This article is not (necessarily) about the best or most popular games that money can buy. Rather, it is about games with loads of replay value. The kind of games that even a couple of months after you have finished it and became tired of it for the second or third time, you can’t help but pick up and play again.
1) XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I am not the biggest fan of turn based strategy games, but XCOM: Enemy Unknown is definitely in a class of its own. As a 2012 reboot of a 1994 game, it’s an old idea that is executed very well: Aliens invade planet earth and you are in charge of a secret military organisation that is pushing back against the invasion while trying to understand the aliens and their technology. You start off with a few inexperienced soldiers, being transported towards an alien abduction site, where you make contact with and fight the aliens for the first time. The game has a nice difficulty curve, with combat being rather simple at the beginning of the game, and slowly becoming more complicated and intense as the game progresses.
After your first mission, you are taken back to the XCOM underground headquarters. Some of your soldiers would have gained promotions, allowing you to select specific abilities for them to unlock. Their are four classes, each with their own strengths and abilities: Assault, Heavy, Support, and Sniper. I love games that put emphasis on a small squad that needs to be carefully managed, and that the player can to some extent become attached to. This is something that XCOM does really well, particularly if you play in “ironman” mode. In ironman mode the game is regularly autosaved, but the player cannot load earlier saves, meaning that anything that happens, is permanent.
For me, ironman mode is what makes XCOM so enjoyable. If one of your soldiers gets critically injured, you have a vested interest in getting a support unit with a medikit to stabilise the soldier, ensuring that he or she can fight another day. This is not a game where soldiers are to be seen as disposable. Building an experienced team is incredibly important, and losing a few high ranking soldiers can deal a serious blow to your operation. It creates a kind of tension that is difficult to find in games. Outside of combat, there is also a constant need to advance your weapons and technology as fast as possible, in order to stay competitive against the aliens who gradually ramps up the challenge and sends more dangerous aliens your way.
You spend your time in the game either in tactical combat or your XCOM base/headquarters. In addition to managing your soldiers, the headquarters is used to do all other management and decide how you are going to invest your time and money: Assign your researchers to do an autopsy on a new alien corpse that you brought back, or perhaps develop a new type of weapon; Get your engineers to excavate to create more room underground for a new satellite tracking facility. There is a lot to do here and most decisions have long term consequences. When you are done with all this management, you advance time and wait for the next event to take place. Perhaps one of your satellites spots a UFO, you send a jet fighter to (hopefully) shoot is down, and send your skyranger (a high tech dropship for your soldiers) to assault the downed UFO.
Before each mission, you have to select which soldiers will be going on the mission (up to a maximum of six), and manage their equipment, including weapons, armor, and more. The tactical combat is great, and is surprisingly intense for a turn based game. It has the same intensity of real time strategy, but with the benefit of giving you time to make decisions. The sound and graphics are not pushing any boundaries, but more than good enough to create an immersive experience.
This is a game that has huge replay value. While maps and mission types stay the same, each mission is slightly different, as you don’t know which aliens will be present and where they will be. If you have the Second Wave DLC installed (which I would highly recommend), there are a number of ways in which you can “customize” the game after your first play through, such as randomizing the amount of money that each country can contribute to the XCOM project.
If you like tactical combat games, you definitely have to give XCOM: Enemy Unknown a try.
2) The Fallout series
Games that gives you loads of choice often have great replayability, and choice is where Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas really shines. Both these games are good in a number of ways, but for me it is freedom that takes them from good games to great games. Before I get into that, I just want to mention that one of the earlier games in the series is called Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, which was released in 2001. It is similar in many ways to XCOM, and despite being a bit dated now I still like it for many of the same reasons I like XCOM, so check it out if you like tactical combat games.
Fallout 3 was released in 2008, and really brought new life to the series. In short, it is a post-apocalyptic first person RPG with some pretty good storytelling. Without going into too much detail, the RPG elements of the game is really well developed. You can select your character’s traits, aptitude, and skills, and develop your character in interesting ways throughout the game. Skills extend beyond basic combat skills, including speech, hacking, repairing, science, medicine, and more. You probably won’t be able to develop everything in a single game, but this is a good thing, because it allows you to build a character that can approach missions in a unique way.
After playing through Fallout: New Vegas (released in 2010), I tried to test the game to its limits. A few hours into the game, I began shooting everything I saw, whether enemies or friendlies, random NPCs or characters that play an integral part in the storyline. Amazingly, the game actually allows you to do this. There doesn’t seem to anyone that you cannot kill (at least, if there are, I haven’t shot them yet). Now, I am not suggesting that this is how you should play the game, but it is pretty awesome that you have that option. Also, there is a morality and reputation system in the game, so don’t expect everyone to be welcoming you with open arms after you have shot and killed half the game world’s population.
