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25 games to play before you die

Last updated on: January 25, 2011 14:15 IST

25 games to play before you die

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Badri (BAD JAG) Narayan, ThinkDigit.com

Let's start with a disclaimer. I haven't called the line-up anything predictable like '25 Best Games Ever' because I'm assuming that newer and better games will continue to be made in years to come. That is, unless you believe we're all going to die in December 2012, but I'd rather remain optimistic about such things.

Secondly, like all 'Best Of' lists that have been drawn up since the beginning of time, this is a highly subjective matter that might not go down well with a section of the readership (read: rabid fanboys). So before you go off dashing e-mails about what a retard I am for not having included or correctly ranked the game you worship, please do me a favour and get a life.

A couple of final points before we get down to business. All the titles in this arrangement are primarily single-player experiences, since storytelling is key to making a great game. Therefore, purely multiplayer games such as Counter-Strike and World of WarCraft, which would normally make it into the top five, do not find a mention here.

Fanboys, kindly excuse. Also, instead of listing individual game titles, I've gone with mentioning the entire franchise instead to keep as many people happy as possible. See, I do care!

Finally, since PCs are my first love, this manifest tends to lean towards games published on said platform, rather than on gaming consoles. Regardless, standout franchises from the latter do find mention here.

On with the show!

25. Transport Tycoon

Developer: MicroProse
Publisher: MicroProse
Year: 1994-1996

Business simulators are not favoured by many, but once in a while comes a game that simply sucks the hours away. This DOS-based title, later released as a 'Deluxe' version, lets you imagine yourself as a shrewd businessman with a fleet of transport vehicles at your command and a willingness to do anything to outsmart the opposition.

With a huge game world consisting of many types of industries, varied terrain, and a random game generator that ensured infinite replayability, this was a game I spent many an adolescent hour on.

Other notable titles of this genre include Railroad Tycoon and RollerCoaster Tycoon.

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Image: Transport Tycoon
Photographs: ThinkDigit
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24. Worms

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Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Team 17
Year: 1995-2010

When one gamer says to another, 'I've got worms', he isn't talking about his gastrointestinal health, but his fondness for controlling annelids armed to the teeth with zany weapons and attitudes to match.

This turn-based squad combat tactical series has delighted fans for years now, and will hopefully continue to do so.

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23. The Elder Scrolls

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Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Year: 1994-2007

The Elder Scrolls world didn't make a very impressive debut with its first or even second iteration Daggerfall, but Morrowind turned that right around with its huge world and massive storyline. Oblivion pushed the envelope even more, letting you skip the story altogether and simply go around exploring the dungeons.

Other games such as Gothic, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Grandia are similarly epic in scope, but lack the polish that TES displays.

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22. Final Fantasy

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Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Year: 1987-2010

The first name that comes to mind when you say 'Jap RPG' is Final Fantasy. Longest-running, record-breaking, prolific, and cultural phenomenon are some of the many adjectives used to describe this venerable console franchise, which has truly defined the RPG genre.

The only other series that comes close to it in popularity is Kingdom Hearts.

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21. Half-Life

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Developer: Valve
Publisher: Sierra On-Line
Year: 1998-2008

Half-Life did to gaming what DOOM had done a few years earlier -- changed people's expectations of the FPS genre. Along with a host of other great FPS titles, it brought about the FPS domination that continues to this day.

HL2, while nowhere near revolutionary, was an extremely polished product that brought in a few innovations of its own. This is by far one of the most recognised franchises out there, Halo notwithstanding.

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20. System Shock

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Developer: Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: Origin Systems
Year: 1994-1999

Created by the hugely talented folks at Looking Glass (who also made the Thief series), this game practically invented the FPSRPG hybrid on the PC. Eerily atmospheric and genuinely scary, this series inspired other games such as Deus Ex and BioShock. A true classic.

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19. StarCraft

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Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Year: 1998-2010

This game needs no introduction. Suffice it to say that this slot was a toss-up between StarCraft and WarCraft, but the former won because of its better single-player campaign and engrossing storyline.

Another contender for this position was Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, but it lost out to the former's production quality.

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18. Burnout

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Developer: Criterion Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: 2001-2009

Burnout epitomises arcade racing frenzy, perfected in Burnout Revenge. Burnout Paradise took the franchise in a whole new direction, but required a number of patches before the game could be called anywhere near 'fun'.

Nonetheless, for the joy it provides in crashing opponents' cars in any number of ways, this series pips the more popular Need for Speed to the post.

