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8 Games to be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!  And for you Jewish pilgrims out there, Happy Hanukkah!  Enjoy your menurkey.  You know, aside from the glutton of food, this time of year reminds us to reflect on what we’re thankful for. Family, job security, simply being alive… Yeah, they’re nice and all, but video games?!  Now there’s something to be thankful for, am I right?  Video games provide fun and escapism from our normal, dull lives (speak for myself, I know); and no matter what stresses us, a good video game can act as a cure-all.  So, when you’re asked what you’re thankful for, say Skyrim! … Or one of the eight games listed below.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

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Why We Should be Thankful…  This sequel to the love letter to Indiana Jones gave you the sensation that you were watching the most awesome action-adventure movie ever made, with the added caveat that you were controlling the main character. The voice-acting is top-notch, and it carried the otherwise uneven story.  No matter how ridiculous the plot became, or how many faceless mercenaries Nathan killed, you were never taken out of the experience; it was a fun ride from beginning to end; a testament to how great production values in a video game can capture the same feel and narrative style found in the greatest Hollywood blockbusters.  Now every game tries to capture that immersive, cinematic feel.  So much so that the lines between video game and interactive movie are being blurred.

Silent Hill 2

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Why We Should be Thankful…  SH2 is the flipside of the survival horror coin. Resident Evil gave you the visceral thrills, but the first SH gave you so much more.  And SH2 significantly upped the ante with its themes and subtle horror.  It’s a shining example of psychological survival horror; combining dark, symbolic visuals with a mind-bending, tragic story.  Furthermore, everything was accentuated by one the greatest video game soundtracks to date.  It gave us another way to experience survival horror, and provided yet another horror template for video game companies to use.  And while the series has been steadily on the decline, SH2 still shines bright in our memories.  It shows us how great the series was, and how great it can still be.

Portal

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Why We Should be Thankful…  It brought puzzle games to forefront of mainstream pop culture. It doesn’t exist on too many mediums other than the PC and video game consoles, but it doesn’t have to because it’s that good.  For God’s sake, it made us care about a CUBE!  Portal is the perfect marriage of intelligent puzzle design and sharp humor.  The script is flawless; what starts out as a perfunctory introduction into this new mechanic of puzzle creation gradually turns into a battle of wits between our silent hero Chell and the mad robotic genius GlaDOS.  Need another reason to appreciate Portal?  Without it we wouldn’t have Portal 2, which somehow improves on the original with even more ingenious puzzles, more depth for GlaDOS, and more defective turrets than ever before.  If you don’t love Portal you need to be jettisoned into space. SPAAAAACE!

Final Fantasy VII

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Why We Should be Thankful…  I for one hold FF6 and Chrono Trigger in higher regard, but it can’t be overlooked that FF7 introduced a significant amount of people to JRPGs.  It’s the first in the series to use 3D graphics, and it did so in spectacular fashion.  It acted as an ambassador to the series, and because of it, many people went back to play its 8-bit & 16-bit predecessors. FF7 is a true masterpiece, and it pushed the PSX to its limits.  Not only did its popularity help JRPGs find an audience outside of Japan, it also redefined RPGs as we know it by setting the bar for every RPG that came after it in terms of story, graphics, music, and cinematics.  You may feel its overrated (it’s not), and that some RPGs, even subsequent entries in the series, are better (debatable).  Just remember, without the success of FF7, we’d probably still be waiting for a western release for most, if not all, JRPGs.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

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Why We Should be Thankful…  Unlike Superman, there’s been good Batman games in the past – good, not great.  That is until Batman: Arkham Asylum, which, on the heels of Nolan’s Dark Knight, took Batman’s video game persona to a whole other level.  Never has the caped crusader looked so good in video game format; great usage of his rogue gallery, great voice-acting, and gameplay that single-handily revamped combat for 3D beat ‘em ups.  The combat in Arkham Asylum is so fluid that Batman literally becomes the “Billy Elliot” of kick-ass crime-fighters.  But the lasting legacy of Arkham Asylum is that it showed us games based on comic book superheroes can compete with the best of the original IPs.  Sadly we’re still waiting for a superhero to have a game that challenges the Arkham series, but until then, it’s nice knowing that it’s still a possibility.  To steal —  and butcher — a quote from the great food critic Anton Ego, “Not every superhero can have a great game, but a great game can come from any superhero.”

Mass Effect

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Why We Should be Thankful…  Let’s ignore how ME3 ended, and think about how the first ME started.  More importantly, what it brought to the table: the idea of having decisions carry on from one game to the next.  I don’t know, maybe other games toyed with this idea (nothing immediately comes to mind), but Mass Effect was the most ambitious in its pursuit of having player input reverberate in later installments.  We can argue all day about how ME3 reduced every single choice to three colors, but the truth remains throughout the entire series there were a myriad of decisions you could make that would affect the fate of multiple characters and races.  Moreover, DLC like the extended cut and Citadel made ME3′s ending a little more acceptable.  ME3 is by far the most polarizing of the three, but for 95% of the game, it was everything we wanted for an end to the series trilogy.  So let’s focus less on the unpleasant 5% and more on the superb 95% – which was only made possible by the original.

Grand Theft Auto III

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Why We Should be Thankful…  When you look at GTA V then at the original GTA, you can’t help but to think of the “started from the bottom” meme.  But the GTA series wouldn’t be where it is today without the great leap that was GTA III.  The original GTA and GTA II weren’t nearly as groundbreaking as GTA III, which established an immersive 3D that would go on to spawn several half-assed imitators.  They were top-down games, with innovative mechanics, but suffered from mediocre graphics and repetitive gameplay (referring to GTA II).  Aside from the foundation of stealing cars and causing mayhem, the only noteworthy aspect that carried over into the next generation was its stellar music selection.  Once GTA III entered the scene in 2001, it literally changed the landscape of open-world 3D gaming.  The depth of gamplay was increased tenfold, and it implemented a cinematic story that acted as the connective tissue for all the missions and activities the player could engage in.  It showed us the true potential of sandbox games; something for which we should all be grateful.

Super Mario Bros.

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Why We Should be Thankful…  The NES classic is considered to be the godfather of the platforming genre.  It revolutionized the genre by creating mechanics that are still in use today, such as moving platforms, power ups, underwater stages, cryptic secrets, level warping, and pitfalls.  It’s legacy is undeniable, as numerous sequels have been made, which constantly build upon it’s true and tried formula.  The latest flavor, Super Mario 3D World, currently stands as the best reviewed game on the Wii-U.  And furthermore, each improvement made by previous Mario iterations can be traced all the way back to Super Mario Bros.  Even going back and playing it today, it feels just as good as it did nearly 30 years ago. Amazingly, the controls are still as fluid as ever, and the gameplay holds up surprisingly well.  Without Super Mario Bros., we wouldn’t have classic 2D games like Mega Man, Sonic, and Metroid; or more recent 2D games like Braid, Rayman Origins, and Cave Story.  And for that, we owe a debt of gratitude to Nintendo.

So, what games are you thankful for?

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