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Reviews and articles on movies, music, video games, and more

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

“Intruders” (2011) Review

Intruders cover

I’ve never been a big horror movie fan. It’s not that I don’t like the genre; it’s more so that I have become bored by the clichés of the genre (personally, I loved “28 Days Later” and “Let Me In”, high quality films with interesting stories that stand out among the more bland horror offerings). Reliance upon jump scares, barebones/convoluted/poorly pieced together plots, and excessive gore have all become genre staples, and are all ingredients that don’t appetize me in the least. Being a Clive Owen fan (“Children of Men” is one of my favorite films), I had an interest in “Intruders” which is supposed to be more of a psychological horror film.

The main plot of “Intruders” revolves around a childhood nightmare about a being known as Hollowface. This main premise is spread across two settings/timelines. The story starts off decent enough, and throughout the film remains tense. Yet, I could see the ending coming early in the film. Further, though the ending effectively wraps up both sections of the story, one conclusion is much more satisfying than the other, with the lesser being quite disappointing.

This plot is carried nicely by a brooding atmosphere that relies more on tension and unease than on the typical jump scares. This atmosphere is something that really works for “Intruders”. It’s a shame, then, that this environment is wasted on a mediocre villain. Hollowface effectively represents a classic childhood terror of things that hide in the dark, yet it just doesn’t quite feel as creepy as his back story would have you believe.

On the other hand, the main characters do a nice job of making this psychological terror seem real. Clive Owen is always great, and though this role is a step in a different direction for him, he works nicely as John. The children are decent as well, and the supporting cast are serviceable.

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Clive Owen and Ella Purnell work nicely together as father-daughter pair, John and Mia.

The other pieces that make up “Intruders” (soundtrack, cinematography, etc.) all work in the context of the film, but overall are nothing special. There are some interesting sequences involving Hollowface that are well done, and other scenes that have some nice touches, but there are just as many bland story sequences. As for the soundtrack…. well, I don’t really remember anything of note.

In the end, “Intruders” avoids many horror standards and branches into a cool psychological territory. There is some great potential here, and at points, the film is quite tense. Yet, “Intruders” squanders its potential with some sloppy story execution as the story progresses, and falls into a generally average experience due to the lack of some stronger pieces. Fans of psychological horror will find the film interesting, but not anything outstanding.

Final Score: 5.6/10

“The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) Review

Darjeeling Limited Poster

Wes Anderson is a highly skilled director with an uncanny ability to create some very unique, and highly entertaining films. Having been a big fan of his past work (most recently, the wonderful “Moonrise Kingdom“), I have been meaning to see “The Darjeeling Limited” for a while now. After experiencing the film, I can say that this is another great entry into Wes Anderson’s body of work, albeit not without a few glaring flaws.

“The Darjeeling Limited” focuses on three brothers who have agreed to take a trip across India together to try to reforge familial bonds. This sets up the trio of Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman for an adventure they will not forget. What makes this story most intriguing is the development of the relationships between the brothers and their interactions with the world around them. The characters become more mature throughout the film, and the events that slowly cause this evolution are interesting to say the least. Wes Anderson’s ability to create such unique stories and characters shines through here, and this keep “Darjeeling” entertaining from start to finish.

Unfortunately, for how great the plot and characters are during the film, there just seems to be something missing from their back story. The viewer gets a sense of the brothers’ past, but I always had this feeling that I was not fully in-the-loop on what made them who they are. Without a more fleshed-out back story to this family, some scenes lack as much of a punch as they could have had.

Despite this one glaring flaw, the plot is still highly entertaining. The story is made all the better through some great dialogue and set/costume design. The dialogue has that unusual, and smartly hilarious touch that Wes Anderson always brings to the table. The sets are also eye-catching, ranging from many scenes within the small compartments of the train to villages to Indian country-side. All the sets and costumes have splashes of color that exaggerate certain objects and treat the audience to a visual treat.

