From left: GTA V, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Overwatch. Composite: The Guardian Design Team

The 50 best video games of the 21st century

From left: GTA V, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Overwatch. Composite: The Guardian Design Team
From left: GTA V, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Overwatch. Composite: The Guardian Design Team

50

SingStar (2004)

Karaoke complexes might be relatively common now, but back in 2004 singing into a PlayStation was the closest most of us could get. SingStar’s discs of party classics formed the caterwauling soundtrack to millions of student gatherings, hen parties and five-pint Fridays all over Europe for more than a decade. Like Just Dance, it harnesses the infectious joy of pop music in a way that anyone can play.

49

Katamari Damacy (2004)

A gleeful absurdist masterpiece in which you start by rolling up pencils and apple peel and end up absorbing buildings, trees and, eventually, most of the planet in your big sticky ball, because why not? From the infectious soundtrack to the endearingly mad “plot”, it’s a work of pure joy.

48

Journey (2012)

Game as art … Journey.

Journey is a short and moving shared experience whose music, evocative colour palette and simple play come together as they only can in games, for a powerful emotional effect. It’s often picked as an ur-example of games as art – including by curators at the V&A, where it was front and centre at a recent exhibition.

47

Dead Space (2008)

Resident Evil meets Alien seems like such an obvious game pitch that it is incredible it wasn’t realised until 2008. In Dead Space, the player becomes lowly engineer Isaac Clarke, who finds himself investigating the “planet-cracking” ship Ishimura after radio contact with the vessel is lost. The craft is, of course, infested with alien creatures – the Necromorphs – who utilise the reanimated corpses of human victims in horrible ways. This is a dark, bloody and atmospheric survival-horror thrill ride.

46

Limbo (2010)

Extraordinary … Limbo. Photograph: TriplePoint

The central character here is a boy on the run from death, or perhaps already dead. One of several games that kicked off the indie-game renaissance of the 2010s, Limbo’s monochrome style and relatively short running time belie the extraordinary effort and fastidiousness that went into its creation, evident in everything from the sinister movements of a giant spider to the precise physics that power its puzzles.

45

Papers, Please (2013)

You are a border officer in a war-torn country where people are constantly trying to smuggle things past you: drugs, weapons, falsified IDs. But what about the mother and young child using a fake passport to rejoin the rest of their family? Or an undocumented refugee who you could reject as a possible terrorist, but who may in fact be a desperate civilian? Papers, Please is a powerful illustration of how we can become complicit in inhumane systems, and the ways games can invite us to explore complex ethical dilemmas.

44

Forza Horizon (2012)

Racing treat … Forza Horizon. Photograph: Microsoft

Combining an open-world structure with the energy of a music festival, Forza Horizon made arcade-style racing games fun again. Boasting a gigantic selection of cars and an inventive AI-assisted multiplayer component, the game was designed around simply letting the player have fun, no matter what they did or where they drove. Barn finds and destructible signs rewarded exploration, while a multitude of driving challenges provided structure and challenge. It’s an accessible, multifaceted racing treat.

43

Rocket League (2015)

“Football, but with remote control cars” is a likely pitch for Rocket League, but who expected it would become one of the most skilful and enduring multiplayer games released in decades? Rocket League is elegant and ageless: it will probably still be played in 20 years, in living rooms and in tournaments.

42

Burnout 3: Takedown (2004)

Guildford-based developer Criterion built its Burnout series of arcade driving games around two principles: speed and style. Taking place through traffic-packed city streets, the races rewarded players for risky manoeuvres, providing extra time to shoot past competitors. The third title in the series perfected the recipe, adding a “takedown” feature that encouraged players to smash rivals from the circuit. The detailed slow-motion physics engine heightened every smash into art.

41

Overwatch (2016)

After years of gritty, military shooters filled with macho spec-ops nobodies, Overwatch stormed on to the online gaming scene in 2016 like a giant kawaii robot bunny wielding a hot pink grenade launcher. This is a game about outlandish hero characters, joining forces in condensed team-based skirmishes. There is no levelling up, there are no weapons unlocks; it’s all about combining the different capabilities – from Mei’s endothermic blaster to Mercy’s healing staff – in effective ways. Loved for its brash, hyper-colourful aesthetic, Overwatch is the generation Z answer to Counter-Strike.

40

Gears of War 2 (2008)

So macho it’s machine guns have chainsaws … Gears of War 2. Photograph: Microsoft

Imagine a science-fiction war film directed by an early-career Kathryn Bigelow. Now imagine it’s interactive. This, in essence, is Gears of War, the definitive third-person space marine blast-’em-up – a game so macho, its machine guns have chainsaws. The second title in the series improved the cover system, added new weapons and bloody finishing moves and took the battle to the Locust alien invaders. It was thrilling, chaotic and beautiful and, with the brilliant co-op Horde gameplay mode, it invented new ways to play online.

39

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)

Fondly remembered by anyone who had a PlayStation in their dorm room, this is still probably the best skateboarding game around, and there hasn’t been much competition since (perhaps due to the sport’s waning cultural presence since the 1990s). It is a time capsule of energetic college rock, endless point-chasing skate combos and irresistibly fun play.

38

Super Smash Bros Melee (2001)

The 2018 game Ultimate is, well, the ultimate expression of Smash Bros’ maximalist tendencies, with 74 characters and hundreds of references to Nintendo history. But Melee is the game that turned Nintendo’s anything-goes brawler from a living-room classic into a competitive fixture. It is still the most popular Smash game at tournaments, beautifully balanced and extraordinarily fun.

37

Silent Hill 2 (2001)

Konami’s answer to Resident Evil ditched zombie shocks for psychological horror. The second title in the series is the most disturbing. The game follows grief-stricken everyman James Sunderland as he arrives in the eponymous town searching for his supposedly dead wife. What follows is a descent into Sunderland’s psychosexual dysfunction, a viscera-splattered nightmare of undead nurses, animated shop window dummies and the giant fetishistic monster, Pyramid Head. Toying with Japanese horror and exploitation cinema, it cast a sombre spell over all who played.

36

Spelunky (2008)

Holds its mystique … Spelunky.

Derek Yu’s cave-diving platform game is fun to play on every single run, yet might take years to actually finish. Each time a different arrangement of cave creatures, unfortunate accidents and hostile geography conspires to bring your adventure to an abrupt close, and only the extremely skilled and extremely lucky will ever get right down into the depths. Even after years of play, Spelunky holds its mystique.

