Games can be powerful and transportive. When done right they can have a tremendous and profound effect. They eat our time and entertain us but sometimes they can do much more. They can break us. We can lose friends, miss work, and arrive on the other side of the experience changed. These are a few games that chewed us up and spit us out.

Andrew Hawkins on Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 for PS2 is one of the best skateboarding games ever made. Somehow the development teams at Neversoft Entertainment and Activision managed to encapsulate the skate and punk culture of the late nineties and frame it on a near perfect sports game. Everything from the music to the skaters to the style to the actual gameplay is excellent and super addictive. Once you get in the groove with THPS3, it’s hard to put down the controller and return to the real world.

In 2001, MTV’s Jackass was at the height of its powers and a major influence on my circle of friends. We made skate videos and some of us worshiped the ground Bam Margera and the CKY crew walked on. Tony Hawk’s ProSkater 3 took that and focused on the skating itself. The characters in the game were some of the best on the planet at the time. Players could custom build to fit their own style. Other unlockable characters included Wolverine, Darth Maul on a hoverboard and a hellish femme fatale called the Demoness.

This game was basically lightning in a bottle and became one of the most praised titles ever released on the Playstation 2. Playing it was an all-consuming event where phone calls we left unanswered, friends and family took a backseat and playing Tony Hawk was more important than sleep. This game basically turned me into Floyd from True Romance. Classes didn’t matter, work didn’t matter; and for three years it practically took an act of God to pry me off the couch. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 turned me into a Playstation junkie, and I’m still in recovery.

Nick Nunziata on Wing Commander III

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There are a lot of ways to whittle the time away when one is recovering from a nasty bout of shingles. Unable to work and in supremely intense pain, I became one with Wing Commander III on the Panasonic 3DO. In the mid 1990’s games had not evolved fully to incorporate video and create a seamless experience for players. Using a cast of science fiction and genre castoffs like John Rhys-Davies, Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, and porn star Ginger Lynn, the game took the medium a step forward. It was thrilling, fun, and engrossing. It was the panacea for a truly captive audience.

The game isn’t a masterpiece on any level. It’s the third game in a series whose heyday had passed for all intents and purposes. It just clicked. The story, the medium, and its place as a port of a PC game on a console that limped onto the marketplace. It was an underdog but one that took a very “on rails” experience and made it work. So much so, that a case of the shingles that should have kept me out for a week kept me out for two.

Danielle Ryan on Catherine

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Catherine was presented to me as a puzzle game featuring multiple endings for a disturbing romantic storyline. You play as Vincent, a young man experiencing terrible nightmares. His nightmares are the actual gameplay and take the form of challenging platforming puzzles. Vincent also dons a sheep costume, and there’s lots of sheep-related humor and imagery in the game. It’s bizarre, it’s pretty, and the story is elegantly written. Vincent is engaged to a woman named Katherine, but he ends up having an affair with a mysterious woman named Catherine (who turns out to be a succubus).

The problem with Catherine is that I cared way too much. I wanted to progress in the story, wanted to see what happened next. The game’s difficulty threw me for a loop, because even on an “easy” setting I was having a difficult time with the puzzles. I’m not an advanced gamer, but puzzle games are usually within my grasp. Catherine was so difficult that by the time I beat it, I didn’t want to try again and see the different endings. The game had really put me through the paces, and while I felt accomplished because I had beaten the damn thing, I also felt defeated because I got one of the “bad” story endings. It was frustrating and I ended up googling the various ending videos to try and get some sense of completion.

Catherine is a brilliant game in most ways. The story is genuinely interesting and compelling. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the game’s many mysteries. Who is Catherine? Why are young men dying in their sleep? Who are the other “sheep” in the nightmares? Why are only young men being targeted? As each of these things is answered in turn, there are new questions and new challenges. The graphics are great, the game’s style is great. It’s just too difficult. A game with multiple possible endings needs to have replay value, but Catherine was too difficult to consider trying again to be any fun. I might go back and try again one day, but for now Catherine will remain as the one game that truly broke me.

Brandon Marcus on Rainbow Six

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Every choice counts in Rainbow Six. This applies to every iteration of the series but especially the first few games when the learning curve was steepest. I first took on Rainbow Six on the Nintendo 64 and was knocked on my butt repeatedly. Many long nights were spent trying and trying and trying again. I feel like I aged decades during those exhausting nights.

I was raised on games like Contra and Goldeneye, where you would go into every level with guns blazing. Shoot first, ask questions later (or never.) That’s not what Rainbow Six is. You have to be methodical to take down terrorists, you have to plan your approach, your team mate’s actions, your exit route. If you approach every situation as a hot head, you’ll end up with dead hostages and a failed objective. One missed shot or one wrong move can end in disaster.

Playing Rainbow Six with friends required detailed planning and strategy. You’d sneak into every level with a well-set plan and individual objectives. And when one of your teammates failed – and one of them always failed – you’d crumple up in a ball and scream in agony. Then you’d regroup, see where things went wrong, and try again. It was a routine. A tiring, painstaking and ultimately incredibly rewarding routine. Rainbow Six broke you down and built you back up, making you play the way it wanted.

