My Top 100 Video Games

Video games have always been a passion of mine. I was a game journalist for 8 years, from 1999 to 2007. Then I went on to make a few WWE video games at THQ. I’ve owned a lot of consoles and literally thousands of games. Back in November of 2009, I compiled a Top 100 Games list.

Years later, I still play games constantly and keep up with the industry. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to do another list. After all, the PS3/360 generation was one of the best, and the current gen is no slouch either. To spice things up a bit, I decided to lift my rule only allowing one title per franchise. But I still need to have played a lot of any game that makes my list, which means there are some so-called shoo-ins that I couldn’t add.

Comment with your own Top 10, or harass me about something you feel deserved a spot. Or get mad at me for starting with number 100 instead of number 1. I will happily (and respectfully) engage. And maybe let me know if you’d like to see me put some capacity of it into a video.

If you enjoy my writing and want to see more, please consider one of my three published offerings on Amazon.

Note: I scoured the Internet for these screenshots. The majority came from MobyGames.com, a great resources for information on any and all video games.

100. Dig Dug

100_Dig-Dug_Moby1983, TI-99/4a by Namco
Previous Rank: 67

Let’s start out my list with an obscure port of a classic. Like most in its era, Dig Dug levels featured a single screen. But you were free to explore every inch of that screen, provided you could pop the baddies before they killed you. The cat-and-mouse gameplay is very satisfying with both sides having vulnerabilities. I played this a ton on my TI computer as a kid, chasing the Guinness Book high score. Continue reading

Me & Metal Gear Solid 2

There weren’t many games that arrived with as much excitement and hype as Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for PlayStation 2 (buy here). After all, it was a follow-up to one of the PSone’s best games – which is saying something. I remember the crowd that gathered around Konami‘s E3 booth when the trailer played.

At Game Informer, we got the exclusive review cover. The cover image was drawn by Todd McFarlane. It was the first game to get dual 10s. We had an 8-page strategy guide and a 6-page feature. In an issue that also featured GTA III, Tony Hawk 3, and Dead or Alive 3, MGS 2 was king – and I had nothing to do with any of it.

Okay, that’s not totally true. I got the bright idea to do a 2-page Classic Strategy on the original NES Metal Gear. It was a game I never liked, and forcing myself to “master” it didn’t help matters at all.

The game was reviewed by Kato and Reiner – their last names, as there was already a Matt and an Andy on staff respectively before they were hired. I will always be grateful that they didn’t spoil the game. I, on the other hand, am going to speak freely about this 12-year-old game, so beware. You see, perennial Metal Gear star Solid Snake was only the playable protagonist for the first ~3 hours. After that, you take on winy blond combat rookie Raiden. Can you imagine 16 pages of coverage – we’re talking strategies and screenshots – without giving that away? Props to them!

Of course, I day-one purchased it or got it free from Konami (perk of the job) and quickly devoured the game. Back then, I used to say you always suck for the first couple hours of a Metal Gear game, as you get accustomed to the mechanics and controls not to mention the way it’s more sneak than slaughter. I too loved it.

And just days ago, I replayed it thanks to the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection for PS3 (buy here). Note: I bought it on January 6, 2012 so it didn’t violate my year-long game-buying ban. I won’t say I loved it this time, but I got a lot of enjoyment, as well as remembered the things that make a Metal Gear game such a Metal Gear game. I’d like to speak on those things.

First off, the graphics on PS2 were revolutionary. The animation, character models, and textures were all top-of-class for that generation. The slightly updated Xbox port added a lot more effects. I imagine if I popped in the old game, I would be disappointed. But the HD remake essentially looks like how the game does in my memory. It’s smooth yet undetailed. The little extras are all there, but have become pretty commonplace – though things like bean cans floating in a flooded stairwell or a swarm of interactive insects is still very cool.

