The ten amendments: we crown seven games from the last 20 years of Edge with a retrospective 10
As we look back at 20 years of Edge, hindsight helps us to see that a handful of games were deserving of our highest possible review score. Here, we do justice to seven new (old) 10s, in chronological order: GoldenEye 007, Advance Wars, Resident Evil 4, Drop7, Red Dead Redemption, Super Street Fighter IV and Dark Souls. You can find all of our previous Edge 10s here.
Publisher Nintendo • Developer Rare • Format Nintendo 64 • Release 1997
Facility, pistols, Man With The Golden Gun. Stack, slappers, Licence To Kill. Every group of GoldenEye players had their multiplayer setup of choice – a far cry from today’s standardised deathmatch and team objective gametypes. Because this was a game played in localised groups, the same players huddled round the same CRT screen night after night, focusing intently on their personal quadrant of the display. (For the most part, anyway: here, success meant dividing your attention between all four corners of the screen so you could see where your enemies were headed – 1997’s low-tech take on the UAV radar.)
In an era still only warming to the Internet, there were no leaderboard titans, no wikis or forums sharing and refining strategies. There were just the nightly champions of each after-school club, student house and post-pub gathering, each with their own take on GoldenEye best practice. The king of the house felt like the king of the world, but it was when these groups collided that the real magic happened. One Edge staffer recalls how he and his student housemates visited another London townhouse confident that their run-and-gun play was unbeatable, only to find that their opponents were playing a different game. They worked in little nooks and crannies with previously unknown lines of sight, in plenty of cover. They had, to all intents and purposes, invented camping.
There are many remarkable things about GoldenEye’s multiplayer. It’s almost impossible to believe Rare’s telling of its creation, that it wasn’t planned and was cobbled together six weeks before deadline day. One of its greatest achievements is how well it suits the licence, particularly in an era where the word ‘licensed’ so frequently flowed into ‘shovelware’. Gametypes were plucked from Bond’s back catalogue and made perfect sense. You Only Live Twice was self-explanatory; Licence To Kill meant a single bullet spelt death; Man With The Golden Gun gave that same power to a single weapon that respawned on its bearer’s death. Bond and co were smartly implemented, too: Jaws’ bulk made him a softer target than his intimidating frame suggested, and while we know of many who banned the diminutive Oddjob, we knew better. Prowl a map’s upper levels and you had an easy headshot as soon as he set foot on the stairs.
The singleplayer mode gave much to the firstperson shooter. There were stealth elements (and guards who ran for alarms to call in reinforcements) and gadgets too – the wristwatch magnet that sucked a prison cell key from an opposite wall, and the laser that burned an escape hatch in the floor of a train. It limited Bond to carrying three weapons at a time, but let him wield two of them at once. It had the sparsest of HUDs, showing only your ammo count, with everything else squirrelled away in Bond’s wristwatch pause menu. It was endlessly replayable, too, its levels learned like the back of your hand until you reached the real long game: racing through them to frighteningly tight time limits, on the hardest difficulty, to unlock cheats.
Like many games of its era, GoldenEye hasn’t aged so well visually. The ground beneath your feet looks like a single 100-pixel texture has been stretched across the entire stage, every outdoor section is shrouded in heavy fog, and the polygonal Brosnans, Beans and Coltranes that once inspired wonder now induce chuckles. But the magic endures. Let your eyes adjust and it’s an easier game than you remember, its enemies witless, the auto-aim wonderfully generous. And then it hits you: we weren’t just learning a game back then, but an entire language – one in which we’re now fluent, because it’s modern videogaming’s mother tongue. GoldenEye is a seminal piece of work, the first great console FPS and, in local multiplayer, the last one, too.
Publisher Nintendo • Developer Intelligent Systems • Format GBA • Release 2001
Anyone who hasn’t played Intelligent Systems’ strategy games would never think it important that they have great rhythm. But they all do, and none with as consummate a tempo as Advance Wars. It permeates the whole game: in the jaunty slap bass and electric guitar of its attract sequence, the snap of the cursor as it moves between tiles, and the sweeping transition into units’ animated exchanges of fire. Advance Wars presents one of the unsung greats of interface design – playful, clear and an ideal complement to the game’s taut, finely balanced strategy. So clear that you always know the outcome of an individual skirmish and the exact attack ranges of every unit.
