It might surprise some, but video game consoles have distinct generations with the current PS3/Xbox 360/Wii dominated era considered the seventh.
With next week's annual E3 conference set to show off the launch titles and franchises of the eighth generation of gaming (PS4/Xbox One/Wii U), I thought today would be a good time to reflect on some personal favorite games of mine from the last near decade of console gaming. More importantly, I'd love to hear what games you found the most enjoyable of this generation.
As with any list, there's bound to be disagreements. I've been playing video games on and off since my pre-teens in the late 1980s and have had numerous consoles in my time. As a result, I never really understood the petty tribalism that goes on with disavowing a whole swath of games because they are exclusive to one machine or brand.
On the flip side of that argument though, I do have some gaming prejudices. I play games as an entertaining escape, not for competition. As a result I'm not a fan of multiplayer and avoid it where I can. So, a game to me lives and dies entirely on its single-player campaign story. I also have no affection whatsoever for sports games, Japanese RPGs, or first-person shooters with a military bent.
As a result some major franchises and games of the past decade - "Call of Duty," "Battlefield," "Final Fantasy," "Crysis," and the various FIFA & Madden games, hold zero interest for me despite my attempts to have a go at many of them. I've also shied away from the "Gears of War" series for that reason, though unlike the others I have briefly dabbled in it and enjoyed it enough that I intend to give the franchise a proper go in good time.
Also, despite my experience with previous generations, I'm in no way a hardcore gamer as I rarely have the time. As a result, there's numerous acclaimed games that have interested me that I simply haven't had the chance to get around to yet. That is probably why they aren't listed below.
That list includes: "Borderlands 2," "Castlevania: Lords of Shadow," "Catherine," "Dark Souls," "Demon's Souls," "Deus Ex: Human Revolution," "Dishonored," "Dragon Age: Origins," "Fallout 3," "Far Cry 3," "Hitman Absolution," "L.A. Noire," "Left 4 Dead," "Metal Gear Solid 4," "Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch," "Outland," "Red Dead Redemption," "Skyrim," "Sleeping Dogs," and "The Walking Dead".
As you can see, you could easily draw up a whole other list of great games just from the stuff I haven't gotten around to playing yet. Of the numerous games I have played this generation though, here are my favorites:
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The first "Uncharted" was the best 'launch title' of any of the three major platforms, and the third game is a major masterpiece in itself. However, it was with the first sequel that Naughty Dog got everything just right and delivered what I regard as my single favorite video game of all time. Every single thing about this game works wonderfully - the story, the voice acting, the graphics, the level design, the animation, the game play. It not only strikes a perfect balance of platforming, puzzle solving and combat, but it is also the most immediately cinematic of all the franchises on any of the consoles.
2. Mass Effect 2
The greatest cross-platform game series released within this console generation, Bioware's "Mass Effect" trilogy is truly an amazing achievement in any form of media. The company has created one of the most meticulously constructed and painstakingly detailed game universes there is and allows you to explore it to an incredible degree. Mixing action adventure with RPG and FPS elements, it's better than any Star Trek, Star Wars or any other space opera game released. Like "Uncharted", the whole trilogy is great - but it is this second game where everything comes together with just the right balance to create a near flawless work with dozens of hours of gameplay.
Both the original "Bioshock" and the more recent "Bioshock Infinite" are masterpieces, even if the sequel sandwiched in between isn't (but is still a very good game nonetheless). Not just impeccably designed with stunning art direction and environments, but innovative in terms of both variety and intensity of gameplay. The games are a vision of Art Deco, Jules Verne and Ayn Randian aesthetics blended with horror that would make John Carpenter or Wes Craven proud. Both games are also ambitious and compelling in their stories of both scientific and religious utopias rotting from within. Both are truly remarkable achievements that will hold up for many years to come.
4. Portal 2
In terms of sheer gameplay, no game series did more to reinvent that wheel this generation than the "Portal" series. Not only did we get a puzzle solving game that actually required imagination and lateral thinking, but it all played out in a distinct and easily identifiable environment. Combined with a wicked sense of humor, which has lead to some of its catch phrases becoming a part of our cultural lexicon, both games in the series so far are utterly inspired. The second one though takes the 'cake' as such with more elaborate environments and challenges, and some brilliant character voice work by Stephen Merchant.
