The Top 25 Games of the Generation! Whew! From the release of the Xbox 360 in 2005 to the release of the Xbox One, the 7th generation has seen video games grow to become the most successful entertainment medium of all. And it’s not just monetarily, from the graphics to the storytelling, from the earliest days of Xbox Live to the massive success of online multiplayer, video games have evolved to something so much bigger than any of us could have even imagined.
A lot of games came out in this 8 year span across all of the platforms so narrowing it down to 25 was no easy feat. Obviously everyone’s list is going to be different so in the interest of transparency, we decided to let you all in on how we came to our 25. First, this list is not based on objectivity. Every single game on our list has also appeared somewhere on our individual Top Ten Games of the Generation lists. From there a scoring system was implemented based on list position. For example, a number 1 game earned 10 points, the number 2 position earned 9 points and so on. From there if two games tied for a position, the game that appeared on more lists had more weight and would earn the spot, bumping the other game down a spot. In the event that games appeared on 1 list and were tied with another singular nomination, the 5 of us voted on which game we wanted to see in the next spot. The winner of that vote stayed in the next position and the erm, non-winner, bumped to the lower spot. This continued until we had our list of 25. Finally, the only games that were not eligible to be included that have been released since November of 2005 are the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 exclusives. Vita and 3DS games are allowed.
So without further ado, Gamer Horizon presents to you, The Top 25 Games of the Generation!
25. Alan Wake
What do you get when you mix a little Twin Peaks, Stephen King and Remedy’s focused shooter mechanics? Alan Wake, the long in development cult hit for the Xbox 360 (and much later, PC). Fans of any one of those elements would find something to enjoy in the game, but fans of all 3 were treated to one of the most interesting, unsettlingly atmospheric games of the entire generation. Presented like an episodic TV show, Alan Wake unfolds like a season long mystery ramping up the tension as Alan Wake‘s world becomes more and more unraveled. It may not reinvent the wheel, but it does make a strong case for the idea that maybe the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented, just simply provide a smooth ride.
“The story of Alan Wake isn’t simple by any stretch of the imagination, but it is good.” -Chris Barnes
24. Mortal Kombat
MORTAL KOMBAT! Yep, it came back with a bang in 2011 along with a masterful storyline that tied the actual reboot of the franchise with the storyline. It was a clever way to reintroduce us to some familiar characters and really focus on catering to both fighting game aficionados and casual players. Yes, there’s still Fatalities. Yes, there’s still Scorpion, Sub-zero, Mileena, Kitana, etc. But the one smart thing they did was that they returned the series to its 2D roots and really focused on making the game more than just a fighting game. Its story mode is still one of the most fun fighting game modes this generation, and even Yoshinori Ono from Capcom (Street Fighter IV dude) concedes that said mode was just something that they never even had thought about including.
“…the one thing that genre needed other than a new, easy to comprehend version of Street Fighter was a counterpoint that actually was willing to throw away its current conventions and start anew. Mortal Kombat was exactly that game.” -Alex Inigo
23. Halo 4
Bungie has become one of the most decorated developers of our time. They broke out into mainstream success with 2001’s Halo. While it became a cash cow franchise for Microsoft, Bungie eventually left to start something new, forming a partnership with Activision to create Destiny. Microsoft formed a new studio with some old Bungie talent and some newcomers to form 343 Studios, a developer dedicated only to Halo. Halo 4’s gameplay was first shown at E3 2012, and it looked fantastic compared to previous Halos. The game eventually came out to high praise from critics, and some called it the best Halo ever. Perhaps it was sacrilege to bring Master Chief out of stasis and bring the Covenant back as an enemy, when the Halo story was nicely wrapped up, but Bungie gave us two sidestories after Halo 3. The only thing that would have satisfied the die-hards was another Master Chief adventure.
Halo 4 also introduced an online co-op mode that updated weekly with new cinematics. The co-op mode ends with large plot developments, making it feel like an important part of the package. Credit has to be given here, 343 delivered 2 half seasons of quality content.