35

Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009)

The original Assassin’s Creed promised a rich historical adventure with an interesting sci-fi overlay – Assassin’s Creed 2 actually delivered it. Set in a luxuriously detailed approximation of Renaissance Italy, the game sees attractive assassin, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, taking on the dastardly templars while bumping into the likes of Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. The freeform structure of the game, its mass of side quests and objectives, along with its range of abilities and items set the blueprints for modern open-world game design.

34

Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)

Gothic monstrosity … Batman: Arkham Asylum

With a script by veteran Batman writer Paul Dini and all the key voice talent from the brilliant animated series, Arkham Asylum exudes authenticity from every pixel. This is the Batman of Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan – dark, twisted and violent – and it’s perfectly realised as a third-person action adventure. The combat is smooth and empowering, the silent takedowns are gratifying and the asylum setting is a superb gothic monstrosity. A comic-book lover’s dream.

33

Battlefield 1942 (2002)

With the first title in the Battlefield series, developer Digital Illusions brought large-scale cooperative combat and historical authenticity to the online shooter genre. Two teams of 32 players fought for dominance of vast environments, taking control points and commandeering vehicles. The multifaceted battles required players to assume complementary roles, some sniping from a distance, others running in as infantry. The excitement of a well-organised attack paying off felt like something truly new.

32

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

The online deathmatch of the decade … Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Photograph: Activision

Bringing cinematic verve and explosive pace to the military shooter market, 2003’s Call of Duty provided gunfights of epic intensity. But it wasn’t until Modern Warfare that the series made a major impact, introducing an innovative multiplayer online mode that offered character progression alongside unlockable single-use mega-attacks. Add in its blistering animation and intense, claustrophobic maps, and it’s little wonder this game defined the online deathmatch experience for a decade.

31

God of War (2018)

God of War still sets the bar for its genre of expansive, visually spectacular interactive storytelling. Guiding a reformed violent god and his more sensitive son through settings from Norse mythology, you’ll see things that take the breath away: the corpse of an immense giant, frozen where he fell; parallel realms of vicious elves and shining, endless lakes; crumbling relics to absent gods. The pleasing thwock of Kratos’ axe as it hits the skulls of mythological monsters punctuates video games’ grandest odyssey.

30

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

In this meditation on the selfish nature of grief, a young man sets out to topple mountainous, mournful and majestic giants in the hope of reviving a lost love. Each colossus is a puzzle; clambering up their mossy fur and plunging a sword into their hides, we soon learn that this hero’s quest isn’t what it seems. Subtle and profound, Shadow of the Colossus is disciplined in its storytelling and artistic direction, with ample space for reflection in its bleak and beautiful wilderness.

29

Deus Ex (2000)

Combining first-person shooter and action role-playing with real-world conspiracy theories and cyberpunk mythology, Ion Storm’s agenda-setting sci-fi adventure was a cultural event. The player character, JC Denton, is a “nano-augmented” government agent caught in a labyrinthine, globe-stomping plot about bioengineered viruses and alien technology. There are dozens of routes through the story, providing incredible freedom and inspiring a creative community of modders and fan-fiction writers.

28

Wii Sports (2006)

Accessible, inclusive and great fun … Wii Sports. Photograph: Nintendo

Few games have been played as widely as Wii Sports, from grannies bowling to toddlers enthusiastically playing tennis. Wii Sports was the world’s introduction to the Wii and a whole generation’s introduction to Nintendo’s philosophy of game design: accessible, inclusive and great fun.

27

Guitar Hero (2005)

What warm-blooded person has never dreamed of busting out an impeccable guitar solo on stage, revelling in the adoration of a baying crowd? Anyone born after about 1995, it turns out. But Guitar Hero was a product of its time and catered so brilliantly to the near-ubiquitous rock star fantasy, with its impeccable soundtrack of 1970s, 80s and 90s power rock, that tens of millions of people were wielding plastic guitars in living rooms within a couple of years.

26

Left 4 Dead (2008)

A co-op online zombie shooter with an AI system that orchestrated enemy attacks based on player actions, Left 4 Dead was ridiculously ahead of its time. Valve built excellent mechanics around its collaborative gameplay, encouraging highly tactical teamwork, and loaded its apocalyptic world with brilliant monsters, such as the grotesque tongue-lashing Smoker and the terrifyingly lachrymose witch. It would do amazing business in the multiplayer-obsessed, YouTuber-streaming world of modern gaming.

25

Ico (2001)

Experimental designer Fumito Ueda built this quiet, thoughtful adventure around the idea of two people holding hands, which is what the eponymous lead character and jailed princess Yorda must do if they are to escape their castle prison. Using all the conventions of a third-person action game, Ico is really about fear, solitude and the possibilities awakened by making physical contact with another human being. A minimalist masterpiece.

24

The Last of Us (2013)

Extraordinarily memorable … The Last of Us. Photograph: Sony

What looks at first like a standard entry in gaming’s extensive zombie-apocalypse canon soon turns out to be something more. Watching the relationship between grieving, grizzled Joel and guarded but optimistic teenager Ellie develop as they travel a ravaged America, creeping past unsettling “clickers” and coming face-to-face with desperate, violent fellow humans makes for an extraordinarily memorable game in an often boring genre.

23

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

Possibly Nintendo’s most unsettling game, Majora’s Mask is also one of its most creative, trapping you in an apocalyptic time loop where the leering moon draws ever closer to the hapless Earth and its denizens cower in fear. Here, Link is a hero that nobody knows about, having gone forward in time to thwart an evil that was due to swallow up the world, before being returned to his childhood body and deserted by his only companions. Its time-loop structure and eerie atmosphere remain little-imitated.

22

Mario Kart 8 (2014)

We have yet to encounter a person who doesn’t enjoy Mario Kart, and Mario Kart 8 is as good as it gets: gleeful, freewheeling, with a marvellously jazzy score, colourful characters and courses that continually defy expectations. It is riotously enjoyable. One of the few modern games that is still best enjoyed shoulder-to-shoulder with friends, family or friendly strangers.

21

Mass Effect 2 (2010)

The defining chapter of BioWare’s space epic tackles everything: race, genocide, romance and heroism, all against a backdrop of impending galactic doom. It is brilliantly performed and exciting to play, with futuristic guns and biotic powers, and totally engrossing on a character level. Creating something of this scope that also feels personal to each player is no small feat.