A good amount of the film takes place on the train, but Wes Anderson creates such great interactions between characters that this small set never feels cramped or boring.

A good amount of the film takes place on the train, but Wes Anderson creates such great interactions between characters that this small set never feels cramped or boring.

Another positive for the film is the acting that Wilson, Brody, and Schwartzman bring to the film. They capture each brother’s personality perfectly, and make their situation believable. They work quite well together, and make each scene enjoyable.

One last thing of note is the film’s soundtrack. While I typically love Anderson’s film soundtracks (including the Portuguese David Bowie touch to “The Life Aquatic”), this one left me underwhelmed. It is certainly not bad, but just not nearly up to the standards I would expect.

“The Darjeeling Limited” is clearly a Wes Anderson film. It has all his hallmarks stamped upon it, and for the most part, it is a great movie. The passable soundtrack and lack of back story on the brothers detracts from the experience somewhat, but the high quality of the rest of the film’s pieces still make this a must-watch for Anderson fans or any fan of indie dramadies.

Final Score – 7.8/10

“Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episodes I and II” Mini-Review

Sonic 4  Title Screen

I remember my Sega Genesis from when I was quite young. I spent many hours of my life sitting “too close” to the TV screen playing the original Sonic the Hedgehog games. To this day, I remember the locations of many of the hidden secrets and the cheat code patterns for those games. That being said, the series has been on a steep decline since those days with many fans, myself included, longing for a return to the style of those original titles. With the announcement of the episodic “Sonic the Hedgehog 4”, promising a return to the series’ roots, I was quite excited. Do the first two episodes of this series entry bring Sonic back to his glory days?

With the return to side-scrolling gameplay, it seems at first the team knows what they are doing. The 3D models of Sonic, Tails, Dr. Robotnik, and all the enemies look great against the colorful and well-designed backdrops that bring back some styles of classic Sonic levels. This idea of capturing some of the nostalgia of the older titles while bringing Sonic into the modern gaming world resonates throughout the episodes. However, it never comes close to reaching those classic highs.

For example, while the graphics are a perfect upgrade for the series, the soundtrack is poor. Even the worst of tracks from the original titles surpasses the best of tracks in episodes I and II. Further, the gameplay fails to capture the feel of the classics. Sonic may reach some fast speeds, but his movement is quite stiff. This leads to some frustrating errors as there is no sense of momentum. Also, Sonic now has a lock-on ability, where at the press of a button, he can quickly attack an enemy or hit a bounce pad. This ability fails to make the experience any easier, and in fact seems to add some more frustration. With these gameplay issues, it is a shame that the level design also suffers from some very poor choices, with some incredibly frustrating segments. Did I mention the experience is, at many times, frustrating? Okay, good. To sum it up in a way any classic Sonic fan would understand, many levels become a similar experience to the water levels of old, such as Labyrinth Zone.

While Sonic 4 manages to be a return to form for the blue hedgehog, many segments and design choices mar the overall experience.

While Sonic 4 manages to be a return to form for the blue hedgehog, many segments and design choices mar the overall experience.

Bosses and special stages return, with the special stages being a highlight of the titles. They are quite fun, yet do suffer from some of the similar gameplay issues (i.e. lack of momentum in the controls) as the main levels. Bosses now occupy their own stage, as opposed to being an end of a level highlight. The bosses are decently designed as evolutions of some old Robotnik designs, yet some fall into cheap territory.

“Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episodes I & II” is an unusual experience. On one hand, it takes the old formula and builds upon it. On the other, it reconfigures many of the things that made those original titles so great, dragging the experience down in the process. For fans of the old titles, this is a nice way to take an unfamiliar trip down a nostalgic road. Just don’t expect to relive your glory days with Sonic without a few major bumps in the road.

Final Score: 6.5/10

“Les Misérables” (2012) Review

Les Miserables Poster

Being somewhat familiar with the premise of “Les Misérables”, I was not really anticipating the film adaptation. Yet, with all the praise it has been receiving now during award season, I had hope that the film could well exceed my expectations. That being said, a musical film is much different to review, as there are differences in the style in presentation.

