Four Games You Have to Play: Xbox 360 (and multiplatform)
As we near a gaming market where the hardware is a lot closer to each other in technical ability and more games are available via download; big name titles are a lot more likely to appear across formats - and the Xbox 360 is the best example. That's not to say that because the 360 doesn't have many exclusive titles it's a bad or unsuccessful console.
Outstanding Xbox 360 Exclusives
Dance Central 2 - One of the few games that uses the Xbox Kinect to any satisfying use; there are few games out there that teach you a useful skill - and dancing is the most useful skill there is.
Deadly Premonition - It's actually a PS3 game in Japan, but this low-budget title has some incredibly compelling character design and story telling. What gunplay is in the game isn't impressive; but persevere for one of the most original main characters to date.
Shadow Complex - Only available from Xbox Live Arcade, it's yet another game that's in love with a retro aesthetic; but instead of expressing that through pixel art and chiptunes; Shadow Complex takes some of the best parts of Metroid and Metal Gear to put them into one big party of exploration and espionage.
The Halo Series - In a world where first-person shooters are increasingly "brown-and-bloom"-dominated and realistic, it's nice to see gameswith actual colour, not to mention genuinely fun shooting mechanics and multiplayer. Though the online may not be for you if being insulted by twelve-year-olds isn't your thing.
Masterpiece of Game Design - Grand Theft Auto IV
It's something of a controversial decision to put GTAIV in a list like this. For many it represented a step backwards for the franchise, succeeding the more "zany" San Andreas with a game so "gritty" you could use it to de-ice all the roads in Britain. There's no denying it was different to the previous games in the series, but it was a very well-crafted and enjoyable game, succeeding in creating characters you care about and a detailed city.
The Liberty City of GTAIV is one of the finest examples of a sandbox city that one is likely to find, with incredible attention to detail. Perhaps that's what put many reviewers off - why watch a character on your TV watch TV or browse the Internet? But to me this just added to the gaming experience and provided a solid backdrop for the tale of crime and intrigue which played out.
Obscure Gem - Nier
There are emotional games out there; but as a medium, video games aren't hugely well-designed for making the player emotional (unless you found Aeris dying in Final Fantasy VII incredibly distressing for some reason). Nier is more clever than that. Every aspect of the title is a set up to tell this gargantuan tale of woe, that gets more complex and dispairing the deeper you go.
You play as a father questing the land with your sword and an austere talking book in order to find a cure for your slowly dying daughter. The combat is solid in a way approriate for a challenging action RPG, and the developers play more than a few cruel jokes with RPG mainstays like quests and item-gathering. And don't forget the music - beautiful in its melancholy.
Indie Success - Bastion
There are indie titles that have arguably made more of a financial success (Minecraft and Super Meat Boy come to mind. And possibly Fez if I'm being generous), but in terms of solid game design, Bastion has few competitors. It's unique approach to storytelling toyed around with the idea of keeping gameplay actions relevant to the narrative and telling the story outside of cutscenes. The battle mechanics are simple with a lot of room for skill and finess, and the visual/musical mashup of Wild West and Arabian Nights puts a mixture of tense mood and colourful whimsy to the proceedings.
And if that doesn't do it for you - the Level Up abilities you can aquire are customiseable and are all types of alcohol. The name 'Stabsinthe' is something of pure genius.
Greatest Critique of Randian Objectivism - Bioshock
Games are often accused of being something of a "dumb" hobby, and when a game features a hulking figure with a drill for a hand on the cover you could be forgiven for passing it off as just another generic shooter. You'd be wrong, but you'd be forgiven. Set in the decaying sub-Atlantic city of Rapture, Bioshock is not just another FPS.
The important thing here is the setting, Rapture being a supposedly libertarian paradise deep beneath the waves, a place free of governmental regulation and where a man is "entitled to the sweat of his brow". It's basically Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged on steroids. Or should I say ADAM, the power-up system used in the game, which you can choose to harvest from little girls (or not, the game has a binary morality system). And really, how many other philosophical critiques have you encountered which allow you to shoot bees from your hands. Yeah. I thought not.