Weekend Hot Topic, part 1: Your favourite single-player campaign

GameCentral readers discuss the best ever single-player modes, from Resident Evil 4 to Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time.

The subject for this weekend’s Inbox was suggested by reader Tomen, who asked what your favourite single-player experience has been, whether it’s a single-player only game or just one part of a larger game.

Despite having so many options to chose from many names came up multiple times, including Uncharted 2, God Of War, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, and various Mario and Zeldas.


A good run

Given the amount of choice this is almost impossible for me to ask but using the term campaign makes me think of story modes within multiplayer games and that in turn (and probably thanks to the upcoming reboot) makes me think of Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Call Of Duty gets a lot of criticism and while it is getting very manipulative recently with loot boxes I think it had a great run five or six years, starting with Modern Warfare, where almost every game was a classic.

People forget just how mind-blowing things like the gunship CCTV level and the All Ghilled Up were at the time. Sure, they’ve been copied a hundred times since but these were bold experiments at the time and we’d never seen anything like it. It still sticks in my mind now and I bet the reboot is basically the same thing but with better graphics.


Almost perfect

I don’t know if anyone can narrow this down to just one game but the one I’ve enjoyed the most in recent years is God Of War. It’s also the game that surprised me the most, as I did not expect it to be that good. I expected, as a Sony game, for it to have a base level of quality but it totally exceeded that and became one of my favourite games ever.

I don’t know if it was meant to be proper open world at one point but got cut down, I think I heard that at some point, but for me it was the perfect size and style of game. Enough freedom to wander and find secrets but not a pointlessly large world that you have to spend hours trekking across.

The story was good, I liked the characters (which is a miracle given Kratos) and the enemies had proper motivations and personalities. All it needed was a bit more variety in enemy types and it would be pretty much perfect. I’m day zero when it comes to the follow-up.


Solo above all

My favourite single-player game is Super Mario Galaxy 2. It is just pure bliss from a gameplay perspective and in my opinion the pinnacle of the best franchise in gaming. The difficulty is pretty low but that adds to the enjoyment factor as I never really got stuck on a difficult section. The game also reinvents itself constantly and there is always a clearly defined goal (star) that is not far away. This works to pull you along and makes the game incredibly moreish.

There is not much story in the Mario games though and Galaxy 2 is minimalistic even within that franchise. There is not much story in my second favourite game either, which is the original Portal, although its sequel is better on that front. If I was to choose my favourite game which focuses on the story foremost, then that is What Remains Of Edith Finch. Similarly to Super Mario Galaxy 2, Edith Finch also reinvents itself regularly, which helps to keep it interesting.

I am a predominantly single-player gamer, so I will always prioritise the campaign over the multiplayer. In fact, it will take some fairly extraneous conditions to convince me to play the multiplayer, usually a real world friend who wants to team up. I am one of those weird people that bought Titanfall 2 to play the campaign and ignored the multiplayer entirely.


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Hellishly good

There’s no one answer to this but the first game that came to mind for me was the Doom reboot from a few years ago. I would never have expected a modern game to both replicate the old school gameplay and add a few new tricks so well, but it did it amazingly well. The mix of exploration and sudden, intense combat was amazing and I’m definitely looking forwards to Doom Eternal (which I bet will flop because Bethesda insists on releasing they’re games during the Christmas rush).

You could maybe make the argument that it drags a bit towards the end, and could maybe have been a couple of hours shorter, but I loved every moment of it and have played it through from start to finish many times. More probably than the original, which is saying something.


Second best

I have two favourite story campaigns (sorry I just couldn’t choose between them!):

The first is Resident Evil 4 which still is, despite the many, many games I have played, the most exquisitely paced game ever. It’s constantly outdoing itself with combat encounters and incredible bosses but never puts a foot wrong. I’ve played it so many times on so many formats over the years and never tire of it!

The second is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. While I still love and regularly enjoy playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves took everything to a whole other level. The first game was just a treasure hunt but there felt like there was far more at stake in 2. The characters that I fell in love with were back but Naughty Dog had let them grow up (well Elena had, Nate was still the charming, bumbling rogue!) The gameplay was far better blended with climbing and combat now mixed together and there were incredible set pieces including fighting through a speeding train.

Again, it’s another game I just never tire of playing and while I enjoyed 3 and 4 gave Nate, Elena and Sully’s story a beautiful end, 2 is still my favourite Uncharted.