But Advance Wars’ secret is that such certainties wilt under the complexity that explodes from its few, exquisitely honed working parts. The rock-paper-scissors strengths, weaknesses and properties of its 18 air, ground and sea units – every one essential, every one perilously vulnerable if not carefully manoeuvered. The logistical problem of keeping units stocked with ammo and fuel, and the economics of capturing factories and cities to keep cash – and therefore new units – flowing. The tactics in exploiting unit visibility (and not getting hit yourself by a missile launcher lurking in a forest), of knowing the advantages in battling on open plains and movement-sapping closed mountains, and in the careful use of bottlenecks to undermine an enemy’s advantage. The special skills of the CO you’ve chosen to play as, and those of your foe. No consideration of your strengths comes without knowing that your opponent likely has them, too.
Only the very best strategy games understand what Advance Wars does – that they’re puzzle games driven by the results of your own decisions. That’s what makes every game so utterly absorbing: the initial rush to capture and hold cities and the first testing engagements; later, the slow realisation of victory emerging from the chaos of battle, and the desire to remember how it unfolded to comprehend where and how it turned. It’s The Art Of War played out in 240×160 colourful pixels, and though unforgiving, Advance Wars is only cruel if you fail to understand its nuances.
Almost none of this was new to Advance Wars itself, which was built on six previous games that had only been released in Japan. But it did add CO Powers, which steadily charge with time and through attacks. Their benefits are subtle. Andy’s repairs two points of damage on every unit, a godsend to new players, but Sami’s Double Time, which boosts infantry range (ideal for capturing cities en masse), is perhaps the pro’s choice. CO Powers’ genius lies in their ability to change the pace of a battle without transforming its fortunes; they’re crucial, but not game-changers.
We couldn’t have known when it was released that Advance Wars would never be improved upon, though we suspected it. Dual Strike’s attempt to beef up CO Powers, add new units and layer an air battle over the ground were ugly and unwieldy, sapping the original’s purity. Days Of Ruin’s emo-inflected apocalypse forgot the appeal and innocence of Advance Wars’ tale of kids leading armies and introduced a dark story that felt out of step with the series. And since it’s already so precise, fast and beautiful, you can hardly imagine Advance Wars benefitting from more advanced technology, whether 3D or touch interfaces. Other than online multiplayer, anyway.
The ensuing 12 years have proven that Advance Wars is one of the rarest treasures in interactive entertainment. Its balance of simplicity and deep tactics is still utterly engrossing and rewarding, and hasn’t been bettered. It is, quite simply, a perfect game.
Resident Evil 4
Publisher Capcom • Developer In-house • Original format GameCube • Release 2004
Stand your ground. That’s the point. Yes, Leon S Kennedy handles like a tank – or, more accurately, a forklift – but those ancient controls turn every encounter into a tense standoff. You plant your feet, aim and fire, aim and fire while hostiles draw ever closer. You 180-turn and run, find a single square foot of tactically advantageous terrain, turn again, methodically aim and fire. Later Resident Evils would let you circle-strafe to control crowds and dive to evade incoming attacks, but not in Resi 4. Here you plant your feet, take careful aim and stand your ground.
It’s a conspicuous videogame mechanic that defied the standards of the day, and it’s the first sign that Resident Evil 4 is forever a slave to gameplay. Reality be damned, the controls make it scarier; besides, you’re here to point a shotgun at Jaws, Leatherface, animated suits of armour, The Lord Of The Rings’ cave trolls, an army of villagers driven insane by The Thing, and a creature from Predator who fights like The Terminator. You’re here to dodge the boulder from Raiders Of The Lost Ark, to ride the minecart from Temple Of Doom, to see a friend die like Bishop in Aliens. You’re here to win bottlecap action figures and dress like a 1930s mobster with a laser gun. You’re here to rescue the president’s daughter, for goodness’ sake. Resident Evil 4 is shamelessly, unapologetically a videogame, and it celebrates it by plagiarising a dozen Hollywood movies, using QTEs as an answer for everything and putting a lava lake in the middle of a medieval castle.
Resident Evil 4 is a reminder of the days before the madness of San Andreas was replaced by the sobriety of GTAIV, when Lara Croft was fighting dinosaurs rather than rapists. It’s a game filled with nonsensical flights of fantasy and heavy with indulgences the likes of which only a Shinji Mikami could get away with in a company as large as Capcom. There are cutscenes most players will never see, Easter eggs few will ever discover and entire systems built for fleeting moments then discarded forever – movable bookcases for a siege, a boat for a three-minute boss fight, weaponised lanterns for Ashley’s brief interlude, a jet ski for the final escape – and all of them are executed flawlessly.
