Review: 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die

Quintessence’s 1001 Before You Die series of reference books typically act as a catalyst to debate among fans of the subjects they cover, and 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die is no different.

The Video Games entry in the series has been handled by Edge magazine editor Tony Mott, with contributions from the usual suspects of the UK games writing scene such as Kieron Gillen and Simon Parkin. Peter Molyneux introduces the book, offering a rather dull foreword about his experiences in gaming and what the future might hold.

The 1001 games selected for the book are organised chronologically, starting in the 1970s and roughly ending at February 2010. Each game gets a basic summary and justification that runs between half a page and a page along with a pretty colour picture. Some of the entries on more historically important games will seem a bit brief but space is, understandably, at a premium. It’s the price you pay for the printed word.

Looking at the book as a whole, it succeeds in its ambition, but the deeper you look the more flaws you will notice. There is no indication of how the group behind the book arrived at their selections – some of which are utterly baffling. The justifications for many entries of these contentious entries are tremendously weak. Conversely, there are a number of baffling omissions. It also seems as though those who compiled the list included whole series in order to fill out the count.

It seems like a number of games on the list gained entry through merely being British, not unlike the so-called “British bonus points” effect seen in some edge reviews. The same goes for any game with an artsy vibe.

There is also a major issue in regards to annualised releases like sports games. For the most part, only the latest entry of an annualised series is listed. In many cases, however, the latest entry in a sports series is not necessarily the best one.

Home computer gamers will be disappointed with the lack of attention their formats have received. The book seems to gloss over a great number of games from the 1993-2001 golden era of PC games, and the Commodore 64, Amiga and Spectrum are not as well represented as one might expect.

1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die generally succeeds in the task of what it set out to do, and it’s worth hunting a copy down, if only to see which games on the list you’ve played. Hopefully the shortcomings featured in this edition of the book will be sorted out in an updated edition in a few years.

Now for the fun part – picking apart the book and looking at the inclusions I don’t like and the games whose omission has caused me disbelief. This is by no means an exhaustive list – it’s a selection of titles just to illustrate the problems with the book.

Contentious Entries
Army of Two: The 40th Day
Middling third person shooter that does nothing that any other game on the market does not already do.

Battlefield 1943
Battlefield 1942 with fewer players.

BioShock 2
Unnecessary sequel with no redeeming qualities not already featured in the original.

Bomberman
Until Act Zero, the first Bomberman was also the worst Bomberman. Bomberman ’93 would have been a better choice.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
Only redeeming feature of this sequel was that it included a fully remade version of the original, which is already in the book.

Crazy Taxi 3
Not as good as the first two games. I’d lean towards the Dreamcast port of the original being the one that belongs on the list.

Devil May Cry 4
Sterile sequel relies far too heavily on backtracking and lacks the depth of its direct predecessor.

The Dig
The worst of the SCUMM games. Starts out strong, but the plot ends up in the toilet, unsurprising for an Orson Scott Card effort.

Everquest II
The original game has historical significance on its side, but I was under the impression that nobody really cares for Everquest II.

EyePet
Did a double take when I saw this one in there. Nothing particularly remarkable about it.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
Weak FPS effort that fails to entertain or frighten to the same level as its predecessor.

Free Running
Poorly received parkour game can only be here because it was developed by Brits.

Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2
First game was far more significant and better received.

Grand Theft Auto
Formula wasn’t particularly up to scratch until the second game.

Guitar Hero World Tour
Shameless copy of Rock Band. I’d argue that Guitar Hero III was the more historically significant, since it represents the sales peak of the series.

Halo Wars
Really weak RTS game with no redeeming qualities.

Heavenly Sword
Another case of Brit sympathy. Heavenly Sword pales in comparison to its contemporaries in gameplay, and is technically flawed.

Jak II
Everything it did, Jak 3 did better, but it’s not listed.

John Woo Presents Stranglehold
Fun, but Max Payne did it better, with a tenth of the budget.

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Weakest Nintendo developed entry in the series.

Madden NFL 10
A case of “newest is best” but any fan will tell you the series peaked at Madden NFL 2005.

Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops
By far the weakest of the series, it damaged the series canon by poorly altering the backstories of a number of beloved characters.