In the arguments about gaming as an art form, there is no greater evidence than this third effort from ThatGameCompany. Following on from their inventive "Flow" and beautiful "Flower," what makes "Journey" such a milestone is that it's not only impeccably crafted on every level, but it's more satisfying and emotionally resonant than practically any other game out there. From the best use of co-op I've ever seen, to its near metaphysical ruminations on the struggle of life, it is a truly transcendent experience. Designed to be completed in the space of a little over 90 minutes, I have more love for it than 95% of games many times its size.
6. Batman: Arkham City
Not just the best superhero game series of all time, Rocksteady's "Batman: Arkham Asylum" and "Batman: Arkham City" are also a brilliant demonstration of an interpretation of the Batman universe every bit as valid and unique as the Nolan trilogy, the Burton films and the animated series. Mixing a stylised look with a gritty, grounded and twistedly dark approach, both games are stellar in every way. Great stories, (mostly) excellent voice acting, rewarding gameplay, and incredible villain and level design. It's near impossible to pick which is better, with 'City' edging out only for the more elaborate sandbox one gets to play in. Both titles though are must haves for any collection.
Sure it can be completed in little more than hour, but PlayDead's astonishingly artistic and often unsettling platform and puzzle game will linger in your memory for far longer. Looking like something out of the darker recesses of 1930 German expressionist cinema, the unsettling soundtrack and haunting aesthetic has an unexpected emotional impact. Both the dialogue free narrative and starkly simple gameplay are deceptively far more dense and sophisticated than you might think. Blackly comic at times, redemptive and touching at others, and almost always imaginative and inspired.
8. Heavy Rain
If games are only about visceral thrills then this is not the game for you. Instead, Quantic Dream delivers something far more akin to an interactive dramatic thriller - an extended movie in which you are something of an accomplice steering the narrative rather than a passive participant simply observing. It helps that the movie itself is an absorbing tale following four distinct characters with a connection to the mysterious Origami Killer case, and that every choice you make can affect the narrative framework to the point of who lives or dies. Soaked in a beautifully overcast atmosphere and boasting stellar performances (especially from Leon Ockenden as Norman Jayden), it's more an experience than a real game as such. A great experience nonetheless.
Released without much ceremony back in 2009, the first "Infamous" came as a big surprise. It's not that it is particularly original or inventive, what makes it work so well is that it is incredibly fun to play. The comic-inspired story boasts colorful characters, villains, and some genuinely surprisingly twists. More importantly though, the action and gameplay of this open world game rarely falter. Your various electricity-oriented powers are an absolute pleasure to use, the cityscape itself is sizeable and varied, and there's a solid layout of key and side missions. The sequel is just as good, better in gameplay aspects in some ways but slightly less compelling in its storyline.
10. Dead Space
Taking over the crown from the now defunct "Resident Evil" and "Silent Hill" franchises, the first two "Dead Space" games really are the peak of the survival horror genre on this generation of consoles. The story and pacing, particularly in this first outing, are excellent. There is a real great sense of atmosphere and tension here, while the gameplay is great fun due to its reliance not on killing but on dismemberment. As a result, tools like giant rotating saws and drills become far more handy than guns, while the upgrade system is well handled. The second game is even more ambitious and varied in scope, while the third game saw an unfortunate change in tone and handling. Still, it's the more horror-oriented creepiness of this first one that I love coming back to.
11. Assassin's Creed II
While Activision happily trots out the same game over and over every year, Ubisoft Montreal at least keeps not only changing but challenging themselves to improve their biggest franchise. As a series, "Assassin's Creed" has yet to really put a foot wrong and has delivered five quite consistently good full release entries so far. Of all them though, it was our first time with Ezio in the beautifully rendered world of the Italian Renaissance that remains the pinnacle of the series. It does so by taking a great first game and significantly improving upon its few flaws without breaking anything in the process.
12. Alan Wake
Anticipated for years, there was a sense of slight disappointment when "Alan Wake" finally hit due to the relatively short story and admittedly repetitive gameplay. Yet not many other games of this generation can beat it for atmospheric visuals, an intriguing mystery, and an at times ambitious reinvention of the survival horror genre. It's a carefully crafted piece that manages to hold the level of tension high throughout much of its runtime. It's a real shame this game wasn't financially successful enough to score a sequel.