And when it ends, a flickering projector tells the villagers’ story in the months before Las Plagas spoiled everything. Resident Evil 4 swapped vulnerability for empowerment, traded occasional scares for constant dread, and in the end swaps elation for… regret? Pity? Remorse? It’s clichéd to call the game a rollercoaster, but here you are – panicked by the sound of a chainsaw, relieved to have made it to shore, thrilled to meet Ashley, frustrated when she’s snatched away, awed by the arrival of your backup, triumphant having beaten impossible odds, and saddened to see what became of the villagers and, so much worse, their children.
Resident Evil 4 is best described as the bridge between then and now; PS1 controls with a next-generation camera angle, creative liberties in a time of escalating budgets, Dreamcast QTEs in a world as detailed and original as anything built for 2013 – every inch rusted, burned, abandoned or rotten, all of it somehow touched by death. Resident Evil 4 created the modern thirdperson shooter, killed the survival-horror genre and became the benchmark by which all videogame campaigns are measured. And all bar a few come up short.
Publisher Zynga • Developer Area/Code • Format Android, iOS • Release 2009
Drop7 is a marvel of videogame evolution. Clearly descended from Tetris – gravity-bound pieces, a growing mound of detritus to clear away before it collides with the top of the screen, the exploitation of our tidying impulse – Area/Code’s numerical spin on the formula exhibits such deft speciation that it would be dishonest to wave it away as mere homage. Some days we flirt with the question of whether Drop7 has surpassed its Russian forebear. At the very least, it’s on a shockingly even par.
Good luck finding a more handsome puzzle game. The pleasing symmetry of the 7×7 tile grid. The way the coloured facades of each piece pop from the greyscale background like Dublin’s famous painted doors on a dreary afternoon. The subtle pop-art sensibilities of the extruded typeface. The way the point bonuses float off each shattering piece like souls departing the body. And we haven’t even broached mechanics yet.
Descending the mineshaft of tactical possibilities, you realise that Drop7 wants not your reflexes, but your mind. The numbered, circular discs don’t rain down unbidden. Each new arrival waits patiently at the top of the screen for you to decide which column it will be deposited into. These oases of chess-like deliberation make Drop7 the ideal portable companion. If you join a queue at the bank with just one person ahead of you, you’ll squeeze in two or three drops, no question. And the move isn’t set in motion until you lift your finger off the screen. The game tempts you to second-guess, slide your finger across to a neighbouring column, then reluctantly back again if you decide to trust your first impulse.
As the name suggests, there are seven pieces, each with its own number and associated colour. Each numbered piece shatters when the number of consecutive discs in a column or row matches the number stamped on its face. For veteran players, these pieces become distinct characters in a methodically unfolding drama. We imagine them having personalities. The 1 is a loner. He won’t break unless he’s in a column or row by himself, pried apart from his neighbours. If the 1 is claustrophobic, the 7 is a boisterous extrovert, revelling in the camaraderie of packed rows and columns.
Sudoku this is not. There’s no fatiguing computation required. Nor is it a match-three exercise where you’re mindlessly congregating symbols as if brute-forcing cherries on a slot machine display. Drop7 sits in the sweet middle of this complexity spectrum. Despite its numerical pieces putting on a front of difficulty, the game’s arithmetic doesn’t require a calculator. Can you count to seven? You’re all set. The game’s combination-lock dial isn’t hard to twist, but you’ll spend hours trying to figure out how to decrypt the art of playing it well.
After you’ve made a set number of moves – which varies depending on the game mode you’ve selected – a solid row of grey discs pushes up from the bottom of the screen, forcing the existing discs nearer the top. You crack open these ominous roundels by shattering normal ones in adjacent tiles. Then you hold your breath to see what number hatches from behind their dreary shells.
When you’re on the ropes, revealing the contents of a grey disc is agony, like watching a blackjack dealer flipping over a card. Sometimes only one specific number will save you. The universe will occasionally bless you with that number, and you rejoice. If you don’t get it, you curse, forgetting people within earshot. They couldn’t possibly appreciate what you’re going through. You hate Drop7 right now. But you also love it, which is just as well, because the two of you are married for life.