Starting off, “Les Misérables” features a plot that has both positive and negative aspects. On a positive note, though the plot has some stereotypical aspects, it features some well-rounded characters. Through their development, the audience is drawn in making certain scenes have a heavier impact on the story and the viewer. Yet, at many points the plot itself feels a somewhat drawn out and a little too coincidental.

The characters themselves are well-played, with the cast giving some wonderful performance. Hugh Jackman is enthralling as Jean Valjean, and Anne Hathway is terrific as Fantine. The best thing about the cast’s performance is that they all did quite a job with each musical piece, except for Russell Crowe who just sounded poor to me (he’s a great fit for Ridley Scott epics, but not musicals). I have to give this group credit for stepping outside their boundaries, and succeeding, on this one.

In line with the vocals, the soundtrack is wonderful. The composition for this musical is one of the best I’ve heard in any musical I’ve been to. With the larger scope used for the film (as opposed to what would be captured on stage), the bombastic nature of the soundtrack is perfectly fitting. Overall, the sound department gets my seal of approval for the production. Yet, one downside is that nearly (~99%) of all the dialogue in the film is sung. I know “Les Misérables” is a musical, but with everything being sung, it takes away the impact of each individual song, and doesn’t allow for the same type of interactions had certain sections been spoken. Further, the dialogue itself is unimpressive, though that seems more a fault of everything having to be designed to be sung, limiting some dialogue possibilities.

Hugh Jackman gives a great performance as Jean Valjean. Both he and Anne Hathaway are well-deserving of their Oscar nominations.

Hugh Jackman gives a great performance as Jean Valjean. Both he and Anne Hathaway are well-deserving of their Oscar nominations.

Outside of the musical side of things, one major issue I had with the film was the camera work. The camera seems to always be much too close to each character’s face, with a close-up being used for every main song. This becomes even worse when you have multiple characters singing at the same time, as the camera cuts from face to face as if it’s some sort of hip hop montage. To make matters worse, the camera never seems to actually stay fixed. I don’t mean on one character or setting, but I mean that the person holding the camera has a knack for being very shaky. This poor camera work doesn’t ruin the film, but definitely detracts from the overall experience.

Taken as a whole, “Les Misérables” is a decent film. It’s not bad, not great – just decent. The cast is surprisingly great, and the sound presentation is perfect, but the shaky camera work, constant singing, and average plot make the complete experience hit-or-miss. Everyone will have a different level of enjoyment with this one, and if you have an interest in seeing the film, you will enjoy yourself. For those on the fence, you will likely be disappointed.

Final Score: 6.2/10

“The Ides of March” (2011) Review

Ides of March

“The Ides of March” is a smart movie, with a clever plot line. It is a film complete with a great cast, full of actors known to give great performances. It is also a movie that did receive some award nominations (mostly for adapted screenplay). What “The Ides of March” isn’t, however, is a film that has a clear vision of what it wants to be and contains authentic situations and characters.

In “The Ides of March”, the viewer is put in the middle of a close race for the Democratic party’s presidential candidacy. The film focuses on one of the two candidates and his campaign crew. The race twists and turns as media, consultants, and other politicians get involved and all look to blackmail and bribe their way ahead. For the first two-thirds of the movie, this story of one man’s race and another’s belief in him is compelling. However, at that point in the film, the story takes a sharp turn and begins to derail. From then on out, everything felt too implausible, and the characters flat. What this plot lacks most of all is emotion.

The majority of the film I spent just letting twist after twist unfold, without any of them really having any weight to them. I don’t know if this is due to the writing (which is mostly solid, but at times a little too contrived) or the acting (more on that next), but I just didn’t feel anything for most of the film.