Halo 4 was a tough challenge for 343, who were stepping into some very high expectations. However, they exceeded these expectations while taking risks with multiplayer and moving things into new directions, ultimately making something they could call their own.
“Bungie did a good job creating Halo, 343 Industries did a better job making Halo 4.” -Chris Barnes
22. Persona 4 Golden
For many, Persona 3 and Persona 4 represent the best games of the Shin Megami Tensei universe. They both seamlessly combine a dungeon crawling RPG with a life simulation where the player is charged with controlling the life of a high school student. Though diehard fans of Shin Megami Tensei may swear by other titles, there can be no denying that it is the recent Persona games that have become the most popular in North America, and Persona 4 Golden is the ultimate version of that fantastic game. With an engaging story, likable characters and addicting gameplay, Persona 4 Golden is exceptional.
“With improved visuals, new story content including voiced dialogue and easily 100 hours of gameplay, I can’t think of any JRPG that’s easier to recommend this generation than Persona 4.” -Ari Margo
21. Mass Effect 2
Bioware followed up their massive (no pun intended) success in Mass Effect with what many consider their Magnum opus, Mass Effect 2. At both times expanding and simplifying the gameplay systems employed in the original, Mass Effect 2 was far more accessible and every bit as rewarding as its predecessor. The story picks up weeks from where Mass Effect left off, with Commander Shepard having thwarted the Reaper invasion – now newly back from the dead (!) with a brand new team – taking on a new threat to the galaxy. What makes Mass Effect 2 stand out for many is the continuation of choices made in the first game – the rewards and the aftermath – and an even better cast of characters each with their own story arc to be explored through “Loyalty Missions.” For completionists, this was a gamers dream come true as successfully completing each mission lead to a harrowing conclusion which every single character could possibly not return from.
“Nothing in Mass Effect could have prepared me for what Mass Effect 2 would actually turn out to be… 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…” -Sean Mesler
20. Rock Band 3
As the last version of the Rock Band series, Rock Band 3 continued to build upon its massive library of songs while adding new features in an effort to teach people how to play real instruments. With options for drummers, guitarists, keyboard players and vocalists, people could really consider using Rock Band to hone their skills. But more importantly, Rock Band 3 was the absolute best option for playing plastic instruments with your friends, and marks the end of the legacy that began with Guitar Hero.
“Rock Band set itself apart from its competition by releasing new songs every week, without fail, for years.” -Ted Polak
“Rock Band 3 took plastic instruments to a whole other level.” -Ari Margo
19. Saints Row: The Third
Any one of us could have picked any of the Saints Row games to be part of this list, but Saints Row: The Third‘s impact on not just the industry, but its parent company THQ, had a lot to do with why this game made the cut. Sure, it doesn’t have the mission variety of Saints Row 2, and there were many other things that long time fans of the series could complain about, but Saints Row: The Third‘s evolution into something more than just a parody of Grand Theft Auto was something born out of necessity. Should the series live in the shadow of the game its parodying, or should it strike out on its own with a fresh new take on the genre, introducing more bombastic scenes, set pieces, and moments that you could hardly tell were a parody of anything. That’s exactly what they did with Saints Row: The Third, and why it has a spot on our list.
“It might not have the best gameplay in the entire series, but Saints Row: The Third executed each of its parts with such panache that it’ll be tough to top what they’ve achieved here.” -Alex Inigo
Skullgirls is a game that was made by a bunch of people that loved fighting games and wanted to play a fighting game from an era that had just recently passed. Marvel vs Capcom 2 was an early love for lead designer, Mike Zaimont, who took it home and jumped into training mode for hours on end, seeing what was possible (because arcade mode was a waste of time). Modern games don’t quite play like Marvel vs Capcom 2, and Mike didn’t want to see that go away. After previously working as a developer on games like Star Wars Battlefront 2, a bunch of stars aligned and he got to work on Skullgirls.
