Valve

My Favorite: Videogames: FPS + RPG

There are only a handful of videogames that I have really and truly loved like a book, comic, movie or song.  The ones that readily come to mind are all post-school for me when computer technology finally got to the point where graphics and gameplay enabled the kind of world building and immersive story-telling that was a generation beyond the Atari 2600 games of my childhood.  It’s also when I finally had enough money to afford a decent PC and the games themselves.

I like the challenge of games but I don’t love it; no more than I love the challenge of reading difficult words.  The gaming format is mostly an ends to a means for me – a submersion in a world with a story.  Every now and then, particularly with Portal, the game part of the game is really worthwhile for me, but I don’t take my primary enjoyment from the mechanics of games.

I think the games I list below are of a particular zone that overlaps two genres known as First Person Shooters and Role Playing Games.  The Point of View of FPS games is immersive and compelling; the world building, story-telling and attention to characters of RPGs is what keeps me in a state of imagination, suspending disbelief during the course of the game.

Here’s a list of my favorite games of this type, which with perhaps the exception of Civilization, are essentially my favorite games:

  1. Half-Life and Half-Life 2:  Half-Life was revelatory. A killer story, tension-building game play with serious twists and turns. (I revisited recently this game by playing Black Mesa, which is a mod of Half Life 2 to recreate the original Half Life game) Half-Life 2, several years later, raised the stakes with an expanded world, mind-blowing graphics and improved supporting characters, especially the character of Alyx and her pet robot, “Dog”.
  2. Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas: I never played the pre-Fallout 3 games so I didn’t have any preconceived notions (like many diehard fans apparently did) about what it should be. What it did was give a Jetsons-style view of the apocalypse, right in the remains of Washington DC. The open-ended world was new to me too at the time and in comparison to the rigid, tracked world in Half-Life, was also a revelatory experience.
  3. Portal and Portal 2: I’ll admit, I did not really get into Portal the first time I played it and I let it sit on the virtual shelf for a couple of years.  I played it and Portal 2 together all the way through when Portal 2 came out and this time, appreciated the combination of world, characters and truly challenging puzzles presented by the game’s portal gun and other physics-bending innovations.  
  4. Bioshock and Bioshock 2: Very creepy, very fun and it took the world-building a step further by layering in a critique and manifestation of objectivist philosophy in the underwater world of Rapture. Bioshock 2 was not a step forward like other sequels I’ve mentioned in this post but it was more of the same done very well.  I am loading up the real sequel to Bioshock right now which is the long awaited Bioshock Infinite.
  5. The Walking Dead: One of the few Telltale games I’ve played and the only one I’ve unabashedly enjoyed. One of the few games to really absolutely, genuinely work on an honest, emotional level.
  6. Left for Dead and Left for Dead 2: In contrast to The Walking Dead, the two installments of L4D are action thrillers putting you in the middle of a zombie movie set.  The thing I really appreciate about these games is that they did a lot of world building, character creation and story-telling that still managed to mostly maintain it’s illusion of immersion even in a coop, multiplayer environment. (You might be detecting a pattern here that multi-player games are not my first choice in videogames)
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Real Life Portal Gun

POrtal: Terminal Velocity from Jason Craft on Vimeo.

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Mind of Freeman

Half Life is one of my favorite videogames of all time.

I only found out about Ross Scott’s series of videos called Freeman’s Mind this year.  Simple but funny – Scott riffs over the action in the original Half Life game as if he was the main character.  It is not at all what I’d think of as Freeman’s personality (although in a remarkably McCloudian trick, Half Life gives no personality to Freeman so that every person playing the games gets to fill in whatever they imagine).

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