Games of a Lifetime: Sam's Picks

After more than ten years devoted to video games and the people who make them, Joystiq is closing its doors. We won't be reporting on the best games of 2015, so join us for one last hurrah as the Joystiq family reveals their Games of a Lifetime.

Some days, it seems like cynicism and derision earn more applause than kindness and optimism, and the things we love most can feel like they're the most neglected. So it can go with games, as we see hatred and vitriol spread online, watch quality of games dip and companies utilize decidedly unfriendly business practices on consumers. But there's a reason I got into this hobby, and there's a reason I got into this job:

I love games.

I want to see games continue to evolve, change and grow. I want my enthusiasm for them to never die, for my joy and sense of camaraderie in my fellow gamers to always persist. And so, at a time when it would be very easy to be jaded, we've decided to instead continue talking about why we love games. These are my picks for games of a lifetime.

Halo: Combat Evolved

I remember playing Halo at a Software, Etc! store in the Southern Hills Mall with my step-brothers. We laughed and screamed as the nigh-uncontrollable Warthog ramped over hills and into Convenant troops. Once we got it home, we set to breaking it any way we could, using rockets and grenades to propel ourselves to places we weren't meant to go, stacking tanks on top of one another to create the deadly Double Stuff Tank, and driving that Warthog through any space we could squeeze it into. Looking back, I can objectively analyze what the game did right (and wrong, for that matter), but at the time, I was too busy just having fun.

Silent Hill 2

I was 13 years old when Silent Hill 2 came out, and therefore too young to truly understand what was so horrifying about the game; namely its mature exploration of the male psyche, including its unpleasant (but unflinching) portrayals and examinations of sexuality, violence and mental illness. Sure there were some jump scares, but what makes Silent Hill 2 stand above its peers is how it gets under your skin and leaves a lasting scar. More than any other in its genre, I think Silent Hill 2 remains to this day the finest example of a horror game.

Sonic Adventure

Sonic has definitely fallen from grace over the past decade, but once upon a time, people were genuinely, unironically excited about his games. I remember seeing the killer whale chase scene running on a Dreamcast demo unit and thinking it was just the coolest damn thing I'd ever seen. Sonic's movements were so fast, and to see him running around a 3D environment was breathtaking. With plenty of collectibles to find and mini-games to keep me busy (I took my VMU with me on a car ride to Denver once, came back with the buffest Chao you ever saw), Sonic Adventure ate up hours of my time as a kid and I still remember it fondly.

Spyro The Dragon

I'm just making this list more cute and cuddly as we go along, aren't I? Spyro The Dragon is absolutely, hands-down, one of the best platforming games of all time. This was a thinking kid's game, where you had to observe your enemies' behaviors in order to effectively combat them. Are they throwing up a shield? Fire breath isn't gonna cut it. Are they faster than you and constantly running away? Trick them into crossing your path. Along with beautifully-realized, unique worlds, Spyro also featured one hell of a soundtrack unlike anything else.

World of Warcraft

Ten years. This game has been going for 10 years and it is still one of the prime examples of MMO game design. Sure, not every expansion was a gem, and the game has experienced its share of bumps along the way, but there's no denying the cultural impact of a game like World of Warcraft. I've been playing off and on since the game came out, and to see how much it's changed is fascinating. I was charmed by WoW in 2004, and I'm still charmed today.

Star Wars Galaxies

My love of Star Wars Galaxies is as obvious as a Death Star is impractical. Where WoW and other MMOs often provided a structured experience of linear quest progression, dungeons and raids, SWG let me simply exist in a galaxy far, far away. And really, that's all I've ever wanted from a Star Wars game. I don't need to unleash the force, I don't need to be on the battlefront, all I wanted was to live in George Lucas' universe and humbly sell my wares. SWG let me do that, and no other game has come close since.

So Many Others
I could go on listing the games I love, the games that defined my experience in the hobby, for days. There are simply too many fantastic pieces of interactive art out there to condense into a single feature. But I'll tell you this much: I look forward to expanding my list over the years to come.

[Images: Blizzard, Microsoft, Konami, Sega, Insomniac Games, Blizzard, Sony Online Entertainment]