20

Fortnite (2017)

 A global phenomenon … Fortnite

Launched as a forgettable co-op zombie shooter in 2017, developer Epic Games saw the success of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and decided to create its own battle royale mode, inviting 100 players to land on an island, then fight it out until only one survived. Colourful, silly and filled with daft outfits and infectious dance moves, Fortnite became a global phenomenon, attracting more than 250m players. It’s been featured in everything from Fox News to Avengers: Endgame and shows few signs of slowing down.

19

Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)

Niko Bellic comes to New York looking to escape the life of crime he had been leading in eastern Europe – but as in all Grand Theft Auto games, the American dream swiftly turns sour, and nihilistic violence turns out to be the only currency Bellic can deal in. GTA IV’s New York is stunning to inhabit, so detailed and full of life that it is hard to believe it’s powered by code.

18

Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)

Only a developer with Rockstar’s extremely deep pockets and fanatical attention to detail could have made something like this, a re-creation of turn-of-the-20th-century US so lifelike that it is at times difficult to believe. Its story, of a dwindling gang of outlaws trying to outrun the march of time (and an ever-growing list of enemies) is impressive enough, but the world in which it takes place – vast, picturesque, full of people and strange encounters that most players will probably never even find – is a true monument to interactive achievement.

17

The Sims (2000)

One of the most successful and influential games ever made, The Sims is an outlet for megalomania, mad materialism or compassion – depending on the player. Controlling the lives of computer people, from their loves and careers to designing the homes they live in, is so compelling that it raises troubling questions about human nature.

16

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

Breathtaking set pieces and exciting lore … Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Photograph: Sony

Indiana Jones-style hero Nathan Drake came into his own in this spectacular cinematic adventure sequel. Crammed with breathtaking action set pieces, exotic locations and exciting lore, Among Thieves established the Uncharted series at the forefront of big-budget narrative game design. From the wrecked train opening to the epic finale amid the ruins of the mythical kingdom of Shambhala, the pace doesn’t let up. While baby boomers have nostalgic memories of Saturday-morning action cinema, millennials have Uncharted.

15

Resident Evil 4 (2005)

This wasn’t just an exciting horror story about a supercop rescuing the US president’s daughter from a Spanish cult. With Resident Evil 4, the creator of Capcom’s survival horror series, Shinji Mikami, completely changed the structure and style of the games, abandoning the slow-burn tension of the original titles in favour of raw action while (crucially) shifting from an expressionistic third-person camera to an over-the-shoulder perspective. The game established a whole new era of third-person shooters.

14

Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

After his galactic adventures in the Super Mario Galaxy games, Odyssey brought the cheerful plumber back down to Earth. Well, not Earth per se, but a bunch of different self-contained planets that provide ample room for Nintendo designers’ wild imaginations. From possessing a Chain Chomp to bounding around in low gravity, chasing rabbits or racing yetis, Odyssey is irresistibly exuberant.

13

World of Warcraft (2004)

Launched in 2004, Blizzard’s massively multiplayer role-playing adventure was not the first entry in this complex genre (Ultima Online and Everquest got there earlier), but it perfected the key elements, from combat mechanics to quest design to background lore, building an obsessive fanbase that has stayed loyal through multiple add-ons and updates. The game reached 100m player accounts in 2014, but the real stories have been much more personal – with its emphasis on close team-play, WoW has hosted real-life weddings and funerals, becoming as much a part of players’ lives as their own families.

12

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (2015)

Bloated, idiosyncratic and troubling in places, The Phantom Pain is the perfect culmination of Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear vision as it has evolved over the last 30 years. Big Boss wakes up from a coma and finds himself carrying out covert missions during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, rescuing civilians, kidnapping military leaders and managing his aquatic Mother Base as the typically nonsensical plot rolls on. It is unlike anything else out there … at least until Hideo Kojima’s forthcoming game Death Stranding turns up.

11

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

Magic and might … The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

For decades, games have aspired to create a fantasy world that caters to your every whim – and Skyrim comes closest. Dragon-flavoured, largely unmemorable plot notwithstanding, it is an extraordinary playground where magic, might, words and weapons can all be wielded against the inhabitants and monsters that populate a snow-touched northern realm, and where subplots about assassins, vampires, lost relics and a thousand other things await the curious player.

10

Bloodborne (2015)

An extraordinary work of horror, Bloodborne conjures a dilapidated city whose inhabitants, rather than abandoning God, have become so obsessed with getting closer to their eldritch masters that they’ve become diseased. Hunting the creatures of Yharnam, an exhilarating and sometimes painfully challenging endeavour, the player uncovers an extraordinarily intricate, disturbing fiction of blood, beats and human folly. There are sights and fights in Bloodborne that no player could ever forget.

9

BioShock (2007)

Set in a doomed undersea utopia, BioShock is part shooter, part role-playing game, part morality fable, propelling players through a haunting and ambiguous quest to escape Rapture while learning its awful secrets. Famed for the hulking Big Daddy antagonists, the genetic modifications, the art deco architecture and designer Ken Levine’s exploration of objectivist philosophy, the game has been one of the most discussed and dissected of the century so far.

8

Portal 2 (2011)

Ingenious and inventive … Portal 2. Photograph: Electronic Arts

Building on the solid foundations of its predecessor, Valve’s 2011 sequel adds a more involved narrative to the ingenious physics puzzles, with tyrannical computer system GLaDOS providing an endlessly funny and inventive exploration of humanity and hubris. Here, the Aperture Lab is a giant, almost gothic, ludological construction, its weird research rooms and robotic production lines crammed with light bridges and lasers. It is the combination of Red Dwarf, 2001 and Crystal Maze no one knew they were waiting for.

7

Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

One of the first shooters where the aliens fought back. Playing Halo today, especially on the Legendary difficulty setting, it is amazing how quickly those chattering, cackling Covenant can flush you out. Halo has spawned a beloved universe of space-opera shooters, but it’s the first game – released at a time when the idea of a first-person shooter on a console was laughable – that made the biggest impact.

6

Grand Theft Auto V (2013)

Split personality … GTA V.

In this, the best-selling entertainment product of all time, Rockstar painstakingly created a bizarre pastiche of southern California, seen through the eyes of three decidedly unheroic protagonists: a retired gangster whose family hates him, a young man from the inner city trying to escape a seemingly pre-destined life of crime, and a violent trailer-dwelling psychopath. Cleverly, these three characters also handily partition GTA’s split personality: biting satire of modern US, filmic storytelling, and directionless violent mayhem.