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17. Command and Conquer

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Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Year: 1995-2010

The RTS wargame world is broadly defined into two groups of people -- those who prefer C&C over WarCraft, and vice versa. Although I've played all three WC games, they were nowhere near as enjoyable as the C&C and Red Alert series.

This was the first RTS I played, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Any game that lets you blow up the White House and has exploding cows in it (Red Alert 2) gets my vote for sure.

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16. Commandos

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Developer: Pyro Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Year: 1998-2010

It's a crying shame that this squad-based, real-time tactical combat series stopped being made after the third iteration, presumably due to poor sales.

Granted, the difficulty could be frustrating at times, but the satisfaction of grabbing a hard-earned victory after hours of planning was unmatchable.

I look forward to the day when this franchise will be resurrected in its original avatar. Until then, clones (albeit very well made) such as Pathway to Glory will have to suffice.

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15. Grand Theft Auto

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Developer: Rockstar Games
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Year: 1997-2009

The GTA franchise is one of those rare gems that has consistently upped the ante with each release. Just when you thought it couldn't get bigger or better, the deviants at Rockstar come up with a more awesome adventure to shake you up. Praising it any more would sound trite, so I'll all say is, 'More hot coffee please!'.

Greets also go out to Mafia. Thug life!


Image: Grand Theft Auto

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14. Max Payne

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Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Year: 2001-2008

Playing Max Payne was like acting in a John Woo movie. This was the action marque that first introduced the concept of slow-motion action, and the gaming populace was suitably blown away.

The addition of a hackneyed love story didn't hurt either, because gamers are suckers for those things. It's high time the third instalment came along, though.


Image: Max Payne

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13. Metal Gear

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Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Konami Computer Entertainment
Year: 1987-2010

MGS is considered by some to be the finest game made for the PlayStation. Fantastic production quality, a 'cinematic' storyline, and challenging stealth gameplay make for a formidable combination, never mind the weird choice of names.

Solid Snake? Really? Fortunately for PC users, our stealth games have far greater depth in them, which is why MGS makes it only as far as this position.


Image: Metal Gear

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12. Diablo

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Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Year: 1997-2003

Diablo is a strange entrant into this list. Hack-and-slash RPGs were around long before it appeared on the scene.

It has no story to speak of. The gameplay is as simplistic and mindless as could be. Yet, the game brought all the aspects of this genre so well together, then threw in spectacular graphics and music into the mix.

The result was an affair that left the world awestruck. I still remember the first time I played the demo and stared with open-mouthed astonishment at the opening cutscene, which then segued into the lifelike town of Tristram, with a soulful soundtrack playing in the background.

In the words of a reviewer quoted in the demo intro, 'This is definitely something huge'. Huge enough to launch a hundred clones.


Image: Diablo

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11: DOOM

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Developer: id Software
Publisher: id Software
Year: 1993-2010

There are all other FPS games, and then there is DOOM. Its influence on the video game industry is apparent for all to see. It was the first '2.5D' game, which ushered in the shift to '3D' FPSs.

The game that invented multiplayer deathmatch. Its graphics were a generational leap from the few other FPSs in its time, and a testament to the programming genius of its creator, John Carmack. The technology used was so far ahead of its time that it was praised by demosceners, the guys who generate impossibly advanced graphics and sound from a 64 KB file. Here was a game that finally matched and exceeded the wizardry that these people created from code.

When I first saw DOOM on a friend's 386 (my 286 with EGA graphics didn't support the VGA requirements), my jaw literally dropped. For someone used to the graphics in Wolfenstein 3D, this was nothing short of magical. My favourite detail was the ultra-realistic gloved hand that was glimpsed when cocking the shotgun, as well as the adrenaline-pumping music. When I later played this game on my 486, I would steer the character to a nearby window and stare at the mountains of Phobos, wondering what it'd be like to actually be there.

DOOM was the stuff of fantasies.


Image: DOOM

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10. Prince of Persia

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Developer: Jordan Mechner
Publisher: Broderbund Software
Year: 1989-2010

POP here refers to the original game that started it all, though the recent additions by Ubisoft too stand tall in their own right. In terms of artistic excellence, POP stood head and shoulders above all other platformers in its time, and its simplistic elegance and premise can still hold its own against the 3D platformers of today.

It's gaming filtered down to its essence: kill the bad guy, save the world, get the girl.

When my friends and I played this game together ('multiplayer' gaming had a different meaning altogether back then), we often used to spend several minutes making the Prince run one way, then abruptly changing direction in order to admire the 'skidding' animation, especially the fine detail of how the Prince's hair seemed to bound.

