Monday, September 14, 2009

The 25 Best Playstation 2 Games I've Ever Played: 25-21

I've been planning on doing this list for about a month now, but I wanted to make sure that I had the time to do it right before beginning. This seemed like the right week to do this.

Now, I will admit that this will not be a definitive list by any stretch of the imagination, despite my best efforts because frankly, the Playstation 2 library is so massive that there are still a lot of quality games that I have yet to play. It is also a very personal list, and as such, it may not reflect everyone's taste, and I am ok with that.

Most lists of this type are put together by more than one person for magazines and larger websites, so there is generally a better sense of balance and agreement, since there are more opinions available and again, with more people involved, it means that a wider breadth of games can be brought into the fold. I privately asked a few of my fellow bloggers for their opinions to help me in ranking (I didn't tell them what games would appear on this list, so that they would give me their honest opinions, unfettered from my own prejudices and such, and it was interesting to note that while they did not get me to put a particular title on this list, they did indeed have an influence on some of the rankings, for better or worse). But even though I have my limitations, in looking the list I ultimately arrived at, it does feel pretty balanced given my experiences.

I did adhere to two solid rules though. Even though I really enjoy sports games, I thought it better to avoid including them on this list give the fact that generally, these franchises are incremental, and thus, any title I'd list would have many very similar cousins. I made an exception for motor sports however, because there is a lot of breadth in that area so it is in many ways fundamentally different from football, baseball and basketball.

And I thought it was only fair to choose one game per franchise, because I didn't want one or two powerhouse series to dominate the list. And this way, I can discuss a wider variety of games than I might otherwise have been able to.

With that being said, I think you will enjoy my selections, though there are ones which will naturally seem odd choices, and other games which you may feel I omitted, and I may address those concerns in a supplemental post after this list is completed.

25. Star Wars: Battlefront II: I am not a huge fan of Star Wars. I mean, I like it, but I am not a rabid fan, but despite that, I really got into this game, and even without that license, it would still be a great game. The game is based on two distinct play styles, both of which are fun, but one simply dominates the other. The first part which makes up the majority of the game is fast paced 3rd person shooting action with multiple class types, which is simply a blast (no pun intended) in both the campaign and instant action modes and largely follows deathmatch rules (you can die multiple times and you just respawn). As you can tell, these maps were my favorite part of the game. The second type of lever are decent-sized space battles, which aren't as fast paced, but they do have their interesting moments, especially since even on these maps, you can land on the enemy's main battleship and sabotage it in that 3rd person shooter style that I was so fond of. But aside from the sweet action, the storyline of the main campaign is also quite interesting, as it tells a story that spans both the prequels and the original trilogy, and the side you are fighting for ends up being the Empire (something which would have been clear to Star Wars fans from the first mission). It is an interesting choice, but one which is consistent with the way they do things at Lucasarts. I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that there are features that seemed designed specifically for certain kinds of Star Wars fans, like the option of hunting certain hated species of the Galaxy... like the Gungans and the Ewoks. I will admit that I have battled the Gungans more than a few times in my life in this game. Add in the fact that you can play as the characters from the movies when the right conditions are met on a map, and there is a lot for Star Wars fans and even non-fans to like about this game. All in all a solid effort, but I have read grumbling from others that it wasn't as good as the first installment, but I will take that with a grain of salt because it is the internet after all.

24. Def Jam: Fight for New York: I wrote an earlier post in which I admitted that I had lost my love for fighting games. This game is the exception. Featuring a cast of real life characters, most of whom are based on recording artists on the Def Jam label, this game is just insane enough to keep my interest. Some have claimed that it isn't a fighting game in the traditional sense, instead sharing more than a passing resemblance to wrestling games of that same generation than the classical 2D fighters like Street Fighter, and I can see that, as there is indeed a much stronger reliance on grappling in this game than one would expect. The game tells the tale of a battle between two factions over control of New York (as the title suggests), and the way to win those streets is through a series of brutal, underground fights in bars, clubs, on rooftops and in various other locales around the New York area. You design your character from the ground up, and dress him according to your own fashion sense (though the more expensive your clothes and bling are, the faster you accumulate momentum in a fight). You also get to blend a few styles from a list of 5 disciplines to make your brawler unique, and as your progress through the game, you can improve various aspects of your characters abilities (much like a role playing game). Even if you aren't a huge fan of hip hop music, there are still a lot of recognizable names in this title, from the prolific Danny Trejo, Omar Epps and Carmen Electra to crossover celebrities like Henry Rollins, Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and Ice T. This game also came out before Flavor Flav became the raging manwhore VH1 viewers watched in reality show after reality show, so fighting him feels a little more respectable. The character models are excellent for their time too, so when you are fighting someone, it really looks like them, and since the action can get pretty brutal (like people getting their face smashed into walls, thrown into cars or in front of subways or stomped on), this sense of realism is a plus. It was a pleasure kicking so much star-powered ass in this game.

