25. Plants vs Zombies
Popcap’s PC gaming star may have burned as briefly as it did brightly, but prior to its acquisition by EA, the studio provided us with two of the best puzzle games of all time, Peggle Deluxe and Plants vs Zombies.
The latter moved tower-defence away from literal medieval stone structures, spinning a completely unique theme about a garden of sentient flora fighting off hordes of kooky undead. The bright, breezy tone and wonderful sense of humour are alone sufficient to make PvZ worthy of remembrance, but it’s the gradual drip-feed of new plants to, er, plant, and new zombies to fight that make PvZ such a compulsive experience. I’ve returned to Plants vs Zombies multiple times over the years, and I still find new ways to toy with its beautifully crafted systems.
I still don’t understand how sunflowers can produce sunlight, though.
24. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Without a shadow of a doubt the best Call of Duty game that ever was and ever will be, the original Modern Warfare remains the epitome of the scripted shooter. Its story involving despotic dictatorships and rogue atom bombs shocked everyone by being genuinely great, while its missions are paced with atomic perfection. The two missions set in Pripyat remain the high- watermark for scripted sequences in an FPS, and the showdown beneath Pripyat’s iconic fairground wheel is one of my personal favourite sections from any computer game.
But there are two other, slightly less talked about components that make Call of Duty 4 a rollicking shooter. The first is, despite the scripted emphasis, its missions are far more open than the later entries in the series. Mission such as 'The Bog' are tiny sandboxes where the player is allowed some free-reign in how to approach the shooting, while most of the missions allow you to choose multiple paths toward the objective.
Secondly, the multiplayer remains excellent. The 'perks' system was an ingenious way of rewarding the player for a job well done, rather than a crutch that the entire system relied on, as has been the case with many shooters since. And maps such as 'Vacant' and 'Overgrowth' remain cleverly designed killboxes.
23: Hitman: Blood Money
Blood Money is one of the finest sandboxes in existence, so good that even following the game’s rules is gloriously entertaining. IO Interactive’s best assassination simulator not only lets you kill your targets however you like, but it also contains the ability to make it look like freak accidents. Use a rehearsal of Tosca to kill an Opera Singer by replacing a dummy pistol with a real one. Use the gym equipment in a rehab clinic to stage a workout gone wrong. It’s delectably devious.
At its most basic level, Blood Money is a fabulously designed puzzle game. But where it gets truly interesting is when you start making up your own rules, deciding on a signature weapon which you will use to kill all of your targets, attempting the stupendously difficult 'Silent Assassin' ranking. Or just foregoing any sense of subtlety and rushing in with the biggest, loudest gun you can find.
Blood Money may be starting to show its age, especially in its archaic control scheme, but you’ll struggle to find many other sandbox games which are so relentlessly creative.
22. Batman: Arkham Asylum
Remember in Part One when I said Saints Row IV was the second-best superhero game ever made? Well, here is the one that tops it. All of the Arkham games are enjoyable in some form or another, but Arkham Asylum remains the best, purest form of the idea.
Rocksteady’s genius was to dispense with the tradition of creating a superhero game in a specific genre, and to design the game entirely around the character of Batman himself. Part brawler, part sleuth, part winged-horror that occupies the nightmares of criminals,
Rocksteady separated these aspects of Batman’s personality, designed specific gaming systems around them (the iconic counter-based combat, the ingeniously designed predator mode) and then wove them back together superbly through the environmental structure of Arkham Asylum itself. Asylum almost resembles a 3D metroidvania, a set, limited environment filled with pathways and secrets that open and unfurl as the game progresses. Aside from a couple of duff bosses, Arkham Asylum is as close to perfection as a superhero game is likely to get.
21. The Secret of Monkey Island
I only played the original Monkey Island fairly recently (to be fair I was three years old when it originally released). Despite popular consensus, I don’t think it’s LucasArts’ best adventure game, but it’s probably the second best.
Having established the adventure game template with Maniac Mansion, Ron Gilbert’s tale of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood set the formula in stone with its combination of fierce wit and mind-boggling puzzle designs. So much praise has been lavished upon Monkey Island over the years that there’s little else to add, but it’s all entirely justified. The sequel is also excellent; indeed, there are quite a few people who would elevate it above the original.