So continues my countdown of my top 20 favorite video games of last gen. Today is numbers 15 through 11.
|Play, Create, Share|
There aren’t many games that can put a smile on your face quite like LittleBigPlanet 2. Everything, from your loveable protagonist Sackboy, to the toy-box and scrapbookesque level design of Craftworld lets you know that you’re in for a fun time. Yet beneath the adorable facade is strong platforming game with a extensive level creator that can extend your playtime for months if not years after you complete the main campaign. LittleBigPlanet 2’s campaign has Sackboy bounding across Craftworld in a story reminiscent of something out of a children’s’ storybook. The evil Negativatron is turning Craftworld into a living nightmare, and it’s up to Sackboy to save the day. The story gives you sufficient context and reason for what you’re doing, but what will keep you going forward is the level design and gameplay. LittleBigPlanet 2 is a 2d platformer, so you’ll spend most of your time running, jumping, grappling and sometimes shooting and racing you’re way from one end of the level to the other. Each part of Craftworld that you visit looks and feels unique, and the game does an excellent job of slowly but steadily increasing the challenge as you progress. Beyond the main campaign in LittleBigPlanet 2 is the second, and arguably more defining part of the game; the level creator. The original LittleBigPlanet had its own level creator and helped popularized the concept of “play, create, share” whereby you would play the game, create your own levels and then share them with the LittleBigPlanet community for them to play (and repeat the cycle). LittleBigPlanet 2 expanded on the level creator from the first game and added much more functionality to it, even to the point where you could create not just your own levels, but full-blown minigames. While I never put much time or effort into the level creator, I spent quite a few hours playing other peoples’ creations and was impressed by the quality of what people were creating. The sheer volume of content that exists beyond the main campaign makes LittleBigPlanet 2 a game truly built to last.
|“You make every shot count.”|
I don’t like zombie games. Or movies. Or TV shows. I’ve never understood the appeal of the whole zombie/infected genre, and it was with a certain unease that I started playing through The Last of Us with a friend of mine. But right when the game started, I realized it was not going to be what I thought it would be. After one of the most memorable openings of any game I have ever played, you fast-forward to the main story of The Last of Us, which takes place in post-apocalyptic America where a fungal infection has devastated the world and turned much of the population into reckless, animalistic freaks (known simply as “the infected”) who attack regular humans on sight. You play as Joel, a bitter and tired survivor who is living in a quarantined part of Boston, which is one of the last bastions of what’s left of the American government. Joel is contracted by the Fireflies, a mysterious anti-government resistance group, to escort a young girl named Ellie out of the city and the story follows Joel and Ellie’s journey across what’s left of America. While you get bits and pieces of what happened during and after the fungal outbreak, the story of The Last of Us is not so much about outbreak itself as it is about the relationship between Joel and Ellie. As is fitting for story about survival, the gameplay of The Last of Us is desperate and brutal. There is no regenerative health, stealth kills are not clean, combat in general is quite ugly and utilizing your inventory and crafting are done in real-time, so you better make sure the coast is clear before you take your eyes off your surroundings. Stealth is usually advisable, and while I’ve played a few stealth games in the past, The Last of Us is the only game I’ve played where I actually felt tense as I tried to quietly eliminate or slip past foes. Joel’s survival usually means someone else will die, giving a certain weight to your decisions, especially since the other survivors are not evil just because they’re bad people, but they too are trying to survive by any means necessary. Yet, for all the despair and brutality of The Last of Us, it also has the distinction of spawning the most hilarious gaming in-joke so far in my gaming life, which unfortunately I cannot post to this blog. Have I changed my mind on the zombie/infected genre? No. Is The Last of Us a great game? Absolutely.