The story is every bit as head-scratching now, if not more so since it’s not brand new. Let’s see if I can run it down, though I do not expect you to follow:

Solid Snake is part of an anti-Metal Gear organization, and finds out a Metal Gear (giant robo-nuke) is hiding on a Navy-run oil tanker. He goes to check it out the same time Russians commandeer it. He discovers and photographs the new Metal Gear (Ray). But at the same time Revolver Ocelot, a Russian guy from MGS 1, kills the Navy commander and the Russian commander and sinks the ship – seemingly with Snake among the drowned. End Act 1 and Snake as the playable character.
Now it’s two years later. Raiden, a goofy, inexperienced kid who’s part of a black-ops organization run by the same Colonel as MGS 1 (and somehow involving his whiny girlfriend), infiltrates the giant cleanup facility placed over the tanker’s wreckage. Why? Because the President is on there when it was taken over by a group demanding a 30-billion-dollar ransom. That group is a bunch of freaks that can’t die or are vampires and junk. There are still a bunch of Russians on there, too, and together they capture the President, take everyone else hostage, and kill the SEAL teams.
Survivors are limited to Solid Snake in a disguise where Raiden doesn’t know who he is, and the guy who trained one of the freaks – a mad bomber who goes all blow-up-everything before you stop him.
You discover the President committed treason, using his nuke codes to arm the weapon in order to get a piece of the pie from the Illuminati-type group that actually runs the nation. But they betrayed him, so he helps Raiden before being killed by Revolver Ocelot – who had Snake’s genetic twin Liquid’s arm replace the one a cyber ninja cut off in Metal Gear Solid 1. Only Liquid’s spirit is inside the arm and is fighting Ocelot for control. Also, the cyber ninja shows up in the facility though it ends up being the daughter of the Russian commander (and an Act I boss) who is now somehow working with Snake.
You also find Emma, the little step-sister of Snake’s buddy Otacon. Emma has created a lot of the tech involved here, and is a better hacker than her big bro. See, Metal Gear Ray is not the big problem; the entire facility is one giant Metal Gear somehow, named Arsenal Gear. It doesn’t even need nukes to be a dangerous thing. It actually is as much an information suppressor as a weapon. But Emma’s not a bad guy, I guess, because she’s cute and tries to help with a computer virus before she dies and leaves her pet parrot to torment Otacon forever.
The cyber ninja and Snake actually betray Raiden, causing him to become literally naked and helpless. This was just bait to get closer to Solidus Snake, Snake’s heretofore-unheard-of second genetic brother who is also a former President who turned on the Illuminati-type group and has 2 Doctor Octopus tentacles that shoot laser missiles. Around this time, Raiden’s on-call support (Colonel and girlfriend) starts freaking out. Nothing they say makes sense. Turns out they’re 200-year-old AIs or something somehow, emanating from Arsenal Gear itself, and are being affected by the virus. But Raiden’s girlfriend is still a real person too, and discovers Raiden’s past as a child soldier who killed like it ain’t no thang – a history which was somehow set up by Solidus, who commanded them.
Once reunited, Snake gives Raiden the cyber ninja’s sword as an apology present. It’s kind of cool, but doesn’t help at all when you have to fight dozens of Metal Gear Rays back-to-back. However, the final battle has Raiden and his father/godfather/mentor Solidus square off with blades (and those mecha-tentacles in an Inception-esque Manhattan once Arsenal Gear runs aground.

So yeah, the story is kinda crazy. However, it actually tries, and that’s important. And it goes places that you can sometimes follow, many of which are unexpected even if they don’t always land. I do enjoy how it tackles government corruption and even video-game escapism. There are no taboo subjects. Hell, Otacon even slept with his step-mom (Emma’s mother)!

The important thing is how the narrative entails a roller-coaster of gameplay variety. The gang of freaks really is cool, even if you don’t fight one of them. You’ll run around in disguise, track down cleverly-placed bombs, do some swimming, and even have an escort mission that doesn’t suck. It always seems like you have options with what to do next or how to tackle obstacles. It’s not as open as, say, Deus Ex, but also isn’t as linear as God of War.

We have become spoiled with good cameras in games. MGS 2 still uses the fixed-camera perspective, a la old Devil May Cry and Resident Evil. There are times when you can only see yourself from the knee down. It can be frustrating, but the radar is a big help.

First-person is essential for accurate shooting, but it requires pretzel fingers. To shoot in first person, you’ve got to hold R1, hold Square to raise your weapon, and aim with the analog – sometimes holding L1 to lock onto a target. But you’ll only shoot a pistol when letting go of Square.

