As the current generation comes to a somewhat overdue close, you’re going to start seeing no small number of Top 100 lists and videos. But crowning a game with some arbitrary number in a list full of arbitrary numbers isn’t as interesting as playing, “What if?” What if we could replay some of the greatest gaming experiences of our lives again, but for the first time? Which would they be, and why?
The GamesBeat and VentureBeat staff pooled together their answers to those questions below. And don’t forget to tell us your own picks for a chance to win a free game!
Sebastian Haley: Valkyria Chronicles
While there are a multitude of great this-gen experiences I’d undergo experimental brain treatments to relive for the first time, it’s not just the game itself that colors my memory of it. When playing video games is your job, it can be easy to get burnt out, especially around the relentless holiday rush. So at the start of each year, after a brief hiatus from the torrent of overhyped, overrated triple-A blockbusters, I like to kick things off with a game that I want to play rather than one I have to.
One year, that game was Valkyria Chronicles, a cel-shaded tactical-role-playing game from Sega for the PlayStation 3 that revolves around tanks, their commanders, and a militia uprising. That description alone contains a lot of different elements that might not interest me, but I suppose that’s also partially why it won me over so completely. Valkyria Chronicles wasn’t just a good game. It was something fresh — a unique spin on a variety of genres all smoothly mashed together with a thrilling audio/visual presentation and some truly endearing characters.
This was Sega as it hasn’t been in a very, very long time. As an old-school adherent of all things 32X, Saturn, and Dreamcast, that also had a bonus nostalgic effect for me.
Unlike most games, even ones I would say I “liked” (followed by an inevitable list of everything they should have done better), I thoroughly enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles from beginning to end — save for a single mission near the finale. It filled my internal tank so that I could endure another year of disappointing, uninspired sequels and publishers too afraid to try something even half as innovative, and it taught me to be more willing to give the unknown a go once in a while.
Dan “Shoe” Hsu: BioShock
After I beat a prerelease version of the original BioShock for a review, I literally said to my friends, “I wish I could erase my memory of playing that because I’d love to experience it for the first time again.” I never figured out how to do that in a safe manner, but after the game hit retail, I played through it again anyways. Then yet again on hard mode. Then again later to show it off to a new girlfriend. I stopped after that — diminishing returns and all that — but each time I entered the underwater dystopia of BioShock’s Rapture, I continued to marvel at the care and detail that went into every aspect of the adventure. The twisty-turning story; the horrifying cast; the stunning, decaying city; and this amazing, self-contained fiction all created a fantastic — and frankly, unforgettable — world to visit (but you wouldn’t want to live there).
Dean Takahashi: Flower
I can recall the experience of playing Flower over and over again, sometimes alone or with my kids. It had no words, but you could feel the rush of emotion during the ending. The music and lighting changed and lifted your mood. It was a wonderful, novel, and unprecedented experience for me. It was one of those rare moments when I felt a game was a work of art.
Mike Minotti: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I thought the first Uncharted was a huge achievement in gaming. Technologically, the digital acting and animation was on a whole other level than what I had seen before, but Uncharted 2 added an incredible dose of “epic” to the mix. I’ll never forget the adrenaline rush I felt as I jumped out of a falling building or discovered a lost city that was beautiful beyond my imagination. Oh, and that train level! That segment featured some of the greatest design in gaming history. Among Thieves really was an adventure, and I’d give a treasure worth hundreds to feel that sense of awe and wonder for the first time again.
Jacob Lopez: Wii Sports
Don’t laugh. Sure, I played several games this generation that were much, much better than Wii Sports. Still, nothing this generation beats that memory of buying a Wii at midnight, setting it up with a small group of friends, and swinging that Wii Remote for the first time. It was just cool to do and to imagine how many other people across the U.S. were doing that exact same thing at that very moment.
Rus McLaughlin: Bastion
I ran into Greg Kasavin on the floor of the 2011 Game Developers Conference while he was showing his little company’s little indie game, Bastion, and hunting for a publisher. He asked if I wanted to play it and held out a pair of headphones. I accepted the first offer, declined the second.
“No, really,” said Kasavin, “you need the headphones.”
I often tell people that Portal minus the audio isn’t really Portal, and Bastion without the headphones wouldn’t have been Bastion. Logan Cunningham’s twangy narration purred in my ears, adding layers to a game that already felt deep and decisive. He reacted to me in that demo, describing the motivation behind my actions. A few months later, when I played the full game, I started reacting to him, distrusting the motivations behind his words.
I’ve replayed Bastion a few times since, and I felt the same kind of anger, hope, determination, and forgiveness, but never with the purity of that first run. It’s one of experiences I judge other games by. Did it get in my skin like Bastion did? So far, few ever have.
