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Old Favourites: The Games We Come Back To Each Year

Matt Gardner
Captain America and the Avengers, Chrono Trigger, Deus Ex, Max Payne 2, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Old Favourites: The Games We Come Back To Each Year

Bank holiday weekends are lovely occasions. Although the Internet never really sleep, most of the news mills grind to a halt over the long weekend, and there's a calm stillness in the air... unless you listen closely, of course. Strain your ears a little and you'll hear the various bleeps and bloops denoting gamers everywhere knocking titles off of their backlogs, sampling those new titles or Steam deal purchases that they've finally gotten around to playing, or diving back into old favourites.

Star Wars Day yesterday allowed for a little reflection on that last point. Since I first saw the original trilogy back when I was nine, that universe has become a place of comfort and escape, through multiple mediums. But as well as watching all six films each and every year, Star Wars has also given me a game that I frequently return to in the shape of Knights of the Old Republic. BioWare's magnificent RPG constantly vies with Grim Fandango for the accolade of my favourite game of all time, and it's down to the story, the characters, the manner in which I, as a player, am invited to have my own adventure in the Star Wars universe, and what an adventure it is.

Just as there are books and films that I make a point of reading and watching at least once every year, so too there are games that warrant the same treatment. Some of them have stories I've simply fallen in love with, there are those that get replayed simply because they're excellent fun and mechanically masterful, and then there are others that perhaps hold some personal significance for me.

It's gotten more difficult over the past few years, of course. To be honest, when you're playing everything that comes through your inbox, it's often hard to find the time to keep these annual traditions alive. But it's those games that have gained some sort of special significance that tend to be the ones we hold onto. Here are a handful of titles that I still manage to make time for, year in and year out without fail.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Old Favourites: The Games We Come Back To Each Year

There are have been many decent Star Wars games. In fact, a number of them have been really, really good. But, for me at least, none come close to the experience I had playing Knights of the Old Republic. Well, apart from TIE Fighter, maybe.

The story to KOTOR is one thing, but it's the characters that make it, and the freedom you're given to interact with them, go the extra distance for them if you wish, to comfort them and piss them off, and to delight in their personalities and idiosyncrasies. It help to be able to leverage the swathes of detailed lore that the Star Wars universe has to offer, but BioWare didn't make it too easy for themselves, travelling back several thousand years before the Battle of Yavin IV.

Like the best books, books with characters that leap off of the page and become part of you, KOTOR wraps you up in its universe and narrative. Then it goes the extra distance and makes you a part of it. Every year I like to go back to that. The twist no longer hits hard, but it's not about that any more. It's about Mission and Zaalbar and Bastila and Carth. And toasting meatbags with HK-47.

Captain America and the Avengers

Old Favourites: The Games We Come Back To Each Year

It should really be Streets of Rage II here. But this isn't a list wholly determined by quality. My uncle used to be a Marvel fanatic, and that kind of passed down to me. I was always Iron Man, my friend Alex was usually the Cap, and we'd spend hours and hours going through this on the Mega Drive, time and time again. Side-scrolling brawlers were perfect games for shooting the shit, catching up, and hanging out without having to focus too much on the events onscreen.

Fast forward a couple of decades and they're still good for just that. I tend to crack it out for old friends, we grab a few beers, we catch up, and we hand it to Hydra.

Max Payne 2

Old Favourites: The Games We Come Back To Each Year

Gaming doesn't often do love stories terribly well. That's because, for the most part, games often don't really do writing that well. For every pillar of fantastic game writing, there are several duds and a handful of solid-but-unspectacular scripts. Max Payne gave us a spot of pulp detective fiction. It was stylised in form and function and fiction. It was utterly compelling, and that dream sequence with the trail of blood is one of the most striking moments in my own personal gaming history as a player.

But it's Max Payne 2 that I play every year. Giving Max a foil. Giving him a sparring partner with just as many one liners and just as much (if not more) to lose. The frantic, balletic, bullet-time combat was better than ever, and this time there was immediate emotional heft. The dialogue zipped along at a machine gun clip, but there were moments of moody, brooding calm between the firefights. Remedy pushed the noir tone to breaking point, but it's masterfully done -- a ballistic ballad that never gets tired or old.

Chrono Trigger

Old Favourites: The Games We Come Back To Each Year

It has fourteen different endings. Fourteen!

More so than Final Fantasy VII or X or Legend II or Secret of Mana, this is the classic JRPG that I come back to each year. It tells one of the finest stories to ever grace our medium and it does it without cinematic graphics or voice actors. Instead we have 2D sprites and fairly minimalistic text to deliver an epic tale of time-travel and loss. Again, it's the characters that make this game, along with the side quests that flesh them out more and more. You go to the ends of the worlkd and back again, but your companions are always there, growing, learning, and adding more and more to your journey.

