With another Edge anniversary comes another deliberation over the best games of all time. But we didn’t want to think about the indisputable classics all over again. This time we wanted to make it personal by asking the question, if you had every game ever made at your fingertips, which would we play right now What are the games, shorn of nostalgia and presumption, that we would actually want to spend time playing.
It means that you’ll find many games that did so much to inspire and direct videogame culture and design missing. Our selection process quickly made clear the effect of the insatiable march of progress, new titles building upon the successes of older ones to better effect. That’s why you’ll find few 8bit games in the list. Elite, which this year celebrates its 25th birthday, isn’t present, for example, but Eve Online is. Which is not to say that all old games are out of the picture. Certain games are remarkably resilient to time, with the Zelda series in particular proving its exceptionally consistent quality.
We hope we’ve come up with a snapshot of the titles that define modern videogaming as it stands in March 2009. You can read the justification behind the inclusion of each and every game on the list in issue 200, on sale March 12.
R4: Ridge Racer Type 4
The game that shrugged off the ‘coin-op conversion’ tag and turned a swirly mass of recycled roads into Ridge City.
Home to the series’ finest tracks, even its aircraft enter and exit the corners with perfect timing. Difficult jumps to PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 dulled Ridges V and 6, leaving this the most feature-rich and focused of the series; its soundtrack more explorative, its drift styles more deliberate, its singleplayer mode more complete, and its introduction of Gouraud shading more transformative.
An inexplicably accomplished first effort for a small German developer, Far Cry at release was remarkable for its tech. Today, after Crysis failed to recapture its raw thrills, it’s remarkable for its mechanics.
Rather than grant or deny total situational awareness within its opaque jungles, it asks players to acquire it themselves. After scouting with slightly magical binoculars, you have enough information about the enemy to plan angles of attack, or avoidance. It encourages clarity of tactics within its freely explorable islands that feels both hard-won and thoroughly satisfying.
Star Fox 64
Or, the day Nintendo went Hollywood. From its opening bars, Starfox 64 bellows “EPIC”, ripping off movies from Independence Day to (of course) Star Wars, and delivering in spades.
That’s what gets the blood pumping, but the most memorable moments are the small things: the chatter between the pilots, branching difficulty routes, and Easter eggs dotted throughout its stages. With Miyamoto on development duties, it’s also one of the finest on-rails shooters ever made – so good, actually, that the fact it introduced rumble feedback to videogames is just a footnote.
It’s now commonly shrugged away as decrepit and clumsy, and solely taking the slumbering controls, confined inventory and arbitrary puzzles, it’s hard to argue.
But the vividly realised mansion of the GC remake still galvanises attention, the puzzles and scant storage intricately threading your superbly paced progress through corridors infested with lethal crimson zombies and dreaded Hunters.
By now, you’d have thought you knew what to expect, but it still makes you stop and desperately listen before turning any corner, every sense tuned into its weird rhythm of moans and scuffles.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
That it’s a great adventure should be taken for granted but Twilight Princess is perhaps the most polarised Zelda, with series-best moments grinding against those that are close to mundane.
But Link’s lame wolf form and the incoherent overworld are mitigated by labyrinthine dungeons in which Link’s actions are the stuff of spectacle: hookshotting on to the back of a giant fish, hopping from wall to wall on a spinning disc, battling a dragon on a tiny platform suspended in the sky.
The scale of the biggest Zelda of them all almost makes Link seem small, and that’s no inconsiderable achievement.
Football Manager 2009
Those that dismiss Football Manager as just being a game of numbers presumably haven’t heard the epic rags-to-riches stories any player is keen to tell of their games.
Involving dramas are ten a penny: a new and expensive signing winning a promotion against the odds, a change of tactics sending fortunes into freefall and causing a sacking.
Whether they mirror or contrast with them, FM’s alternative versions of real-life football seasons are endlessly fascinating. Numbers might be abstract, but FM pops them into reality.
Gaming Marmite Only if you lack taste.
This maligned title is Llamasoft’s attempt to revitalise the tube shooter, and it’s a searing masterclass in updating old-school rules. It tests players’ ability to tune in to its warbles, bleats and psychedelic visuals as much as it does their trigger fingers with uncompromising visual design that turns off most new players, but that tie-dyed aesthetic hides a system of rare simplicity that balances risk and reward so finely that few shooters can hold a candle to it.
Destined for oblivion, perhaps, but the very definition of a blaze of glory.
The Sims 2
The original Sims created a new genre, people simulation, but the sequel made the characters human. The Sims 2 sticks to the open-ended model of the original but adds aspirations for each individual, small details that make them much more engaging to interact with and provide a much-needed extra layer of motivation for the player.
Even more crucial, perhaps, is its modelling of six stages of life, allowing Sims to age. The enduring depth and warmth of this living dollhouse often goes unnoticed, but it makes The Sims 2 one of the great accomplishments of modern game design.
Animal Crossing: City Folk
Animal Crossing’s daily drip-feed is still magical: the turn of seasons, of special holidays, of shop opening times.
Yes, it’s very low-tech magic, and Animal Crossing still hasn’t really ventured into the wilds of online. But then speeding it up to the rate things churn on the internet might erode some of the anticipation of the mundane: the thrill of completing a fossil collection, of getting a new line of conversation from the coffee shop pigeon. After all, Animal Crossing is a celebration of the magic of patience.
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
Amon Tobin’s soundtrack gets the nod, but, really, Chaos Theory’s music is half the game, creating synaesthesia usually reserved for art-house rail shooters.
It exactly echoes Sam Fisher’s feline movements, passing from foreboding noir to heart-rattling action as you dart from the shadows. Fisher gives Snake a run for his money in the sneaking stakes.
It’s not about gadgets or guns – Chaos Theory is a playground for Fisher’s physical gifts and mastery of discretion: warfare, one broken neck at a time.