This realistic animation was achieved by Mechner using the process of rotoscoping, with his brother as the model to base the animations on, while his father composed the music. Truly a family affair!

POP represents true replayability, as this little story shows. A few years after I'd first completed the game, I was called to an office to troubleshoot the boss' PC, since I freelanced as a computer assembler in my spare time from college.

After fixing the minor problem, I struck up a conversation with his pretty part-time secretary, also a college student. The conversation steered to gaming, and she casually mentioned how she was stuck at a certain level in POP. Seizing this opportunity to impress, I fired up the game on her PC, demonstrated the solution with panache, and proceeded to try and beat the game again.

Just as I was about to enter into battle with my shadow, she asked if I'd like to accompany her for lunch. As a true gamer, there was only once choice to be made -- I beat the bad guy, but didn't get the girl. It's true; games are better than sex!


Image: Prince of Persia

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9. Call of Duty

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Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Year: 2003-2010

With each release, the COD franchise has gone from strength to strength, and currently holds the record of the largest-selling FPS across platforms. The first instalment's Russian campaign, whose opening level was largely inspired by the film Enemy at the Gates, succeeded in recreating what it might feel like to be in an actual battle.

The adrenaline rush I felt when running for my life in front of the entrenched Wehrmacht lines so that a comrade sniper could take them out has only been matched by AVP's Marine campaign. The combination of arcade action with realistic weapons and the chaotic sounds of war, together with tightly-scripted levels that provide a cinematic feel to the action has been maintained across iterations and is largely responsible for COD's success.

Oh, did I mention kickass multiplayer? Honourable mention: Medal of Honor.


Image: Call of Duty

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8. Aliens Versus Predator

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Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Fox Interactive
Year: 1993-2010

One of the great things about AVP is that it's actually three games in one -- the Marine expedition, which is a standard FPS with a huge dose of horror, the Predator campaign, which plays like a hi-tech stealth FPS, and the Alien carnage, which is -- I really don't know how to describe this one, but there's nothing like it in any other franchise.

Playing from the viewpoint of the two coolest villains in Sci-Fi lore is something you can't beat with a stick. This has to be one of the best movie-to-game conversions of all time.

AVP had me so terrified of Alien attacks in the first level of the Marine campaign that I literally crouched into a corner of a passage and refused to move an inch. Hearing that motion sensor go crazy, beeping just before an Alien strikes out of nowhere is an ordeal not for the faint of heart.

After a few minutes, I realised I was playing a game and therefore could not really die. But those were a really scary few minutes. Notable mentions: Silent Hill, Resident Evil.


Image: Aliens Versus Predator

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7. Death Rally

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Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Apogee Software
Year: 1996

Death Rally is the only one of its kind: a racing game with soul. While other racing games simply focus on winning races and earning points and/or money, DR treats it not as a mere competition, but a way of life.

It's hard to describe, but if you happen to be a gearhead like me, you'll understand what I'm getting at. Each aspect of the game comes together and meshes perfectly to create something bigger.

Of particular note are the opening soundtrack and the text that appears at the bottom of the screen, of which here's a sample: 'All bitter regrets are in the past; blurred sweet streetlights speeding past, fast'. Cheesy? Yes. Suiting the game's style? Hell, yes.

In a move that gave great joy to fans, Remedy in 2009 released an updated version of the game that is compatible with Windows, at the excellent price of free. Play it to understand what old-school racing was all about.

Tip: Start in Easy mode to get accustomed to the top-down view. Honourable mentions: Interstate 76, Death Track.


Image: Death Rally

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6. Fallout

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Developer: Black Isle Studios
Publisher: Interplay Productions
Year: 1997-2010

When it comes to post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi worlds, nothing can touch Fallout with a Sharpened Spear. The first game practically led the sandbox-world RPG movement, and Fallout 2 followed up with a world that was close to 10 times bigger than the original, with true non-linearity.

You could either finish the game in 20 minutes or tens of hours; choose to be purely evil by decimating everything in your path or swear not to kill a rat and talk your way out of every situation; play a virtuous man who performed every good deed that came his way, or a bisexual slut who slaughtered children and two-headed cows (resulting in a banning of the game in India) and had sex with everyone who could be of help in reaching her ultimate goal.

And yes, you could also play as a retarded individual whose dialogues were only limited to grunts and assorted noises -- and yet successfully save the world! On the flip side, it has to be said that the games were heavily biased towards playing as a good guy.

