Deus Ex (2000)
I don’t know whether I’ve kept my nearly forty Steam hours of this game because I’m fond enough of it or because I don’t want to just throw that many hours away.
Deus Ex as a first-person RPG offers a lot more options than just shooting bad guys. Every choice we make influences the story. The world-spanning conspiracy plot is almost hilariously convoluted, the voice acting is delightfully corny with quotably dry one-liners (I still sometimes say “A bomb!” when I pick up bombs in other games), and the soundtrack is catchy as heck. Alas, while I had a blast with these aspects, its incorporation of transhumanism into the gameplay is an inherent philosophical caveat, only one of its three optional endings is ethical, and its main villain leads a nefarious religious organization that’s implicitly connected with the Catholic Church. In the infamous words of JC Denton: “What a shame.”
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)
I suppose all the Metal Gear Solid games (except maybe the first one) could be on this list since they were so fun but so perverse (though MGS2: Sons of Liberty was overall just…meh). But playing prequel Snake Eater, out of all of them, kind of made my life feel more complete, and unfortunately, that whole experience was marred by the game’s fetishizing of its femme fatale in a way that became series standard, and she was a genuinely interesting character otherwise.
Still, for better or for worse, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the Bond-style theme song (which I’d break into singing while mowing lawns last summer), David Hayter’s Snake voice enthusiastically claiming “That’s tasty!”, the future series villain codenamed Revolver Ocelot literally meowing, and countless other ludicrousies. Heck, even though I got this more from MGS4: Guns of the Patriots, I now sometimes point to my cat and say, “You’re pretty good!” (Not that I mean it.)
Half-Life 2 (2004)
A year ago, I was obsessing over Half-Life 2, likely writing up my fifth analysis of it for my now-defunct T. Martin Has a Blog blog. What kept me coming back to the hauntingly unpleasant dystopia Half-Life 2 thrusts into was not only the astounding attention to graphical detail for its time but also the humanism underneath its nastiness. But, that’s before I realized the inherent moral caveat of shooting games, the way they’re staged around glorifying violence, with Half-Life 2‘s sympathy for innocents suddenly coming across as a manipulation for us to revel in the constant violence against the bad guys. I indicate how I came to this conclusion in “What the heck do I see in video games?” Now, the evidence of this technical masterpiece on my Steam profile, even though its characters are still funny and moving even after the realization, has been removed forever.