Gaming generations are a funny thing. As each new one comes and goes I can see that my tastes change with them. Sure, I have always liked action games, but back in the 8, 16 and 32 bit era my genre of choice was the RPG. I would love spending countless hours immersing myself in the stories, the characters and the strategic gameplay. By the time this generation finished I had not completed a single JPRG, and have gotten more into shooters – in both first and third person. This generation offered such a great variety of games but I still found myself going back to the genre over and over.
I could probably fill up an entire weeks worth of articles with all of my honorable mentions, but I’m gonna batten down and commit to my top ten games of the generation.
10. Far Cry 3
Stalking an enemy outpost, I’m squatted down, tagging each and every enemy I can see to make them easier to track and take down. I’ve taken out the alarms so reinforcements won’t be an issue. I’ve even injected a serum into my veins that allows me to see enemies through walls with their scent. My self-made objective is to take out the perched sniper first. I get a bead on his head, and THUNK! He falls over without anyone noticing. I move my scope over the next target when all of a sudden a tiger runs through the camp taking down every single enemy and ultimately rewarding me the compound. And I only fired a single shot.
The best part about that scenario is that it was completely random and sums up what makes open world games so much fun for me. Not only can you approach it any way you want, but also, the world of the game can intervene making a totally unique experience for each and every player; and this is but one of my experiences while playing Far Cry 3.
As an open world that is at once accessible, with so many different things to do, Far Cry 3 is a huge game for a shooter. I’d played the game for over 20 or so hours and still hadn’t seen every area the game has to offer. From hunting missions that involve killing a specific animal type with a specific weapon, to supply drops that play like standard timed check-point races, to helping local citizens of Rook island with their problems, there is always something to do or see in Far Cry 3. I’m one of those OCD types of gamers that will spend as much time as possible in an open world, just chipping away at one mission type until I’ve achieved my goal. Far Cry 3 satiates this need in spades, almost to the point of overdosing.
Far Cry 3 also has minor RPG elements thrown into its already robust gameplay in the form of a skill tree that unlocks as you either progress through the story or perform specific feats. Killing enemies rewards the player with experience points and each level unlocks a new skill point to be used on a new ability. Increasing your health, faster weapon reloading, hold your breath longer when sniping, etc. Think of them as mix between Borderland’s specific skills, and Call of Duty’s perks system. Being able to stab an enemy, pull the pin on his grenade and then kick him into a pack of oncoming enemies is wildly satisfying. To be fair, some of these perks are fairly useless or only useful in the most specific of circumstances, but there is usually a much better and more fun skill to be unlocked in the next round.
Far Cry 3 is an amazing game from start to finish. Even if the story can’t properly tie all of the amazing design decisions together, it’s only a minor disappointment when the gameplay and the sandbox given to play in is as robust and fun as it is here. The expansive, deep, and rewarding campaign and gameplay is enough to justify the purchase alone. Throw in a full multiplayer suite and a fun, if relatively brief and linear co-op campaign and Far Cry 3 is easily my favourite game of 2012. Highly recommended.
9. The Last of Us
I’ll he honest. The Last of Us almost didn’t make my list. While I think the story-telling is above all other games on the list, some of the design decisions kept my initial playthrough from being a 10 out 10 game. Naughty Dog built one of the most believable worlds in games – protagonists with questionable morals, a world eroded by 20 years of horror and desperation, where each encounter can mean life or death if not properly prepared. Choosing stealth to avoid confrontations was not only wise but conservative as being spotted would lead to messy shootouts, brutal bludgeonings, and wasting ammo.
That’s right, every bullet counts. Except if every bullet counts, why couldn’t I pick up every single one I found? Instead I would get a red “FULL” text on the screen. It severely broke the immersion and left me feeling much safer than I should have knowing I could expend bullets and more would be right around the corner – the opposite feeling the game worked so hard and well to create.
So why is The Last of Us on the list? Simply because playing the game on Survivor difficulty rectifies every single issue I had in my prior playthrough. Weapons, supplies, ammo were incredibly scarce and thus the tension and the stakes were raised. Creeping though the Clicker infested college dorm room with two shivs and nothing else was one the most tension-filled, horror soaked moments in my 30 years of gaming. Nevermind the flooded underpass with nothing but some molotovs and pistol bullets.
With the tension nigh unbearable, the story holds so much more weight. Joel’s evolution from hardened smuggler, to caring father figure is so much more believable through the actions in the gameplay because every encounter could be his last. Without the super powered listening afforded to him on lower difficulties, Survivor makes every step count and makes the quiet moments resonate even more.
With an amazing script, performances worthy of any award winning film, and the gameplay to match the painstaking world building by Naughty Dog, play The Last of Us on survivor and you will see what is easily one of the best, most intelligently designed marriages of mechanics and story of the past 8 years. Hopefully when the sequel inevitably comes out, Naughty Dog will allow players to access Survivor difficulty from moment one.
