Best Of The Generation: The Best Games
Wow, the past eight years have been filled with so many great experiences, memorable moments and unforgettable characters. I’m a huge fan of movies, books and comics but as an entertainment medium games are infinitely more memorable because you are completely engaged , living vicariously through Ezio or Nathan or Marcus. Games leave a lasting impression on us but then there are games that leave a lasting impression on the industry.
Let’s not get too emotional, it’s just the end of an era. We’re only saying goodbye to an amazing console generation *sniff*. There were plenty of amazing experiences and so many great games but only a select few truly defined this generation. They were the innovators, the truly unique, the games that stand above the rest as beacons of near-perfection. They are the games that we think of when looking back on the past years of gaming. After much deliberation (approximately two hours worth give or take a few e-mails) and more cat fights than we care to admit, we managed to arrive at what we felt were the 10 games that truly defined this generation in gaming.
Assassin’s Creed II
When we look back on this console generation, there are few series with their grubby paws all over it as much as Assassin’s Creed. Six games in just over as many years; bar Call of Duty there is scarcely a franchise that has thrust itself into the public eye so regularly and with so much speculation around it. There simply is nothing comparable to an Assassin’s Creed experience. The mix of fluid free-running, complex narrative and a world so rich in detail and wonderfully recreated that you want to absorb every aspect of it is something bespoke to the series. Amazingly recreated cities and environments make it feel as if you really are living in that era. For all its flaws and shortcomings, Assassin’s Creed is one of the defining series of this generation. Assassin’s Creed II is the shining pinnacle of the series. It introduced us to the brash yet affable character of Ezio, who remains a fan favourite, and managed to blow the concept of Assassin’s Creed into something truly amazing. The notion of reliving genetic memories with this subplot of Assassins vs Templars and the modern intrigue of Desmond Miles (may he eternally burn in hell for being a dull character) was fantastic but Assassin’s Creed II took it and built a rich, incredible game around that with a strong revenge plot and a character who we saw develop and grow up. There was just so much to do in the world whether it was repairing Monterrigioni, solving Animus puzzles, exploring Assassin’s Tombs or simply soaking in Renaissance Italy in all its magnificence? Who can forget the splendour of Venice or the wonder of carnival or the fascinating way da Vinci weaved his way into the plot. Punching the Pope was pretty fun too.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Very rarely, if ever, will one go back to a game released six years ago to do anything other than stuff around and laugh about ‘way back’, when you and your friends played it during the formative years of your gaming careers. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, however, is another story entirely. Even today, you can dust off your old game browser and fire up a match on a local, populated server, only to watch blissfully unable to stop as the rest of your day is held captive by your insatiable need to reach Level 55 again, marched ever onwards by the allure of that Golden Deagle swag. Between its offerings of vanilla and hardcore mode, along with the competitive ProMod release for it, CoD4’s multiplayer catered to gamers of all inclinations, providing countless hours of entertainment to the casual market, as well as establishing a dominant presence in the eSports arena. Ultimately, however, Call of Duty 4’s success was also it’s downfall. It set the bar so high for the FPS genre with a comprehensive multiplayer offering; on top of a well-scripted, engaging, and at times utterly mindblowing (dat nuke, anyone?) singleplayer campaign, that when Activison began annually released iteration after iteration of Call of Duty games, the series embarked upon a downward spiral which, to date, it has not been able to recover from. Despite having the best gameplay mechanics, level and map design and developer integrity (in terms of modding tools, server files and dedicated servers), Call of Duty 4’s player base was diluted far too quickly for it to ever have enjoyed the lifespan it deserved.
Despite being forced into a premature antiquity by worse-designed successors, there can be no doubt that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare pushed the shooter genre forward into a new era, setting the bar at a level so high that no game has been able to stand up to it yet. Call of Duty 4 was without a doubt the defining shooter and multiplayer offering of the generation.
The underwater fallen utopia of Rapture with its spliced up inhabitants lurking from the leaking, ill-lit and damp corners entered the gaming world in 2007 and it has left its mark on many a gamer’s mind. The world of Rapture is one with an interesting history – a history slowly revealed, piece by piece as the player rummages through the remains of a once high and mighty society built free of law and God. A man-made utopia for none other than man itself. A utopia built on the bottom of the ocean by Andrew Ryan as a refuge for men and women sharing his selfish, yet somewhat sensible vision. This was a game that was actually trying to develop socio-political themes whilst also providing fantastic gameplay.
Rapture was as breath-taking as it was harrowing and lonely. It’s horrors and history were etched into the walls and evident from the conversations between Splicers. It’s downfall was brilliantly catalogued in audiologs and the entire city was steeped in an atmosphere that made it feel tangible, almost real.
Not only did BioShock meld the FPS and RPG genres with finesse but in doing so it created one of the most energetic and enthralling gameplay experiences of this generation. One can scarcely talk about BioShock without mentioning its ending. An ending that blindsided players and was so unique that it still stands today as one of the most memorable moments in gaming. It was a masterclass in storytelling that set the bar for narratives in games.