13. Mirror's Edge
The only game I've ever played that often gave me vertigo, "Mirror's Edge" overcame its underdeveloped combat and rather banal story with some of the best non-shooter gameplay I've experienced. The often dizzying first person parkour (acrobatic free running) meant you had to learn how to use your momentum and speed. It's a learning process that sees you falling off a few skyscrapers, but when you get the hang of it there's little else like it. Combine that with a unique bright color scheme and it's a game that reinvigorated my love of consoles at a time when so many other games seemed to feel all the same.
14. God of War III
Boasting arguably some of the most imaginative visuals of this generation, not to mention one of the bleakest stories, the third "God of War" offers incredible production values and a ton of gore. It's the best in the already classic series, even if it offers only minor refinements in terms of gameplay. The story though is engrossing, and often surprising, and the level design is truly incredible. It also offers some of the most twistedly fun brutal violence in gaming since the original "Mortal Kombat" fatalities back in arcade gaming days.
15. Just Cause 2
What's so great about this franchise compared with so many other open world games is that it doesn't care about realism and often defies the laws of physics. Jump onto the back of a harrier jet and ride it like a horse? No problem. Hell, the fight with the second game's final boss sees you running and jumping across nuclear missiles in flight. "Just Cause 2" in particular is not only one of the largest open world games there is, it's also one of the most fun. The story is generic, the missions are engaging enough, but the real fun to be had here is the imaginative death-defying lunacy you can get up to in this sandbox.
16. Super Mario Galaxy
The one game that justified a Wii purchase for me, 'Galaxy' is not quite the game changer that was "Super Mario 64," but it does shake up a fairly stale genre. Great gameplay offers challenges from an often unconventional perspective that requires one to have a good handling of spatial relations. It's also one of the few great games of this generation that can be played by the whole family.
17. Tomb Raider
It's hard to believe but this console age has seen not one but two reboots of the Lara Croft character from Crystal Dynamics. The first was 2006's refreshing "Tomb Raider: Legend" which lead to the almost equally fun "Tomb Raider: Anniversary" and "Tomb Raider: Underworld" (all three of which are available in a great value trilogy box set). Then came this even better and remarkable bit of genius which is easily one of the year's best titles. Just as "Uncharted" borrowed from the original 'Tomb' games, so has "Tomb Raider" borrowed elements from the "Uncharted" series and yet still delivers its own distinct identity. Bring on the sequels.
Though it looks generic on the surface, the surprise of this open-world mission game is that it's just a whole lot of fun. There's a lot of freedom on offer, a rewarding power upgrade system, and a fairly easy and concise way of carrying out missions to dismantle the hierarchies of the three separate gangs that control the city. It's only downside is that it lead to a poor quality xerox copy of a sequel.
A fun and vast open world game that employs a quite incredible swath of increasingly gory powers that are added and customisable in a way that makes things easy even for us laymen. From taking huge jumps that allow one to glide across the city, to the various icky death tendrils, giant blades and morphing abilities - the gameplay is immensely satisfying (if repetitive) and helps overcome a fairly generic story. The sequel, though playable, felt lacking in comparison.
20. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
While I'm not as crazy about "Star Wars" on film as practically every other film geek I know, for some reason I've been a big fan of the computer games ever since I played "Star Wars: Rebel Assault" a good twenty years ago. Though this received a mixed response upon release, I have to admit I'm still a big fan of it - from the powers available, to Sam Witwer's Starkiller character, to the elaborate world stages (I particularly love the Cloud City level), and a decent storyline. The all too truncated sequel was a big letdown, but still - it's a franchise I would've loved to have seen continue.
Some one-offs that I quite enjoyed include the beautiful "Flower," the reboot of "Prince of Persia," and the best of this gen's "Halo" titles - "Halo 3". "Enslaved: Odyssey to the West" surprised me with its scope and fun, while "Grand Theft Auto IV" was well made yet not a patch on "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" which I'd consider the best game of the previous console generation.
"Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction" and "Prey" boasted energy and ambition, "Burnout Revenge" and "Dead Rising" were just absolute blasts, "Braid" and "Papo & Yo" had inventiveness and heart, "Sonic Generations" was rich with warm nostalgia, and "Lost Planet" was more than the generic shooter you'd expect.
Also a big shout out has to go to the various HD collections of previous generation classics such as "Halo: Combat Evolved," "God of War I & II," "Half-Life 2," "ICO/Shadow of the Colossus," the "Prince of Persia" trilogy, "Okami," "The Sega Mega Drive Collection" and the "Metal Gear Solid" and "Hitman" trilogies.
So what have been your favourite games of this generation? Please let me know in the comments below.