23. ToCA Race Driver 3: I said in an earlier post that while the Gran Turismo games seem to be for people who want to do hypothetical racing (like can a supercharged Mini Cooper beat the cream of Japanese motorsports), and the ToCA series seemed more geared to people who just wanted to race in a more realistic way. What I meant by that is this game seems to replicate a lot of different styles of racing, from such varying fields as open wheel, rally, stock car, monster truck, offroad and even go karts (I know it is a serious sport, and I am not mocking it) along with so many other disciplines, and do them all justice. And that's the impressive part... they don't feel like small variations, but rather like they would each be able to form the basis of their own separate game, that's how good the development cycle was for this title. And the attention to detail is also evident with the wide variety of real world tracks that accompany those same disciplines (along with a healthy number of cars which at times can mean there is a field of 20 other racers on the track with you). The damage modeling also means that you can't for the most part smash your way to victory, especially in open wheel cars, because you can quickly see your day of racing end with a catastrophic failure. While the Gran Turismo series is very centered on the Japanese sphere of motorsports, ToCA, having been developed in Great Britain, reflects a more European sensibility, and features more events from both Europe and Australia than anywhere else, so from a North American racing enthusiast, this provides a great primer for other racing styles outside of this continent. And unlike the competition, it doesn't require you to be a mechanic to figure out how to get the best out of your car, nor does it really allow you to just simply overpower the competition with a car that really outperforms the rest of the field, so when you succeed, you know it is because you drove a better race, which is very satisfying. The game also features a loose narrative in the career mode, which is made up of first person interludes of your driver being yakked at by your mentor Rick. I love that Scottish bastard. And it doesn't feel like they just threw in extra championships to pad the game out... every kind of racing feels like a well-thought out addition. So what came out the door was a well-designed, attractive and fulfilling motorsport experience that blew the doors off my conception of realistic console racing.

22. Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction: Lucasarts put out a fun sandbox type experience with this game. Taking place in North Korea in the near future, you play the part of one of three mercenaries, each who has a different personality and linguistic background (which allows each character to further understand the machinations of one of the 4 factions you take missions from, as you get subtitles when they are speaking to other people with the expectation that you can't follow what they are saying). It is also clearly a post Iraq War game, as there is a most wanted playing card system which helps you identify high profile (and thus profitable) combatants who can be killed or captured for reward. The game also lives up to its subtitle, as if you really wanted to and you had the money, you can literally call down surgical strikes on any building to destroy it, and there is no limit to the number of places you can devastate that way, so technically, you could destroy the North Korean capital if you so desired. And by the same token, if you ever need something, well, you can always order it to be airlifted into your area, so getting stuck in no mans land without transportation doesn't happen too often. And because it is a sandbox-type game, there is a lot of freedom to just play around with the environment and the factions, so you can have a lot of fun even if you aren't playing the narrative. Featuring a voice cast that includes Peter Stormare, James Hong and Carl Weathers, it is certainly no slouch in that department either, and the opening theme is memorable as well. It is just unfortunate that the legacy of this title was tainted by the awful EA produced sequel.

21. Brothers in Arms: The Road to Hill 30: One of those rare instances in gaming where a game used the narrative trick of starting near the end of the story it was going to recount, and then going back to the beginning to fill you in on how things got to that point. In this case, it is a story based on true events on D-Day and the week that followed. I respect some of the design choices, as this is not a run and gun first-person shooter, but rather one which requires you to think about each situation you are in and use the manpower you have at your disposal to get through the mission, and this more realistic approach is refreshing. The necessity of using cover and suppressive fire to survive makes this game a breath of fresh air in a world of first person shooters which claim that is a requirement, when it is a rarely used tactic. At times, there is a lot of tension, because you are facing a situation that requires precise movement and planning to ensure that you and the men who are following you survive the skirmish. And the tale that is told is poignant and educational, as supplemental information on each mission is made available, often coming from the real after action reports from the operations you just played through. There are moments in this game that have stayed with me since I first played it because there was something so real about it... like the sequence which ultimately leads to your character's jump over France on the night before D-Day comes to mind immediately, and some of the missions which at times feel claustrophobic and/or overwhelming. While not the best console first person shooter I've played, it hits enough of the right notes with its design and presentation to make this list with room to spare.

Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of this list (20-16).

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


Semaj said...

Mercenaries: I have the score for this game. Michael Giacchino with Chris Tilton did an outstanding job with the score.

Def Jam: I had no idea Danny Trejo and Henry Rollins were in this game! I was a Mortal Kombat/Tekken/ DOA fanboy for a while, but never got around to playing this game. Check out youtube for this game…

I’m looking forward to the rest of the list.

MC said...

Michael Giacchino does a lot of War-related scoring, doesn't he?

Dalton J. Fox said...

I never played Def Jam, but didn't they use the same engine that was supposed to be used on some wrestling game that got scrapped due to licensing issues. I think I read that somewhere back in the day. Or it's entirely possible that I imagined it, too.

Arjan said...

I played Def Jam Fight for NY a couple of times, great fun especially when you're playing with 4 people at a time on a free for all. Although I don't get why Snoop Dogg and Xzibit are running around in NY..they aren't on Def Jam either, still fun characters though.

@ Michael Giacchino's score music: hmm have to check that score out I guess.

MC said...

Dalton: The first game used the same engine at No Mercy, but in FFNY it was heavily tweaked to account for the new styles of fighting characters could learn.

Arjan: The same reason Bill Murray was able to play in the Looney Toons Basketball game in Space Jam... they called their agents.

Dalton J. Fox said...

The No Mercy engine? Seriously? Damn it, that's the best game ever! Why the hell didn't I ever play the first Def Jam game if it was just No Mercy in disguise? Stupid me. I think I thought it was the old ECW engine, which sucked.

MC said...

I had to look it up to be sure.