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The Games We Keep Returning To

I don’t think it’s possible to accurately tally up the thousands upon thousands of hours spent playing video games in my lifetime. I’ve owned fourteen platforms in my time and have quite literally poured my heart and soul into all of them. There have been games I’ve given weeks or months of my life to, and others that I’ve offered a mere glance to, before packing them back into their case, never to be played again.

Retrospectively, I’ve bought or been given games that – unbeknown to me – I’d still be playing time and again, many years later. What might seem the most ordinary of titles could prove to be a hidden gem for me, and I’ll revisit it once every so often. Conversely, a title could be so superb in all aspects possible, that it makes clear sense that I’d want to experience it several times over. Here are five of the games I just can’t help but go back to.

1. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Konami, 2004)

I first played Snake Eater on its original release platform: the PlayStation 2. Strangely, I’d never considered playing a Metal Gear game before this one, and I’d only picked this title up as it ‘sounded quite good’. A few hours in, and I was smitten. The realism, the tactical combat, the aspects of choice… I was bowled over. I found the story to be so immersive that I wanted to relive it repeatedly. I thought the game featured some of the most well-designed characters I’d ever seen, each unique to the next. This game ensnared me so well, I’d go on to own it on four individual platforms (PS2, Xbox 360, 3DS and PS Vita) and I’d replay it dozens of times over the next decade or so.

2. Life is Strange (Dontnod, 2015)

This may come as an unexpected revelation, owing to the fact that the vast majority of games I play are violent in nature, competitive, or expansive. Life is Strange came into my life one evening as a result of a sale on Xbox 360. I’d never seen or heard of it before, but the trailer looked okay and the first episode was a few pounds, so why not? Fast forward four years, and I’ve 100%’ed the title on three platforms, become enamoured of the characters and story, and firmly cemented myself as a Grade A Fanboy of the underrated, episodic teen-drama game.

I don’t imagine I’m a member of their key demographic, but they really managed to pull me in. I found the evolution of the story to be extremely well done, with well-placed twists, enough choice to ensure a decent aspect of replay-ability, and a charming art style that was pleasing to the eye. It’s in no way a triple-A title and can easily be picked apart, owing to the portrayal of typical teenage angst and some cringey youth-speak, but it won me over and that’s all that matters.

3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar Games, 2004)

If there’s a gamer out there who says they haven’t in some capacity come into contact with San Andreas, they’re lying. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest titles of all time and firmly ranks in my top five. I’ve worn out discs, likely logged thousands of hours of play, and re-visited the story dozens of times (if not more) since getting it at launch, fifteen years ago. It’s a title I’m so fond of, I still actively revisit it now, in the middle of playing the modern releases.

Let’s face it: San Andreas was ground-breaking. A huge play area, a massive story, and a wide range of customisation options made for a thrilling, immersive and enjoyable experience time and again. The game has left a lasting legacy, both in the world of gaming, and the realm of the internet, with various aspects of the game being prime meme material today. I just can’t resist dipping back in when I get some free time, owing mostly to the sheer accessibility of the game. I now own it on Xbox One, 360, PS4, PC, PS2 and Android. Everywhere I look, I see San Andreas! Whether I’m pounding the mean streets of Ganton, cruising the highways between Red County and San Fierro, or throwing away cash in the casinos of Las Venturas, I know that every trip back into San Andreas will be a memorable one.

4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda, 2011)

“I used to be a casual gamer like you, then I put Skyrim in the disc tray.”

One of the highest-rated, most widely-praised, and yes – the most re-released titles in history. Skyrim is truly worthy of a place on this list, for me. I’ve owned the standard edition, the Legendary Edition, and the Special Edition, across Xbox 360, PC and Xbox One, and have played all expansions as deeply and completely as possible. I’ve restarted the game countless times (although I always end up as a damn stealth archer!) and have journeyed across Skyrim for endless miles and hours, always in search of something new.

Unfortunately, the game is now showing its age, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. There’s enough content to get lost in on each replay, a wide sampling of character types and races to play as, and more locations to explore than you can shake a wabbajack at. I’ve always been disappointed that my PC isn’t powerful to run the game maxed out on mods, as I’d love to experience Skyrim with some of the incredible graphics packs that are available. Either that or run the mod where dragons become Thomas the Tank Engine characters. Awesome.

I firmly maintain that this game still has life left in it, and I’m sure that it’ll be re-released when 2021 comes around – 10th Anniversary Special Edition, we’re looking at you! I’m a sucker for the title though and would happily dive back in for another playthrough when that time comes.

5. Fallout 4 (Bethesda, 2015)

Another Bethesda game, for my shame! I’m well aware that this entry may land me in hot water, but Fallout 4 remains quite possibly my most played game of all time (at least, it’s the one I’m able to prove). I’ve logged over 800 hours on Fallout 4, across PC, PS4 and Xbox One, have played the story to the end multiple times (exploring every possible scenario) and have replayed all major expansions at least twice.

So, with that level of play, why do I bother to revisit it?

In a sentence: I just really enjoy it! I find the gameplay to be stimulating and entertaining, the world to be immersive and well-built, and the missions to be varied and nicely mixed. I always seem to find new places to scavenge or new enemies to battle on every playthrough and try my best to take different conversational paths each time I play. Admittedly, the depth of choice is far from infinite, so I’ve obviously done the same thing a few times over, but it’s still entertaining and great for passing the time.

I maintain that the expansions for Fallout 4 are some of the best I’ve ever played, rewarding the Lone Survivor with new lands to explore, characters to meet, quests to fulfil and constructions to… well, construct. The build-a-base aspects are still enjoyable and quite open-ended, and the introduction of mods served only to extend the potential of the title.

Although I know Fallout 4 basically word for word, I’d happily pick up the controller and spend four or six or… ten… hours exploring, any time, any place.

In fact… Diamond City is calling.

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