Drew Dietsch on Spec Ops: The Line

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War games are a dime a dozen. The majority of them have no interesting in exploring the horrific effects that combat can cause. How could they? The medium they are working in is meant for enjoyment. Spec Ops: The Line subverts that by crafting an experience that actively makes you want to stop playing. It’s a war game that examines the relationship between the player and the character and asks: are you a good person? Is there even such a thing in wartime? And most importantly, should you be playing these kinds of games for fun?

I’ve never been a big fan of video games that appropriate realistic military aspects and repurpose them for entertainment. I’ll play Doom all day long so it’s not a matter of violence. It’s taking the trauma that soldiers undergo and gamifying that has always rubbed me the wrong way. Spec Ops: The Line would seem to agree and decides to thoroughly dissect such a notion. The plot takes inspiration from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – therefore lifting from Coppola’s Apocalypse Now by proxy – and throws the player into a hallucinogenic hellscape that makes this more of a horror game than a war game.

Spec Ops: The Line challenged my ideas of the player/character relationship, the concept of war games in general, and even my desire to play certain types of games for fun. There is a moment in Spec Ops: The Line that actually caused me to put the controller down and walk away from the game. I don’t want to spoil it because it is such an affecting sequence that permanently altered how I perceive my responsibilities as a player. If you walk away from Spec Ops: The Line unchanged, you might be dead inside.

Spec Ops: The Line challenged my ideas of the player/character relationship, the concept of war games in general, and even my desire to play certain types of games for fun. There is a moment in Spec Ops: The Line that actually caused me to put the controller down and walk away from the game. I don’t want to spoil it because it is such an affecting sequence that permanently altered how I perceive my responsibilities as a player. If you walk away from Spec Ops: The Line unchanged, you might be dead inside.

Bob Aquavia on Final Fantasy XIII

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I’ve always been a huge Final Fantasy fan, starting with FF2 (4) on the SNES when I was a kid. In some form or another, I’ve played pretty much all the games on the main consoles, handhelds, etc. So for me, whenever a new main title was set to be released, I would be excited and dialed up to 11. It wasn’t until I played FF13 that I took a long hard look at that excitement, and how much of it actually had to do with the games and how much had to do with my life at the time.

When it finally came out, I was beyond ready. My girlfriend at the time bought a copy too so we could set-up separate TV’s and play at the same time. I knew the reviews weren’t as enthused about this iteration of the series as in years past, but that didn’t bother me. But once I started playing, it felt different. I was and still am a fan of all kinds of JRPGs, but this one didn’t feel right. I didn’t feel the excitement or push to keep going.

That disappointment manifested into outright sadness. This was a series that I had loved since I was 12! It wasn’t until I looked back much later on that I realized it wasn’t the game (but good lord, was the game disappointing). For a long time, video games were a crutch for me. I was very awkward and a late-bloomer, to say the least. But things were different now: I had a good job, was in love, and in general was at a great spot in my life.

Final Fantasy 13 was a transformative moment when I realized that I didn’t NEED video games like I used to. That was a major shift for me, and the sadness wasn’t from the game per se, but from the realization that I had outgrown my childish things. So I walked away from it. It was one of the very few RPGs that I never finished and I don’t regret it one bit.

Graham Host on Skyrim

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Ever since I first laid eyes on Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, I knew that it would be the first in a line of games to shake the world. So when I finally sat down to play Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It was a game reported to have been in development since before there was a system able to handle it. I had no idea how much it was about to ruin the experience.

Do not misunderstand: Skyrim remains a great game. But the endless quests and favours is daunting. Oh, you walked into town to sell some weapons? Shame that a guy across the city mentioned the Dawnguard. Off you go. Dared to even enter Whiterun? Have another quest. And the Dark Brotherhood? There is – and I use this word correctly – literally no end to the questline. As soon as you reach the end, you start getting random assassination quests. And they never stop!

The lack of any meaningful reward to being the Dragonborn also has some drawbacks. Even without completing the Greybeard quests, you can become the Emperor, settle a civil war, commune with gods and demons and become the leader of magic in the Empire. And what do you get? A few fancy bits of equipment and some followers to carry your junk around. The action might be fantastic but boils away to leave nothing much.

Eric Fuchs on Overwatch

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I don’t like first person shooters. I don’t like multiplayer games. And I really don’t like games without storylines. But my fling this past summer was with Overwatch, a title that is everything that does not interest me in gaming. Specifically, it was a white hot love affair with Tracer. But I had room in my heart for Zarya, Mei… really the entire cast is great. The whole game was magnetic and appealing in ways FPSs just are not.

This team shooter game presented the genre in a bright positive way. It creates a warm community without the typical riff-raff of its peers. Overwatch is stylish and designed to encourage players. You still had loud morons claiming to be “carrying the team” while they failed again and again as Genji. But for the most part every player had a role to play. Everybody had chances with their Ultimates for greatness. Even playing the lowly Healer classes could be fun. Mercy seems innocent and blond, but her sidearm could take down a cocky Reaper.

Overwatch was the kind of game that devoured time. It was easy enough to say “oh just one match then I’ll get going”. Then before you know it, you’re two hours late. “Couple matches before bedtime.” Then it’s 4 AM and you haven’t won a match all night. Doesn’t matter if you get fired or die of exhaustion tomorrow at work. You have to keep going to get at least one Play of the Game.

Nick Nunziata
Nick Nunziata created CHUD.com.