The development of the game felt grassroots; Mike took an Alpha build of the game with just one finished character model to tournaments. This alpha build was polished enough to get a publishing deal. The game was finished, and after the requisite number of delays, released with 8 characters.
It had an uncompromising fighting engine like Marvel vs Cpacom 2, but a presentation unlike anything seen before. The animation was of very high quality, and got many people interested in it who might not have been otherwise.
The recent turmoil of Skullgirls has been well documented, but with the fans’ love and 830,000 of their dollars, 5 more DLC characters have been fully funded. The first has released on PC, and will be coming to consoles very shortly, with the second in public beta testing. It seems like this is the last of the obstacles they will face, and with a public relaunch coming up on consoles, Skullgirls will be making it into the next generation.
“I beat Mike Z at this game a few times.” -Ted Polak
17. Burnout Paradise
Criterion’s Burnout Paradise was not only revolutionary for its incredibly diverse and planned environments, technology, and gameplay, but for a racing game, it was also the fastest, most varied, and most frenetic racing game in existence! Even with the newer Need for Speed games, never will you find a more feature rich, comprehensive, and more varied experience than what you’ll get out of Burnout Paradise. In fact, dare I say that even the newer Need for Speed games only feature parts of what made Burnout Paradise the fun game it was and still is to this day.
“The things they crammed into that game during its full year of free updates, coupled with some awesome show cars that are just fun to drive, made the game an amazing investment.” -Alex Inigo
16. Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar’s latest Grand Theft Auto game brings Los Santos and Southern San Andreas to life like never before. The devil is in the details, like the dialogue overheard between a random pedestrian and someone they are talking to on their cellphone, or the simultaneous realism and satire present in the portrayal of a building borrowed from Los Angeles or the pier in Santa Monica. But the greatest innovation in Grand Theft Auto V is how the player controls three protagonists and can switch between them on the fly, adding depth to both the storyline and the gameplay.
“It was a game that I literally couldn’t put down until I had finished every storyline mission in the game, and even after reaching the conclusion of Michael, Franklin and Trevor’s adventures, I was still hooked.” -Ari Margo
15. Fallout 3
War may never change, but your experiences in the Wasteland might each time you play Fallout 3. An inventive tutorial introduces you to life in the Vaults, and then you’re off. The transition to an open world is handled well. Your first major stop is likely the town of Megaton. While you’re just there for information, so many sidequest opportunities present themselves, you get accustomed to looking for things, and also defining your character’s alignment. There’s pride to be taken in exploring all the significant spots on the map.
Unlike Elder Scrolls, Fallout lives and dies on its gunplay. The V.A.T.S. system allows you to slow down and target enemy weak spots, and then automatically fire, like more traditional RPGs. This is a great meld of shooter and RPG mechanics, and is sometimes the only way to survive a difficult encounter.
Of course, the most memorable parts of Fallout 3 are the inhabitants of the Wasteland. Happy-go-lucky Moira Brown, the Republic of Dave, that one city where everything seems fine until you find that one shed. You will remember your interactions with these fully-voiced, fully-realized characters more than any one gun you hold. Unless you get the gun that shoots 5 nuclear warheads.
This was also one of the first games to experiment with DLC at the $10 price point. These pieces were hit or miss, but these mini-expansions have become the standard for so many games and their Season Pass models, and players awaited these 5 DLC episodes, eager to dive in and see what trouble they could get into.
“Fallout 3 has become one of my favorite RPGs and a game I will cherish for a long time.” -Chris Barnes
14. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Equal parts pondering, hilarious, crude, and thrilling, Metal Gear Solid 4 is the very best kind of fan service possible. Mastermind Hideo Kojima’s insane, absurd, indulgent game isn’t for everyone but those whom it is for found a lot to enjoy. As a showcase for the PS3’s graphics capabilities, it was the possibly the console’s first killer app and those with the understanding and patience were greatly rewarded with epic set piece after epic set piece. Don’t bother trying to explain what actually happens in the game because your listener will just look at you like you’re either a 13 year old or insane or both. It’s better to put the controller in their hands and let them experience one of the very best games to grace Sony’s 3rd generation console.