Speaking of the acting, George Clooney has assembled a great cast – Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ryan Gosling (who always seems to play the same character in all of his films, except “Drive“), and Clooney, himself. As these talented actors entered the film, I was expecting some high-quality scenes. Yet, as above, most of the sequences just felt flat. There are two scenes during which I felt any kind of true emotion from the actors, while many more should have been more impactful. This combo of iffy writing at times and flat acting keeps the movie from really reaching any kind of major tension.

Why does Ryan Gosling always seem to play the same (or a close variation of the same) character in every movie (outside of "Drive")? As such, this face is always somewhere in each film.

Why does Ryan Gosling always seem to play the same (or a close variation of the same) character in every movie (outside of “Drive”)? As such, this face is always somewhere in each film.

All of the acting and writing aside, another piece of the film that fails to enhance the drama is the soundtrack. I only remember two particular scenes where the soundtrack was really noticeable, and even in those instances, it is underwhelming. I wish the music could have at least accentuated the key scenes when the writing and acting didn’t.

With the overall lack of feeling in the film, and my comments above, you would assume this is a poor film. I have to say, though, that it isn’t all that bad. The smart, political chess match that takes place during the first two-thirds of the film is still interesting despite the story not quite seeming to know what it wants to be or where it wants to go. All in all, “The Ides of March” is an entertaining film, as long as you don’t try to dig too deep into it all.

Final Score: 5.5/10

2013 Oscar Nominees – How Did the Academy Do?

2013 Oscar Nominations

With the 2013 Academy Awards looming on the horizon (ceremony airing February 24th), we have now been introduced to the nominees for this year’s Oscars (list of nominees available from the Oscars’ website). A good amount of the nominations were expected, but there are a good amount of surprises in this year’s batch of nominees. In addition, there are some quite egregious omissions. Personally, I think this year was much stronger than last year, film-wise. Many more outstanding performances and exemplary films graced the cinema screens, yet I feel that the Academy failed to truly capture many of this year’s most fitting nominees.

To start, let’s examine some of the film awards. There is a sore lack of appreciation for “Cloud Atlas”. This film excelled in so many areas, and should have easily been nominated for cinematography, costume design, and original score. For such an ambitious film that largely succeeds on its many, many levels to get snubbed and receive zero nominations is a shame. Another big miss is the lack of “The Sessions” in the writing category. While I personally didn’t find the film outstanding, its writing was top-notch.

Moving on to the cast awards, “The Sessions” is left out once again. You cannot tell me John Hawkes didn’t deserve an Oscar nomination (let alone a win) for his role as Mark O’Brien. He was phenomenal in the film, and would be my choice for winner of the “best actor in a leading role” award. On a positive note, kudos to the Academy for recognizing the wonderful performance by Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. This nine-year-old girl (who was seven when the movie was finished filming) lit up the screen as Hushpuppy, and I’m pulling for her as a surprise winner in this category. That being said, the amateur actor, Dwight Henry, deserved a nod for his role as Hushpuppy’s father, Wink. It’s a tough choice for me between Leo DiCaprio and him as most deserving of that “best supporting actor” award.

Lastly, and to be quite frank, where the &^*% is “Moonrise Kingdom” on the “best picture” ballot? This was easily one of the best (I feel it is the best) films of the year, and to get shut out for the likes of “Life of Pi” (more like “Life of CGI”) and “Les Misérables” is ridiculous. And speaking of those two films, you’d have to think James Cameron and Anne Hathaway were heavily involved in picking the nominees for how many nominations the CGI-laden “Life of Pi” and overly dramatic “Les Misérables” (aka “Guy Steals a Loaf of Bread and $#!^ Goes Down”) received. Side note: “Life of Pi” may have been called “unfilmable”, but “Cloud Atlas” was much more expansive, ambitious, and awe-inspring. Fancy visuals do not make a movie great (just ask “Avatar”).

"You mean to tell me John Hawkes got snubbed nearly as bad as me?"

“You mean to tell me John Hawkes got snubbed nearly as bad as me?”

