I’m not a hardcore gamer by any sense of the term. While I may have spent hours on gameplay, my experience is less about racking up points or achievements and more about the simple joy I derive from playing. I want to get lost in different worlds, just as I would watching a TV show or reading a good book.
So here are my Top 10 picks for my favorite video games to date.
10. Grand Theft Auto IV
What It’s About: An Eastern European ex-soldier emigrates to Liberty City to live the American Dream. Said Eastern European proceeds to leave a trail of crashed cars, exploded helicopters, and dead bystanders in his wake.
Why I Love It: This was one of the first sandbox games I ever played, so I didn’t spend too much time on missions. I had far too much fun stealing cars, misleading the police on wild chases, playing darts in a bar with Cousin Roman, and randomly massacring civilians in a park with an RPG.
What It’s About: A little white dude in a fez jumps through worlds, spinning around his 2-D environment into 3-D to collect golden cubes and save the universe.
Why I Love It: While many of the puzzles are absurdly challenging or time-consuming, the retro style of the game is refreshing. Sometimes it’s relaxing just to be Gomez jumping from level to level while Eighties synth music plays in the background.
8. Dear Esther
What It’s About: Based on Half-Life 2′s Source engine, you explore a deserted island from its depths to its heights, all while trying to piece together a man’s broken life through disjointed narration.
Why I Love It: This was the first art game I ever played. My impression was that it’s like walking through a painting. The texture of the game is so vivid, as is the soundtrack. I keep replaying just for the experience of wandering through the multicolored caverns and swimming through underground pools in search of an escape.
7. The Stanley Parable
What It’s About: An office worker named Stanley wanders through an abandoned office, either in an attempt to break out of his oppression by his boss or to thwart the Narrator’s desperate attempts at control.
Why I Love It: This is a game where the developers accounted for everything a gamer might do. There’s nothing like going from door to door, taking every possible turn just to see what the game will do or the Narrator will say in response. It’s an odd virtual relationship that only interactive fiction can provide.
What It’s About: Two robots leave their crashed ship in the wastelands, pursuing a sinister automaton that stole their power source into the heart of the corrupt city Metropol. Along the way, they help other robots with their problems and piece together the truth of the past.
Why I Love It: Besides the detailed 2-D animation of every level, I like the atmosphere of Primordia. The game goes for deep immersion into the world of robots, who imitate human culture just enough to be familiar. The game nicely balances comedy and drama, and it’s a fun puzzle game, though not so taxing as to be frustrating.
5. Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness
What It’s About: Your character joins the legendary duo Tycho and Gabe on a quest to track down an evil giant robot, fight several little robots and hobos, and take down a god.
Why I Love It: Technically, I’m including the first two games of this video game series in this category. While I love Episode Two for the great “brain-twisting” mini-game in the second act, the boss battle of Episode One is superior. Not to mention, the game never stops being hilarious, the RPG-style gameplay is well-crafted, and there’s a strong sense of adventure that permeates the whole experience. Plus, we get plenty of cool dialogue and animation that we’ve come to expect from the talented Penny Arcade duo.
4. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
What It’s About: You play as Kyle Katarn’s apprentice, traveling the galaxy on a quest to become a Jedi Knight and stop a Sith cult from unleashing the full power of the dark side.
Why I Love It: The variety of environments and mission types in this game is pretty enjoyable, whether you’re outrunning a rancor, racing on swoop bikes, or clearing out a tomb full of Dark Jedi. Plus you get to fight alongside Kyle Katarn, the galaxy’s resident badass, in a few missions, listening to him laugh while the two of you cut down waves of enemies.
3. Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast
What It’s About: Kyle Katarn goes on a one-man raid against the Empire and the Dark Jedi Desann, walking a tightrope over the dark side while he struggles to stay true to the ideals of Jedi Knighthood.
Why I Love It: For me, this game is a much more authentic experience of being in the Star Wars universe. It has a stronger story, better dialogue and characterization, and some clever NPC enemies. Fortunately, you get to play as Kyle Katarn himself, taking down stormtroopers and Dark Jedi with ease as you ruin several Imperial bases and criminal hideouts across the galaxy.
What It’s About: You play a test subject in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center, using a gun that shoots portals to solve puzzles while trying to survive a conspiracy by a power-mad AI.
Why I Love It: This game is fun. The puzzles, the turrets, the breaking narrative, and every word out of GLaDOS—all of it’s well designed and well executed. It also helps that it’s a short run-through once you get into the puzzle-solving groove, making the replay value that much stronger.
1. Portal 2
What It’s About: After accidentally waking up the AI you helped shut down, you have to stop another power-mad AI from destroying the Enrichment Center by solving puzzles with a gun that shoots portals.
Why I Love It: Honestly, everything I love about the first game was multiplied by 10 in the sequel. The music’s amazing, the dialogue is brilliant, and the narrative is much more intricate. I love the addition of Stephen Merchant as the fast-talking, dim-witted Wheatley and Ellen McLain really gets to shine as a voice actor. While the puzzles aren’t as challenging as in the first one, the massive and detailed environments more than make up for an enriching game experience.
Obviously, I’ll continue to play video games and find more titles to enjoy, but this list is fairly accurate for what games I’ve enjoyed the most and the kind of experiences I tend to value as a gamer.
If you want to share what games you enjoy the most (or think I might enjoy playing), feel free to speak up in the comments below.