59) Metro Exodus

Earlier I’ve talked about how much I loved Metro: Last Light and a lot of those compliments also apply to its sequel, Metro Exodus. Its array of off-kilter weapons, oppressive atmosphere, and immersive world give a sense of place in its post-apocalyptic Russia. But Metro Exodus does all of that while expanding it’s playspace tenfold. It’s not quite an open-world game necessarily, as for every level that is incredibly expansive with dozens of nooks and crannies to search through, there’s another strictly linear level that’s reminiscent of the prior two games in the series. It leads to the allusion of a massive world being felt while also making sure the world does feel so overwhelming to explore. Plus, the consequences of your playstyle are felt even more effectively than the multiple endings of Last Light. Depending on how you play through each section, viciously violent or with intention to spare as many as possible, you’ll be given an ending to that segment that reflects how you played. It even goes beyond how you dispatch enemies because even putting away your weapon could lead to conversations with NPCs rather than another bout of combat. It’s a cool game, and as I play it (I know, I need to beat this game) it only gets more interesting with the introduction of new environments and characters. For those looking for a post-apocalypse with as much texture as it has content, then Metro Exodus is up there with the best of them.

58) Resistance 3

There are so many shooters on this list, I just got done talking about one right before this segment. But when it comes to the most important fundamental of a shooter, the weaponry, there is no outdoing the talented folks at Insomniac Games. And one of their best titles is the often forgotten Resistance 3. It was the third in a franchise that was known for pushing the boundaries of the PS3, as it often touted it’s massive 60 player online battles of Resistance 2. But Resistance 3 was intentionally more reserved, as it not only lowered its multiplayer player count to 16 but also has a much less bombastic and more grounded narrative campaign. And it’s that reservedness that is a big reason why the third game is the most praised in the series. The tale of Joseph Capelli’s journey to an alien-infested New York City was engaging throughout, and everything from the characters to the environmental design left an impression on me. And the weaponry was not only unique but just felt excellent to wield. From the satisfying wall piercing rounds of the Auger Mk. II to the fiery shells of the Rossmore shotgun, every weapon filled a niche in combat while also leveling up as you used them. Overall, Resistance 3 was a game that more people deserved to play, because not only was it’s gameplay solid, but its world of a pre-WWII world struck by an alien plague was worth existing in. The time to give it its flowers is sadly gone, but here’s hoping the franchise can come back someday.

57) Gone Home

I remember the mystique around this game upon launch in 2013. I was happy and content with my PS3 and I had been a part of the PlayStation family almost exclusively for my entire gaming lifetime. I was never attracted enough to other franchises to feel a strong enough desire to pick up other platforms, but PC was the one exception. I’d often watch gameplay videos of titles that were not only more graphically demanding than those found on console, but also more creative. Even in my teens, I could recognize that my tastes were a bit one-note, even with the few exceptions I’ll get to later in this list. So, when this mysterious game popped up, about which so few would talk about as to avoid spoilers, I was instantly transfixed. That shouldn’t have been the case, as the initially dark and creepy atmosphere should have deterred my horror adverse self. I had gotten a laptop for my first year of college as a Christmas gift, but I returned the printer it came with just to get enough Steam credit to buy the game. I knew nothing about what would greet me in that empty home on that stormy night, other than the fact that it would subvert my expectations and likely move me emotionally. And even if my laptop was too weak to run the game at over 20 FPS, the game still managed to do exactly that. Never had I played a game that dropped more conventional aspects of game design in favor of a much more tender and small scale narrative of bittersweet love. I also remember it being one of the first gay narratives that felt so intimate and personal that I, as a straight man, could also relate to it. It’s a game that, despite its short playtime, has occupied space in my head for many years. Perhaps I should one day do the game justice and replay it now that I own it on multiple platforms that can run it as it was meant to be played. But honestly, at any fidelity, the atmosphere, performances, writing, and environmental design will be just as strong as it was on that old laptop.