3) Capitalism 2
If you are the sort of person who can’t go five minutes without shooting something, you probably want to stop reading here (just scroll down to Grand Theft Auto). Capitalism 2 is a business management simulation game that was released in 2001, and definitely the best business sim I’ve played. For me, what makes this game great, is it’s complexity. As you might expect, the point is to make as much money as you can, but how you do this is entirely up to you.
I cannot even begin to explain the complexity of this game without writing a thesis on it, so I will give you a short synopsis of how I managed one of my businesses: I started out with a small company, and built a lumberyard that had access to high quality timber. I built a small factory that only produced beds, and set up a few furniture stores in the two cities that I was playing in. After a while I had a pretty good market share, thanks to some fairly decent quality beds build from my high quality timber. How well a product sells depends on various factors, such as the product’s demand, quality, brand, and price. You can probably get away with selling jeans or cigarettes that aren’t quite up to the same quality as your competitors, thanks to marketing, because brand is a large factor in how well these products sell. However, the same strategy might not work for cigars, as quality is a large factor in how well they sell.
But I digress. After expanding my “timber empire of doom” for a few years, I had a large surplus of money to invest in a new business venture. I started by getting back all of my company’s shares (there is a stock market), some of which the company bought back and the rest of which I bought back with money that had been accumulating from the generous salary that I was paying myself (I had to use it for something, I man can only build so many mansions). I wanted to get into pharmaceuticals, but one of my competitors already had a decent foothold in this industry. So I used the rest of the money to set up and run a few R&D labs to develop medicines that would be of higher quality than that which is available in the market. With medicines, the production technology is much more important than the raw materials in determining the quality of the product, so when I finally started producing headache tablets, cold medicine and cough syrup a few years later, I quickly became a big player in the pharmaceutical industry. Mine was just slightly more expensive than my competitor, but thanks to the higher quality of my medicine, I soon took the majority market share in pharmaceuticals.
That is just a taste, and if all this sounds overwhelming and overly complex, it isn’t. There are a few training scenarios to help you get up to speed. The game also has a very thorough and easy to use help system. For example, each product has a screen that shows you which raw materials you need to produce it, how important each raw material is in determining the quality, how important production technology is, and to what extent quality, brand, and price will determine sales. You can also customize the game to make it easier or more difficult: disabling the stock market, playing with less competitors, or less aggressive competitors (or no competitors, if you want), playing in less cities, the list goes on.
4) Sid Meier’s Railroads
Railroads is one of those games that are perfect to just pick up and play for an hour or two if you don’t have a lot of time to spend gaming. It was released in 2006 by the same studio that made the new XCOM, namely Firaxis Games. Apart from that and the same great game design, that is where the similarities ends. Anyone who has played Transport Tycoon (also from Sid Meier), will find Railroads to be a very familiar experience. As the name suggests though, there is no road, air or sea transport in this one – everything happens by rail.
After selecting a region, starting year, and difficulty settings, you start with a single terminal and a piece of rail in a city. From here you must extent your rail network to set up supply lines, buy locomotives and set up their transport routes. For example, you can build a rail network that transports lumber to a paper factory, where another train picks up paper and takes it to a printing press. Or if you want to start off with something simpler you can transport passengers and mail between cities. The game also has some interesting touches, such as incentives to take particular transport deals, or patents that you can bid for against competitors to get exclusivity for a few years.
One of this game’s greatest strengths is that the interface is incredibly intuitive and very easy to learn. Build a long, cross continental rail line in a few mouse clicks, or quickly replace a 30 year old locomotive that has become too expensive to maintain. The benefit of this is that there is very little micromanagement, allowing you to focus on the bigger picture. This is important as the pace of the game becomes quicker as the in game months quickly go by, bringing more money and modern locomotives that reach their destinations with much quicker, or can more easily carry those heavy loads.
It is surprisingly addictive for a game that only focuses on building and managing a rail network. If you like economic or business simulations, this one is definitely worth a look.
5) The GTA series
If you are a gamer, chances are you have played one or more of the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) titles. I have played almost all of them, and they were all brilliant in their own way. As the series progressed, it became more focused on storytelling and slightly more serious. While in some respects the storytelling is the one area where there is still plenty of room for improvement, the sandbox freedom that made the game so much fun to begin with is now better than ever. In the latest iteration, GTA V, the scale is bigger than ever, and every aspect has been polished to a shine.
There is quite a bit to do in the game’s main story, but even so there is probably even more to do outside of it. This is the kind of game that you would probably keep playing until the next squeal comes out. There is nothing like blowing off some steam or alleviating some boredom by picking up GTA V to play some in-game tennis, race a motorcycle through oncoming traffic, do some scuba diving, rampage through the city with a fighter jet, or any of the other million things that you can do in GTA.
If you like these games, or know of other similar games, let me know what you think in the comments section.
P.S. I know I should have probably mentioned Skyrim. It’s not one of my favorites, but definitely worth a look if you like RPGs, and also has great replay value from what I hear.