But that wasn't all that made Fallout so memorable. Its alternate-reality mix of 1950s vacuum tube technology with high-powered Gauss Rifles and Alien Blasters has a special appeal of its own. It reinforced that imagery through its artwork, and the opening sequence in Fallout 2, which has a 50s-style slideshow of how to handle the fallout of a nuclear blast with Louis Armstrong's 'A Kiss To Build A Dream On' has truly got to be one of the most impactful intros ever seen in a game.

Another unforgettable aspect of the game was its liberal dose of wicked, dark humour. Regardless of how hopeless the future of the world might seem to be, there's always someone around to make a wisecrack about it. Random comments from passers-by and other characters, including your party members, change according to the role you're playing.

For example, as a retard, one of the dialogues you'll hear from a pedestrian is 'You're our saviour? God help us!'. This attention to detail is what makes the world so believable.

The game's biggest weakness was that its bugs were as numerous as its world was complex. The developers only fixed the catastrophic ones that everybody was complaining about, but still many persisted that rendered the game unplayable.

Finally, the fan community pitched in with an unofficial patch that as of September 2010 has fixed over 800(!) major and minor bugs. Don't try to play F2 without installing this patch. I tried that stunt, and though I came across a bug that stopped elevators from working -- thus preventing me from completing the game -- I thoroughly enjoyed every frustrating moment of it, because it wasn't just like playing a game, but actually living a world.

Just writing this piece makes we want to fire up Fallout right away and once again journey across post-nuclear wastelands as the Vault Dweller. Notable Mentions: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect.


Image: Fallout

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5. Grim Fandango

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Developer: LucasArts Entertainment
Publisher: LucasArts Entertainment
Year: 1998

Classical adventure gaming is all about telling a story, and no game tells a story better than Grim Fandango. The creative virtuosos at LucasArts ruled the Adventure game world in the 90s with titles like Full Throttle (which acted as the catalyst for my love for motorcycles), Day of the Tentacle, and Secret of Monkey Island, but GF was their acme.

Be it the graphics that utilised Mexican and noir themes, the story that took you on an epic journey across the Land of the Dead, or the trademark LucasArts humour and ease of gameplay, this title stands out as one of the finest productions in the history of gaming. It's a pity therefore, that it crashed and burned at the sales counters, but the genre was well in its death throes by then.

This class of games has now evolved into the AdventureAction subgenre (I'm not going to call it ActionAdventure since that includes travesties such as Tomb Raider) that includes the standout titles Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, but for Adventure fanboys like me, Grim Fandango will always hold a special place in their hearts as a truly original work of art.


Image: Grim Fandango

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4. Road Rash

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Developer: Electronic Arts
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Year: 1991-2003

Why do most people play games? To do things they ordinarily couldn't in the real world. If you try to ride a bike at maniacal speeds in city streets and beat up cops who try to stop you, either you get arrested, thrown in jail, and get the beating of your life from said pigs, or more likely, you crash into something solid and get killed by either the fall or the 18-wheeler truck that was right behind you.

However, games like Road Rash let you live out your anarchic fantasies. Either play a straight-laced race where you win purely on skill (boring!), or whack your opponents on the head as you pass them by to take them out of the equation. As for pedestrians crossing the street, the age-old rule applies: be quick or be dead.

Road Rash is included this far up the list for the simple reason that it's the most fun motorcycle racing game ever made (counting the future too), and practically everyone who owns a PC has not just played, but enjoyed it: including 60-year-old grandmas, and I say this from personal experience.

Not my grandmother, but an elderly lady who wanted to play Road Rash at the SKOAR! 2008 expo because her grandkids would not let her use the home computer. That's gotta count for something.


Image: Road Rash

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3. God of War

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Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Year: 2005-2010

Prima facie, it seems unlikely that a series which employs the same old tactics of button mashing and hacking at everything in sight can hold the public's interest for long. However, GOW has shattered every misconception in that sphere by continually churning out one superlative experience after another.

Each new title pushes the boundaries of what the game's console is capable of, and each release continues to make the act of mass destruction extremely fun. The GOW series continues to symbolise the epitome of polish and smoothness in gameplay, and there seems to be no stopping this juggernaut.

Some might argue that other action franchises have a bigger right to this position, but my money says that the Spartan with attitude beats the stuffing out of both Jap fancy-boys with weird hair and weirder game names (why might the Devil cry? Did he have a fight with his stylist or what?), and wall-running PersianArab Princes combined.


Image: God of War

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2. Super Mario Bros.

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Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1985-20
10

While the character of Mario was first introduced in Donkey Kong (1982), he had another name (Jumpman) and profession (carpenter). The next game, Mario Bros., changed his profession to that of a plumber and introduced his brother, Luigi. However, the scrolling platformer that is SMB as we know it was only released in 1985, and this was the game that created the legend.