As I said before, Raiden is a pain in the ass. His actions are so unprofessional, to the point where you want to smack him. And when he and Rose start up, I was almost tempted to skip over the dialogue. Maybe Kojima hoped painting him as a killing machine near the end would redeem his cred, but I’m unconvinced (though I have yet to play his spinoff action game, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance [real title]). If there’s good about the switch in player-character, it’s that we got to view Snake with more awe because he wasn’t stuck being in our clumsy hands. He got to mentor us, as the player. That’s kind of neat.

I’m glad I went back and replayed Metal Gear Solid 2. Looking online, there are enough hidden goodies that I’m half tempted to try it again. Instead, I’ll probably finally play Peace Walker, which was originally a PSP game but included in the collection. Or, ya know, Konami could either port Kojima’s visual novel Snatcher to a current format or localize its Japanese-only spiritual sequel Policenauts.

***EDIT***
I originally gave this game a review score, but I’m deleting it. I think this is a rare case of a game where it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. It does something unique with its medium, and with the concept of sequels and expectation, and is therefor worth playing by anyone who is a fan of said medium whether they expressly “enjoy it” or not.

— Justin Leeper (@StillManFights)

Activision Buys Competition

This is not a story about games I’m playing or pining for new games I want to buy but won’t. This is the type of story you can’t tell if you’re beholden to game publishers for ad revenue for your site/magazine. However, as far as I know, everything I’m stating in this article is true. I’ll try to link to evidence where I can.

In my You Missed The Boat article from two weeks back, one of the games I brought up was Aggressive Inline. To me, it was the best extreme sports game that isn’t part of the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater trilogy.

Aggressive Inline was published by Acclaim and developed by Z-Axis. It came around the summer of 2002. The next game by that partnership was the controversial BMX XXX, which released during the holiday season 2002. While Aggressive Inline (PS2) received an 85 Metacritic score, BMX XXX only managed a 54 Metacritic score.


BMX XXX

Reviewing it for Game Informer, I gave BMX XXX its highest score – 78 out of 100. Even still, I talked about its awful collision and the steps backward it took from Aggressive Inline.

So what happened? Well, on May 22, 2002, Activision announced it had acquired Z-Axis. This would have meant all the development work on Aggressive Inline was done, but the fine-tuning for BMX XXX would have occurred while the developer was in the process of being bought. And BMX XXX smacked of a game where the developers failed to give it the polish necessary to go from decent game to great game. That near-submission time is very important.

What did Activision do with the second-best extreme sports game developer? Not a hell of a lot. Z-Axis – which would later be renamed Underground Development – put out a handful of games before it was closed in 2008: X-Men: The Official Game, the PS3 version of Quake Wars, and Guitar Hero: Van Halen. Kind of a weird assortment of games for the studio to be handed, isn’t it? It would seem like Activision merely bought them to keep them from making competition for its own games, then let it wallow before pulling the plug, doesn’t it?

Maybe there are reasons. Maybe not all the Z-Axis talent came along when Activision bought them. Maybe, once acquired, Activision broke up the band. Maybe Z-Axis was only ever good at making extreme sports titles (they also developed Acclaim’s older games, Dave Mirra BMX and Dave Mirra 2 – both of which received low-80s on Metacritic). But it just seems fishy, doesn’t it? Well, let’s look at another example.


DJ Hero

Not many of you bought it, but I’m sure you’ve heard of the DJ Hero franchise. Instead of plastic guitars, DJ Hero and DJ Hero 2 had you manning plastic turntables, crossfading between two songs and adding effects. It’s honestly pretty fun, and you’re affecting the music more than in Rock Band. However, it maybe didn’t feel as cool or translate to the game-playing masses. The series sold poorly.

Around the time the first DJ Hero was in development, another company had a similar idea. Seven Studios was working on Scratch: The Ultimate DJ. They had even partnered with experienced DJ equipment manufacturer Numark to make their turntable controller. It looked more authentic than Activision’s counterpart, and featured tracks by Beastie Boys, Kanye, and Outkast.