56) Red Faction: Guerrilla

It should be no surprise that gaming has historically been seen as a predominantly male pastime. And as part of the Hot Wheelin, Transformin, Beybladin gender we’re often stereotyped as, I’ve seen more explosions in my life than anyone would care to count. Especially in games, as you can also probably tell from earlier entries in this list. I’ve seen so many explosions that they really don’t have much of an impact anymore. You’ve seen one bright flash of fire and force, you’ve likely seen them all. But Red Faction: Guerrilla genuinely has not only the most impressive explosions I’ve ever seen, but also just the most outright impressive destructive systems found in any title. I’ve mentioned games like Battlefield 4 and Battlefield 1 earlier, but there isn’t a single game in that series that matches just how precise you can get with building destruction in Guerrilla. And it seems that Volition, the developers of the game, knew that themselves, as much of the side content is built around destruction. They give you tons of creative weapons to tear apart structures, but I spent about half my time tearing towers down the old fashioned way: with a sledgehammer. Slowly chipping away at a building only to watch the whole thing collapse after destroying its final support beam never stopped being satisfying, even between the PS3, PC, and PS4 versions. So, yea, I could blow shit up in most games, but the incredibly detailed and dynamic destruction system makes explosions on the surface of Mars endlessly entertaining.

55) Ape Out

Now let me come clean, I haven’t beaten Ape Out. In fact, I’ve only beat the first album in the game. It’s honestly an incredibly stressful and exhausting game, and thanks to the game’s unforgiving difficulty, I just don’t have the stamina to give it the hundreds of attempts it’d take to complete. But I’ve seen more than enough to fall in love with the game. The abstract art style is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and its jazz soundtrack is unlike any other music I’ve heard in a game. I’ve always felt that black music is rarely represented in this medium, and besides the DJ Hero and Def Jam franchises, there are very few bones thrown to our genres. But the music of Ape Out hits so much harder than just a random hip hop song on a tracklist. Jazz is a musical genre created by black folk, and to see it as such a core part of a video game is really dope. Plus, the fact the music is created dynamically through your inputs speaks to the genre’s improvisational roots even more directly. As for the gameplay, as stressful as it is, it’s always exhilarating. Trying to make it out of impossible situations by using enemies in defensive and offensive ways always made for a satisfying dance of violence. Perhaps one of these days I’ll finally get around to beating the game, but for now, I’ll simply sit back and admire its artistry until I muster up the strength to hop back into it.

54) LittleBigPlanet 2

As the first of many games from Media Molecule on this list, I credit LittleBigPlanet 2 as the game that first made me a fan of the developer. But before the sequel even existed, I first asked my parents for a PlayStation 3 primarily to play the original LittleBigPlanet. I really only ever received new games for my birthday and Christmas, both of which fell in December, so I had to make the games I did get last for as long as possible. Because of this, the promise of endless user-generated content in LittleBigPlanet greatly appealed to me. The first game did indeed deliver on that promise, but its toolset was clearly limited, which meant its included single-player campaign felt prototypical, especially when compared to the other game I got that Holiday, Warhawk. But LittleBigPlanet 2 finally fully realized the promise of the first game, with new and more varied gameplay, much-increased production value, and a massively overhauled creation suite that made all kinds of new content possible. The single-player story I adorned especially as it was the first narrative that had that patented charm and heart of every Media Molecule game from that point on. But the thing is, for as much as I love LittleBigPlanet 2, I barely ever made anything in it. Other than one level I made intending to show my mom on her birthday, I never had the patience to make anything of substance. But I kept the disk in for months as there were always new levels, racers, shooters, minigames, and short films to check out online each day. This, combined with the aggressively lovable Sackboy, made for one of my favorite experiences on the PS3, and one that would easily be topped by Media Molecule twice over.

53) God of War (2018)

God of War is, unquestionably, one of the greatest games of this generation, and maybe of all time. Its immaculate graphics, satisfying combat, emotional story, and rewarding exploration have been praised by every other game critic out there. For the most part, I agree with those critics and see the game as an incredible achievement. But I’ve been vocal about my disdain for certain elements of God of War, with many of my issues stemming from the fact I wasn’t tired of the original God of War formula as much as many others were. However, I don’t want that to put too much of a damper on the game because, at the end of the day, I still had a wonderful time with the franchise reboot. The more emotional story was compelling, even if some of the grand scale of the original games was lost. The expanded open world was as beautiful as it was full of interesting side content, even if some of that content often overstayed its welcome. The combat made the game feel more skill-based than ever before, even if some of it’s hardest fights made me pull my hair out. And the game looked beautiful, especially in the high frame rate mode, even if much of traversal was incredibly slow to give the game time to load in those gorgeous environments. So, yes, I had a mostly great time with God of War, and if not for my few issues with the game, I could have easily seen it being in my top 10. But for now, I suppose we’ll just have to wait for the eventual sequel.