By any standards, Mario is nowhere near hero material. He is a fat, middle-aged plumber with an unhealthy propensity of diving into sewer pipes. His first starring adventure was mostly limited to hearing the line, 'Thank you, but our princess in another castle' -- a pathetic excuse for a plot.

Still, the fun, accessible, and addictive gameplay was enough to overlook all of the other faults. The original SMB as a game was easy to learn, but tough to master. After school, I used to sneak over to the neighbourhood video game parlour, a seedy place where boys became men by cutting their teeth on the latest arcade games and showing off their skills while everyone else gathered around in admiration. I didn't have the skills or the money to play for more than a few minutes, so respectfully stood behind the local expert (mostly the guy from the neighbourhood slum who spent all day here) and watch as he weaved his magic over the game, all along dreaming about the day I'd have my very own video game console so I could practice at home.

It's a real pity that the advent of home entertainment systems led to these parlours getting rid of the games and replacing them with gambling machines. Oh well.

Nothing more can be said about this gaming legend that hasn't already been repeated ad nauseam, so I'll end with a few statistics. 130+ games over 25 years, and a total of 240+ million units sold across numerous platforms. Truly the biggest franchise of past, present, and future, this series has literally crushed the mascots of other platforms, such as SEGA's Sonic the Hedgehog and the PlayStation's Crash Bandicoot. The only reason this isn't at #1 is because of a tiny, insignificant little thing called...


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1. Carmageddon

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Developer: Stainless Software
Publisher: Sci Games
Year: 1997-2000

When it comes to pure, unadulterated evil, only one game comes to mind: Carmageddon. Directly inspired by the must-watch '70s film Death Race 2000 starring David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone (amazing, the expectations from the future they had back then), to the extent that your car is a replica of Stallone's, this game in turn has inspired other arcade smash-em-ups such as Burnout.

Carmageddon essentially throws every rule book right out the window. It's a no-holds-barred, violent smashfest of the highest order that introduced revolutionary features. The first racer to have an open, sandbox world. The first to include amazing real-time damage modelling that could also be instantly repaired by spending cash.

It was possible to crash into a corner of a wall and split your car entirely in half-fun! True freedom to win the race by your preferred means: the conventional cross-all-checkpoints, the violent wreck-all-other-opponents, or the insane kill-all-pedestrians.

Yes, for that was the beauty of the game. If you wanted to race, games like Need for Speed did a much better job of it. But Carmageddon was about something else entirely -- cutting loose. In fact, some of the vehicles, such as a mining truck, couldn't even fit under the checkpoint 'gateways', so you had no option but to wreck your opponents or kill pedestrians, replete with screams and squishing noises as body parts came under your wheel, not to mention the chuckling of the drivers as they scored another kill.

And oh, the number of ways you could do that. The game awarded extra points (cash) for pulling off crazy manoeuvres, such as a Cunning Stunt Bonus for flipping the car over several times and landing on all four wheels, a Splatter Bonus for hitting a pedestrian (or cow) particularly hard and causing body parts to fly, and even a special bonus for killing the guy waving the starting flag (always a treat!).

Then there were the craziest power-ups ever seen in gaming history, such as the Pedestrian Electro-Bastard Ray (electrocute all people within a radius of a few metres), Flamethrower (set people afire and watch them run aflame), and my very favourite, Solid Granite Car! (indestructible vehicle).

During the races, a huge area is present to explore and destroy at your leisure. You can take your car underwater, where there were tons of power-ups to be found. A bunch of women frolicking on the beach? Run them all over! A herd of cows grazing in an open field? Splatter Bonus time! Incidentally, it was for this reason that the Indian version of the game didn't have cows in it. So it's OK to run people over, but not cows? What a country we live in!

If most games are about the triumph of good over evil, Carmageddon was the opposite of that.

In Carmageddon 2: Carpocalyse Now!, the last level took place in a nuclear reactor, and your objective was to hit the huge radioactive warning button that would meltdown the reactor and cause yours and the world's destruction.

The next instalment, TDR 2000, took place in a city where all the poor people and criminals had been imprisoned by the powerful, and your objective was to break out and kill all the rich! In a world where everyone tries to be politically correct, this comes as a sheer breath of fresh air.

The final word on this game comes from a friend who once told me, 'After I play this game and before I drive anywhere, I make it a point to relax for 15 minutes and take deep breaths, because I'm afraid I might drive the same way in the real world'. Now that's what I call immersion.


Image: Carmageddon

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