With all of these misses, it was still nice to see some nods to films such as “Prometheus” (visual effects), “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (visual effects, make-up/hairstyling, and production design), and “Beasts of the Sounthern Wild” with many, well-deserved nominations. Also, it has been a weak year for animated films (compared to the vast majority of categories where there is heavy competition) which explains the lukewarm nominees.

Hopefully, the Academy can at least pick the best out of the mediocre nomination list it put together. With many high-quality films out there this year, there has been some strong competition for many awards, and this is certainly a year where there has been no clear front-runner in many categories. Yet, there are some of these nominations that are nearly laughable, and some snubs that are just appalling. I guess we’ll just have to wait a month and a half to watch “Lincoln”, “Les Misérables”, and “Life of Pi” win over and over again…. Ugh.

“Binary Domain” Review

Binary Domain Cover

Having heard a great deal of praise for “Binary Domain”, I have been meaning to play through this supposed sleeper hit for a while now. Created by the same mind that produced both the “Yakuza” series, Toshihiro Nagoshi, and garnering comparisons to 2010’s sleeper hit “Vanquish”, this title had a lot to live up to in my mind. That being said, it far exceeded my expectations, and is well deserving of all of its hype.

The focus of “Binary Domain” is its clever sci-fi story. In the game world, the robotics industry has advanced to the point where it is possible to create “Hollow Children”, robots who look, feel, and believe they are human – as such, they are unable to be distinguished from normal humans. Robotics are a major industry though, due to the need to build upper levels of major cities and serve the elite members of society who live in the upper levels – the majority of cities are flooded due to global warming. You come in as a member of an agency tasked with enforcing the New Geneva Convention, which happens to put laws on robotics, including the banning of any technology regarding “Hollow Children”. To delve further into the story would blemish your experience in seeing the plot unfold. Quite simply, the plot is extremely intriguing. Through the many twists and turns, you and your team uncover many secrets surrounding this technology and the corporations behind it, and this results in some very unexpected conflicts and plot twists. Having played many (and I mean many) video games, I am used to the clichés of most standard genre plots. As such, when a game can keep me on the edge of my seat, and has a story that develops in so many unexpected ways, I am very pleased. “Binary Domain” accomplishes this and creates a great experience for the player to back it up.

This experience that supports the story keeps the player involved in the game world, and eager to continue playing, both to find out what happens in the story, and to see what challenge you can overcome next. “Binary Domain” does a nice job of adding a healthy dose of player choice in the game. There is a trust system in place where by different actions and responses to various dialogue affects each member of your squad’s trust in you. This comes in to play in the story, with certain characters choosing different paths depending on their trust in you, and in gameplay, with your teammates either choosing to obey or disregard your orders in battle. The system is a refreshing change from the standard, where you are forced to pick one of two or three outcomes to a situation, and instead places the pressure on you to act as you see fit, and having your AI allies react at certain (unknown) instances depending on their level of trust in you. In fact, the system is so well implicated that you may not even realize that a certain character’s trust is involved in a scene until you play through again differently, or look up various scene differences online.

The storyline in "Binary Domain" has a sci-fi basis, .....

The storyline in “Binary Domain” has a sci-fi basis, unexpected twists, and touches upon some heavy ethical subjects, creating one of the best shooter stories out there.

With character interaction an important part of “Binary Domain”, it is good to know that the game features some top-notch voice work. If you have experience with the “Yakuza” series (whose studio developed this title), you know they always ensure their voice acting is well done. “Binary Domain” is no exception, as every character, no matter how insignificant, is voiced professionally, and given some well-written dialogue as well. The rest of the sound department is great as well – the soundtrack is nicely fitting (varying from aggressive to calm tracks depending on the scene and battle intensity), the weapons sound great, and the effects for the robotic enemies are perfect.

