5. Driver: San Francisco
Funk music? That’s kinda cool. Light-hearted, self-aware buddy cop dramas? Yeah, I like those. A little bit of supernatural around the edges? Sounds intriguing. Driving cars like Starsky And Hutch are late for a wedding? Definitely in for that. The ability to possess other drivers as I go and switch between vehicles on the fly?
… Damn, where do I sign up?
Driver: San Francisco holds a position in the Driver series similar to what Bad Company was for the Battlefield series. It’s a little bit smarter, a little bit lighter, a little bit more experimental. Here the experiment of mechanics was the power to inhabit the bodies of other drivers mid-chase, allowing you to divert oncoming traffic and smash into the Hamburglar’s vehicle head on. Give Driver: San Francisco a go, because as somebody who isn’t big on driving games, I still found myself hooked. Groovy.
4. Sam And Max Hit The Road
Not the first or last adventure/detective game on this list, LucasArts’s bouncy 1993 classic featured a dog in a hat and a rabbit with sharp teeth and no shame whatsoever. No, I wasn’t expecting that either. Based on the comic series made several years before it, the creators had a very important realisation early on: adventure games at the time involved comparatively little interaction, and were largely about watching characters do the thing you told them to do in long, scripted sequences.
So you should probably make those sequences really, really funny. The actual mystery plot that runs through Sam And Max is too strange and random to really have much of an impact or tension, but on a moment-to-moment level it’s filled with surreal humour and punchy wit supplied by our two protagonists as they bumble across America in pursuit of a missing Bigfoot. Since then it’s featured on multiple “best games” list and has been named by some critics as LucasArt’s best game ever.
Big words. But don’t think that’s entirely true…
3. Grim Fandango
… Not whilst Double Fine’s 1998 homage to film noire, Grim Fandango, is still a part of their back catalogue. Back in the days when Tom Schafer was having to get his ideas pushed through the filter of George Lucas’ business model in order to get them published, he and his team created a surreal aztec-afterlife-mystery-comedy-point-and-click-adventure-game, a genre that I’m pretty sure includes only Grim Fandango and that idea I had when I was drunk one time. Who would’ve thought that “Tlazolteotl and the Clickable Vixens Of The Thirteen Heavens” would actually manage to lose money on Kickstarter?
But Grim Fandango worked far better than anybody could’ve thought, despite not achieving great commercial success upon release. Tom Schafer created a rich, vibrant world with beautiful imagery and a compelling narrative threaded throughout, slamming together ancient South American ideas with old detective classics to great success. And even though everybody looks like they’re wearing a cheap Halloween mask, they still manage to emote better than Marcus Fenix and Solid “emotions are for weak people” Snake ever could. For those interested, a remastered version was released back in 2015 for the PS4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS.
2. The Wolf Among Us
Everybody knows at this point that Telltale Games has three great games under their belt. The Walking Dead Season 1, Tales From The Borderlands, and… that Michonne miniseries.
Yeah, right. No, it’s The Wolf Among Us, adapted from Bill Willingham’s comic saga Fables to great success. The basic idea of figures from popular mythology living in a suburb in New York is fairly compelling in its own right, as The Big Bad Wolf (here re-imagined as a chain-smoking P.I. werewolf named Bigby) stalks around their little district making sure that his circle of improbable friends doesn’t accidentally reveal their existence to the wider world. But Telltale ramped up the brutal realism of it all and made it into something really poignant, mainlyby humanising characters like Snow White, Mister Toad and The Little Mermaid and making them into tragic figures brought beneath their former mythical status. And when Bigby finds a severed head resting on his doorstep, even the fragile, failing system that the Fables operate under threatens to collapse under its own weight.
Even as Telltale pulls hopefully on the coat-tails of major franchises like Minecraft and Game Of Thrones in an attempt to crib a few more sales through association, I still remember that early entry that gripped more heavily than anything they’ve done recently.
1. Hotline Miami
I was playing this Hotline Miami recently, and even as I ripped out a man’s throat, gunned down his friend and threw a pan of hot water into his associate’s eyes, I realised I was not thinking any differently to the chap on the screen I was playing as. Few experiences are more immersive, using subtle storytelling, mechanics and audiovisual design to drive the player into a screaming frenzy of rage, much like the psychotic protagonist. And between hallucinations and murder sprees, there’s a strange suggested story at the edges of everything that the alleged hero can only vaguely perceive, too caught up in his own untrusted thoughts to focus and realise there’s something very weird going on.
And fair enough, because the gameplay is pretty brain-taxing. Unforgiving in a way that few games are, the Man In The Lion Mask runs around slashing at everything he can see and shooting at whatever doesn’t happen to be in stabbing range, until you are inevitably shot down by some goon with an assault rifle and start again. And again. And again. And again. And agaAAARGHGODDAMNITKILLKILLKILL! Each attempt barely lasts longer than a minute (if even that) but the repeated failures mount up and drive the player into an angry, impulsive mindset that’ll carry you through this oddly intelligent game. Yes, you come out of it a dribbling lunatic, but that’s better than most of the characters, who only come out with repeated washing and a good detergent.
That was our list of the ten best crime games that did the crime and should echo through time. But what are your favourites? Would you have included anything else? Were there any games here that you thought didn’t deserve recognition? How likely is somebody to bitch at me for hating on Grand Theft Auto V? Leave your opinions in the comments and tell us what you think.