5

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

Many games offer the superficial choice between good and evil, but the Witcher asks what happens when you’re adrift on waves of history and politics that are beyond your control. Geralt of Rivia isn’t a hero; he’s just an outcast, present at a tumultuous time in his realm’s history. Turns out that far more interesting stories can be found when you’re not preoccupied with a facile objective to save the world.

4

Half-Life 2 (2004)

 You live every moment … Half-Life 2. Photograph: EA

Video games aren’t short of alien invasion stories but Half-Life 2 is so good it makes the whole concept seem fresh and frightening. Taking place several years after the original, Gordon Freeman wakes to find an Earth utterly subjugated by the Combine forces – but a resistance movement is forming. The shrewd environmental puzzles and the famed gravity gun exploit the intricate physics engine to make this hellish world feel authentic. You truly hate the enemies, you live every moment. One of the greatest narrative video games ever made.

3

Dark Souls (2011)

You are dead, which comes with few advantages, but at least you can’t die again – not for good, anyway. Plunging you into a never-ending cycle of death and rebirth in a world where almost nothing still breathes, Dark Souls sets you off with nothing and lets its horror-tinged dark fantasy unfold as you flail and struggle to survive. Invigoratingly uncompromising and influential, it was the breakthrough game of FromSoftware and visionary director Hidetaka Miyazaki. Despite two more Dark Souls games and a raft of imitators, there is still nothing like it.

2

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

Doing for the open-world game what Half-Life 2 did for the first-person shooter, Breath of the Wild tears up and throws away all the things that make exploration a chore – checklists, objective markers, forests of icons – to make way for true adventure. Breath of the Wild counts on your curiosity, intelligence, self-determination and ingenuity, giving you a thousand ways to apply them. Its thrillingly open wilderness makes other games feel like a quaint miniature train ride by comparison.

1

Minecraft (2009)

 A dozen experiences in one … Minecraft

Swedish coder Markus “Notch” Persson didn’t invent the concept of the block-based building game – Minecraft arrived just after Zach Barth’s experimental title Infiniminer. However, the founder of Stockholm studio Mojang took the idea of a Lego-like construction game based in a procedurally generated environment and perfected it. Originally launched as a work in progress in the summer of 2009, word about this unusual blocky simulation quickly spread on PC gaming forums and a community of enthusiastic modders started to gather around the project, downloading Persson’s version but adding their own rules and graphics. From the very beginning Minecraft was a shared endeavour – a labour of love, shared between creator and fans.

By the time of its full release in November 2011, Minecraft already had 10 million registered players. Later came conversions from PC to Xbox, PlayStation and smartphones, bringing in new audiences. The game was split into two experiences: the Survival mode where players had to battle zombies and giant spiders while mining for resources, and the Creative mode where they were given an unlimited inventory of wooden, glass and stone blocks to concentrate on crafting their own ambitious projects.

This has always been the vital element of Minecraft’s success and importance: it is a dozen experiences in one. It’s about making models, but also exploration, combat and resource management. Participants can build alone or join friends, introducing a new form of online creative collaboration. Using the game’s red stone component, which allows objects in the world to be electrically powered, fans began to build complex machines including working calculators. Others constructed scale models of the USS Enterprise, Hogwarts and King’s Landing. Art galleries and museums began to take notice. The Tate Modern commissioned expert modellers to create versions of modernist artworks in the Minecraft world; the British Museum was officially recreated in the game, as was Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Over the past decade, Minecraft has become a hobby and a social space. Servers have been set up for people on the autistic spectrum, providing a vital means of meeting with and communicating with others. Hundreds of schools throughout the world use the Education edition of Minecraft to teach physics, geology, drama, art, electronics and sustainable farming. The cultural and educational reach of the game is enormous. Minecraft was vital in the rise of the celebrity gaming YouTuber – with names like StampyCat and DanTDM familiar to millions.

With more than 175m copies now sold on an array of devices from smartphones to virtual-reality headsets, Minecraft has transcended the idea of what games are and what they can achieve. When you load the game, what you do is up to you – it gives you the experience you want, and that is different for everyone. There has never been an interactive entertainment experience like it. Game makers truly believe that video games have the power – just like literature, cinema and art – to change lives. This one unquestionably, demonstrably has. Time and time again.

Gears Tactics review – brains meet brawn in strategic spin-off

Rating: 4 out of 5.

PC (version tested), Xbox One; Microsoft Game Studios
It wouldn’t be Gears of War without gore, and combining strategy with viscera dispersal aplenty, this cerebral twist on an old favourite remains true to form

Slabs of virtual muscle with added pizzazz … Gears Tactics. Photograph: Microsoft

Bloody sci-fi shooter series Gears of War and the term “tactics” may not seem like natural bedfellows, given that these games are best known for their macho space soldiers and chainsaw machine guns. Yet strategy has always played a far bigger role in the games than may be initially apparent. After all, the key innovation of the titles was to add cover-and-fire manoeuvres into a fast-paced action game. Gears Tactics simply inverts the emphasis. Whereas previously the tactical layer existed to complement the action, here all that gore greases the cogs of a smart and fiercely entertaining strategy machine.

Set before the original Gears of War, Gears Tactics sees players control squads of soldiers led by two veterans of its seemingly eternal conflict: walking chin Gabe Diaz and weaponised moustache Sid Redburn. Together, they seek to eliminate a troublesome general of the Locust Horde, a race of brawny subterranean monsters who have taken over Earth.

Gears of War’s storytelling has always held ambitions somewhat beyond its ham-fisted reach, but if you’ve previously enjoyed watching its slabs of virtual muscle do emotions, know that Tactics tells its story with pizzazz if not subtlety, featuring lovingly crafted cinematics, top-tier voice acting and some fairly major reveals for what is essentially a spin-off.

 Strategy that feels like action … Gears Tactics. Photograph: Microsoft

Indeed, Gears Tactics has lost little of the series’s perennially high production values in the switch from shooter to strategy, boasting stunning visuals and slick animations alongside an incredibly intuitive interface. Also like earlier games, it is ferociously violent, with your soldiers frequently bursting and dismembering the Locust with bombs, bayonets and chainsaws.Advertisementhttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Gears Tactics is a strategy game designed to feel like an action game, and this philosophy goes beyond the sharp visuals and the viscera dispersion rate. Any given mission sees your squad pitted against a much larger number of Locust, with each side taking turns to move their units between cover and eliminate as many of the opposing force as possible. Your soldiers have a limited number of “action points” per turn. These can be used to move, shoot at an enemy or deploy special abilities such as “overwatch”, which lets you set up ambushes, firing at any enemy who wanders into its cone-shaped kill-zone.