As much as some games claim to be story-driven they tend to fail when it comes to the story component and might be saved by the gameplay, characters and visuals. Heavy Rain is all about the story and when playing the game you can tell that it was designed around reminding the gamer of this through the way the scenes played out and the gameplay. You play as four characters who are all connected in their pursuit of the Origami Killer. Each character provided a new perspective of playing the game from Ethan’s desperate measures so as to save his son to Jayden’s high tech ARI equipment then Scott Shelby’s old school investigative techniques to finally using Madison’s journalistic skills as well as her femininity to try and crack the case. All four characters provided a different view of the game which was something I had not experienced with the current games on offer. What made the game a true trendsetter was the fact that there was no wrong way of playing it in that if you missed a quick-time event or chose a dialogue option that you felt might be wrong, you never got a game over or reload from last checkpoint option. Instead the story changed with the outcome of the decisions you take and the game carried on and is a perfect example of how a game adapts to the player and not the other way round. It was very open-ended and there was the real possibility of characters dying midway through as a result of your actions.
The motion capture tech and game engine pushed the bar very high for the level of nuanced detail a game was capable of; from the emotional facial expressions of the characters to the smallest detail of a wet leather jacket, everything was designed to pull the player further into the world of Heavy Rain. Visually and story wise Heavy Rain was a breath of fresh air and changed the way we view story-driven games.
Gears of War
In the earlier days of gaming, cover-based shooters were not very popular. With the arrival of Gears of War, this dramatically changed. Gears of War featured an innovative cover system that was both smooth and responsive. The smooth shooting mechanics also made that the game was extremely enjoyable. This spearheaded a revolution within the genre because Gears of War showed the gaming industry how it is supposed to be done. The effect of the game’s success still resonates to this day with countless games featuring cover mechanics that attempt to mimic the smoothness that Gears of War achieved. The game itself featured setpieces and action packed sequences that we have not seen in a lot of games. The gritty world of Sara was also a new concept with much darker tones and more of a depressive atmosphere around it. The characters, while being unreasonably massive, were likable and the ever charismatic Baird and Cole added some flair to the overall experience. Considering Gears of War released so early on in the generation, it was surprising that is was of such high quality both gameplay wise and graphically. It can be marked as one of the early games that ushered in a revolution for blockbuster action games that would soon dominate the industry.
The Orange Box
Keep in mind that when we speak of The Orange Box, we’re referring specifically to the Half-Life 2 Episodes. Even more specifically, to Half-Life 2: Episode Two. The Orange Box released in 2007, a year after Half-Life 2: Episode One released on PC, in order to group together the Half-Life 2 series of games, Team Fortress 2 and Portal. This was the only way of acquiring the games on the current generation of consoles and thus, is the only way to award Half-Life 2: Episode Two. See, back then Valve were toying with the idea of episodic content. Nobody else had really tried it before and they met astounding success with the releases of their two Episodes. Specifically Episode Two enhanced the Half-Life 2 experience in almost every way, delivering what could only be described as an eight-hour-long rollercoaster ride that began on a climactic note and ended in probably the series’ strongest and most poignant moment. “Prepare for unforeseen consequences,” said G-Man. He was not lying. The graphics were a step up on a then-aging Source engine, the gameplay did some new things to mix up the physics-based formula, and there were even some neat additions to the game such as a garden gnome that you could send to space if you so desired. But the crowning achievement of Half-Life 2: Episode Two was its story. Rather, its ending. In that single moment, the world’s greatest cliffhanger, as yet unresolved, was created. It was that very thing that created the hype for Half-Life 2: Episode Three, or Half-Life 3, whichever came first, and it is the resolution of that cliffhanger that has resulted in Half-Life 3 reaching an almost mythical status in the gaming world. Half-Life 2: Episode Two is therefore an easy choice for us, for this list.
There’s a lot to say about Journey, a lot more than we could possibly sum up in a paragraph. Journey is possibly the best, and most interesting, example about how a videogame can transcend into the realm of art, and presented not only an easy escape for gamers and non-gamers to get utterly lost within, but also managed to make every second of it’s beautifully crafted experience immensely captivating and utterly incredible. You play as a mysterious robed figure that wakes up in the middle of a massive desert, with an ominous mountain inviting you to come closer. You glide, slide, hide and even ping your way through the sandy ocean, visiting old ruins and artefacts of unimaginable splendour along the way. But this is only the surface of what Journey offers, and as stunning as it is it only accounts for a small part of an even greater experience. Journey awakens something in you while you play and channels it onto the screen in front of you. It’s an extremely difficult sensation to explain, mainly because it differs from person to person. Tales of self-discovery, coping with grief and sometimes just an overwhelming sense of accomplishment are just a few things that players have accredited the game with, and it is truly one of the most unique experiences this industry has ever produced. It questions what a game can do for its player, and ultimately proves that even short, masterfully crafted experiences can sometimes have the most resounding impacts on those who give it a chance. Thank you, thatgamecompany. It’s going to be a long time before we ever experience something this perfect again.
