79) Singularity

Singularity is one of the purest examples of a AA game. It doesn’t have a massive budget that can be felt in every overly detailed inch of its game world, as that’s a feature of AAA games. It doesn’t have the scrappy ingenuity and innovation of a single A indie title either. No, this game is totally derivative of a whole host of other games, with a great deal less polish of most of them. But why do I love Singularity then? Well, in taking from so many different games, Raven Software has made a title that feels unique all on its own. Other games have the combat and upgrades of Bioshock, other games have the gimmicky weapons of Half-Life, and other games have the pulpy time-travel plot of Timeshift, but only Singularity has it all in one game, and it’s a blast. Yes, I could turn elsewhere to have all of these individual scratches scratched deeper, but only this game scratches them all well enough for me to leave satisfied. The only tragedy is that I wish Raven studios got another shot at perfecting this formula before being consumed by the Call of Duty machine because they really were onto something with this game. The combat was satisfying. The weapons were unique between one another. The enemy variety kept combat encounters engaging. And the time travel plot, while not strong, was fun, with multiple endings, all interesting in different ways. But I guess it seems fitting for the series to be stuck in 2010, as that generation was one of the last in which the middle-of-the-road game by a massive publisher could ever exist.

78) Gears of War 2

As someone who played the entirety of the Gears of War series in 2019, I expected the earlier titles to age the worst and not stick with me much. But I’m surprised to say that wasn’t the case. As someone familiar with cover-based shooting thanks to Naughty Dog, Gears’ more tactical combat and cover mechanics were appealing to me from the first game, but I don’t think I truly loved the series until the second title. Gears of War 2’s core plot doesn’t actually mean that much to me, and the fact I can’t tell you much of what happened outside of a few specific moments is proof of that. But what did resonate with me is the feel of combat. Gears of War 2’s combat just feels right, in a way that’s almost primal. I’m no gorehound, but the way blood spews upon contact of every round makes the hit of your trigger pull feel all the more impactful. One of the core tenants of satisfying combat in a game is for your attacks to feel like they are substantial, and thanks to enemies exploding with an up-close Gnasher shot, losing their entire head upon a headshot with the Longshot, or flailing in pain upon being hit by the flamethrower, you definitely feel like your attacks are impactful. Yes, thanks to recently completing the first game, the Maria scene left a noticeable emotional impact on me, but I came primarily for the Locus murder, and boy is it glorious. In fact, some of the game’s biggest setpieces just make that aspect even more entertaining or engaging. So, yes, there are plenty of deep reasons to love Gears 2, but I love it for the most shallow of reasons: the aliens blow up real good. And for a medium predicated on gameplay, I don’t feel so bad about that fact.

77) Rise of the Tomb Raider

While I was too young to play the original PS1 games back when they were released, I became a Tomb Raider fan back on the PSP. It provided an experience where bombastic action set pieces played second fiddle to long stretches of quiet, slower-paced platforming. I enjoyed this formula up until Underworld on the PS3, but when the series came back in 2013 looking more like Uncharted than Ico, I wasn’t too upset. Rise of the Tomb Raider took that reboot and built upon it to the point where it’s combat, environmental, and set-piece variety blew me away much like the contemporaries it borrowed so much from. Sure, its individual pillars of 3rd person shooting, exploration, stealth, setpieces, and incredible graphical fidelity have each been done better in other titles, and some of those appear later in this list. But seeing all of those done so competently in one title is what makes it notable, especially when all of the extra content and features, like PSVR support, high frame rate mode, and survival modes are taken into account. Sure, the story is nonsensical and fairly weak, but I find the characters so endearing that I wanted to see it’s ending anyway. In fact, the quality of this game makes me really want to get around to Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which seems like it’d have the increased focus on quiet platforming that I crave from earlier titles. But until then, Rise of the Tomb Raider is the best I’ve ever seen the franchise be, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