This foundation is familiar among tactics games, but Gears adds to it abilities such as “executions”, where theatrically killing an incapacitated enemy gives teammates an additional action point. Moreover, certain soldier-types sport powers such as “bayonet charge”, letting them rush across the battlefield to quickly take an enemy out of commission. Many abilities can be upgraded to provide free actions or even add actions to your pool. Some of the combinations you can pull off are truly exhilarating. In the late game, one of my snipers could pop the heads of a half-dozen Locust in a single turn.

Gears Tactics constantly encourages players to push forward into battle, to be aggressive and daring and think on their feet. Yet, while boldness is often rewarded, recklessness will be punished severely. Even the lowliest Locust grunt can blast half a health bar off one of your soldiers, while together they create overlapping overwatch traps that need to be surgically dismantled to prevent your squad from being wiped out.

The way the game injects pace and momentum into a traditionally slow-burn genre is its greatest success, so it isn’t surprising that it is weakest when the pace falters. Gears Tactics lacks the broader strategic layer of games such as XCOM, featuring instead a linear story campaign. This is the right call, but problems arise with the side missions embedded into this structure. Initially, they’re a welcome opportunity to flex your tactical muscles, whether you need to hold two separate control points against assault, or retreat from an encroaching artillery barrage as the Locust try to slow you down. In the latter acts, however, Gears Tactics forces you to complete two or even three side missions before moving on to the next story beat.

There is a logic to the idea – soldiers sent on one side-mission cannot be deployed in another, so you need to manage your squads carefully to ensure success. But it has the effect of slowing progress to a crawl when the story should be ramping up to the conclusion. There also aren’t enough mission types to prevent a sense of repetition creeping into those final hours. The latter half of the third act is a slog when it should be a sprint.

Nonetheless, Gears Tactics is a triumphant twist on an old favourite, capturing the fury and spectacle of its shooter-based brethren while also offering a more cerebral experience. Gears has always exhibited shades of American football, from the hypermasculine tone to its disconcertingly swole characters. Now it has the conspicuous brains to match its conspicuous braun.

The best games of 2020 so far

2Clockwise from bottom left: Lair of the Clockwork God, Dreams, Nioh 2, Animal Crossing, Final Fantasy VII Remake

by Keza MacDonald and Keith Stuart

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The desert-island alternate-life game that’s spawned a thousand memes, Animal Crossing offers a cute, stress-free and eminently controllable little world to escape into. Compelling and full of character, it gives plenty of reasons to come back every day.

What we said: “Animal Crossing is everything I have been craving: it is gentle, soothing, social and creative […] If there was ever a perfect time for a game such as this, that time is now.”

Doom Eternal

The demon-slaying godfather of first-person shooters returns with another frenzied adrenaline rush of blood and bullets. The monsters are bigger than ever, the worlds are richer, but this is Doom through and through.

What we said: “Every design detail serves to propel the player forwards with as little friction as possible, with enough surprises and twists to prevent the formula becoming stale.”

Back-street brawlers … Streets of Rage 4.

Streets of Rage 4

Sega’s legendary scrolling brawler gets an unexpected reprise 25 years after its predecessor. Returning to the shadowy back alleys of Wood Oak City, our vigilante heroes must use a range of new weapons and combos in order to bludgeon waves of criminal goons.Advertisement

What we said: “As a joyous celebration of a style of game whose thrills are visceral, not cerebral, it’s a triumph.”

Half Life: Alyx

Fans waited over a decade for Half-Life 3, but what they got instead was this virtual reality-exclusive prequel, following resistance leader Alyx Vance at the beginning of her fight against the alien Combine. Tense, dark and thrilling, it’s the killer app VR gaming has been crying out for.

What we said: “Valve is a master at giving players games they didn’t know they wanted – Half-Life: Alyx is another example of that ability to surprise, delight and innovate.”

 Enchanting quest … Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

The sequel to indie platform adventure Ori and the Blind Forest is another enchanting quest through a rich, sylvan landscape filled with myth and magic. A gentle, melancholic alternative to the year’s big shooters and brawlers.

What we said: “There is extraordinary attention to detail – the entire world feels alive with excitement and danger. A bold and ambitious sequel.”

Dreams

Guildford-based developer Media Molecule turned us all into platform game creators with its beautiful DIY puzzler LittleBigPlanet back in 2008 – now the same studio wants us all to build our own video game, movie or musical universes with this powerful and accessible creative package.

What we said: “As delightful as Dreams is as a toolkit, what is perhaps just as important is how it teaches, and Dreams is everything a good teacher should be: generous, forgiving, thorough.”

Final Fantasy VII Remake

One of the defining games of a generation returns, looking a heck of a lot better than it did in 1997. This remake proves that Final Fantasy VII’s story has stood the test of time. An epic tale to sink into.

What we said: “Remaking a universally acclaimed classic was always a fearful responsibility, but like its own sword-wielding heroes, Square Enix has risen to the challenge spectacularly.”

Magic realism … Kentucky Route Zero.

Kentucky Route Zero

After six years, the concluding chapter to this minimalist, magical-realist adventure game arrived in January, and cements its place as one of the defining games of the last decade. It’s subtle, rather forlorn Americana, letting you eavesdrop on the ordinary and not-so-ordinary lives of its strange characters.

What we said: “It combines the mundane and the mystical to create an atmosphere that sits somewhere along the wispy continuum between a Samuel Beckett play and a David Lynch mini-series.”

Nioh 2

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You could describe this as “Dark Souls but samurai”, but Nioh 2 is no hollow tribute act. Carve your way through a vast Japanese folklore-inspired world full of demons and spirits using a fun selection of heavy-hitting weapons and mystical abilities. It’s tough, though – if failure makes you want to throw things across the room, this could send several PlayStation 4 controllers through the TV.

Humane … Coffee Talk. Photograph: Toge Productions

Coffee Talk

You’re a barista working the night shift in a small coffee shop located somewhere within an alternative Seattle where your customers are elves, vampires and werewolves all looking to share their problems. A peaceful, funny and humane adventure game where the quest is simply to listen and serve.

