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Number 18

Steel Battalion

I dig giant robots.

You dig giant robots.

Chicks dig giant robots.

That said, only I and six other people in the entire universe owned Steel Battalion last generation. It was a mech sim the likes of which had never been seen before, a slavish adherence to reality anchored to a forty-something-button controller that resulted in what was easily the most engrossing simulation game of all time. And it was about giant robots. Giant. Robots.

Every time you started a mission you had to go through a boot-up sequence for your mech that involved flipping a lot of switches in time so as not to overload any systems, a minigame of immense ritual that made you feel like you were a pilot. It's impossible to communicate how immense that feeling is, but I will try: every time I played, it was with the investment that this was my effort, my machine, my life bearing out the results. If your mech exploded before you could eject (and what a nice eject button that was, it glowed and everything), the game would erase your save file. If you died, you died altogether. Death mattered almost beyond reason, and every mission - and some were well over an hour long - became a cautious exercise in survival and tactics. You got good at Steel Battalion or you hated it. There was no middle ground, as death itself became a real threat and the machine you piloted became the conduit through which you could focus your own will.

Can I communicate that? I don't think I can. This game felt real.

I remember the tenth mission. When a heavy enemy mech rounded the corner of an apartment complex, lowering a weapon so large that my own mech would collapse under the weight of it, I nearly had a heart attack. I spent the next three minutes firing directly into the mech's face, desperately timing my thrusts to the left or right to be able to throw off its targeting. When I finally managed to kill that thing the adrenaline left me shaking for nearly half an hour.

Steel Battalion is an altogether singular experience in my time as a video game player. Nothing else is like it. Nothing else compares to it.