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SOCOM II: US Navy Seals

Socom forces you to think tactically because numbers are not on your side, and the weapons you choose have decided advantages and disadvantages. But there are a lot of squad-based commands, and this game has you globe trotting to break things up. I don’t know a lot about how games are made, but the missions are a masterpiece of layout, variety, story-telling and tension as the game progresses. I don’t know if any other game has done this better.

Silent Hill 2

Being outside of the gamer world, I did not know this game’s reputation until I looked it up. I do know that as a writer, the horror I saw in my head mostly was about a guy and a flashlight and a lot of darkness dealing with – something.

Silent Hill 2 is that game.

There are a lot of unnerving touches in Silent Hill 2, but mostly you are a guy in an abandoned town without a lot of resources dealing with bizarre and unclassifiable monsters that come when you are least prepared from them. This is everything they’ve said about it, a masterpiece that has not been repeated for some reason.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

This hits a few weaknesses and I have more affection for this game than any other in the series. Playing as hitman Tommy Vercetti, you basically reenact the plot of Scarface (while taking elements of a lot of other movies, of course). But it looks like a Michael Mann film, it has the best soundtrack of the series, and aside from a couple tough missions to play (the mini helicopter – ugh!) the gameplay and plot are fantastic. It all adds up to a sort of charm that I haven’t seen replicated in GTA after that.

Red Dead Revolver

Speaking of charming, Red Dead Revolver is the game that Capcom started and Rockstar finished. Capcom saw it as a ‘Weird West’ game and Rockstar liked the violent Clint Eastwood style of western. The result is a game with a huge sense of humor, tremendous imagination, fun gameplay, colorful and distinct characters.

You play a grand story from multiple perspectives and each character has their own special moves. I don’t even like westerns that much and I COULD NOT stop playing this game, there were so much variation on missions, and such an interesting plot that I was completely engaged.

Rockstar released Red Dead Redemption on their own, which obviously is several levels above in almost every way. But its sober tone doesn’t match the frenzied fun of the original.

Tom Clancy: Splinter Cell

There are plenty of shoot-em-ups out there. Splinter Cell is all about doing missions quietly and it creates a tension that’s rare in video games. You have almost no ammo, but you have other diverse weapons, (not all of them lethal) and a great set of skills that the game prefers you use.

This was the first of a good franchise, but it still stands as exceptional.

The Thing

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my textbook perfect movies. Very free movies have captured tension, paranoia, and horror like it. Usually tie-in games suck. The Thing didn’t.

I don’t know another game that created as much anxiety through its gameplay as The Thing. Its simple. You’re a Special Forces operative in the Antarctic who comes across the remains of the camp in the movie.

You come across monsters and other people as things get increasingly worse. But that’s where it gets brilliant. You can only carry a couple things, and the weapon you have might not take out the monster that’s ambushing you, and changing weapons will happen while you are getting hurt badly. Also The Thing has a fear/trust system.

If you meet somebody, you don’t know if they’re a monster, and vice versa. They won’t follow orders if they’re afraid of you, so you have to earn trust by killing a monster, or giving them a weapon. You could give them your pistol, keep your flamethrower and go hunt monsters, but if they turn on you, you no longer have the weapons you need to kill them, because you have to shoot them before you burn them.

If you DON’T give them a weapon and they could turn on you and attack you. Even if they have a weapon, if they lose trust in you, you will end up attacked by humans AND aliens. Negotiating people becomes a full-time job…pretty much like real life.