Lair of the Clockwork God

Friends Ben and Dan must prevent the apocalypse in this retro-tinged comedy adventure, where classic platforming and point-and-click play styles are combined to clever and genuinely funny effect.

What we said: “Lair of the Clockwork God strikes an impressive balance between its two mashup genres, mechanically and tonally. It’s a post-ironic take on point-and-click adventures.”

Resident Evil 3 remake

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After last year’s brilliant Resident Evil 2 remake, Capcom has followed the same recipe with the third instalment, keeping the narrative and setting of the original Resi 3, but tweaking the controls and adding new components, including an entertaining multiplayer side quest. A fascinating transitional title restored to greatness.

What we said: “A well thought-out and nicely executed modern refresh of a survival horror classic – and a welcome slab of (almost) escapism to enliven our current house-bound lives.”

Hypnotic … SnowRunner. Photograph: Focus Home Interactive

SnowRunner

This sounds like the most boring game in the world: drive huge trucks through mud and snow to make deliveries. But it is unexpectedly hypnotic: slowly, steadily navigating these hulking vehicles through steadfastly unappealing places needs patience and methodical thinking rather than good reflexes and daring.

Gears Tactics

The Gears of War series of sci-fi shooters has always been known for the brawn (and chainsaw-equipped machine guns) of its muscle-bound characters. This spin-off has the same warriors battling alien Locust invaders, but this time in a series of tactical turn-based encounters. Somehow the switch in tone works perfectly.Advertisement

What we said: “A triumphant twist on an old favourite, capturing the fury and spectacle of its shooter-based brethren while also offering a more cerebral experience.”

In Other Waters

This is an exploration game about deep-sea diving on another planet – but rather than seeing it through human eyes, you are the AI inside the explorer’s suit, reliant on her text descriptions and sketches of alien life to embellish the sparse topography that your computer sensors perceive. Unique and peaceful.

Moving Out

Become the world’s least competent movers as you work together with friends to wrestle furniture out of houses and on to your truck – or just chuck it out the window and hope for the best. Chaotic multiplayer fun made less frustrating by options that let you adjust the difficulty however you like.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill

Newly released on Nintendo Switch, this mountain biking game is ridiculously compelling. It’s just you, a bike and four majestic mountains whose trails range from mildly dangerous to downright lethal. Come for the scenery, stay for the irresistible compulsion to shave seconds off your best times.

Paper Beast

Odd geometric creatures, Dalí-esque landscapes, and an unnatural-looking take on the natural world make this an unforgettably surreal bit of VR eco-tourism. It’s difficult to describe this game, but its effect is easier to pin down in words: wonder.

Cloudpunk

Dystopian cyberpunk rather loses its appeal when you’re living through an real-life dystopia, but Cloudpunk isn’t the usual Blade Runner-inspired violence fest. You play an immigrant delivery driver ferrying packages around a 3D pixel-world that’s fascinating to look at – and eavesdrop upon.

What we said: “Overfamiliarity with the aesthetic does little to blunt the fierce appeal of Cloudpunk’s game world.

XCOM: Chimera Squad

A scaled-down sequel to XCOM 2, keeping the turn-based design of the strategy sim series, but introducing hero characters with special abilities, and an uneasy new alliance between human and alien warriors. Fans have called it XCOM-lite, which is neither inaccurate nor a criticism.

What we said: “Essentially the Agents of Shield to XCOM 2’s Avengers. It gently plays with the formula, and tells the peripheral stories of a much wider world on a much tighter budget and with much smaller stakes. It’s XCOM but chilled.”

A league of their own: six of the best football video games

As the new season hits its stride, we look at the best footie games available for 2018/19 on the PS4, Xbox, PC and phones.

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It has been a rare old summer of football. England’s heroic – or at least, much better than expected – efforts in the World Cup were followed by three weeks or so of cold turkey, with nothing but the opaque machinations of the transfer window to keep us occupied. But already, the season has resumed, in all its relentless glory. If you want to join in but were born with two left feet, flex your thumbs instead with one of these games – the six best on the market right now. Video game football isn’t just about pretending to be Harry Kane or Pep Guardiola: some of these take a strikingly original approach to the beautiful game.

FIFA 18 / FIFA 19 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)

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The luxury option … Fifa 19. Photo: EA Sports

EA Sports’ expensive and luxurious Fifa 18 is undoubtedly football games’ equivalent of the Premier League. It’s a money-making machine, thanks primarily to Fifa Ultimate Team, which encourages you to purchase Panini-sticker-like player packs to build up a dream team. But it’s also the slickest, most polished and by far the most popular football game around, with an excellent Journey mode that lets you control an aspiring pro and build him up to an international superstar, and a Career mode that lets you control your favourite team on and off the field.

If you have mates who play football games online, the chances are that peer-pressure will more or less force you to get Fifa 18. But it’s worth checking which yearly iteration of Fifa they all play: EA Sports’ obsession with churning out a new game every year means that they are nearly indistinguishable from each other. Fifa 19 is due out on September 28, and will include the full Champions League licence for the first time, tweaks to the player-touch engine, and an offline friendly, quick-to-start Kick-Off mode. It’s also the only major footie game to feature women’s teams.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC)

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Silky skills … NWM Schalke vs Bayer Leverkusen in Pro Evolution Soccer 2019. Photograph: Konami

For decades, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) and Fifa slugged it out like Barcelona and Real Madrid, but in recent years, Fifa’s bigger budget has seen it pull away. But PES still has a lot of fans, thanks to the silkiness of its passing system and on-pitch feel. Off the field, it is less impressive, with a baffling menu system, spotty licensing and elements that feel as though they were implemented merely to keep up with Fifa, rather than designed to provide football-related fun.

PES 2019 will be released on 28 August, and its previously awful equivalent of Fifa Ultimate Team, myClub, has been revamped. It includes more licensed teams and players than PES 2018, too, although there is still no official Premier League licence. Whereas Fifa is all about style, PES makes up for its superficial shabbiness with on-field substance. The football game of choice for non-conformists.

Football, Tactics & Glory (PC)

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Determinedly retro … Football, Tactics & Glory. Photo: Creoteam

Truly original football games are as rare as England senior teams who reach the later stages of tournaments. But Football, Tactics & Glory – currently in Steam Early Access but poised for a full release soon – feels unlike anything else. It is turn-based, and successfully applies strategy-style gameplay to the beautiful game.

