Gaming: 6 Must-Own Games

Gaming Editors Mary Helen Josephine and Megan Roxburgh recommend some games to keep you entertained during lockdown

Whether you’re interested in zombies, history, or physics, our must-own game selections have something to offer everyone.

MARY HELEN JOSEPHINE’S PICKS

Portal 

Way back in 2007, which seems like a different lifetime, Valve Corporation bestowed upon the world a gift, and that gift was Portal. A puzzle-platform, first-person-shooter style game, Portal presented its players with a unique challenge: how many playthroughs could you complete without getting tired of it? With over 300 hours of playtime, I still have yet to answer this question. 

Only one ‘weapon’ is at your disposal: a portal gun that can shoot an entrance and an exit, and only on particular surfaces. Time is spent completing ‘tests’ of momentum and logic involving a few soft-spoken egg-shaped turrets, energy balls, a bit of toxic goo, and, of course, getting to know GLaDOS, the omnipresent and subtly evil voice that promises you cake and a party if you can manage to not die while testing. 

With each test chamber playthrough you become more acquainted with the physics of the game, which encourages pursuit of the more difficult challenges created by the gaming community: completing the test chambers with the least number of portals, in the least amount of time, or even with the least amount of steps. If you’re interested in witty writing, polished gameplay, replay-ability, and you have yet to play Portal, what are you waiting for? There’s testing to be done and cake to be had!    

Left 4 Dead

Do you like zombies? More specifically, do you enjoy running away from and blasting zombies to smithereens? If your answer is yes, then Left 4 Dead is the game for you. Released in 2008, L4D is a multiplayer survival horror game set in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse where you must mow down the undead in order to reach a series of safe houses, eventually leading to a final rescue point. Four players can occupy the characters Zoey, Bill, Francis, and Louis, but if you’re short on players then AI can fill the empty spaces to ensure you have a full zombie-fighting team regardless. Special Infected are waiting around almost every corner, encouraging you to tread lightly and carry a big gun. 

Artful storytelling also takes place, which you wouldn’t expect from a typical zombie game, with each section beginning with a loading screen showing a movie style poster showing the characters as the cast, complete with cheesy titles like “No Mercy” for the hospital level, “Dead Air” for the infected infested airport scenario, and “Blood Harvest” for when the team must to shelter and hold out in a farmhouse. Story isn’t as important as shooting things, but after playing through the game a few times the game’s narrative reveals itself in the way a room has been messied, the words graffitied on the walls of a safehouse, or in the character commentary.

Another unique offering L4D brings to the gaming table: Versus mode. An absolute riot of a feature, Versus mode consists of one team controlling the human characters and the other team controlling the Special Infected. The humans win if all survivors make it to the next safe house or hold out long enough for extraction; the zombies’ goal is to prevent that from happening. 

L4D is a perfect example of what a zombie game should be – packed with gory zombie fun and I can guarantee you’ll find yourself still playing it even 12 years down the line. 

The Stanley Parable

Originally released as a mod for Half-Life 2 in 2011, The Stanley Parable presented a new type of mellow RPG experience to its players. Rather than utilizing weapons to defeat a specific enemy and meeting companions along the way, a tried and tested game format in the past, TSP plops you into a plain but empty office space to discover what life is like through the eyes of Stanley, a husk of a fictional character that is really a vehicle for the player to explore a vast network of seemingly mundane office spaces and closets (you’ll understand if you play the game). 

A bit into the early stages of the game you also meet the disembodied Narrator telling you what to do and where to go. When the Narrator says Stanley leaves his office, you leave the office, when the Narrator says to ignore doors as you pass by them in the hallways, you ignore the doors… or do you? Each combination of choices made by the player feeds into branches upon branches of consequences and endings; some are fun and playful, some are absurd, some are abstract, and others are designed to feed into your next playthrough – all dealing with the theme of illusory freedom.