I generally don’t play multiplayer games, the only one being Uncharted 4’s Survival mode (and even then I only play with a computer companion!) as I enjoy the story and the journey that single-player games offer.


Getting it

It’s got to be Bloodborne for me. I’d never played a SoulsBorne game before then and was very wary of all the talk about it being incredibly hard, which it is. I was on the cusp of giving up and, I think everyone says this, it just clicked and suddenly I found I’d just ‘got’ the game and was making rapid progress.

It never stopped being hard, in fact it got even harder, but I was mesmerised by its hard but fair combat and the endless invention of the creatures and backdrops. A near flawless piece of work and for my money probably the best game ever made.


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Always alone

Although I’ve dabbled with online multiplayer for a small number of games (Street Fighter IV, WipEout HD, and Mario Kart mostly) I am and always have been primarily a single-player gamer. Even games that are designed to work as a multiplayer experience often appeal to me if they can still be played solo, the Borderlands series being the most obvious example – I’ve never once even tried going online with any of them, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them all. I don’t doubt 3 will fail to be an exception.

Obviously it’s gameplay that’s the most important factor to any campaign. Sure, things like Super Mario Galaxy have campaigns choked to the gills with new gameplay hooks to keep you going, but assuming the underlying mechanics are good and married to a great (or even passable) story, it can really help get me invested in whatever I’m playing and give me the extra motivation to see all there is to see. It’s probably because I feel it naturally helps to frame what you’re doing and demonstrate a sense of progression, rather than just watching an abstract level or points counter ratchet up before moving you onto the next set of challenges.

Looking back at my collection there are quite a few contenders for favourite. I’ve always found Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, specifically 2, and The Last Of Us to be pretty, slick and engaging romps. More recently, God Of War upped the ante considerably for player engagement with the characters in an action game. I never got on with the style of the games as they used to be, but the 2018 reboot is only the second game I’ve ever Platinumed, all because I felt so compelled to see it through.

Things like GTA V, the Mass Effect series, and the newer Fallouts, specifically New Vegas, deserve considerable praise for their attempts to draw you in and at least attempt to make you feel like your actions have real, meaningful consequences to the world around you – even if in reality they don’t. However, most of my favourite single-player campaigns have been considerably tighter and more compact experiences than any of those. A bit like my letters, they can sometimes… go on a bit…

Although it’s still quite long, Bioshock’s campaign gripped me from start to finish. Even considering the final boss fight, I’d still rate it as one of my top games of the last generation, just for the build up to that twist. Likewise, I found Batman: Arkham Asylum was an almost perfect blend of level design, gameplay variety, story progression, and pacing. Even though you finish with way more powers and abilities than you started with it somehow still felt like you’d had everything stripped out of you by the time you battled to the end. Yet I think my real favourites are actually from the generation before.

It’s probably only my second choice, but even though on the surface it’s more hammy and cheesy than a croque monsieur, I always felt the GameCube Resident Evil remake managed to take me on quite a journey. Especially with the darker insights into the history of the mansion and the sad fates of its occupants. Lisa’s gradually revealed back story in particular makes the encounters with her not just terrifying but also sad, as it becomes obvious that you can’t just escape and leave her to her own devices, she’s just got to go. All of this, combined with the tight, tense gameplay, purposefully restricted controls and time and challenged based incentives to keep you coming back makes it a bit of a masterclass in my book. Especially as, if you play it right, it can all be done in a single play through in about four to five hours.

However, my top pick is probably Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, another game compact enough for you to best it in a good four hour blast. True, I’ve not been back to it in a while, but in the whole of the previous two generations I never have quite found something that felt quite so satisfying to play through in one sitting. To me it’s always seemed slick, polished and exceptionally well thought out. The levels are aesthetically varied (moments like the ascent of the citadel tower at the end were absolutely beautiful, yet the descent into the prison was as dark, grim and gritty as you could want), progression felt natural and the traversal mechanics always felt spot on to me. Even in its own sequels they started to feel off and by the time the reboot was out with it’s almost automated magical leaping, I’d lost all interest.

I loved the music and the character development. The banter with Farah throughout felt realistic, as did the Prince’s change from arrogant brat to mature decision-making hero. I even liked the sword fighting. It always felt like you were on an organic, flowing adventure. Despite the fact that there was only ever one way to go, it always seemed as if there was something new and at least visually interesting to see just past that next puzzle.

For all it’s free form, open world, hyper realistic historical detail, it’s spiritual evolution, Assassin’s Creed, leaves me cold as a tub of frozen custard.


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