My Top 10 PS4 Titles So Far
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As 2016 comes to a close, we're about half-way into the PS4's life-cycle. While I haven't played every available title that I'm interested in, I'm deep into the current library and thought it would be fun to make a top 10.

Let me know in the comments if you are surprised by a game's placement, a big fan of a game, or maybe were expecting some other titles that aren't here.

2017, here we come!
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1. Video Game: Styx: Master of Shadows [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:4014]
Video Game: Styx: Master of Shadows
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10.

Kicking off my top 10 we have a game with significant untapped potential, a clearly unfinished campaign where the second half remixes the first, and some of the most punishing load times seen on PS4.

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But damn if it isn't one hell of a stealth title, with vast & complex level design. If you enjoy mulling over your route, ghosting through enemies unseen, scouring hideaways for all manner of goodies, and systematically defeating the various security measures in your way... you should play Styx.

Rating: 7/10
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2. Video Game: Metro 2033 [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:784]
Video Game: Metro 2033
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9.

Next up we have the PS4 "Redux" of Metro 2033, originally released in 2010 for the PC. The technical quality of the PS4 release is excellent, with lightning fast load times, smooth performance, and a thick sense of atmosphere.

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I played through the game twice, partly to see both endings, partly to try out the Spartan/Survivor modes (very minor differences in the 'feel' of gameplay), partly to optimize my weapon progression, and partly see how game hangs together with less scrounging for supplies and more goal-driven advancement. The world design in Metro is peerless, and there are wonderful, if brief sections that let you sink your teeth into a stealth-oriented toolkit (throwing knives, silenced weapons, light manipulation). But the game also feels 'scattered,' never fully committing to a wide range of ideas. I enjoyed it but felt that it showed only glimpses of real depth.

Rating: 7/10
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3. Video Game: Rise of the Tomb Raider [Average Rating:7.74 Overall Rank:592]
Video Game: Rise of the Tomb Raider
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8.

This one is pretty fresh for me, as it's only been a couple of weeks since I finished it. Some excerpts from my comments on the games-beaten list sum things up:

Quote:
Ultimately, Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like a 9.5/10 game that was "Triple-A-ed" down to a 7.5/10. The devs look for inspiration in all the wrong places. They display a pure disregard for players' narrative immersion. And they hint at mastery but shy away from their strengths - Metroidvania world design, stealth gameplay, meaningful crafting and upgrades, and environmental puzzle-solving. In some areas, it feels like they are striving to deliver a crappy product. In other areas, it feels like they are anxiously withholding a great one.
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Rating: 7.5/10
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4. Video Game: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End [Average Rating:8.44 Overall Rank:146]
Video Game: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
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7.

No doubt, some people expected to see this higher up on the list. For me, A Thief's End was both anticlimactic as an end to the series (not nearly as good as Among Thieves or The Last of Us), but also a saving grace (much better than Drake's Deception).

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The god-awful retconning of Sam Drake is a poison pill, for sure. "Pirate engineering" doesn't help. But series mainstays like Elena Fisher sustain player's investment in the narrative, and there are little flourishes in the platforming and stealth. Refreshingly, action often takes a backseat to exploration, and for the first time in the series there are some wide-open spaces to explore in serene solitude.

Rating: 7.5/10
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5. Video Game: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:1672]
Video Game: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
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6.

This is really a split entry between the original game, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and the standalone DLC campaign, The Old Blood. Both are way better than they have any right to be, and while The Old Blood ends on a sour note with it's silly zombie overrun, I appreciate some it's slight improvements to the gameplay.

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Both titles are remarkably well put together, with strong level design, excellent weapon design, viable stealth, good incentives to look for secrets/collectibles, and an admirable "perk" system that lets you build up your character by performing specific tasks (as weird as it sounds, it's basically an Elder Scrolls style "learn by doing" progression system in an FPS). For the most part, these titles do a good job updating the obviously-ridiculous tone of the original Wolfenstein, yet maintaining a commitment to the world. The plot occasionally throws up a faceplam or two, and there are some extremely unfortunate bossfight / enemy wave sequences, but on the whole these titles shine.

Rating: 8/10
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6. Video Game: Life is Strange [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.91 Unranked]
Video Game Compilation: Life is Strange
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5.

Next up we have Life is Strange, the only product to seriously challenge Telltale's market dominance in so-called "choice-based" narrative titles. Like a lot of fans, I'm not thrilled with where Life is Strange ends up in Episode 4. And like pretty much every episodic series in this mold, the task of creating a satisfying conclusion in episode 5 is almost hopeless - but that doesn't stop the developers here from swimming against that current and achieving much more than I expected.