Arguably the original Portal would have been fine without a sequel, but Portal 2 is both an extraordinary sequel to an iconic game and a generation defining game in its own right. The Portal series is unique in its first-person approach to physics-based puzzle platforming and Portal 2 made this clear by tweaking and refining the mechanics laid down in the original Portal, adding some new ones with different gels, anti-gravity bridges and other such additions to further the formula. Portal 2 is a solid evolution and exceeds the original Portal with far wittier writing, developed characters (such as GLaDOS’s character arc and backstory) including Wheatley (who is laughable as an antagonist, but it works brilliantly) and an exceedingly well-oiled gameplay execution. Portal 2 was easily eGamer’s best game in 2011 and is by far one of the most noteworthy games from this previous generation. Behind the game’s witty and humorous façade was an interesting and intriguing story which helped bring to the life the career of Aperture Science’s founder Cave Johnson and the origin of GLaDOS, and Wheatley to a lesser degree. The gameplay was also refined and bested the original, as previously mentioned. But you went into the game expecting much of the same from the previous outing in the original which in comparison feels more like an experiment when compared to Portal 2. It improved on everything that made Portal a great game and pushed it beyond. In Portal 2, you made a journey through a crumbling Aperture Science seeing how such a place came to be and the narrative was driven forward so effortlessly with great mechanics and gameplay design. It truly felt like a master class in game design which hit all the right notes and executed everything flawlessly leaving little to be criticised. Portal 2’s perfection is nothing to scoff at, as it is indeed one of the best games that defined this generation and for good reason. Portal set the benchmark for first-person physics-based puzzle games, Portal 2 exceeded that and set the standard.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman: Arkham Asylum stands today as one of the most important games of the generation. When you thought of licensed games, you only ever think of the words “cash-in” and “garbage”, that is until relatively unknown studio Rocksteady took the industry by a storm and delivered a Batman title so good that it could stand up against the best the industry had to offer in its year. With stunning production values, fantastic use of the source material, memorable set pieces and excellent gameplay that encompassed everything you’d want in a game about The Dark Knight, Arkham Asylum was the real deal. It forever raised our expectations of licensed games, setting the new standard and eliminating our depressing complacency. It not only made Rocksteady Studios a widely popular name in the industry but actually pushed other developers, such as Beenox with Spider-Man and High Moon with Transformers, to deliver a higher quality with licensed games, which was awesome to see. Batman: Arkham Asylum also laid the foundations down for its sequel Arkham City, which once again blew us away as it showed that a licensed game could match the production values, content and scale of full blown triple A titles. Arkham Asylum was a turning point, and to this day it remains unforgettable for its achievements. For a great many fans, it was certainly one of the proudest moments this generation.
The Walking Dead
Point-and-click adventure games have been going through a rough time since their popularity peaked in the 90s. Along comes The Walking Dead to breathe new life into the once prestigious franchise. The game featured everything we loved about point-and-click adventure games such as problem solving, exploration and intrigue. But what we did not expect was one of the best narrative experiences out there. The game featured an excellent cast of characters that you became attached to as the game progresses. You also had to make choices in the game that would test your emotional strength and not a single one was easy to make. The story was masterfully told with pitch perfect pacing and you always felt involved in the story. There were moments that shocked you and some that moved you to tears. Everything a great narrative needs was done by The Walking Dead in one way or another and the game flourished because of it. It also revolutionized the point-and-click genre because it showed us what you could do with such simple mechanics. It gave a benchmark to other games in the genre to strive towards and has paved a way for more games like it to follow in its footsteps.
With so many games, so many great games that meant so much to us, it was hard to narrow an entire generation down to a list of 10 but we managed it in the end. However, we simply couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t at least give the following games a mention.
Depending on who you talk to, Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim are likely to come up when discussing favourite games of all time. They are by no means perfect but they offer a vast and rich open-world so unique that each player’s experiences will differ from the rest. With regards to both Skyrim and Fallout 3, they are phenomena. The sort of games that people have dedicated hundreds of hours towards.
Mass Effect is the game that launched one of the biggest trilogies of this generation. In addition to being a fantastic RPG experience it is also one of the earliest games to really give your actions some weight. What you did had ramifications and they could be felt right up until the end of the game and through into Mass Effect 2.
The middle child is always the problem child but Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is regarded by many as the pinnacle of the series. A visually stunning benchmark in what an immersive action game should be. It had some fun characters, stunning visuals and a true sense of adventure.
Finally we arrive at Grand Theft Auto V. The shear hype around this game was immense, it broke records and stunned the world. Players immediately fell in love with it for making GTA fun again. With three protagonist and a clear sense of how to show you a good time, GTA V provided one of the best open-world experiences of this generation.
If these games could take the form of people (we’ll also accept cats) we’d embrace them in a bear hug for enriching our lives with some great memories and hours upon hours of entertainment. Looking back, it’s been an amazing eight years with no shortage of incredible games. However precarious the gaming industry may be heading into next-gen and despite the uncertainties, there is still so much promise and potential within the talent of the best developers. We can’t wait to see what next-gen produces.