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A few weeks ago, my best friend — let's call him Gravy — made an admission that rocked me to my very core: He was falling out of love with games.
I can understand why. He's got two growing boys, a demanding job, and other interests to accommodate. So he doesn't have the time to trawl through gaming websites for advice on purchase decisions. He just goes with his gut when it comes to games, and it's been telling him to purchase the same titles for the better part of a decade: sports games (soccer, rugby, and anything mixed-martial-arts flavored) and "realistic" first-person shooters (pretty much any installment of Call of Duty and Battlefield).
I ended up suggesting for him to find his sweet spot. Halo 3 and Halo: Reach drifted too deeply into sci-fi territory. He has no love for third-person action games (no God of War or Devil May Cry in his diet), and he's allergic to fighting games.
I haven't thought about it for a while, but our recent powwow inspired me to make a prescription of three quality games to bring the spice back to his gaming life.
1) Crysis 2
Halo might be a little too sci-fi for my buddy, but Crysis 2 has just enough modern hardware and human opponents to bring him back to his comfort zone. Yes, aliens are still present, and the ability to cloak might be a few decades ahead of the ghillie suit, but I think he'll be able to deal. The nanosuit abilities will also help get him out of the stale first-person rut that the Modern Warfare games have lulled him into. I also think that Gravy might come to love the Ceph — the alien race that not only acts as opposition, but who's essence also powers your skin-tight adornment. The enemy's variety, intriguing design and deadly movement will keep even the sharpest of shooters on their toes. It also helps that Crysis 2 features several heart-stopping moments with an unmatched sense of scale and destruction. Start spreading the news. New York's destruction at the hands of the Ceph and C.E.L.L. should be able to revive any jaded shooter fan's love of gaming.
Gravy doesn't have access to a solid Internet connection, but let's just say that if he were to sign with a reputable provider, Crysis 2 will be well worth his time. The suit abilities, play modes, and diverse arsenal had me engaged for quite some time. It's not a stark departure from the Call of Duty brand of competitive multiplayer either. It still boils down to a run-and-gun formula, but it tastes a little bit different.
2) Rayman Origins
I imagine that one of the great challenges of trying to balance parenthood with gaming is finding age-appropriate options for your kids that are somehow engaging for you too. I've seen some suggest Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, but that might be a slippery slope when it comes to cost. Rayman Origins can be picked up rather cheaply in Australia because it was an inexplicable commercial failure in the Land Down Under.
Better yet, Rayman Origins is the greatest platformer on this generation of consoles. With charming visuals, responsive controls, and a level of challenge that's both fair and frustrating at the same time, Ubisoft Montpellier's masterpiece is engaging for men, women, and children of all ages. I've even shared my plans to teach my niece how to appreciate gaming through Rayman Origins' visual splendor and stoic challenge.
Gravy's youngest might be too young to play now, but the game's four-player cooperative mode will be able to accommodate Mum, Dad and the boys. Hell, even if you don't have to find a game for four people to play at once, you owe it to yourself to play Rayman Origins. If nothing else, Michel Ancel's brainchild should set both of Gravy's boys up for a lifelong love of gaming.
3) NBA 2K11
I can't think of any sport that Gravy doesn't appreciate. Funnier still, I can't think of a single sports game that he's shied away from — even terrible, broken interpretations of games featuring popular local pastimes. For the love of cake, the man paid $110 for Rugby League Live. It has to be the worst sports game that I've played on the PlayStation 3, and I would rank it among the worst releases across generations of hardware.
NBA 2K11, however, is still the premier basketball sim on the market. It might be stripped of its online multiplayer modes now, but the Jordan Challenge mode is still available to play and stands as a true test of mastery. For a casual sports fan like me, these tests remain unconquered. But for someone like Gravy, who used to invest hours in even the most meager of sports titles, these might just be doable. Let's not forget the Sprite Slam Dunk Showdown, local multiplayer, the My Player mode, jaw-dropping visuals, and a decent licensed soundtrack either. NBA 2K11 is enough to convince a sports fan to sit in front of his or her console of choice, and I'm confident that it will inspire Gravy's competitive spirit.
I should note that I've tried to pick releases that are a little more affordable and available across multiple platforms. Gravy's a PlayStation 3 owner, and I could recommend some great exclusives on that platform that would just as easily jumpstart the love affair — Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Killzone 2, and Infamous to name a few — but I want to help anyone with a friend who's drifting away from the couch.
Which titles would you recommend for a friend in a similar situation?