One of the reasons TSP works as a concept is the Narrator; at times, he’s sympathetic and affectionate, other times he’s annoyed and tired of your capability to make decisions regardless of his input. Of course, philosophical musings and observations are sprinkled liberally amidst the witty writing and the conflict of who really has control occupies the player’s mind throughout.

With each playthrough sparking anticipation for the next, TSP is a must-have for gamers of all kinds.

One of the reasons TSP works as a concept is the Narrator; at times, he’s sympathetic and affectionate, other times he’s annoyed and tired of your capability to make decisions regardless of his input. Of course, philosophical musings and observations are sprinkled liberally amidst the witty writing, and the conflict of who really has control occupies the player’s mind throughout.

With each playthrough sparking anticipation for the next, TSP is a must-have for gamers of all kinds.

MEGAN ROXBURGH’S PICKS

Assassin’s Creed II

The second instalment in the Assassin’s Creed franchise puts players right in the middle of Renaissance Italy and the life of Ezio Auditore. With a captivating story about how one man’s life can change overnight into a battle for control of the world, Assassin’s Creed II will draw you in from the start. 

History buffs will get a kick from the real-life events and people that are part of the story (Pazzi conspiracy and Leonardo da Vinci as an ally, anyone?), while those looking for a good old-fashioned fight won’t be disappointed with the game’s varied combat styles. As for players who just feel like wandering, there are plenty of little secrets and trinkets to find, with Renaissance Italy right in front of you.

Ezio’s story is one that does not feel forced or contrived but real and fleshed out. He feels like a person who could really have existed, from his beginnings as a carefree — dare I say spoiled? — rich kid to an adult with a clear direction and purpose in life.

Assassin’s Creed II is only the beginning of this story but as openings go, you’re not going to find one much better than this.

Mass Effect Trilogy

Choosing one of the Mass Effect trilogy games over the others is pretty much impossible to do as it’s all one complete story. 

You are Commander Shepard, a human soldier living in a galaxy full of rich and diverse life. Over the course of three games, you decide how you want to live, who you want to be, and even who you love, while you’re on a mission to literally save the universe. 

The trilogy is immersive without feeling overwhelming and it really feels like a future we could live in. Every choice will matter in the series, if not in the game you’re in then certainly further down the line. Shepard is a character you can cheer on through everything but is still someone who isn’t the “perfect” hero out to save everyone. Both the player and Shepard must deal with what’s in front of them and the repercussions of each choice — something which might be commonplace now but hasn’t been perfected like this.

Another feature of the trilogy is Genesis —which is available for Mass Effect 2 & 3 – a comic style extra video package that takes players through the story so far, to allow them to make the big decisions from the part(s) they’ve missed.

Each game in the trilogy can stand on its own but when all three are put together, it’s an experience like no other. Just prepare yourself for the ending because it might not be what you expect.

Grand Theft Auto V

This game is the one of the best-selling games of all time and it’s fairly obvious to see why. From the minute the story starts, players are put right in the action – robbing a small-town bank of all things.

From that opening heist, Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t really let up. Everything you would expect from the GTA franchise is all there — fighting, a lot of swearing, underhanded deals and corrupt people in positions of power trampling over the little guy. But there’s also a lot of heart for a game about three criminals — each one a fully rounded character with their own take on the world of Los Santos and their place in it.

There’s also the online aspect to consider, which is still being updated with new missions, locations and characters. As for the main story, it has retained a timeless quality to it that is hard to do now, let alone on a game that’s more than six years old.

If for no other reason, Grand Theft Auto V is worth playing just to experience the force of nature that is Trevor Phillips. In most other games, he’s the guy you take down about halfway through in an intense boss fight, but in Grand Theft Auto V he’s one of the heroes — in the loosest sense of the word — and probably one of the most iconic characters of the last decade. Love him or hate him, he’s undeniably brilliant.

Words by Mary Helen Josephine and Megan Roxburgh

This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which is still on sale and is raising money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.

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