76) Assassin’s Creed II

Like many others who skipped the flawed original, Assassin’s Creed II was my first taste of the series. As you’ll see later in the list, I really liked what I tried, because AC II was a fantastic open-world action game that felt very fresh at the time. Its combat was fun and its emphasis on counter-attacks really tapped into one of my favorite aspects of melee combat in games. Its parkour system, while not as fast as games like inFAMOUS, was uniquely fluid and made finding the most efficient lines through Italy very engaging. Much like the earlier Tomb Raider games, optional tombs gave me the slow-paced platforming I crave in adventure games like this. And while I found its narrative too long for me to remember the fine details, Ezio was a fantastic character, and his most dramatic moments and plot points were a joy to witness. Particularly, the 4th wall-breaking climax of the ending and the Desmond gameplay that follows it were a massive highlight, despite his fate in later games. Admittedly, while I do still love this game, I have played so many other AC games since Assassin’s Creed II that some of the aspects that made it stick out now blend together with later games in the series. But I still want to pay my respects to the game that led me to be such a massive fan of Assassin’s Creed that I love even its most overlooked entries over it’s most widely loved ones…

75) Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is one of the many great examples on this list of comfort food gaming. With this being the 4th AC game I’ve played and the 8th in the mainline series, it simultaneously keeps the core gameplay of the series while changing it in subtle ways that make it more gratifying. Instead of depending almost exclusively on defense breaking and countering, the combat puts more emphasis on combos and maintaining no-hit streaks, which makes the combat feel more like a Batman Arkham game than an Assassin’s Creed game. Parkour remains fun and fluid, but the addition of the grappling hook streamlined traversal and made stealth more forgiving. And the overall tone was lighthearted enough to carry a Disney-esque spirit of adventure that isn’t often found in the series. Jacob and Evie Frye were some of the only protagonists in Assassin’s Creed who clearly had fun while dismantling the Templars. Evie I especially loved as her more reserved yet confident demeanor was a joy to see, especially as the first female Assassin’s Creed lead since Liberation on the Vita. And the over-the-top roster of historical figures like Florence Nightingale and Charles Dickens were always nice to see. As I’ve said in the past, with it’s fast-paced combat, grappling hook, focus on vehicles, and over-the-top characters, it’s my favorite Batman Arkham game, and its inclusion on this list hopefully stands to prove that even more.

74) PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale

For as much as I sincerely adore PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, I do so less because of the content within the game itself and more so for the promise of its premise. Much like Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo platforms, All-Stars was touted to be the mascot platform fighter that would finally bring together the most beloved characters of PlayStation’s long, rich history. The only issue is, with this game coming out when Sony was second place in the console war, and before many of its classic franchises were mainstream enough to be selling points or old enough to trigger nostalgia, this game was doomed to be seen as inferior to its main contemporary. Yes, I adored seeing Emmett Graves, Fat Princess, Cole McGrath, and Sly Cooper duke it out on stages that had absurd combinations of franchises, like PaRappa the Rapper and Killzone. But for every drop of absurd fan service, there was a misstep like the addition of the less beloved new Dante of the recent Devil May Cry reboot, or the absence of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, both of which were both owned by Activision. What hurts is that flaws like these were likely due to business reasons, reasons that could easily be hurtled over now that Sony is the market leader in the console market and can much more effectively negotiate with 3rd parties about the use and inclusion of their iconic characters. But sadly, this fully realized version of All-Stars has yet to materialize. So, I sit slightly less than content with PS3 and Vita platinums in the current All-Stars we have now, flawed roster, unpolished polished UI, and all. Because it’s the best celebration of PlayStation’s rich history, a history I’ve followed for most of my life, that I may ever get…until recently…but we’ll get to that later.

73) Saints Row 2

This isn’t the last you’ll hear from this series on this list, but I felt that the addition of Saints Row 2, over other more popular entries in the series, was important for me as it did a lot to mold my tastes in open-world games. I had gotten it through PlayStation Plus, and though I had no familiarity with the series since its original game is an Xbox 360 exclusive, I was interested in it deeply. I was hoping to get a serious, gangsta infused crime game reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which I had never played, and while I did get that, it was riddled with bits of intense goofiness that would make the game stick out more for me. Sure, any open-world game could have interesting characters, satisfying gunplay, deep character and car customization, and dozens of activities to complete. But very few had that content alongside missions where you’d spew sewage all over a fictional Times Square or throw yourself into traffic in order to rack up medical damage in an insurance fraud scheme. It made for a game with a fascinating contrast in tone between its main narrative and its larger world and side content. It was a serious tale told in a world of absolute lunacy. Sure, it introduced me to the kind of map clearing, money earning, empire-building gameplay I’d come to love in franchises like Assassin’s Creed and other Saints Row games, but it sticks with mainly because it has one toe in contemporary gangsta drama and another toe in zany open-world antics. And that made for a fascinating blend I was glad to consume in its entirety.