It has a very basic management element that has you building up a skilful, complementary team, but it’s what happens on the pitch that makes it stand out. You are given three turns in which to get the ball to a forward and score; if that isn’t going to be possible, you can order your player to hold the ball, making it more difficult for the opposition to get hold of it and take their turn. And you can sometimes pull off special moves that earn you an extra turn.

It’s far from perfect: its graphics are determinedly retro, the dialogue between you and your club employees is stilted at best, and it won’t impress you if you’re looking for something glossy. But, importantly, it feels unique.

Football Manager (PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android)

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Intimidatingly complex … Football Manager 2018. Photo: Sega

If you seek the definitive, all-encompassing football management experience, covering everything from on-field tactics to keeping dropped players happy and working with the medical staff to ascertain why certain injuries keep occurring, then Football Manager 2018 is what you need.

Sports Interactive’s definitive football management game will also startle you from time to time by coincidentally mirroring situations that crop up in the real footballing world. It is huge, containing pretty much every player in every league around the world. Indeed, it has so much depth that it can seem intimidatingly complex.

If you don’t want a game that can completely swallow your life, you may want to check out Football Manager Mobile, which preserves most of the PC game’s rigour but is considerably simpler. Football Manager 2019 will add the official Bundesliga licence when it arrives on 2 November, and have a spruced-up appearance. In the meantime, you can pick up Football Manager 2018 surprisingly cheaply.

Sociable Soccer (PC)

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Pick up and play … Sociable Soccer. Photograph: Combo-Breaker

In the early 1990s, the very British Sensible Soccer held sway as the king of football games. Now, the arcade-style game is back in the form of Sociable Soccer, lovingly crafted using modern, 3D tools by Sensible Soccer originator Jon Hare’s Tower Studios.

Currently, Sociable Soccer is only available via Steam Early Access on PC, so it is by no means the finished article. Online play hasn’t been added yet, and at the moment, you can’t be caught offside. But its trademark all-action, two-button, pass-and-move gameplay is intact – including that famous after-touch when you shoot. If you’re looking for an incredibly moreish pick-up-and-play football game, it’s in a class of its own.

Tower Studios has signed a deal to put out a mobile version in China, which should make it to the UK before long – and should speed the PC version towards a full release. Console versions are also planned, and the finished game will feature a player-card system similar to Fifa Ultimate Team, except with flashes of British humour. The return of this classic, cleverly updated for modern sensibilities, fills a hole in the market for arcade-style football.

New Star Manager (iPhone)

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Intuitive … New Star Manager. Photograph: New Star Games

The follow-up to the Bafta award-winning New Star Soccer, created by one-man-band Simon Read, is even more compelling. This time, instead of taking charge of a single player, you’re at the helm of a whole club, so there are plenty of managerial tasks to perform. Once the games kick off, it is up to you to take control, moving players and passing with a simple, intuitive interface, then timing your shot right once you’ve got the ball to your forward.

New Star Manager pulls off the difficult trick of being simple to grasp but having plenty to dig into. If you love football and have an iPhone or iPad, you’d be mad not to download it, and an Android version should arrive soon. Read’s reputation as one of the up-and-coming stars of the games industry continues to grow.


Cover photo: The beautiful game … SC Corinthian celebrate in Pro Evolution Soccer 2019. Photo: Konami

Game review: Assassin’s Creed’s new life as a virtual museum

What happens when you remove the fighting from a video game and turn it into an ancient world to explore? The creators of Assassin’s Creed Origins found out.

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‘Video games have tremendous potential, not just for fun’ … Assassin’s Creed Origins. Photo: Ubisoft


Even if you’re not particularly interested in video games, you’ll probably have heard of Assassin’s Creed. They’re a series of historically themed action games that take place in digital recreations of places such as Revolution-era Paris, medieval Jerusalem and 1860s London. Playing Assassin’s Creed involves climbing up ancient buildings and mingling with the residents of cities of the past, meeting (and occasionally assassinating) historical figures as a member of an ancient, clandestine brotherhood working against the Templars.

The games have been around since 2007 and have made an awful lot of money for their publisher, Ubisoft. The company employs a team of hundreds of artists, historians, writers, coders, sound designers and more to create these virtual places. An hour in the company of any of these games is enough to discern how much effort goes into their historical settings – though it’s hard to appreciate them fully when you’re busy fighting, talking or running away from guards.

The latest Assassin’s Creed game, Origins, is set in ancient Egypt – a time and place redolent of historical discovery and mystery, the subject of thousands of school projects. It has been enormously successful, selling millions of copies, supported with the usual drip-feed of paid-for extra content that follows almost all big video game releases these days. But in February, Ubisoft released a different kind of update for Assassin’s Creed Origins – one that turned it into an interactive museum.

We have the legitimacy to do it now, after all these games showing that we treat history with respect

Maxime Durand, lead historian

The Discovery update, as it’s called, removes all combat, missions and story from Assassin’s Creed Origins, leaving you free to explore its detailed recreation of ancient Egypt at leisure. It also adds in 75 interactive tours, written in collaboration with Egyptologists from around Europe, which teach you about everything from mummification to the city of Alexandria. It’s like one of those audio guides that you can pick up at museums. The difference between Assassin’s Creed Origins and a museum, though, is that you are immersed, walking the streets of a village as an Egyptian child or riding a horse in the shadow of the great pyramids.

It has the potential to be an extraordinary learning tool, as its developers discovered when they ask educators and researchers at schools, museums and universities to offer feedback on the early designs. When 300 10-year-old students in eight different schools played around in Discovery Tour’s ancient Egypt as part of their classes, their teachers found that it helped students to retain a lot more information – plus, what 10-year-old wouldn’t enjoy playing games in class?

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‘For a lot of people, ancient Egypt is ungraspable’ … shot from the original Assassin’s Creed Origins. Photo: Ubisoft

Whether in or out of school, there are a great number of people who would relish the chance to step into the past in the way Discovery Tour enables. “For a lot of people, ancient Egypt is ungraspable,” says Jean Guesdon, creative director on the Assassin’s Creed games. “We give access to a world that was lost. Nobody knows exactly what it was like – this is an interpretation, of course – but it has good foundations in terms of research.”

