National Video Game Day – A celebration of my favourite games

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National Video Games Day is here and we should all celebrate good times, (come on). Video games are brilliant and we all know it. The industry is still super massive and boundaries are constantly being pushed. No Mans Sky was without a doubt one of the most innovative and exciting releases of recent times and deserved the praise it got, whist titles such as FIFA still dominate the market and continue to evolve year on year – yes Messi does look even more realistic now, maybe the designer of the Shearer statue should have come from the pool of FIFA artists but I digress.

Video games have been part of my life pretty much forever. Starting on an Amstrad CPC 464 (colour monitor dahling), before venturing onto the console world of the NES, SNES, Mega Drive and more. Video games were – and still are – the perfect form of escapism. They transport you into another world where your decisions affect others and making the wrong one could be catastrophic – be that falling on some spikes and losing all your rings or not collecting enough ammo en route to that big bad final boss. Its interactive storytelling at its finest which can illicit the most visceral of emotions.

I don’t even think I could count how many games I’ve played in my life – I’ve probably forgotten about so many of them, but the ones that stick with you, REALLY stick with you. There is no way you will ever forget some of the classic games that you get enthralled with – the ones you will sit and play for hours and hours until your dad comes in to tell you its probably time for bed now and because of this celebration of the world of gaming, I thought I’d put together this piece about all THE best games I’ve ever played. No particular order here, just a list thrown together of games that have stuck with me over the years. Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Championship/Football Manager

I remember looking at the statistics page on one of the many versions of this game I had. Its not often a game will ask you if you’ve changed your underwear recently or inform you that you’ve spent so much time together that any real life relationships are over, however Footy Manager does this to you. Flight sims were one thing, Sim City was something else, but taking charge of your football team and making every single decision that would affect their success or failure – oh this is the best thing EVER.

As a Liverpool fan I was instantly drawn to taking over the Reds in every version of the game I owned. Earlier versions gave you the chance to find a simple set up, get the formation right and then you could recruit the players. Buying them was easy enough. If the bid was accepted, they were 99% going to sign for you. There were no egos in the squad – no prima donna big name signings who upset the apple cart – my mate James proved this by signing nine strikers on our two player game once. No-one moaned, or even lacked fitness through never playing. He only bought them because he was rich ol Man Utd and didn’t want me buying these players. Sneaky.

The later versions began to become more realistic – which was a great move – but it also made them a lot harder for someone just to dive right in. The more realistic the game got, the more immersive the experience became. Far from just being a simple sim, Football Manager became a mirror of real life. The press became involved, player egos, shampoo deals and of course slimy agents all got in your way of you trying to decide between 4-4-2 or that free flowing 3-4-2-1 formation. The game became so in depth it almost became an unofficial course for being an actual football manager – seriously lads, can we use this to do our coaching badges?

These things are great, don’t get me wrong – the game is amazing and the majority of us will never be a real football manager and this is the closest we’ll ever get. However with the game becoming more in depth, I just ran out of time to play it properly, I wanted something a bit more instant and not like an actual job. This doesn’t make the game bad, its meant to mirror real life, but the evolution has been a real steep climb. For those who still have the time to dedicate to it, FM will be your best friend and worst enemy. What other game has had a documentary made about it featuring an amazing original song AND can also tempt you to play the FA Cup final whilst wearing a suit… which I have never done, honest.

Grand Theft Auto (3, San Andreas and 5)

Grand Theft Auto, the series that could possibly define a generation. The GTA line has become of the biggest selling games of all time and one which will absolutely define a generation of gamers. From being a very arcade looking – top down, rapid game on the PlayStation to the 3D behemoth that was GTA 3 and beyond – the Rockstar crew have excelled each and every time.

I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t really into GTA in its top down early life. It was fun, but not something I was consistently blown away by. It wasn’t until I saw the early development of GTA 3 and getting the feeling that we were on the verge of seeing something very special. Rockstar ripped up the gamebook, they removed the top down view and took us into a fully developed 3D Liberty City. From the first moments of the game I was absolutely hooked. Armed with pizza, tea and my mates we launched straight into Liberty City full on and damn it was exciting. The silent protagonist, (later revealed as Claude) the gangs, the mob, the guns, the Dodo, the CARS. Holy crap this is amazing. Finishing the game was actually something we didn’t want to do, as we just wanted to carry on playing. More please!!

Moving back to the 80’s with Vice City, I got such a kick out of Tommy Vercetti’s Miami Vice style extravagance. The massive house, the businesses, the excess – oh man this was incredible. San Andreas brought the LA gang warfare and probably the most ambitious GTA setting yet. The HUGE hardware pushing landscape was just awesome. Moving into the new generation with Niko Belic and then Michael, Franklin and the legendary Trevor entered into our lives with GTA V. This was the game that really pushed the hardware, the game’s need to be pre-loaded showed this, but who really cared when it was this good? The intertwining storylines, the opportunity to switch characters during gameplay and the heists which just incredible.

Sure the games have flaws and we’d all like a bit more, (hello Rockstar, where is the GTA V storyline DLC?) But GTA is a series that could continue forever in many guises. It doesn’t have to be bigger every time, just better. Concentrate on the story and it’ll become even more legendary.

Gears of War

After finishing the first GoW game I declared that it may have been the best game I have ever played. Visceral, high intensity and just plain excellent, I was instantly drawn into Marcus Fenix and company’s fight against the Horde. The way combat was structured, the creative enemies, (more on this in a second), the chainsaw on your gun. This was sci-fi shoot ‘em up heaven.

The combat was really progressive too. The close up fighting and the shooting were all excellent. One of my favourite parts of the game is the first Bezerker attack. The huge monster arrives and attacks viciously. Its at that point you find out that the Bezerker is blind and reacts, (at speed and with a f**ktonne of force) if it hears you, so get creeping around. My mate had issues taking on this sucker and this is where Gears other big gameplay feature came to the forefront as me and my mate teamed up over Xbox Live to help navigate him around the beastie who was causing him problems. To quote Tenacious D – That’s F’n teamwork!

The sequels stayed on a level of class and developed the story along with way and now this winter’s release of GoW 4 is getting me a bit excited. Fenix Jnr’s adventure is going to be a big one.

Goldeneye 64

The N64 was a great console. Mario Kart, Mario 64, WWE No Mercy, ISS all stood out but Goldeneye ruled the roost.
Essentially a port of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movie, (which still stands up as a cracking Bond film) Goldeneye had a brilliant campaign but the multiplayer was where it was at here. I think this may have been the first time that I thought I’d bought two games for the price of one. You don’t need me to tell you how awesome the multiplayer is, you’ve played it, you must have… If you haven’t please find an emulator and get on it NOW.

The maps, the weapons, the annoying times my friend really got used to one of the maps and was an absolute git with those proximity mines – oh this was video game heaven. I genuinely believe I lost hours, if not days playing the multiplayer here. Those slightly weird N64 pads getting a hammering from this game. Again, words don’t do it justice, just play it.

Honourable mentions to Monkey Island 2, Elite, FIFA/ISS, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, Dizzy and Mario Kart

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