The presentation in the graphical department is exceptional as well. Character models are intricately detailed, facial animations are great (even in gameplay), and the animations are well implemented and designed. For example, each robot you encounter can be dismantled in nearly any way, from taking out its legs, arms, head, or any combination of the above. Yet, no matter what you do, they will always animate themselves in a way to best be able to still fight – a robot will switch the hand its holding its gun in when it loses an arm, or will support itself with one arm after losing a leg. This attention to detail makes the battles intense and enhances the gameplay.

With the presentation out of the way, the last thing to mention is the gameplay itself. The game is set up like your usual third-person, cover shooter. Yet, where “Vanquish” is focused on fast-paced combat and style, “Binary Domain” is slower and more strategic. You are encouraged to take apart enemy robots in various ways, as the more parts that you destroy, the more credits you earn to upgrade your characters. This adds an RPG-style progression to the game as at each shop you can upgrade you or your teammates weapons (more damage, higher fire rate, etc) or purchase nano-machines that give stat boosts (more health, damage resistance, etc). The system works nicely, and there is always a nice sense of progression throughout the game. Back to the action, the game features a wide variety of enemy robots for you to dismantle, and some creative, intense boss fights.

The gameplay...

“Binary Domain” has a slew of crazy boss fights for you to tackle. Each one requires a different strategy, and it is a thrill taking down each one.

With all of these great aspects in the game, is there any downside? Well, there are a few minor setbacks, but nothing that comes close to marring the overall experience. For example, with the trust system, friendly fire causes a decrease in ally trust. There are times though that your allies seem content to walk right into your line of fire, then get mad that you shot them, when clearly they could have just stayed in cover. Also, movement is slightly sluggish which makes avoiding some boss attacks a little more difficult than it seems it should be. Last, cover is a little too sticky, and at times your character will stick to the wrong side of a barrier, putting themselves directly in harm’s way. Again, none of this is a major setback, and most is infrequent, but still it should be mentioned.

Overall, “Binary Domain” is one of the finest third-person shooters out there. It is a shame this game has gone largely overlooked, and any fan of action or shooter games (especially those who enjoy sci-fi) should pick this title up and enjoy a high-quality experience. With an intriguing story, great presentation, and solid gameplay, “Binary Domain” gets high praise from me.

Story: 9.5/10

Graphics: 9/10

Sound: 9.5/10

Gameplay: 8.5/10

Final Score: 9.0/10

My Top 10 Favorite Video Games

Having enjoyed starting my “Greatest ___ I Ever ___” series, I thought I’d expand upon it a little further and cover my ten favorite video games. By now, you might have a feel for what I enjoy most in games, and the following all excel in these and many other areas. I’ll provide some reasons as to why they are so enjoyable, but keep the discussions short to cover everything in a concise manner. Now, some of these might not be for everyone, but I think the majority should be highly recommended to most anyone who enjoys video games. So, without further adieu, I give you my 10 favorite video games:

10. Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is an FPS set in a post-apocalyptic setting in Russia. The population is forced underground into the metro tunnels to live as creatures inhabit the land. The game offers an intense single-player campaign with a similar story-telling structure to Half-Life. The little touches, such as having to hold a lighter up to your map, crank a handheld generator to power your light, and take your gas mask on/off (the surface is filled with unbreathable air), all work to bring you deeper into the world. Mix that with a currency revolving around bullets (with rusted shells being common and pristine military grade ammo worth more, similar to damage where these same dirty bullets do weak damage and the military shells can be swapped in for better damage output) and you have an extremely well-crafted postapocalyptic world. Between the fully-imagined world, rich with beautiful graphical detail, some interesting gunplay, and an interesting story arc, Metro 2033 is one of the best straight FPS shooters I have played.

