Over the years there have been countless games that have come and gone. We’ve played them, enjoyed them and then forgotten about them. Yet every once in a while a game arrives with a lasting impact. This series is dedicated to those games and their impact. It’s in no particular order, these are all gold.
7 – Doom
The first of two shooting games on the list is the one that kickstarted the entire genre. Yes, technically I am well aware that there were many shooting games that preceded Doom, but Doom was the one that caught the imagination of the general public and catapulted the first person shooter genre to the very top of the charts of gaming sales.
Everything about Doom was cool. It came out in an age when the game was installed over – in my case – four floppy disks. This pathetically small amount of data contained a world of possibilities and graphically there was nothing to touch Doom. It was just a masterpiece of the coder’s art and all of a sudden my PC was a window into a world of viscera, violence and fear that was completely compelling.
Doom was the first game I can think of that featured a realistic head-bob motion for your character. The idea that you bobbed up and down a little as you ran through the Martian base on which the game was set (before sending you to hell itself) was a lovely touch that dragged you into the game world in a way that was not possible with the robo-movement of Wolfenstein. Not only that, but there was a little portrait of your character at the bottom of the screen and when you took damage, that portrait would take damage also. He would be an instant visual cue to how you were feeling. In the harsh world of Doom, that was often ‘not very good’.
Yet it was not the visual splendor of the game that drew you in. It was the incredible enemies and wonderful design. Doom had enemies that would charge you, enemies that would shoot at you, little bastard enemies who would teleport behind you and try and claw your guts out and – of course – giant bosses that would simply terrify you if you had the courage to play the game at night and with headphones on. Spoiler: I didn’t. There’s a reason that Doom was the monster hit it was: it simply never let its pace slip. I loved it and feared it in equal measure.
8 – Halo
Yes, Halo. Halo One. The original. It is quite simply the best shooting game that has ever been made. Is it perfect? No. The Library level is a misstep of the first order; a boringly repetitive level that feels like it was made in a hurry, no doubt because it was. It also suffered from Bungie’s ponderous, somewhat pretentious storytelling style. Even with those disadvantages acknowledged, Halo has never been bettered.
I say this with conviction because almost everything about it is extraordinary. The difficulty level is perfectly pitched. I have never known another game get this so right. It was hard as nails in places but you could survive. You could make it. You always had a chance if you played well. And when you managed to grasp that chance and get through a tough section, the little text that popped up telling you ‘Checkpoint… Done’ was the best feeling in the world.
What made it so satisfying was the terrific AI of the enemies you faced. The Covenant forces set against you had a hierarchy, and they had morale. You could charge a large group of grunts and send them running away in terror not even trying to shoot back. But then if they ran close to an Elite, he would bark orders to them in an alien tongue (God, how diminished the series was when Elites started talking in English) reform them and – quite often – send them to cover or to flank you and actually make use of their numerical advantage.
Halo had a wonderful story arc, amazing level design (for the most part), terrific vehicle combat and a twist that changed everything halfway through. Ever since Doom set the bar, there have been several outstanding shooting games but Halo still wears the crown.
9 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
This makes my list despite the fact that I didn’t much like it and personally feel plenty of other RPGs are better than it. I have always, perhaps a little unusually, really enjoyed the nineties Sega RPGs: Shining Force and Skies of Arcadia. It wouldn’t be right, though, to give either of those games a place on this list because Ocarina of Time was the RPG that a generation identified with.
Anyone who has played a Zelda title will know what to expect here. Ocarina of Time is a third-person action RPG in which Link travels to various different locations, fighting enemies, solving puzzles and doing a spot of light role-playing before evolving the main storyline until eventually reaching the grand confrontation. It’s the same template as practically every RPG and it works very well indeed.
Where Zelda went further, though, was in things like playing your Ocarina, which mapped to the radical three-pronged trident design of the N64 controller. This could be used to influence the gameworld in several ways, solving puzzles, summoning your pony and so forth. In fact, there are multiple mini-games within Ocarina of Time that greatly add to its overall depth and the intangible feeling that you really are in that world.
Perhaps the greatest tribute you can pay to Zelda is that it has Nintendo’s game design ethos all over it. It is polished and well-rounded. Every last element has been considered and lovingly worked until it was as good as it was possible to make it. Everything from the grand design of the world of Hyrule to the new ideas like a context sensitive A button just scream Nintendo at their innovative best.
The reason I didn’t take to this title was that it was a little too family-friendly for me. I like my RPGs to be a little darker and a little heavier on the tactical elements, but honestly that’s just me and my peccadilloes. I would happily admit that Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece that every gamer should play. It’s just not my sort of masterpiece.