72) Statik

Statik is a game that is difficult to talk about, not just because I don’t want to spoil much of it, but because it’s minimalist nature prevents me from having much to talk about in the first place. It’s a game exclusively about puzzle-solving, but unlike Portal, the mystique of this game wasn’t spoiled or overhyped, thanks partially to its less popular platform of PlayStation VR and to the lower profile of its developer, Tarsier Studios. This meant that its world, to me, was just as puzzling as the puzzles themselves. But this wasn’t the case due to the game asking many questions, but just by way of the game being devoid of many answers at all. However, the mystery sits in the background to make room for some incredibly clever puzzle designs that use the VR medium in clever ways. Some of the first “wow” moments I had in VR were when solving puzzles in this game, and those “ah-hah!” moments felt more satisfying here than in other games because it always felt like I had solved these problems rather than an avatar. Additionally, it’s one of an increasingly rare set of VR games that asks you to stay seated and keep your body at rest the entire time, which I appreciated especially for its more cognitive challenges. Statik is the definition of a hidden gem: it’s short, relatively cheap, rarely brought up in gaming, or even just VR discourse, and takes advantage of all of those disadvantages to deliver an experience that’s set up to surpass your expectations. I just wish more people would play it so a sequel could be more likely.

71) Steamworld Dig 2

Steamworld Dig 2 is one of my favorite comfort food games, but unlike other games on this list with similar descriptors, it’s not some paint-by-numbers open-world game with comfortable, yet familiar, combat and missions. Instead of sending you out into the great expanse, this game sends you down into the unknown depths of a mysterious mine to find your friend, the protagonist of the original title. This journey will require you to gather massive amounts of minerals and ore while also managing your available light, which depletes as you explore the dark underground, and water, which depletes as you use different combat and traversal abilities that make both actions easier, faster, & often more fun. Sure, there is a main quest, but the moments in which you make substantial progress in that narrative are few and far between, and that leaves room for a ton of exploration of my own volition. Solving platforming puzzles, digging specific paths that set traps for nearby enemies, going out of my way to mine rare ore just so I can upgrade my jetpack, and other tasks I often found myself doing not because the narrative compelled me to, but because each action was satisfying in and of itself. Even the baseline tension of returning your collected resources to the surface without dying made for a fun back and forth, a struggle that never completely went away even with the later addition of grappling hooks, explosives, and other satisfying-to-wield tech. It all made for a game that consistently invited me to just travel one more meter down every time to see what new secrets and treasure I could find, and, especially when experienced on a mobile platform like the Vita, that invitation ends up being harder to decline the more I discovered.

70) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

I’ve played every Call of Duty game since the original Modern Warfare, and Modern Warfare 3 might be one of the most shamelessly over-the-top shooters I’ve ever played in a series that once prided itself on how authentic it was. The set pieces, the plot, even the very premise of the game, World War 3 being fought on the streets of places like New York City and Paris, France, is outrageously absurd. But I didn’t even think to look at any of it with much of a critical eye, because it was exactly what I not only wanted from the game but expected. The Call of Duty series, in my youth, was the most dependable place to find tight controls, bombastic moments, and gratifying power fantasies on a consistent basis, and it’s precisely the reason my target demographic flocked to the series so completely. MW3 was no exception, as I gleefully consumed its entire campaign within the Christmas day I received it, and I was a few matches into the multiplayer by that night. It’s fun, not because it’s subversive or unique, but because it nails the fundamentals of grounded first-person combat damn near flawlessly. And turns out, a game simply being fun counts for a lot. Sometimes all I want is a bombastic campaign and some simple yet addictive multiplayer, and Modern Warfare 3 was one of the most consistently fun sources of both.

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