8. Tomb Raider
Considering that Crystal Dynamic’s reboot is my favourite game of 2013 by a long shot, I had to include it on my list for the generation. Crystal Dynamic could have easily released another game like Legend or Underworld and I would have been sated. Instead, they opted to reboot the series and give it complete overhaul from the graphics to the gameplay and the result is one of the best experiences I have had this generation.
I suppose I understand why long-time fans of the series have taken issue with the game’s overall design, but then again, I have been a fan since the original Tomb Raider on the PlayStation and I find nearly every single thing about the reboot to be an improvement. I said, nearly. If there is one, ever so slight negative I can level at the game in the context of the series, is the lack of elaborate, multi-leveled puzzles. That said, I consider the island of Yamatai itself to be one giant tomb with each new area posing its own set of navigational puzzles unique to each area. It is made even more interesting by the Metroidvania progression and secrets uncovered by revisiting areas with new skills and equipment.
The action is fun and intense, the graphics are gorgeous and perhaps the most impressive aspect of the entire game is that it’s all so seamless. Nary a loadscreen to be found once the game begins, and the game hides loading with seamless transitions to new locations and cutscenes. I simply cannot praise this game enough.
7. Grand Theft Auto IV
For me, the storytelling in Grand Theft Auto IV is so ridiculously good that I can’t recommend any other game in the series more. Yes, the game is flawed upon reflection. There’s the constant phone calls to hang out, the disconnect between Niko’s dialogue and the game’s forced behavior are often at odds, but those are minor quibbles when the story and lead character is this engaging.
Rockstar took a lot of flack for reeling in the over the top antics of the previous titles and instead opted to tell a much more personal story of the American Dream seen through eyes of immigrant Niko Bellic. The former criminal escaped to America to leave the life behind him but found that he couldn’t escape his past. It remains Rockstar’s best and most mature game story to date and it seems that they’re unlikely to top it anytime soon.
6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
The Metal Gear Solid series has always puzzled me. I absolutely adored Metal Solid, abhorred Metal Gear Solid 2 and loved Metal Gear Solid 3. Worried that there would be an every other game type of pattern and judging solely on previews and images I could find online, Metal Gear Solid 4 left me worried. Sure it looked gorgeous, but Snake as an old man? Vamp (one of my least favourite Metal Gear villains) was back? Eh.
All of those fears went by the wayside when I finally was able to play. Amazing moment and set piece after amazing set piece and moment. Super slick controls, humor at nearly every turn, amazing and memorable boss battles, variety to the gameplay, all things that are hallmark to the series are present, accounted for and turned up to 10. There are just so many great moments in this game that all service both fans of the series and story. Sure it has absurdly long cut-scenes and is a bit up its own ass with Kojima’s politics, but the fact remains that in 2008 it stood head and shoulders above all other games except one, in which I think it matched in nearly every possible way.
And who can’t love a game that made Raiden go from whiny, force fed-protagonist, to all around bad-ass?
5. Mass Effect 2
After Bioware knocked it out of the park with Knights of the Old Republic, I waited with baited breath to see what their next sci-fi, and first next-gen (at the time) title would be. The result was Mass Effect. A sort of spiritual successor to KotOR (Biotics were kind of sort of like Jedi) but turned up to 10 in every possible way, Mass Effect ushered in one of the greatest franchises I have ever played.
Nothing in Mass Effect could have prepared me for what Mass Effect 2 would actually turn out to be. While the de-emphasis of RPG elements was slightly disappointing, nearly ever other aspect of the game was overhauled and improved. Combat was much more satisfying, the storytelling was much deeper, with more variables and paths, and the side characters were much more interesting and fun to talk to, coupled with the fact that not only had my choices from the previous game carried over, but also my Commander Shepard as well.
Having seemingly optional Loyalty Missions and ship upgrades play right into the ending the player received was a fantastic mechanic (everyone survived for me) that made replaying the game much less of a slog than most RPGs can be.
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
If it hadn’t been for Fallout 3, I would have skipped Skyrim altogether. I played about an hour or so of Oblivion and decided it was not for me. With Fallout 3 being such an amazing game in nearly every conceivable way, I decided to give Skyrim a chance and bought a used copy from Gamestop (with the intention being that I would return it in 7 days if I didn’t like it). Well, I did return it, but turned around a bought it new.
Within day one I was addicted to it. The world building in Skyrim is unlike anything I had previously experienced in an RPG. With hours of quest content, both main and side, tons of gameplay options depending not only on how you choose to level your character, but also which side of the good/evil side you chose to fall on, I was easily able to spend over 250 hours completing the on disc content and acquire my first (and to this day only) Platimun trophy for the game.
What I truly love about Skyrim are the random things you can stumble across in the game simply by exploring. Random dragon attacks as I approached towns, with the townsfolk rallying together to fight the flying beasts of death, or giants knocking a perceived poacher clear into the middle of next gen with the swing of his club, the game offers tons of things to experience without even looking for it.