Red Dead Redemption
Publisher Rockstar • Developer Rockstar San Diego • Format 360, PS3 • Release 2010
Grand Theft Auto III may have defined the open-world genre, but it was Rockstar’s Western-themed take on the sandbox that demonstrated its full potential to enhance narratives and reinforce our emotional connection to a game, a world and a character. Red Dead Redemption’s world was well worth exploring alone, but it worked even better as a playground with others.
The game featured its take on familiar modes in Shootout and Capture The Bag – both of which began with a Mexican standoff, the survivors of which could rush to advantageous positions before the match began properly – but it was Free Roam that defined Red Dead’s online component. Up to 16 players could occupy the full singleplayer map, spanning the fictitious American and Mexican states of New Austin, West Elizabeth and Nuevo Paraíso, wandering the land as a free agent or forming posses of up to eight. Quest-giving NPCs may have been stripped from this wild frontier, but in their place came huge potential for emergent storytelling, authored solely by its players.
With such a rich backdrop on which to roleplay, it was not a developer’s imposed goals, but the actions, choices and interactions of players that created meaning – whether strutting through rundown frontier towns, exploring long-abandoned houses or riding across acres of desert. Sometime after finishing the expansive singleplayer game, and savouring the great gaming memories that came with it – the Mexico crossing, the first snowy ride to West Elizabeth and that heartbreaking climactic sucker punch – the realisation dawns on you that the game is only just beginning.
It wasn’t heavy-handed about it, but Rockstar still provided plenty of catalysts in its online world. Hunting Grounds saw waves of wild animals bear down on players as their ammo dwindled; Gang Hideouts provided the backdrop to desperate gunfights. Multiplayer challenges mirrored their singleplayer counterparts and took in a broad range of tasks, from collecting eight prickly pears to shooting someone’s hat off and then disarming them within three seconds. Crucially, it was the journeys you’d go on in order to complete these, rather than the challenges themselves, that formed the strongest memories.
The greatest journey of them all would unlock one of gaming’s best Achievements – trekking from Blackwater pier in the northeast to Escalera in the southwest between dawn and sundown. It’s no trouble at all in the singleplayer game, but in a world filled with other players up to no good? Encountering another posse en route, heading east while you rode west, would spark an impromptu shootout as players scattered for cover, peeking out over rocks and shooting until the sun sank over the horizon.
Rockstar would go on to release a series of game-changing expansion packs with added co-operative missions, competitive modes and multiplayer versions of its parlour games. Most memorable of all was Undead Nightmare, which bravely repurposed Red Dead’s world for a new singleplayer adventure in which a reborn John Marston battled zombies to find a cure for his infected wife, and added intense multiplayer wave survival mode Undead Overrun.
Three years after its release, Red Dead Redemption still offers plenty of reasons to keep playing, and those who do continue to write their own stories. There remain few better ways to spend an evening’s play than seeking adventure with friends under a setting sun, your shadows growing to resemble the tombstones of those you’ve put in the ground.
Super Street Fighter IV
Publisher Capcom • Developer Capcom, Dimps • Format 360, PC, PS3 • Release 2010
Capcom laid down the fighting game lexicon, but the incessant, complex iteration that followed Street Fighter II’s success made it almost impenetrable to newcomers. For Street Fighter IV, that wouldn’t do: a successful return would mean welcoming those whose Street Fighter vocabulary was non-existent while retaining the level of mechanical depth that had kept a committed fanbase enraptured through the genre’s dark days. Capcom pulled it off, and all it took was two of the most immaculately tuned mechanics the genre has ever seen.
First came the Ultra combo, a move that takes off around half of an opponent’s health and whose use is controlled by a meter that fills not as you land hits, but as you take them. It gave beginners a chance to turn the tide of a match right up until their health bar’s final pixel; for the skilled it became the most damaging, and flashy, way to end combos.
Then there’s the Focus Attack, a single move that proves useful in just about every possible situation. It lets you get away from an opponent, or close the gap. It makes mistakes safe, and extends successful combos. While the swathes of fighting games that have grabbed at Street Fighter IV’s coat-tails have all had an Ultra-style comeback mechanic, none of them have managed to recreate the multi-purpose lightning in a bottle of the Focus Attack.
Fighting games have long been seen as the sole stomping ground of the impossibly coordinated, those with superhuman reactions and encyclopedic knowledge of frame data. At the highest level that holds true, of course, but in reality Super Street Fighter IV is as hard as you make it. You don’t need ten-hit combos, but the battle system is such a delight in motion that you’ll want them. It’s a system capable of producing such grace and beauty that even now, with our bread-and-butter combos long since committed to memory, we daydream about the possibilities of improving them, and ourselves.
