Yes, I know; the generation isn’t done yet – for a start, we’ve still got GTA V, BioShock Infinite and the Last of Us to come; all games that could very realistically make their way onto this list upon release. But you know what – I don’t care. Sometimes it’s fun to do lists and by God, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Here, if it make you feel any better, just think of it as the ‘Top 10(ish) Games of the Generation up to and Including the 15th of March 2013’. It may not be catchy, but if you are a stickler for the facts, it’ll certainly help you sleep at night.
Anywho, with that long winded caveat out of the way, I can get down to the business of regaling you with my favourite games of the generation. Ross and I actually spoke about this at length on the most recent episode of Brashcast (check it out here) and, while the majority of this list is interchangeable, my top 3 are both absolutely set in stone and bizarrely enough, completely different from Ross’ (although I suspect that may have something to do with my general malaise toward Bathesda games). Now, before anyone gets too upset at the lack of Skyrim and the such, allow me to stress that I’m far from blind to their qualities and charms; they simply don’t click with me – maybe it’s the combat, maybe it’s the weird looking NPCs, but despite my best efforts, I just don’t enjoy them……….strange that I loved Dragon’s Dogma as much as I did. Go figure.
As I said, you probably shouldn’t take the positioning too seriously for numbers 10 through 4 as these really could be in any order with a few honourable mentions added which could have easily made the top 10 if I had, say, compiled this list on a Tuesday rather than a Friday (in fact, it has seen changes to the order from the list presented on the podcast earlier this week), but yes; those top 3 – they’re golden.
10) – Lost Odyssey (Xbox 360)
Lost Odyssey is a game very close to my heart and stands as one of my favourite gaming experiences of the generation (hence its place on the list I suppose). A traditional JRPG experience in the finest sense of the word, Lost Odyssey is a fantastic game and a great option for those disillusioned by Final Fantasy XIII’s streamlined, largely linear design.
Some may find it a little too ‘old school’, but with its fascinating lead, great writing and brilliant game world, Lost Odyssey proves to be the 360’s finest JRPG at an absolute canter…..although that may have something to do with the general lack of stiff competition. Ni No Kuni may well force its way onto the list once I play it, but as it stands, Lost Odyssey is still the one to beat.
9) – Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Nintendo Wii)
It may not be everybody’s favourite Zelda, heck, it’s probably not most folks favourite Zelda on the Wii, but for me (does that make me sound like Alan Shearer?), it’s right up there with the best that the series has to offer. I think a lot of that has to do with the art design that I absolutely adore, but perhaps more than anything, it might be that final battle which has to be right up there amongst the most memorable boss battles of all time.
I appreciate that it being originally developed for and simultaneously released on GameCube make this game borderline ‘last-gen’, but personally, I got it at launch with the Wii and thus has become somewhat synonymous with the console. Either way; it’s an utterly fantastic game.
8) – Portal 2 (Xbox 360 / PS3)
How the hell did Valve manage to spring Portal on us? Any other developer or publisher would be screaming the virtues of a game of that quality from the rooftops months ahead of release, but Valve, no, they go and sneak it onto a compilation including 4 others games with essentially zero fanfare. It was a bizarre but ultimately inspired decision as, given the amount of content on the disc, it often took gamers weeks if not months to finally get around to this hidden little gem…..but when they did; what a treat. What a downright pleasant surprise. In this age of information overload, it’s borderline absurd that a game of this quality could essentially sneak up on the gaming masses, but that’s exactly what it did.
Valve’s spiritual successor to 2005’s independently released freeware game, Narbacular Drop, Portal and it’s near perfect sequel have gone on to become two of this generations most beloved titles. Despite the outstandingly high standards of the original, Valve, as Valve often do, outstripped all but the most unrealistic of expectations by delivering a sequel that improved upon just about every aspect of the original’s design – ok, so the end credits song was admittedly better in Portal 1 (I don’t know how that could possibly be topped anyway), but despite this most minor of caveats, Portal 2 is the superior product in just about every way. The puzzles are more expansive, the visuals improved and, I’m being serious here, Portal 2 might just have the best videogame script ever; a script helped no end by some truly stellar delivery……..even as I write this I think about moving it further up the list.
7) – Project Gotham Racing 3 (360)
I’m sure this won’t be on too many top 10 lists come the generation’s end, but I don’t think I’ve put so many hours into any other racer………possibly ever. With its near perfect balance of realism and arcade sensibilities, each and every car in your virtual garage is a joy to behold, and thanks to the inspired kudos system, something as simple as a single corner is essentially transformed into a mini-challenge unto itself.
Not happy with simply continuing on the series’ fine tradition of painstaking recreation, varied challenges and super slick gameplay, Project Gotham Racing 3 almost single handedly dragged early adopters into the next generation of gaming; from its striking high definition visuals to its then incomparable online integration, Project Gotham 3, more than any other launch title, managed to successfully sell the primary concepts of next-gen gaming to the masses.
6) – Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3)
I’m not going to lie – I haven’t been exactly enamoured with the PS3. Yes, it has its positives, but honestly, as a piece of hardware, I find it very difficult to love – substandard ports, mandatory installs and quite possibly, the longest update times known to man have all combined to make the PS3 a bit of, well, a bit of a chore if I’m to be honest. So, thank God for games like Metal Gear Solid 4, a game so good, it somehow makes the console for which it was built look superior by association.
Despite my issues with the hardware, the PS3 has been host to a collection of fantastic first party content (only the shooting mechanics have kept Uncharted from making this list), but despite the array of quality on display, it’s Metal Gear Solid 4 that effortlessly stood out from the Sony crowd.