I can’t wait to see what Bethesda can do next with the new consoles.
3. Portal 2
I bought The Orange Box so I could play Half-Life 2 episodes 1 and 2 since Half-Life 2 is one of my favourite games of all-time. Little did I know that the intriguing puzzle game, Portal would not only be the best thing about The Orange Box, but that it would become one of my favourite games of the generation. With its deceptively simple premise and increasingly mind bending, physics-based, spatially intricate puzzles, witty writing and out of left-field yet wholly earned plot twist, what seemed like a bonus game on an already amazing package became one of the most talked about games in 2007.
Valve including Portal in their package of value proved to be an incredibly smart move as it served as a Trojan horse for interest in the sequel, Portal 2. While the puzzles were the hook of Portal, the plot twist was what really made the game memorable. So much so that I honestly doubted the storytelling in Portal 2 would be much more than retreading familiar territory. I was wholly, and absolutely wrong. The puzzles were insanely involved and required some split second timing and some severe outside-the-box thinking to solve, and the introduction of gels into the mechanics was nothing short of revolutionary.
The fact that it had some of the smartest, most clever, and funniest writing in any game I have ever played, made it impossible for me to put down and makes a very strong case that Portal 2 may have the best writing of any game this entire generation. While none of the plot twists can match the jaw-dropping, WTF moment in Portal, it didn’t need to because the twists in Portal 2 are 10 times funnier.
If, for any reason, you haven’t played these games, fix that immediately.
2. Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare
I will never forget the first time I saw Call of Duty 4 in action. It was during E3 2007 and I had just watched Mircosoft’s E3 press conference with Jason West playing “All Ghillied Up.” While it was an incredibly impressive level in its own right, it was later when Infinity Ward showed off the single-player level, The Bog on on X-Play, that I knew I had witnessed something special. I was already a fan of Call of Duty 2 and 3 for the Xbox 360, but this blew me away. Eschewing the WWII era shooter in favour of a modern day setting, Call of Duty 4 looked amazing in every conceivable way.
With a fantastic single-player campaign in the bag, it was up to Infinity Ward to show why Call of Duty 4 would be THE game to play online; something they did in spades. To this day, Call of Duty 4‘s influence can be felt across all genres, from the buttery smooth, perfect controls (how many games use Left Trigger to aim and Right to shoot?), to it’s persistent online multiplayer (something other games did successfully before but none as well) nearly every shooter since has incorporated some aspect of Call of Duty 4‘s design into its feature set.
Its importance can not be overstated, as Call of Duty remains one of the most, if not the most, popular shooter franchises on consoles – something I still played well into Modern Warfare 2‘s existence. And that praise (or blame if you’re one of those people) can be laid at Call of Duty 4‘s feet. Halo may have made the point that first-person shooters were viable on consoles, but Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4 changed the landscape forever. The vocal minority might like it, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The Uncharted series can be summed up in one word: escalation. It permeates everything in the games from each new chapter topping the previous in scope and ambition, from character development and action, the series has clearly strived to improve with each chapter. While Uncharted 3: Drake’s Decption didn’t quite match the heights of Uncharted 2, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Taken on set pieces alone, the game definitely goes bigger. But for me, nothing tops what Naughty Dog accomplished with Nathan Drake’s first sequel.
I bought my PS3 for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and immediately fell in love with the characters and the set pieces, even if the story was a bit pulpy and only above average. The game had character and style to spare.
Flash forward to November 2009 and the release of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Within the first moments of the game, it was easy to see that Naughty Dog was going to be one of the best game developers in the current generation. The design of Uncharted 2 is so confident, so well conceived and executed, for me it true showed not only what games could do, but how far games as a storytelling medium had come. There is no portion of the game that feels like padding for length. Each combat scenario played in organically with the narrative and set piece after set piece builds tension and excitement to an almost unbearable, white-knuckle level that you almost can’t believe they can top what just came before. And yet, somehow they do.
And that writing! Amy Hennig knocks it out of the park in creating not just fantastic characters, but a story with genuine humor and surprises at nearly every turn. Nathan Drake is so irresistibly likable as the roguish, modern-day Indiana Jones, always with a quip at the ready. When he narrowly escapes a collapsing building, instead of just moving on to the next thing, he takes a moment to laugh about it in such a believable way that it’s near impossible to not like him. And what about Tenzin? A character that doesn’t speak of word of English and yet by the end of the Tibetan sequence he accompanies Nathan on, I was genuinely sad that he wouldn’t be along for the rest of the ride.
Well, I was sad for a moment because after that I had to escape a tank, and then partake in a cliffside car chase that had me fist fighting, getting into shootouts and hopping from truck to truck before they explode.
I could literally fill up this entire article with how much I love Uncharted 2, and I haven’t even touched on how gorgeous the game is, but now all I really want to do is go and play it again. Easily my favourite game of the generation.
So how does my list compare with yours? Let us know in the comments below.