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Series like this one are largely about characters and emotional texture, and Life is Strange delivers in those areas. These episodes consistently take 3-4 hours to complete, and give you plenty of opportunities to get in Max's head and think about how you want to develop relationships to other characters. The writing is way above average. Max is a great protagonist. I wouldn't say this is perfect by a longshot, but the only Telltale series that can touch it are the TWD: Season 1 and Tales from the Borderlands.

Rating: 8/10
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7. Video Game: Fallout 4 [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:183] [Average Rating:7.89 Unranked]
Video Game: Fallout 4
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4.

I love the non-procedural, hand-crafted world of Fallout 4. It is glorious to roam the wasteland in and around post-nuclear Boston for 100+ hours, building up your character and getting lost in a wide range of quests. If you know what Elder Scrolls stealth ("sneaking") looks like, this will seem familiar, but it's a great game for silenced pistol and long range sniping. Using VATS is not necessary but adds a lot of entertainment when you catch a small group of foes by surprise.

From gallery of JohnRayJr


On the other hand, relationships with your allies are quite shallow, the procedural "radiant" quests are ridiculously poor, the factions are almost universally unlikable, there's a bizarre/forced lack of role-playing around the main character's search for her son, weapons have obvious "best" upgrades rather than a variety of styles to choose from, and the perk system is too straightforward. It's hard for me to imagine coming back to Fallout 4 and trying out a different character build, but maybe I'll feel differently in a year.

Rating: 8/10*

*Hopelessly overshadowed by Skyrim.
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8. Video Game: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:1014]
Video Game: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
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3.

I'm a hardcore fan of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Mankind Divided provides some phenomenal environments to master, providing an elaborate playground to someone who loves "ghosting" through levels. Building up Jensen is engaging, and at a mechanical level the game is superb.

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At the level of mood, Mankind divided doesn't always "feel" like Deus Ex, especially during the daytime sections set in Prague. At the level of conspiracy-laden corporate intrigue, the game feels a bit off-the-rails - more like Deus Ex fan-fiction and less like the real thing. At the level of continuity with previous games, Mankind Divided feels like everything rests on pretext, like the lore is shambling along as a necessary but neglected vehicle for delivering the next "hit" of Deus Ex to fans.

Rating: 8/10
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9. Video Game: The Talos Principle [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:577]
Video Game: The Talos Principle
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2.

The Talos Principle, while not my favorite game on this list, is definitely the game on this list with the least baggage. It is a superb puzzle game, and also a deeply intriguing experience as you try to piece together who you are, where you are etc. While there are a small number of simpler puzzles to drive home the mechanics, no puzzle feels uninspired or thrown in to pad the experience. Some of the later puzzles gave me serious brain burn, and I had to give up and come back later with fresh eyes (and was then able to progress).

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Really, the worst that can be said about The Talos Principle is that it slightly overstays its welcome, and that some of the difficult puzzles are difficult because you have to manage a lot of little steps, whereas I prefer hard, lateral-thinking puzzles with elegant solutions.

Rating: 8.5/10
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10. Video Game: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain [Average Rating:7.84 Overall Rank:611]
Video Game: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
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1.

So what tops my PS4 top 10, half-way into the console's life cycle? A lot of gamers would probably be surprised to see MGSV here. Here's why:

The Phantom Pain offers an experience I just can't get anywhere else, and I'm not talking about Hideo Kojima's cold war fever dream, which is largely relegated to the background here. I'm talking about the intricate, astonishingly robust experience of infiltrating enemy territory. MGSV lets you pick your drop point (angle of approach to the target), lets you perform meaningful reconnaissance (basically unheard of in videogames), lets you pick a loadout that includes multiple primary and secondary weapons as well as a wide array of useful gadgets, lets you choose an ally that substantively shapes what you can do, lets you choose camouflage that affects your visibility and audibility, and packages all of this within a peerlessly responsive control scheme. There is a satisfying "long game" where you build up your private army's base, gather materials and recruit officers, research hundreds of new technologies to deploy in the field, and even choose which enemy supply lines to disrupt, which can affect specific security elements during your next several missions. Technically, MGSV is one of the most optimized games I've ever played, with impressive visuals and par-setting load times. When you've gotten to the end, it's fun to go back and S-rank all 50 missions.

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I have the Platinum trophy for MGSV. It took me well over 150 hours, and I greatly enjoyed the overwhelming majority of that. It might be the only game on this list where if you somehow deleted its existence, I would feel a real sense of loss to the hobby as a whole. Nevertheless, it has flaws. The side-missions recycle the same ideas ad nauseum. At the level of narrative, it's obviously incomplete. Kojima's nonsense factor, while sidelined for a while, still flares up for the occasional face-palm. As a much-touted bridge between Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and the original 1987 Metal Gear, it's hugely anti-climactic, and for that reason alone it will retain a certain infamy among fans.

But, I loved it.

Rating: 8.5/10
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