Thursday, September 17, 2009

The 25 Best Playstation 2 Games I've Ever Played: 10-6

This is the bittersweet part of this countdown, as this trip down memory lane for me is nearly complete, but it has been really fun looking back at all the games I enjoyed on the Playstation 2, even the ones that didn't make the list.

And this list of five are ones which I really enjoyed, but they just didn't make the cut for the top 5. Some of them came very close to cracking it, but in the end, the top 5 was very tough to get into. I have a feeling that after reading this penultimate section of the list that longtime readers will likely be able to figure out what some of those games are now.

If you haven't been following this list, the two general rules I have been following are: 1) No Sports Games (Motorsports are the exception) and 2) Only one game per franchise.

So which games made it tantalizingly close to the top of the heap on my list? I guess you'll just have to read to find out.

10. Urban Chaos: Riot Response: Now, I admit that this might seem to be a strange choice, but hear me out. There are games that are full of innovation and are impressive that way, and then there are games that, while not particularly groundbreaking in any area, still bring the awesome in everything they do. Urban Chaos is of the latter breed. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, it just gives the player some really good first person shooter action. Like a good R-rated 1980's action film, this game is just great setpiece after great setpiece in claustrophobic urban environments. You play the role of Nick Mason, a member of a new police task force called T-Zero (Zero Tolerance) and through a series of increasingly tricky missions, you battle a pernicious hockey mask wearing terrorist street gang called the Burners. Urban Chaos is a fast paced game, with a decent amount of blood and it is just viscerally satisfying cleaning up these streets. The story is ok, and in a Remembering post, I had stated that if there was going to be a movie based on a game that might work, this one had a shot. I've played a lot of first person shooters, and this is one of those rare ones where as you are going through a level, you just feel like you are kicking ass. You also don't see a lot of shooters that are cops versus criminals these days (likely because of the connotations), so even that aspect is refreshing (how many times are we going to have to fight World War II after all). In terms of presentation, each mission is prefaced by a live action news report which gives you some indication of the general conditions surrounding not only T-Zero, but also tells you what to expect in your next mission, which was an excellent touch. I wasn't sure if I was remembering making this game out to be better than it was through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia or if it really was that good, so I had a little refresher course with it before I started finalizing this list, and as it turns out, it is still as good as I remember it. I should also note that this was the first game developed by Rocksteady Studios. Their second game? The recently released Batman: Arkham Asylum.

9. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance: I love this game, and I don't read comics. I am judging this game solely on the gameplay and the story, both of which are excellent. Although I don't read comics, I still love Dr. Doom, and being a Marvel property, well, he is naturally in it (OK, that is putting it mildly... he is the evil driving force in this game). Dr. Doom has put together a dark cabal of supervillains together to help him pull of a nefarious plan and with so many evil beings working in concert, a wide variety of Marvel heroes band together to try to combat this threat. The game is an action RPG, with a lot of options for upgrading your characters, from learning and perfecting new attacks to increasing the stats of your heroes. And the team as a whole gets experience as well, which can be used to boost your team's stats. For me, this game is a good primer for the whole Marvel universe, because it introduced me to a lot of interesting characters and settings I may not have otherwise been exposed to, especially on the villain side. The story moves through a lot of different locales, which means that as soon as you may be getting bored with a particular setting, it changes and you are confronted with new challenges. For avid fans of Marvel, this seems like a dream come true I would imagine, as you can make all sorts of super teams that you may never see in print, but who absolutely rock together. I ended up with a team composed of Blade, The Human Torch, The Thing and Captain America (with Iron Man interludes), and with around 20 characters to choose from to make up a 4 member team, well, there are a lot of different configurations you can go with, which means that the title may have a decent replay factor, especially if you have friends to play with you in co-op mode. It seems the development crew had this in mind because after finishing the game, your leveled up characters can start the game anew.

8. Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War: I had played Ace Combat 4 briefly the year before I gave this title a shot, and while I wasn't particularly enamored by that earlier game (which seems to make me the exception rather than the rule when it comes to this series), the storyline in AC5 really struck a chord with me. Yes, the story does have some of those classic cliches that appear in the canon of air combat stories, but that doesn't make it any less compelling, and it does have some great plot twists, which to me makes the whole thing memorable on that level. To analogize the setup for the story using real world nations and events, you play the role of a relatively green pilot stationed on an Osean (the country is named Osea, so I didn't make a spelling error) island airbase which is attacked by the air force of the nation across the sea, Yuktobonia (basically Russia attacked the American base at Pearl Harbor), and over the course of many missions, you have to fight the war that this action began. Soon your squadron's successes buoy the entire war effort. This was the game that made me realize that I loved air combat (and opened the way for Secret Weapons over Normandy to appear on this list as well). This is very much an arcade flight combat game, as I don't think there are very many jet fighters that can carry upward of 60 missiles, but again, that is why it is fun, though there are at least 3 missions I can think of that will give you nightmares. Since the Ace Combat series is about modern air combat, the list of planes available to fly by the end of the game is impressive to say the least with 50 licensed models from manufacturers all over the world, but with an emphasis on American and Russian designs, along with some fictional planes as well. In the end, the culmination of gameplay, story and even sound design factors (as the soundtrack is very appropriate) make this one of the greatest games I've ever played.

7. TimeSplitters 3: Future Perfect: The team at Rare that was behind Goldeneye eventually became their own company (Free Radical) and they put out the TimeSplitters games. I started off with the second game in the series, which while being a nice tough shooter with a humorous streak, still had one glaring deficiency... the story was really lacking, so the levels just sort of felt thrown together into a package and the characters didn't really come alive. With Future Perfect, there is a finally a narrative worth caring about. With that added extra, this quirky little shooter series became comedy gold. Following the exploits of Sgt. Cortez, a character who looks and sounds like he was heavily influenced by Vin Diesel's Riddick from Pitch Black, the story takes some great twists and turns across various eras of human history, from the early part of the 20th century to the far future with points scattered in between. The game also introduced an element in the story mode which was really cool conceptually. There would be points during particular levels where you would meet a version of Sgt. Cortez from slightly in the future, and he would help you get through a particularly tricky part and then depart... and then you would start moving through the level and reach a point where you met your earlier version and you would then play that same sequence from the other side. That was a brilliant use of the underlying premise. I am a nut for time travel as it is, so mixing that theme with the development team behind Goldeneye with a good story made this epic. Oh, and I forgot to mention... there's zombies. Lots of zombies. And robots, and a whole lot of other things which are geek friendly (ninja monkeys anyone? How about one that is dressed up like Robocop?). But let's say you don't want to play the story mode (in either single player or co-op mode) and instead you just want to shoot things. Well, this game has arcade and challenge mode options out the yin yang too, and if you have the inclination, you can even design levels for your own amusement and at one point you could share them with others through the game's web site. And that isn't even mentioning the online play. In the end, TimeSplitters:Future Perfect was a pretty full package.

6. Bully: I really enjoyed this game when I played it through in 2007, and my fondness for it has grown over the past couple of years. Conceptually, this does seem like a somewhat strange idea for a console action game. A 15-year old boy is sent to a Northeastern boarding school, and he has to negotiate his way around the various cliques on campus to survive the year. Of course, by negotiate basically I mean he has to force them to respect him. The protagonist, Jimmy Hopkins, is a troubled boy, but in a way, he is the perfect person to take on the cliques at Bullworth Academy, as he is the least of all the evils at that institution, and while he isn't averse to using violence to get his way, he is generally anti-bully. A sandbox-type game that is broken up into chapters, Bully, while being shorter than the average game of this type, still has a lot of content and an interesting set of environments to explore. The fact that the story takes place in the American Northeast means that as the year progresses, the seasons change, meaning that there are opportunities for mayhem that are only available at that time of year (like throwing snowballs, or being punished by having to mow lawns or shovel snow). At one point, I said that this was almost what I would expect River City Ransom to be like if it was a modern game, because in many ways it is carrying on that tradition. Since it is a sandbox game, there is a lot of different activities that you can play around with, from the minigames that most of the classes essential are to a series of games at the carnival to even video games within the game. I was also fond of a lot of the missions, which were quite varied and really allowed the individual characters to shine, because that was something that I really got a kick out of in retrospect--the fact that all the kids at Bullworth Academy are individuals, with their own personality traits and they are all recognizable, as is the staff of the institution. Jack Thompson and anti-bullying groups may have been against this game before it was released, but the finished product has a much more positive spin on the issues that concern them than they had feared. The fact that they keep releasing new editions of the game for additional platforms should be some indication of the longevity of this title.

Tune in tomorrow to find out what games made it to the top of this list.

The Top 25 PS2 games I've Ever Played
Number 25-21
Number 20-16
Number 15-11
Number 10-6
The Top 5

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