9. Nier

Nier is a game that really blindsided me. I remember reading reviews for it and seeing a plethora of comments praising the game’s story and soundtrack, while seemingly belittling the rest of the experience. I can see why, but I still find Nier to be one amazing, flawed game. The story presented is one of the most creative I have played through. To get too far into it would spoil the pleasure of seeing it unfold, but the basis is that you take the shoes of Nier who is looking for a way to cure his daughter of a disease called the “Black Scrawl”. Along the way you meet some well-developed characters and see the story unravel to reveal some incredible twists and turns. The game itself plays like a hack-and-slash game, with upgrades in the way of swords and spells, yet has many different quests and areas that vary the gameplay to the style of top-down shooters, side-scrollers, and other genres. Further, the soundtrack for Nier remains my favorite video game soundtrack. The music is so intricately crafted and features so many layers and styles that perfectly fit the game world (an example of the excellence of the soundtrack – “Gods Bound by Rules”). Video game enthusiasts should all play Nier just for the creative story andthrilling soundtrack, not to mention any RPG fan.

8. Final Fantasy X

As you can probably guess by my interest in RPGs, I am a Final Fantasy fan. Final Fantasy X is my second favorite entry in the series. The gameplay consists of your standard turn-based system, with characters having the classic Final Fantasy “overdrives”, along with summons (which now you can directly control when summoned). Where the game sets itself apart from the rest of the series is its story and presentation. The story of Tidus trying to find his way home and getting caught up in the pursuit of defeating a world-threatening evil is filled with some unexpected twists. Further, with the introduction of full-motion videos for cutscenes, some good voice work, and gorgeous CGI sequences (what else would you expect from Square), the story is captivating. Might I also mention that Nobuo Uematsu (my favorite video game composer) put in some of his best work for this game. Overall, a great title for any RPG fan.

7. Heavy Rain

How to classify Heavy Rain is still a mystery to me. Think of it like an interactive movie experience. The game plays out similar to a movie presentation, moving from scene to scene, while you take the shoes of different characters and perform their actions that determine the path of the story. The plot itself is a great mystery story focused on the intersecting paths of the characters you play as. The best part is how your actions can result in huge changes to the story, including the deaths of main characters. Yet, despite you causing the death of a character at any point, the story keeps moving and adapts to the change. This is how video game stories should be and will move towards – so adaptive that your interactions with the game can cause ripples that affect the story progression. This is not even to mention the great soundtrack work, professional voice acting, and extreme level of detail in the character models (right down to the natural, fluid facial movements).

6. Fallout 3

Welcome to the Wasteland, a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. Here, Fallout 3 presents the player with a level of freedom to do whatever it is they want to do. Set in a world where a nuclear war has reduced the world to rubble and radiation, you take control of a character fresh out of a vault (used for shelter from the nuclear attacks). You can continue along the main story to see what impact you wish to have on the world, take on an overwhelming amount of sidequests, or just explore the wasteland – all the while acting in good, evil, or neutral ways to shape a character with morals that have an impact on the way other characters treat you. The main story itself is quite interesting, and provides the player with a drive to continue forward as different factions become involved in shaping the future for the Wasteland. The experience as a whole is put together in a package that includes a great battle system (cross between FPS gameplay and turn-based systems – with depth added in being able to target different body parts to cause different effects), excellent voice work, an extremely large and carefully detailed map (having traveled to D.C. after playing Fallout 3, it was interesting to see how well the game captures every landmark and the whole city layout), a complex stat-building system, creative character and monster design, and the ability to interact with much of the environment, and you have one of the best experiences on the current console generation.

5. Bioshock

Bioshock is simply the best FPS I’ve ever played. Taking the shoes of Jack, a plane crash survivor, the player must explore the underwater city of Rapture and find out the secrets behind its walls – a phenomenal plot that has some nice twists and turns. The crumbling grand halls of Rapture are as intriguing as they are dangerous, and the sheer amount of backstory available to the adventurous player through the form of audio logs and other items makes Rapture seem like a real place. The presentation of the story itself takes the player on a ride through the depths of Rapture, meeting a variety of excellently crafted characters, each with their own wills and plans. The gameplay itself features some interesting gun and melee combat combined with the ability to use various elements and abilities through equipment of “Plasmids”. This brings some strategy to the combat as you can manipulate the environment to your advantage (i.e. using an electric bolt on a group of enemies standing in a puddle of water to electrocute all of them at once). Combine this with a nice upgrade system, the ability to hack turrets and machines for your advantage, intense boss fights, and poignant moral dilemmas, and you have the blueprint for a perfect FPS.