The Assassin’s Creed team first considered making a combat-free educational version of the game back in 2009, when the series was tackling Renaissance Italy, but the usual restrictions of time and money made it impossible. Instead, the historians and researchers ended up pouring their passion into the in-game encyclopedia. “This has been a dream for a long time,” says Maxime Durand, lead historian at Ubisoft Montreal. “I started here in 2010, and it’s always been in the back of my mind. But this time [with Origins], I really wanted it to happen. It was the 10th anniversary of Assassin’s Creed, we had this fantastic setting. [I feel that] we also have the legitimacy to do it now, after all these games showing that we treat history with respect.”

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‘It has good foundations in terms of research’ … screenshot from Assassin’s Creed Origins Discovery Tour. Photo: Ubisoft

It would be technologically feasible to go back and do the same with Paris, London, civil-war-era America or any of the other settings that Assassin’s Creed has explored, says Jean – but it would be difficult. “Initially, we thought: all we have to do is take out the combat and we’re done,” Guesdon says, “but it was way more technical than we originally thought. We knew how to do an interactive experience, but this type of experience was new to us.” Questions the team asked themselves included: “Do we need to gamify it more? Do we have character unlocks? Do we have to integrate scoring, or a quiz?”

“Originally some of the tours were two hours long, which was useless,” adds Durand. “It’s a challenge-less system, not like a normal mission or quest. It’s more about the immersion, to bring you into this world and present the information. Those who’ve played through Assassin’s Creed Origins know this world, but they haven’t taken the time to look and listen to it.”

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‘Those who’ve played through Assassin’s Creed Origins know this world, but they haven’t taken the time to look and listen to it.’ Photo: Ubisoft

Jean hopes that Discovery Tour can appeal to and edify a much wider range of people than the 18-rated Assassin’s Creed games have before. “I’m a father of two, and for years I was in the situation where I was proud of our work, knowing the amount of detail that was in those games, but reluctant to bring [my children] with me in front of the screen,” he says. “I had a very personal motivation in that I want to be able to explore Egypt with them, and for them to learn something. Discovery Tour will allow a lot of our players to revisit this world with their kids, or even their parents.

“Video games have tremendous potential, not just for fun,” he concludes. “The medium itself has incredible power to convey so many different things through immersion. This is an attempt to push ourselves, and say to people: look at video games differently. And to look at the game we made differently, ourselves.”

Dead Space was to games what Alien was to movies

Now available free on PC, Dead Space came closer than any other game to replicating the look, feel and atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi thriller.

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‘Teeming with anxiety’ … Dead Space Photo: Electronic Arts

This week, Electronic Arts has made one of the most interesting and atmospheric narrative games of the 2000s available for free to users of its Origin gaming service. Released in 2008 and created by Californian studio Visceral Games, Dead Space remains a heady, often terrifying thrill ride and if you’ve never played it before, it’s worth taking this chance – especially if you’re a fan of the Alien movies.

Although there have been numerous attempts to bring Alien directly to video games – most successfully, Creative Assembly’s incredibly tense Alien: Isolation – it’s Dead Space that has got closest to replicating the look, feel and atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s original film.

Dead Space is about a small crew travelling out into space to investigate a research ship, the USG Ishimura, with which all contact has been lost. Like Alien’s vessel the Nostromo, this is a labyrinthine mining vessel, a multilayered nightmare of interconnected corridors, labs and living spaces built from metallic walls and lit by strobing neon. Like Ripley and co, the rescue team discovers the ship has been invaded by a hideous alien species, and that its shadowy corporate owner may know more about the infestation than anyone is letting on.

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In Dead Space, as in Alien, the monsters are both repulsive and unknowable, but also weirdly familiar Photo: Electronic Arts

And, like Alien, Dead Space seamlessly combines science fiction, conspiracy thriller and horror tropes. It’s a game about a spaceship and aliens, but it’s also a haunted house filled with monsters and ghosts. As you explore the craft, you’re subjected to regular jump scares as the hideous Giger-esque Necromorphs leap out at you from shadowy corners – but there is more going on than shocks. The fact that the beasts are reanimated human corpses infected with extraterrestrial DNA plays with the same fears of impregnation, metamorphosis and subjugation as the Alien universe. These are narrative worlds loaded with psychosexual terror – an element underlined in Dead Space by the protagonist’s regular hallucinations of his wife, a missing crew member on the Ishimura, who continually begs him to “make us whole again”.

In choosing a lowly engineer – the world-weary Isaac Clarke – as its protagonist, and a mining ship as a location, Dead Space also echoes Ridley Scott’s explorations of class and galactic industrialisation. These are not the sterile, high-specification interiors envisaged in 2001: A Space Odysseyor Star Trek; these are working spaces and working people – drab, battered, rusty and downbeat. Ridley Scott was heavily inspired by his own upbringing amid the dying industries of north-east England when he visualised both Blade Runnerand Alien, and Dead Space plays on the same tensions between the wonders of the future and the everyday boredom and dirt of working with heavy machines.

What really works in Dead Space is its incredible sense of place – the endless passageways and unfathomable technology capture a convincingly oppressive atmosphere. For Alien, Ridley Scott built a vast set filled with small interconnected spaces and effectively trapped his actors within this spaceship simulcrum for long filming periods. In this way, their very real tensions and frustrations fed into their performances. Dead Space’s art director Ian Milham has said that, while designing the Ishimura, his team discussed their own fears and dreads – narrow doorways, low ceilings, dentist rooms – and fed these into the design aesthetic. The spaces within the Ishimura teem with anxiety.

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The game’s interiors are loaded with the genuine anxieties of the design team Photo: Electronic Arts

Dead Space had two sequels, but publisher EA enforced a more action-orientated approach for the second and, especially, the third game. Sales slumped. Most of the original development team left to staff a new studio called Sledgehammer Games, which is now entrenched in the Call of Duty development rota. The remaining staff at Visceral were buffeted between other franchises, passing from Battlefront to Army of Two before ending up on a scintillating Star Wars project headed up by Uncharted designer Amy Hennig. But last year, the studio was closed, its new project cancelled.

We’ll probably never see the likes of Dead Space again. It’s worth mentioning that it was released at the same time as Mirror’s Edge, another wild, flawed, original game that fans love, but that couldn’t quite be replicated in a sequel. Dead Space, like Alien, played with genuine unconscious fears and desires while throwing monstrous shocks at you. It takes vision, guts, craft and faith to make something like that, but it also takes money.

Dead Space really connected with people. It scared and thrilled them in ways that couldn’t easily be expressed on a spreadsheet. For the modern mainstream games industry, that’s perhaps the scariest thing of all.