MotorStorm
Another case of the British bonus – an extremely weak racing game with some disgusting technical issues.

NHL Hockey
NHLPA ’93 might not have the team licenses, but it has the real players, blood on the ice, fights, and far tighter gameplay than the first entry in the series.

Ninja Gaiden
Ninja Gaiden Black’s inclusion makes this entry completely redundant.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
Another case of the British bonus in effect. Far too glitchy and unpolished, even when compared to its notorious predecessor.

Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire
Generation 3 is widely held to be the weakest, having eliminated a whole bunch of features from Generation 2 while adding precious little.

Prototype
Completely inferior to Radical’s previous open world superhero game Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Highly frustrating and buggy.

Pure
It’s just not that remarkable.

Resident Evil Zero
The series’ weakest entry adds nothing to the canon and only proved that it was time for a series overhaul, which we got in Resident Evil 4.

Resistance 2
Multiplayer might be a little better, but the single player game was hopeless – a shell of the original game’s campaign.

Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
Lacked much of the charm of the series on the PlayStation 2, and Crack in Time looked and played better.

Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters
Must have got a free pass for being a technical achievement on the PSP, because the underlying game is very weak compared to other efforts in the series which did not make the list.

Tetris Party
There are so many better Tetris games – Grand Master, Tetris DS, Tetrinet etc.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2
“Newest is best” again? The series devolved from a high tension, strategic shooter to a bright light shooting gallery. One of the first three games (Rainbow Six, Rogue Spear, Rainbow Six 3) is a much better choice.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent
I must have played a completely different game, because I remember this being terrible.

Tomb Raider: Underworld
Really glitchy and unpolished outing.

Tony Hawk’s Project 8
Really? It was the least stable entry in the series and the new features added nothing to the gameplay. The third game should be here in its place.

Top Spin 3
Really awkward control scheme compared to the first two games. Might be another case of “newest is best”.

Tribes 2
Everybody prefers the original game. In fact, I remember this game largely being reviled by the fan base on release.

Unreal Tournament 3
It’s not as bad as UT2003, but the original, which is absent from the list, is superior.

Wario World
Treasure’s weakest effort. Yes, even worse than the Ronald McDonald game.

WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010
Another case of “newest must be best”. Ask any wrestling game fan – AKI’s Nintendo 64 efforts like WCW/nWo Revenge and WWF No Mercy, along with WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain are widely considered to be the best (western) wrestling games around.

X-COM Apocalypse
I’ve never met a person who liked this game.

Baffling Omissions
Alien vs. Predator (Arcade)
It represents the peak of Capcom’s line of CPS2 beat ’em ups, and is just all-round awesome.

Castlevania: Dracula X Rondo of Blood
Rondo is the best example of a pure Castlevania game before it took on a more exploratory style of gameplay.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Rare at their peak. Pushed the Nintendo 64 to its limits, played well and was hilarious.

Crash Bandicoot
Cannot believe that not a single entry in this series did not make it. Crash was the PlayStation’s main mascot character, and the early games and Crash Team Racing are fantastic games.

Donkey Kong Country
DKC3 made it, but the first game was arguably the groundbreaking one, while the second represented the peak in gameplay.

Fallout 2
It’s a personal preference, but bugs aside, I prefer the sequel to the original. Grittier, more gripping story, and a wicked sense of humour.

Half-Life 2: Episodes
These were a pair of amazing add-ons, a great compliment to a fantastic game, and much more deserving of an inclusion than dreck like the Army of Two sequel.

Harvest Moon 64
Again, just a personal preference, but I found the N64 iteration of the series to be the most well-rounded.

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
It’s the best super hero game to date. Gave players access to all of the Hulk’s powers without limits, and threw in a compelling story and solid mission design.

Jak 3
Jak 3 did everything Jak II did, but about 100 times better. Plus it regained a sense of humour lacking in the second game, making for a lighter, less-wangst driven experience.

King of Fighters 98
The peak of the King of Fighters series. A large roster, amazing artwork and excellent balance. Why include KOF94 over this?

King’s Quest
Not a single one of Sierra’s Quest series made it onto this list, which is amazing given that they were among the most popular games on home computers throughout the 80s and most of the 90s.

Kirby’s Adventure
No Kirby games made the list either – Kirby’s Adventure is the best of the straight up platforming games in the series. The remake, Nightmare in Dreamland is also acceptable.