Jason Wilson: Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer
It’s easy to see why some players compared this expansion to Neverwinter Nights 2 to Planescape: Torment: Its developer is Obsidian, formed by refugees of Black Island Studios, the folks who made Planescape. Mask of the Betrayer unrolls a tale where the player is saddled with the hungering soul of one of the world’s greatest betrayers — and how he must get his own soul back in the process. Epic in scope (and not just because it adds high-level Prestige classes and other aspects of Dungeons & Dragons’ epic-level gameplay), Mask of the Betrayer tells what’s one of the best RPG stories of the decade. And the moment when you encounter a dead god — one of infamous “Dead Three” of Forgotten Realms lore — is one of the highlights of D&D in video games. With Wizards of the Coast and Atari (the D&D license holder) focused on MMOs, we may never get an D&D RPG like this again.
Chris Hoadley: Advance Wars: Days of Ruin
I hate stories that try to be dark and gritty for the sake of it, and seeing the Advance Wars series go from a plucky cartoon setting to a postapocalyptic nightmare made me cautious. Days of Ruin matched the quality of its predecessors, however, with new gameplay twists to the turn-based-strategy formula, awesome music, and a surprisingly mature narrative for a Nintendo game. I still remember the conclusion of the “Lin’s Gambit” mission, where one of the heroes kills an antagonist out of revenge despite the coward pointing out how it wasn’t necessary or morally right. It’s rare for stories to allow that to happen, and the problem with replaying it is that I could never experience that same surprise again.
Stephanie Carmichael: Assassin’s Creed II
Assassin’s Creed is by no means my favorite series from this game generation, but it is the one that surprised me the most. The first title left me with a laundry list of complaints that, out of frustration, inspired me to summarize the game’s core features neatly into a joke pie chart: 20 percent assassinations and death scenes, 50 percent mindless repetitive tasks, and 30 percent “important assassin shiz.” (I am not good at math.)
So when I walked into the Assassin’s Creed II panel at San Diego Comic Con in 2009, I was confident in my skepticism – no way could this game fix all that was broken. My jaw dropped to the floor. I exited with a complete change of attitude, and when I was finally able to play through the game myself, I marveled at how big an improvement the series had undergone. No other sequel this generation has shocked me quite as much.
Stefanie Fogel: Deadly Premonition
Mr. Francis York Morgan, if reliving a current-gen game were my mission, I’d want to relive Deadly Premonition.
I’d like to experience again the tingle down my spine as I discover Anna’s body for the first time.
So says Mr. Stewart.
I’d run from the Raincoat Killer again like a scared little b****.
And rediscover the joys of a “Sinner’s Sandwich.”
So says Mr. Stewart.
Deadly Premonition is broken and bizarre, but I say this without shame:
God, I love this weird little game!
So says Mr. Stewart.
Devindra Hardawar: Red Dead Redemption
I didn’t go into Red Dead Redemption expecting anything much, but by its bloody end, I was convinced that I had experienced a masterpiece. Its open world felt alive and always threatening, the score set the mood perfectly, and it was all topped off by some of the best voice work ever presented in a game. Red Dead Redemption managed to achieve one of those rare experience only made possibly by video games: At times, it was as if you were watching a classic Western while also living through one. (Developer/publish Rockstar even had film director John Hillcoat [The Proposition, The Road] direct a 30-minute short film using the game’s engine.)
Ultimately, though, the game’s true genius comes down to how all of its pieces come together for truly memorable experiences: That first step into Mexico, the transition from a snow-covered mountain to calm, grassy plains when you rescue [redacted], and even taking on some simple farming chores. It’s a game that’s simultaneously vast and intimate.
Giancarlo Valdes: Rock Band
Maybe it was because I never really played Guitar Hero up until that point, but Rock Band just blew my mind. At first, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to get it. But on Thanksgiving 2007, only a few days after it came out, I passed by the huge Rock Band boxes at Sears, and that alone convinced me to make a (pretty expensive) impulse buy on the spot. With plenty of friends and family already in my house, I lugged the awkward box into the living room (most of them confused with what I just bought), hooked up the plastic instruments, and started playing.
We played almost all night. To this day, when I listen to songs like the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” or Faith No More’s “Epic,” I always think about Rock Band.
Eduardo Moutinho: Mass Effect
Only a select few games have truly immersed me in their worlds. I’m talking playing-for-hours-on-end, skipping-meals-and-bathroom-breaks levels of immersion. The first Mass Effect is one of those titles. I remember casually picking up the release before Thanksgiving in 2007, thinking it could be fun. Once I hit that character-customization screen and started to fine-tune my Commander Shepard, the game ensnared me in its sci-fi world. Just the music alone during that initial sequence let me know that I was about to experience something very special. I logged 17 hours over two days and loved every reaper-and-geth destroying minute. When I saved the universe, I couldn’t wait to do it again in the inevitable sequel.
Since then, I have played through Mass Effect countless times. But nothing will match my first trip through that galaxy. I would love to relive that all over again.