Scratch: The Ultimate DJ

Strangely, Activision would buy Seven Studios in April 2009 – before either game released. Not surprisingly, Scratch’s publisher Genius Products and Numark felt threatened enough to file a lawsuit against Activision. After all, Seven was Scratch’s developer, and being owned by a company who’d announced a competing DJ game didn’t bode well for Scratch’s future.

The lawsuit begat countersuits, until it was pretty obvious Scratch would never see release. Meanwhile, Activision’s diversion play worked, and DJ Hero released without competition in October 2009. Around that time, they reduced the size of Seven’s staff by 50%.

So what did Seven Studios do while flying the Activision banner? While it’s rumored they pitched in on various franchises such as Guitar Hero and DJ Hero, the only game I could find they developed and Activision published before the studio was shut down in early 2011 was a piece of Wii shovelware entitled Space Camp.

So here are two fairly obvious instances of Activision buying studios working on competing games, and then doing next-to-nothing with them before unceremoniously shutting their doors. Yet EA is still considered the worst company in America? Even after the debacle with Infinity Ward? What’s a company gotta do to win an award around here?

My favorite Star Wars games

I assume you know about Disney buying LucasFilm. I could talk about how Walt Disney is controlling the global economy, its superheroes, and Tom Hanks’s facial hair from the grave on his way to a monolithic monopoly; but I’m keeping MYOB about games.
More specifically, I want to talk about Star Wars games. The brand’s games, much like its films, have run the gamut from game-of-the-year shoo-ins to insta-coaster. I want to talk about my five favorite games with Star Wars in their title. And spoiler alert: I never played any of the X-Wing games. There are multiple X-Wing games, right?


5. Episode I: Phantom Menace (PSone)
I know this is a controversial pick. However, let me explain: I moved from Richmond VA and my job with GWAR to Minneapolis MN and a gig with Game Informer magazine. I may not have had anywhere to live – and, in fact, I spent several nights in a hotel and one awkward (showerless) night at a fellow editor’s – but I did have a sweet stack of games that served as a welcoming gift. They were Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Final Fantasy Anthology, and Episode I. The first two are all-time favorites. But Episode I surprised me with its action/adventure retelling of the (awful, in hindsight) film. I remember lying on my inflatable mattress, talking to the impoverished NPCs of Tatooine. It was not a bad game (though it was ugly), and was a friend while I was a stranger in a strange land. So cut me some slack!


4. Dark Forces (PC)
I’m a sucker for DOOM style games. I feel like limiting things to branching corridors kept the gameplay tight and the level design honest. While I completed Quake and played my share of Duke, I feel like going 3D kind of messed with a good thing. It became more of a slog than a fast-past puzzle game with guns. Admittedly, I didn’t play a ton of Dark Forces, but I remember it being about as good as one could hope for a Star Wars DOOM.


3. LEGO Star Wars (every system ever)
Traveller’s Tales struck gold, melding two things that everyone loves. It was quirky, it was faithful to the franchise, and most importantly it was fun. I hope whoever came up with this became set for life. It’s up there for the best multiplayer series in video-game history. Remember how Eidos published the first one? Now, you can buy the whole Star Wars saga in one package for about $20. Steal!


1. Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox/PC)
If you notice, I went from #3 to #1. That’s because if you’d seen #2 first, you’d have known this was coming anyway. KOTOR is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. It expanded the Star Wars universe. The gameplay was amazing, finally making RPG battles worth watching. And the story? The stuff of legends! When this came out, my Xbox was on the fritz. Every time a load screen came up, there was a 50/50 chance the system would crash. I still played through the whole thing and didn’t once complain. The game was worth the wait. I’m pretty pissed they went the MMO route for the pseudo third installment. In hindsight, I bet Bioware is, too. Those meatbags.


2. KOTOR II (Xbox/PC)
Anyone who expected this to be better than the first KOTOR is ignorant. It was done by a totally different studio, in much less time. All things considered, it turned out pretty awesome. Sure, it didn’t have the twist its predecessor did, but I did not regret my time spent with it. I should probably play it again sometime.

Honorable Mention: Star Wars Rebel Command
I have yet to play this, but it’s supposed to be pretty dope. I’m sure the teammate AI has long become inferior, but my shrinkwrapped Xbox version has sung me its siren song several times since I procured it.