|A beautiful world.|
“Why can’t our game look like our concept art?” That, apparently, was the question posed by the development team of the 2008 entry in the Prince of Persia series. What arose out of this inquiry was a visually striking Prince of Persia game that broke away from the arc of the past several games in the series and established itself as something truly unique. In Prince of Persia you play as an unnamed protagonist (whom I will just refer to as “the prince,” even though we never learn who he is) who has stumbled upon a mythical land that serves as the prison for the evil god Ahriman. There he meets Elika, a woman whose tribe is sworn to keeping Ahriman locked up. Unfortunately, but predictably, Ahriman gets loose and corrupts the land, and the prince and Elika are forced to work together to stop Ahriman from infecting the rest of the world and put him back in his prison. As you work your way through the world of Prince of Persia, Elika will be your constant companion; teaching you the history of each area, using her magic to help in traversal and combat and providing conversation when you just want to talk with her. In fact, Elika is one of my favorite companion characters in any video game. She never gets in your way, is easy to control, has a likeable personality (unlike the prince, who is kind of a jerk) and is always helpful. Elika will even save your life if you miss a jump or are about to die in battle. This particular game mechanic, that, with rare exception, you never die in the game, means much of the challenge of the platforming and combat is gone. I know many people did not like this, but for me this was not an issue, because the lack of death encouraged me to attempt to explore every last corner of the world. The world of Prince of Persia itself looks somewhat like a fantastical watercolor painting, and the desolate but beautiful landscape reminds me of the feel I got when playing one of my favorite PlayStation 2 games, Shadow of the Colossus. Sadly, I must be one of the few people who actually liked Prince of Persia because it did not sell well and there has been no word of a sequel since its release in 2008. There was an Epilogue DLC released a little while after the game came out, but this truly is game in need of a full-blown sequel.
|Yes, you can fight bears.|
Red Dead Redemption is a game that seems almost as big as the American West where it takes place. You play as John Marston, a former outlaw who left his gang to start a family and go straight, but has been dragged back into his former life by federal agents who use him to hunt down his former partners in crime. This sort of setup, with a former criminal returning to his past life for one reason or another, is not particularly original and has even been done in other games by Rockstar, the developer of Red Dead Redemption, (and the Grand Theft Auto series) but the story that unfolds after this somewhat cliche beginning is well worth your time. You’ll be taken across the American West and even into Mexico as Marston pursues his former friends, interacts with an interesting cast of characters and explores the massive open world. The world of Red Dead Redemption is an achievement unto itself and probably the game’s greatest feature, being both the best depiction of the American West that I’ve seen in a video game and full of sights, wildlife and scattered bits of humanity. From early on in the game when you acquire a horse, you can look at almost anywhere on the map or in the distance and go there. Without playing a single story mission, you can spend hours upon hours just wandering around and taking in everything, and as you do you’ll also find plenty of side missions and random events to be distracted by. As you complete various tasks and missions you’ll become increasingly famous, or infamous, depending on what you do, and the world will adapt to this with other outlaws attacking you if you’re a particularly upstanding citizen and posses of bounty hunters pursuing you if you gain a large bounty on your head. This ever changing world and all the random encounters and events that go on it make Red Dead Redemption one of the few games that can legitimately claim to have a living world.
|Time to scrap some Deceptacons|
Much like Batman: Arkham Asylum was the game that showed just how good a Batman game could be, Transformers: War for Cyberton was the game that showed how awesome a good Transformers game could be. Transformers: War for Cybertron (referred to hereafter as just War for Cybertron) takes you back to Cybertron at the height of the war between the Autobots and Deceptacons.You play as both sides in the story and learn the details of some parts of the Transformers lore that were previously obscure, such as Optimus becoming a Prime, Starscream’s defection to the Deceptacons and how Cybertron was ultimately doomed by Megatron’s quest for power. Cybertron itself has been beautifully realized as a fully mechanical world, albeit a world devastated by the ravages of war. The various characters of the Transformers universe that you play as have also been given cool new looks that help the game feel like a fresh take on Transformers, but at the same time are close enough to their classic looks that you’ll instantly know who they are. But as interesting as the story and visuals of War for Cybertron are, it is the gameplay that really stands out. As you’ve probably guessed, one of the main components to the gameplay of a Transformers game is that your character can transform back and forth between humanoid and vehicle forms. While we’ve seen this mechanic in other Tranformers games before, War for Cybertron really outdoes itself in the level of tactical gameplay that the game allows you to pull off. You’re encouraged to maximize the respective strengths of your character’s forms; superior speed and maneuverability in vehicle form and superior firepower in humanoid form. Stay too long in one form or in one place and you’ll find yourself running out of ammo, or worse. That said, even if you played this game in a slower, cover-to-cover style like Gears of War and don’t take advantage of what the game has to offer, it is still a good time. Choosing between Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron for this list was extremely difficult and had the narrowest margin of any entry on this list between a chosen game and its honorable mention. In the end, I gave a slight edge to War for Cybertron because I enjoyed its campaign just a little bit more than the campaign in Fall of Cybertron. Both are outstanding games and if you’re a Transformers fan you can’t go wrong with either one.
With numbers 20 through 11 now covered, we are now ready to crack the highly anticipated top ten. Stay tuned for the post in this series which will cover numbers 10 through 6.