52) The Club

I know what you might be thinking: “What in God’s name does this fugly lookin last-gen shooter do better than the masterpiece that is God of War?” Well, I’m not gonna really answer that, but I can at least explain why I like it more than God of War. The Club is an arcadey third-person shooter where you’re tasked with racing through environments as fast as you can. You see, as you’ve seen elsewhere in this list, I love games with speedy and fluid movement. But The Club is so fascinating to me because it asks you to be speedy despite the fact that its movement isn’t all that fluid. The game isn’t clunky per say, but it definitely has more in common with Gears of War and Resident Evil 4 than Sunset Overdrive and Uncharted. But to make up for the imperfect traversal, you are rewarded for your combat prowess. Killing enemies and shooting targets along the way not only scores you extra points, but also extra time on a ticking clock. It makes for a very addictive feedback loop where getting a better time on a stage always feels within grasp, because if you didn’t run fast enough, you could always be faster on the draw. It’s a combination that brings more aggressive gameplay into racing, a genre that usually rewards pacifism, and it ends up scratching the same itch that games like Burnout do. But what makes this game even more special to me is just how obscure it is now. It’s developer, Bizarre Creations, has long since shuttered. The game is trapped on last-gen consoles and requires fiddling with Games for Windows Live to get it working on PC. And since it’s release, few shooters have been able to match it’s gameplay style, with slight exception to Resident Evil’s various Mercenary modes. So, yea, I get how this flawed gem might seem out of place over the hyper polished masterpiece that is God of War, but I’ll honestly take a Bizarre Creation over a fairly derivative dad simulator any day.

51) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Considering the hype that I and many others had leading up to the release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, it might be surprising to see this be the first Uncharted title in the list. Well, the hype might factor into that decision, but ultimately Uncharted 4 fell a bit short of my expectations. Now, that’s not to say that I dislike the game at all, it is on this list after all. The focus on exploration and wider environments was a welcome evolution of the traditional Uncharted formula, but it was done much better in the follow-up, Lost Legacy. Its narrative is probably the most engaging in the series, and also has the most closure in its final hours. But it’s set pieces didn’t quite reach the heights of those found in other Uncharted games. And while this, potentially, final adventure with the Drake family took its time due to the gravitas of this context, the final few chapters felt like it dragged on a bit in comparison to others in the series. And that’s just the issue: for everything I adore about Uncharted 4, another game in the series does it better. It stays on the list, because it’s still in the higher tiers of my ranking, and once again, that ending is endlessly satisfying. But, as you’ll see later in this list, Uncharted 4 still doesn’t hold a candle to other globetrotting adventures in the series.

50) Fallout 3

As a massive Fallout fan, one who couldn’t contain his excitement in the lead up to Fallout 4, it might come as a shock to see Fallout 3 as the sole representative of the series on the list. But ultimately, no matter what directions later sequels and spin-offs went, I just could never forget my introduction to the franchise. Fallout 3 wasn’t the first open-world game I ever played, but it was the first time I truly felt like I was visiting a living, breathing world that existed long before I stepped into it. It forced me to consider so much about how I played the game, not just through narrative dialogue choices, but through inventory management and knowing which battles to run from and which to embrace. I still think it might be the first RPG I ever got into. There might be some that I tired, but Fallout 3 was the first of this genre that I sank over 100 hours in. It wasn’t necessarily a world I loved existing in, like some games I’m mentioning later, but it proved to be endlessly fascinating. The bizarre clashing of 1950’s culture and cutting edge high technology was such a massive contrast that I was fascinated in every way that this dichotomy could distort the world. And so many of the characters and towns in The Capital Wasteland were so unique that I still remember many of them to this day. It’s fatal flaw, however, it that combat never felt fluid or really all that fun, even after dumping many skill points and perks into gunplay and melee related categories. So, while I can easily get games with both sprawling, lively worlds and satisfying combat, I don’t think I’ve yet to play anything with a world aesthetic and density of unique things to see and do as much as Fallout 3, and I will always appreciate it for introducing me to a deeper kind of open-world game.

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