The Internet has helped hugely, of course, with forums, YouTube demonstrations and Twitch livestreams helping spread discoveries and finesse strategies. Online, the Street Fighter II tactics seen in the game’s early days have given way to a high standard of play, a steep learning curve mitigated by a skill-based matchmaking system. There’s no better way to learn than to join an eightplayer, winner-stays-on lobby, where losing sends you to the back of the queue. You spend the 15-minute wait watching, learning, preparing for your next crack at that night’s lobby tyrant. And when it works – when you break through their defences, land the combo of your dreams and end their reign to a cacophony of headset cheers – well, there’s nothing quite like it. Multiplayer is increasingly team-based nowadays, but in this one-on-one battle of wits and skill, the thrill of a win is yours and yours alone.
Lobbies were only introduced in Super Street Fighter IV, along with ten characters and some tweaks to the existing cast. The current release, subtitled Arcade Edition Version 2012 and boasting a roster of 39 characters with a tremendous spread of mechanical and stylistic variety, marries the most wonderfully balanced fighting game of all time to the greatest combo system ever devised. Recent experimentation by Capcom’s peers suggests free-to-play is the future of the genre, and as such we may never see SSFIV’s kind again, but little matter. Because we’ll always have Super Street Fighter IV, and we’ll be playing it for years to come.
Publisher Namco Bandai • Developer FromSoftware • Format 360, PC, PS3 • Release 2011
A friend of yours playing Dark Souls for the first time is almost guaranteed to stumble across a secret – a concealed elevator shortcut in Sen’s Fortress, perhaps – that you somehow missed during all four or five of your playthroughs. You’ll swear it was added in a patch. FromSoftware’s action-RPG masterpiece continues to shovel rewards into the laps of curious players. We’re still debating the lore significance of certain in-game items, still trying to suss out the mechanics of multiplayer covenants. We’re still finding hidden pockets of levels that initially seemed walled off. And there is glowing loot waiting in those undiscovered corners.
When you finally unlock The Dark Soul achievement – a Herculean task that involves collecting every rare weapon in the game and spans, at minimum, two-and-a-half playthroughs – it simply means you’re permitted to boast of 100% completion in the abstract. You know you haven’t seen everything the game has to offer. Not even close. Lordran is so densely packed with things to discover, it’s like strolling on a beach where every grain of sand just so happens to be its own Easter egg. In terms of content and design, Dark Souls is easily one of the most generous games ever designed.
We’ve visited FromSoftware’s Tokyo headquarters where the game was made by a team of just a few dozen. We’ve seen the boxy grey CRT televisions on which it was tested. It just didn’t compute. It still doesn’t. How did they do it? It’s just another Dark Souls secret. We’ll never get a satisfying answer.
People fixate on the difficulty because it’s the easy talking point, but FromSoftware’s masterpiece is arguably less preoccupied with difficulty than your garden-variety firstperson shooter. We’ve grown accustomed to being asked to choose between words like casual, normal, legendary, survivor, insane, nightmare and the rest before we ever taste a second of gameplay. Dark Souls boasts the courage of its design convictions. The world of Lordran has an established temperament and everyone who travels there will face the same travails. The uniformity of experience is part of what makes flinty-eyed Dark Souls veterans feel such intense solidarity when they discuss the game. Nobody gets a free pass. Nobody is born with a silver dagger clenched in their teeth.
The game holds you in exceedingly high regard. It believes you are capable of accomplishing remarkable feats, ones that might well seem impossible when first encountered. If you bailed out before completing the game, it was only because you disagreed with its opinion of your capabilities.
Dark Souls’ world is such an emotionally resonant space that we constantly find excuses to return. We attempt the OneBro challenge, which involves completing the quest as a level-one character, never accepting the difficulty mitigation of a single upgrade point. We dress up in costumes we’ve pillaged from enemies and NPCs and then invade other players’ worlds in PvP as those characters, roleplaying as the enemy, or for the comedic value of play-acting as Solaire in his underpants. We come back to repeatedly leap off a parapet onto the head of the Taurus Demon, driving our blade into his scalp, just to pay him back for all the heartache he inflicted on us during our first encounter all those hundreds of hours ago.
We come back to Dark Souls. And we will keep coming back. Because, once you depart Lordran, all other RPGs – no, all other games – feel hollow.