirely optimized for PVP while the PVE gear is optimized for PVE. For the PVP specialist (myself counted in their number), who can climb the arena ratings ladder, they have the ability to maintain the best (or near best) PVP gear in the game by only devoting a few hours a week to WoW.

Blizzard has been so successful; many believe (including myself) that it is stifling the entire genre as newer titles in this category continue to fail to break through World of Warcraft’s stranglehold on this market. Can a game be too successful?

Best 2D Fighter of All Time
Guilty Gear XX Accent Core (2007)
Platform: Arcade, PS2, Wii
Developer: Arc System Works
Publisher: Sammy Studios

Guilty Gear AC Box Art

The most balanced 2D fighter in existence. Nearly every character can be played at a tournament level and has a chance of winning.

Let’s run through this game’s new and creative mechanics that developer Arc System Works has introduced. The gameplay is incredibly fast. Most of the characters can, double jump, dash in the air or run along the ground. Low air dash attacking is a common strategy. This makes for lots of action and a frantic pace.

Custom Combos: An endless variety of custom combos can be created by a mechanic called the Roman Cancel, which ends the animation frame of an attack as soon as you press the button, allowing you to chain any move you wish.

A Tension Gauge limits the use of Roman Cancels. This bar fills up as you move towards the enemy, inflict damage or receive damage. A Roman Cancel would take 50% of the Tension bar and an exactly timed False Roman Cancels on specific attacks take 25% of the tension bar.

Fortress Defense: An impenetrable defense that uses up the Tension Gauge to block both high and low attacks and nullifies special move blocking damage.

Burst Gauge: This bar fills up as you receive or inflict damage and serves two uses. If being attacked, it can be used to break out of any combo or it can be used offensively to refill the Tension Gauge.

Guard Gauge: Another common problem with fighting games is the turtle (ultra-defensive) strategy, which leads to boredom and little action. Guilty Gear has largely alleviated this issue and keeps the game’s frantic pace by introducing a penalty for employing this strategy in the form of the Guard Gauge. The Guard Gauge begins a fight half-filled. As the player blocks, the Guard Gauge increases and as you takes damage the gauge empties. If the player neither blocks nor takes damage, the gauge returns to the middle. The emptier the gauge is, the less damage you take. Therefore, if you continue to turtle you will take more damage when you do get hit. Also if the player refuses to attack, they are warned and then hit with a complete reduction of their tension gauge, a 20 percent fill-rate of tension for 10 seconds and suffer an increased likelihood of becoming dizzy when hit.

Since the number of hits received drains your Guard Gauge, attacks had a built in diminishing damage return. So the subsequent hits in a combo do less damage than the previous hit. This forces combo creators to frontload the heaviest damaging attacks at the beginning of the combo string for maximum efficiency.

When you look at all the innovative fighting systems in place coupled with really crazy character design and finely balanced characters, Guilty Gear is the pinnacle of all 2D fighting.

Best Survival Horror of All Time
Silent Hill 2 (2001)
Platform: PS2, Xbox, PC
Developer: Team Silent
Publisher: Konami

Silent Hill 2 Box Art

Despite my review of Dead Space, on the topic of survival horror games, I simply do not feel qualified. It is simply a genre that I do not seek out. While I have played quite a few survival horrors, I have too many holes in my experience and missed too many of the widely lauded titles to feel comfortable giving an answer to this one. If pressed I would give it to Resident Evil 4. However, I will defer to my good friend and survival horror specialist Jared King.

On the subject of Survival Horrors, I have to go with Silent Hill 2. Basically, my theory of how good a survival horror is depends on the level of fear or anxiety you have while playing the game. SH2 creates this feeling in several ways.

One, limited save points. Obviously the more you are afraid of dying and going all the way back to a save point, the more anxious or fearful you will feel.

Two, limited visibility. There is a fog in all of the open areas of the game (attributed mostly to the PS2’s limitations), which obfuscates everything. The things that you can seem especially when you travel to the otherworld, are freaky as fuck.

Three: The enemies, especially the invincible Pyramidhead, are difficult and your weapons limited.

Four, for a lot of the game, you must protect your female companion from harm, always difficult.

Five, and most importantly, the game is FUCKING FREAKY. It is psychological horror at it’s best. The endings and meaning of the game have been written on in the form of a psychological analysis. I personally, had several moments when I figured out what was going on and said OMGWTFBBQ!!!!11!!.

Anyhoo, this thing is kinda rambling, so I’ll sum up with this: SH2 is (so far) the pinnacle of the survival horror genre. And until I play Dead Space, it doesn’t seem like anything has come close. Because I know you’re wondering, Resident Evil was a different animal. I don’t know if my soft spot for the original RE has more to do with zombies or because it was a good game that came along at a very impressionable point in my life. However, even despite the advantages RE has, SH2 is STILL a better survival horror game.

Best Mech Game of All Time
MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat (1995)
Platform: PC
Developer: Activision
Publisher: Activision

MechWarrior 2 Box Art

MechWarrior 2 is one of, if not my favorite game of all time and going back to play it today reinforces why. It is a great game that holds up incredibly well. Being of the first CD-ROM games ever made, MechWarrior changed what I thought games were capable of. It featured two full campaigns as either Clan Wolf or Clan Jade Falcon, which followed along faithfully an epic storyline written by Michael A. Stackpole.

The game was deep and complex. The controls promoted fast reflexes and the ability to pay attention to a lot of things happening simultaneously. MechWarrior 2 had dozens of mechs to choose from and they could be completely customized from their armaments, engine, armor and ammo. Location based damage rewarded skill and even influenced the player to allocated weapons and ammo on hard to hit areas on the mech’s chassis to prevent damage to them.

Activision nailed what it is to be a mech pilot. MechWarrior 2 realized what every BattleTech tabletop player ever dreamed piloting a mech could be. The BattleMechs had real weight to them. The audio was perfect. The necessity to juggle different weapons to manage heat was the exact mechanic described in all of the novelizations of the series.

MechWarrior 2 was also one of the first games to ever have a CD audio soundtrack. The soundtrack featured Jeehun Hwang’s electronic music, which is so good I still occasionally listen to it.

There are few things more fun than marching your fully-customized mech around to an amazing soundtrack. I just had this grin from ear to ear plastered across my face the entire time I played this game.

Best FPS of All Time
Halo: Combat Evolved 2001
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Bungie
Publisher: Microsoft

Halo Box Art

If I let my game designer in me write this section, I would have given the honor to the brilliant Half-Life 2. The only problem is that when I analyze this category from a personal-had-fun-playing-the-game standpoint, Halo wins out over Half-Life 2, no contest.

Say what you will about Halo, but when this game came out it changed the FPS genre forever. It popularized the “Halo” control scheme, invented the 2 weapon limit, recharging shield, split screen co-op, vehicles, a dedicated button for grenades, had insanely good multiplayer and was blessed with AI that was smart, but more importantly made the player feel smarter for outwitting them. Halo came along at a time when I had forgotten what the magic of games could do. Halo came together and was just fun. Simple as that. Luke Smith said that Halo was his Mario. That line to me summed up Halo. It is that, when you are kid on Christmas day feeling. The Gregorian chanting when the game boots up still sends chills down my spine. That’s how good this game is.

Without this title it is my belief that the Xbox would not have been able to survive, Xbox Live would never come to be and the Xbox 360 would never have been created. Microsoft would not even be in the console game space anymore. The gaming landscape has been changed forever because of Halo: Combat Evolved.

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of this list.

Click here to see part 2 of this list.

See my other related articles also:
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 2
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay
My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer
Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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