Of course, it isn’t for everyone and, as one might expect, is home to an almost incomprehensible story, but Snake’s final flourish (?) is nonetheless a borderline masterpiece of modern game and art design and is only bettered by the genuinely unforgettable Metal Gear Solid 3.
5) – Gears of War (360)
Despite the original only being released 6 years ago, it’s already easy to forget just how innovative and impactful the first Gears of War game really was. Beyond ushering in genuine next-gen visuals, it popularised, and arguably perfected cover shooting mechanics, and managed to do so on the first attempt no less. With the exception of possibly Platinum Games’, Vanquish, no game has come close to matching Gear’s pitch perfect cover system. Yes, it is dependent upon a plethora of conveniently placed, waist high walls, but when the gameplay is as enjoyable as it is here, it becomes all the easier to suspend ones belief.
Sure, the story and characters are mostly mince, but the testosterone fuelled script and beefcake visuals perfectly match the on screen gameplay and, man, those visuals sure are great aren’t they? Of course, they have since been trumped, most obviously by its gorgeous looking sequels, but in terms of initial impact, few games this gen have managed to match the initial Gears of War for sheer wow factor.
4) – Mass Effect 2 (360 / PS3)
The story of Commander Shepard may vary depending on your choices but one thing that remains universal is the quality of the overriding experience. Mass Effect may have successfully laid the foundations but it was the games’ far superior sequel that truly brought BioWare’s unforgettable universe to life.
By ironing out the faults of the first game and building on its already rock solid foundations, Mass Effect 2 proved one of this generation’s most unforgettable gaming experiences. Mass Effect 2 delivered an extremely flexible combat system, a memorable cast of characters and arguably one of the generation’s finest videogame narratives. Helped no end by BioWare’s game changing conversation wheel and movie standard voice work, Mass Effect 2 proved a gripping, hugely addictive experience………still haven’t played Mass Effect 3 though – what’s that about?
3) – Vanquish (360)
I said it in my review and I’ll say it again – this might be the coolest game ever created. It’s cool in that way that only Japanese developers and writers seem to be able to get away with. For one, Sam Gideon should be a complete douche, and in some ways he is, but burning around on his knees, talking shit and smoking far too many cigarettes, he somehow comes out the other side looking, and here is that word once again, ‘cool’. From the clean, crisp art design to the ultra-tight gameplay, just about everything in Vanquish works. Sure, you could argue that it’s just another cover shooter, but when it’s one that arguably surpasses its primary inspiration, who am I to argue with its existence?
There have been a host of cover shooters this gen, but with the exception of Vanquish, few, despite the best efforts of such games as Binary Domain, have come close to matching Epic’s initial take on the mechanic. Not only does Vanquish match it mechanically, but it also manages to inject some much needed pace in the form of the inspired knee slide boost, something which, let’s be honest, shouldn’t have worked, but in practice, is an absolute joy. I am an unashamed Platinum Games super fan and despite the brilliance of Bayonetta et al, I genuinely believe that Vanquish might be their finest work to date. Perhaps it isn’t as tight as Bayonetta, but hey, what can I say, I love giant Japanese robots (or are they Russian?).
2) – Red Dead Redemption (360 / PS3)
I’ve always appreciated the Grand Theft Auto series more than I’ve actually enjoyed it. Each game in the series has proved technically outstanding, have all deliver huge amounts of content and are about as cinematic as gaming experiences get. The thing is though, as great as they might be, I’ve always found the realism of each games’ setting quite jarring against the flat out outrageous back drop of mass murder, maiming and generally blowing sh*t up. Sure the cops rock up if you really get out of hand, but get some decent distance between yourself and the chasing pack and all is forgotten.
Thanks to the wild west setting and the more devastating effect of basic weaponry, the story and subsequent actions of the player in Red Dead Redemption felt more natural and in sync than in any of the Grand Theft Auto games that came before it. Simply put, Rock Star had found the perfect setting for their exceptional brand of sandbox gaming and boy did they run with it.
Red Dead Redemption’s world, while inevitably a quieter place than the bustling modern day Liberty City, is a work of creative genius. Visually, it’s as stunning as anything you’ll find this gen, the story is compelling, its characters both memorable and unique…..and that ending, my God that ending. Considering how much time people often spend with a game, it’s amazing just how little effort goes into the finale of even some of the best games. Red Dead Redemption’s is poignant, thought provoking and completely befitting of the experience that comes before it. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece.
1)– Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
It was always going to take something very special to keep Rock Star’s, Red Dead Redemption from claiming the top honour and that’s exactly what Super Mario Galaxy 2 is – something very special indeed. As good as the other games on this list are, nothing comes close to the pure gaming joy of Nintendo’s implausibly good Super Mario Galaxy 2. I would honestly go as far to say that I could play this game forever. With all 240 stars in the bank, I can’t help but go back to this tour de force in videogame design time and time again.
Back when the original was released in 2007, I honestly thought Nintendo had painted themselves into a corner. I mean, how could they possibly top something quite so brilliant? The fact that they did so and just 3 years later is still something of a mystery to me. As great as the first game was, Mario Galaxy 2 trumps it on just about every level – the level design in improved, the soundtrack even more magical and the visuals just that little more crisp and imaginative.
I often ask myself the same question now as I did back in 2007 – how are Nintendo going to top this? Only Nintendo have the answer to that question – and that’s why they’re Nintendo I suppose. The perfect game? It just might be.
Honourable Mentions – Halo 3: ODST, Halo 4, Ghost Recon: Advance Warfighter, Bayonetta, Street Fighter IV, Rayman Origins, Journey, The Orange Box, Dragon’s Dogma