Kirby Super Star / Kirby’s Fun Pak
The best game in the Kirby series combines a plethora of different game types, all of which are brilliant.

Le Mans 24 Hours
It was an amazing technical feat and the best video game implementation of the famous race. Widely held to be the best racing game on the Dreamcast.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Not sure why they listed the original LEGO Star Wars when there was a release of the game that covers both trilogies.

Leisure Suit Larry
As mentioned previously, all Sierra adventures were overlooked. Everybody knew about Larry in the 90s – its racy content and wicked sense of humour made it one of the most popular adventure games of the classic era.

Maximo vs the Army of Zin
Much more balanced than the original game, which makes it easy to enjoy.

Mega Man 2
Only Mega Man 8 made it onto the list, and I’ve never met a Mega Man fan who considers that a must-play game. Mega Man 2 is generally considered to be the peak of the series from a design, gameplay and musical perspective.

Mega Man X
The first three outings of the second Mega Man series are fantastic.

Metal Gear Solid (GBC)
The last 2D Metal Gear was one of, if not the best games on the GBC. It takes everything in the PlayStation game and brings it into the 2D landscape without compromise.

Micro Machines 96: Turbo Tournament
Micro Machines is in the list, but the third game in the series is much more feature-rich.

Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!
The Wii sequel is on the list, but the original should be there too, being one of the most popular games of the NES era.

NFL 2K5
The pinnacle of American football video games, it does things that Madden still hasn’t six years on.

Phantasy Star II
Sega’s fantastic sci-fi RPG epic appears to no longer on be forgotten by the company which spawned it. The game world and story is like no other, and the gameplay is remarkably solid.

Phantasy Star IV
The best RPG on the Mega Drive. Takes what was established in Phantasy Star II and improves on it in every possible way.

Pokemon Gold/Silver
The second generation is widely held to be the best. Introduced a great selection of new Pokemon and other new features, and is jam packed with content. Only really improved upon by its 2009 remake.

Pokemon Stadium
The closest thing to a 3D Pokemon game proved to be popular thanks to a plethora of content.

Police Quest
Another one of Sierra’s famous adventure franchises overlooked. The gritty mature storylines and unerring adherence to police procedures made it an adventure game like no other.

Privateer
The space bounty hunter sim was one of the best space shooters of its era and highly influential.

Project Gotham Racing 4
One of those rare cases where the newest really is the best.

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando
This is where Ratchet grew the beard, adding a whole heap of depth to the core formula of the original game, while adding a hilarious story, some fantastic weaponry and amazing level design.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal
The peak of this series – applies a layer of polish to everything that was great about the second game, along with another hilarious story.

Rayman
The game that helped transform Ubisoft into one of the global megapowers was an amazing looking 2D platformer. Also the #1 selling PlayStation game in the UK.

Rayman 2
Basically the best 3D platformer not developed by Nintendo or Rare.

Resident Evil 3
Often overlooked as being too similar to the second game, but the ever-looming fear of a Nemesis attack gives it a level of tension not seen in any other game in the series.

Space Quest
Sierra’s sidesplitting adventures of an incompetent space janitor are among the most famous adventure games of the classic era.

Spyro the Dragon
Like Crash, Spyro was one of the key characters on the PlayStation platform, starring in a series of three rather good platformers.

Streets of Rage 2
The best home console beat ’em up without a doubt. Looks amazing, plays great, and has one of the best techno-inspired soundtracks of any game.

System Shock
System Shock 2 is on the list but you’ll find a crowd of people that insist the first game is better. It was a brilliant game, seemingly released before its time.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)
The quintessential four player arcade beat ’em up.

Wing Commander
Origin’s series of space shooters played brilliantly, and broke ground in terms of offering a cinematic experience, particularly Wing Commander III.

Wonder Boy
This cave boy platformer was one of Sega’s earliest successes, and also led to the creation of the Adventure Island series.

Ultima IV
One of the most influential computer RPGs of all time and the most widely loved of the series. This is the game that shapes what most people understand Ultima to be.

Unreal Tournament
Frankly the best entry in the series, offered a great variety of gameplay modes with rock solid gameplay that was never really improved upon by its successors.