4. Shadow of the Colossus

Shadow of the Colossus is a unique gem. For instance, the game consists entirely of boss fights. Also, the story itself is conveyed through minimal dialogue and scenes, yet it remains so powerful in its ability to draw the player into Wander’s journey. In the game, you play as Wander, tasked with taking down 16 legendary colossi in order to revive your female companion. The player rides upon his trusty steed through the environment to find each colossus using the reflection of light from his sword. Once the player finds the colossus, the real experience begins. Each beast towers over the seemingly miniscule Wander with such a magnificent grace and movement. The act of scaling each mammoth beast can leave the player breathless as Wander hangs on for his life. It becomes a regretful moment as each colossus crashes to the ground upon defeat, having slain such a legendary creature. To further deepen the impact of the gameplay is a soundtrack that is the most well-implemented soundtrack I’ve witnessed in a game (not to mention the beauty in each piece, individually). The orchestra starts calm as you approach the collosus, and swells as you scale higher and higher up each beast, building tension to perfectly match your current actions. Shadow of the Colossus is the most awe-inspiring game I’ve experienced. Nothing can match the feeling of scale in the game, or create a bond between player and in-game characters through such a minimalistic apporach as this game does.

3. Metal Gear Solid 4

Metal Gear Solid has been known for its elaborate, often confusing story. It has also been known for having one of the most cinematic presentations for its story, along with some of the best stealth gameplay out there. These are all great reasons as to why the series is a favorite of many gamers. To expand a bit, the story features an enticing narrative revolving around stealth organizations and nuclear weapons (the story grows ever more complex with clones, secret organizations with limitless power, betrayals, etc), all presented through many (often long and lengthy) well-animated cutscenes, featuring top tier voice acting work. The gameplay gives you total freedom in that you can approach every situation through stealth or action, with the added bonus of having the ability to complete the game without killing a single enemy. There are a wide variety of weapons and gadgets to help you in your objectives, which add another layer of depth to the gameplay. Further, the player experiences another noteworthy soundtrack and (in my opinion) life-like graphics that make Metal Gear Solid 4 the best-looking game yet released.

2. Final Fantasy VII

Here is an entry any video game fan would likely expect. This is the game credited with popularizing the RPG outside of Japan. Even more so, many consider this the single greatest game ever made, and for good reason. Final Fantasy VII follows the journey of Cloud and a wide cast of charismatic characters to save the world. Sound simple? It’s not. The plot of FFVII is quite complex and constantly evolving. If it weren’t for my #1 game, this game would have the best plot I’ve seen in a video game. For its time, the pre-rendered backgrounds were stunning, and the inclusion of some CGI scenes (obviously they look dated now) brought the player into the story. The gameplay is standard turn-based fare, with all of the Final Fantasy staples from magic to summons to “limit breaks” (same as overdrives in other games). There’s no need to go into further detail on the gameplay, as if you haven’t played it yet, you need to experience a monumental piece of video game history. The game withstands the test of time (minus the graphics which are notably dated – yet the pre-rendered backdrops are still nice) with a creative plot, an interesting cast of characters, and a soundtrack that is a classic (check out the highlight track, “One-Winged Angel”).

1. Xenosaga

What more can I say about this game series, other than this is the best game I have ever played. For a detailed description of what makes the space-epic RPG, Xenosaga, so great, read on with my “Greatest Game I Ever Played” post.

That’s it. These are the ten greatest games I have ever played. Feel confident picking up any of the aforementioned titles knowing that you can expect to experience some of the best gaming has to offer. Some games may not appeal as much to others as they did to me, and I can understand that some players may not be able to get past some flaws in certain games, but for me, these are the games that I can point to as having stood out high above the multitude of games I have experienced over the years.

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