And now I have Frog's Theme stuck in my head.

Deus Ex

Old Favourites: The Games We Come Back To Each Year

Over the years, I've bought Deus Ex seven different times. Now that's commitment. But again, it's because it's so good and there are so many different approaches. I like to vary things up for year to year, changing playstyles so no consecutive runthrough is ever the same. Plus this one has some pretty damn rousing music as well.

Half-Life 2 is one of the best games of all time, but I don't feel the need to play it every year like I do with Deus Ex.

So that's just a few of the games I try to make time for every year on long weekends such as this. But how about yourselves, dear readers? Do you have comfort games that you come back to time and time again? Or titles that perhaps played an important role in your life that you play through every year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Add a comment10 comments
tr0r  May. 5, 2014 at 15:11

The Suffering - It's been available as freeware on PC for a while now, but since I had it on the PS2 originally it's always been great to go back to. A horror action game done right.

San Andreas - Nothing I can say about this that hasn't already been said, it will never get old.

JonLester  May. 5, 2014 at 17:52

Great article - we've all got games like this!

Personally, I like to complete the original Quake and its expansions (Scourge Of Armagon and Dissolution Of Eternity) on a yearly basis, alongside Half-Life 2's campaign. If time permits, a revisit of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is also in order, though it's becoming increasingly tougher to fit that in.

X10  May. 5, 2014 at 18:51

Wow, to have all the time in the world again. I have never gone back to a game I've completed once. There are too many games in my catalogue of 'want to plays' that going back to a game I have already completed the story to just doesn't make sense to me.

On another note, this kitbashed video of the Battle of Yalvin is pretty good:


Late  May. 6, 2014 at 09:45

Like X10, I don't tend to go back to old games much.
I'll sometimes replay games that I completed within the last few years, on the current platform (Bioshock and Portal spring to mind) but old games? No. On a few occasions I've bought retro games, and I invariably end up disappointed with them. They're never as good as I remember them. Perhaps I'm just shallow, and can't enjoy a game that's not got shiny graphics (but enjoyed them back when those games were the shiniest graphiciest things available). (Yes, I did just invent a word.)
That said, I did recently replay Link to the Past, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Nice to see KOTOR is still loved. I've never played it, but added it to my steam library over the weekend. Must give it a spin at some point. Though it's likely it'll just sit there unplayed for years, as is the well-documented case with Steam games ;)

Old books and films, though, will often come out once a year or so. It's a rare year where I don't watch "Aliens" or read Stephen King's "The Stand".

tr0r  May. 6, 2014 at 10:59

It's a rare year where I don't watch "Aliens" or read Stephen King's "The Stand".

Always fancied a game based on The Stand, but not a clue how it would work.

Late  May. 6, 2014 at 11:52

Assuming you were in the States, do you reckon you'd head to Boulder, or to Las Vegas?

I fear I'd be drawn to the latter. oO ;)

phil16  May. 6, 2014 at 12:26

Like others - Very few games i'll revisit but definitely the following:
Medieval 2: total war - Nothing like conquering europe with canons!
Freespace 1/2 - Best space sim ever
Tie fighter - Second best space sim

MattGardner  May. 6, 2014 at 15:10

Medieval 2 is so awesome. Re-bought that last year in a Steam sale. Still my fave in the series to date.

Come on GOG, let's get the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series on there please!

kristianity77  May. 6, 2014 at 15:56

I have quite a few which I can go back and play quite regularly, whether its the original console or emulation.

WonderBoy In Monsterland (SMS) - Still play this to completion maybe once a year, just to see if I can still remember the route to take in the final castle!

Super Mario Kart (SNES) - Its still great 2 players, especially the balloon popping mini game.

Link To The Past (SNES) - Again, timeless for me. It's held its age much better than the N64 version of Ocarina has IMO.

Symphony Of The Night (PS1) - Total Classic, must have finished this now on PS1, Xbox Live Arcade, PSP and recently on an android gaming tablet.

ICO (PS2) - Love this game, hasn't aged at all due tot he art style. The slight upgraded version the PS3 got was great as well.

X10  May. 6, 2014 at 18:38

You know what - there is 1 game I replayed a few times, but not after a prolonged period. Terminator 2 Judgement Day on the Gameboy. I played that over and over just to see if I could cut my personal best of completing it in 13 minutes, while people in the playground watched in awe!

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