“….who can’t love a game that made Raiden go from whiny, force-fed protagonist, to all around bad-ass?” -Sean Mesler
13. The Last of Us
It’s not uncommon for a console generation to see some of their very best comes out in the last years of the system and 2013 (and more specifically, the PS3) had no better example than Naughty Dog’s epic, haunting, violent masterpiece, The Last of Us. With what many consider to be one of the richest, most well written stories in video games, The Last Us makes a bold claim for the medium of video games surpassing movies as the place to go for compelling narratives. The characters of Joel and Ellie are so well-drawn, so impossibly relateable, that players across all ages and tastes couldn’t help but be swept away. With a presentation this epic, and a story this well told, The Last of Us is a remarkable achievement for the medium.
“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.” -Sean Mesler
“There hasn’t been a good survival horror game out in a long time. Fortunately, The Last of Us fills that void by creating one of the best story driven games around.” -Chris Barnes
12. Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack In Time
Ratchet & Clank is a great action platformer on a platform that used to be known for them, but as time went on, platformers fell by the wayside in favor of more adult shooters. Proud of running at 60 frames per second, the Ratchet & Clank series delivered 2 trilogies, one on PS2 and one on PS3.
With its animated cast of characters and lively attitude, Ratchet & Clank was a vanguard against certain tropes of modern game development, though it did have a penchant for flashy and awesome weapons. Even with the PlayStation 3, Ratchet & Clank continued on. While at the time of A Crack In Time’s release the future of the franchise was unknown, since then we’ve had 2 more Ratchet & Clank games, so the popular duo seems like they’ll be around for a long time.
“I’ve always loved the Ratchet & Clank franchise and I couldn’t wait to play the game on the PlayStation 3. I finally got my chance with Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time, and I wasn’t disappointed.” -Chris Barnes
11. Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors
999 was never meant to be a popular game, and it never went fully mainstream. Nevertheless, it greatly outperformed sales expectations. When I think about why that may be, I can only think about what drove the success of the Ace Attorney franchise: word of mouth. 999 was a game you had to play.
999 isn’t a bloody game, per se, but it has graphic descriptions of blood, organs, and other components of the human body. It seeks to depict the horror and revulsion of violence and it succeeds. Against this backdrop you are left to solve puzzles and go deeper into your adventure, to figure out who these eight other strangers trapped with you are, and maybe find if they aren’t so strange, after all.
999 doesn’t have the best art or the best puzzles, but it’s narrative is extremely compelling, as it is one that could only be told within the confines of a video game. 999‘s story breaks some rules of storytelling because it knows that it is an interactive medium. I’ll leave it at that, but the ultimate conclusion of this adventure is worth the time.
“The ultimate reveal is one that no one can see coming, even if you’re jaded to plot twists. It is one of the greatest moments in gaming.” -Ted Polak
10. Batman: Arkham Asylum
“Welcome to the madhouse, Batman! I set a trap, and you sprang it gloriously!”
Those few choice words were what the Joker used to taunt us, as we donned the costume of the caped crusader as Batman’s foil took over Arkham Asylum with ease – and we enjoyed every moment of it. Featuring some of the most creative and memorable boss battles in recent superhero gaming history, topped with some amazing dialogue and story sequences that really merged the contemporary film retelling of Batman with hints and sprinkles of the Batman Animated Series of the 90s, Arkham Asylum was a love letter to fans which essentially told us that, “Yes. We care about giving you an awesome Batman game. So let’s take some of the best elements of the franchise and toss them together and wrap them in a little bow and give them to you in this incredible game.”
“Part stealth, part brawler, part Metroidvania, and part mild investigative thriller, Batman: Arkham Asylum is THE definite Batman game of this generation.” -Alex Inigo
9. Mass Effect 3
This is it, after 5 years of choices, broken alliances and sex with aliens, Mass Effect 3 finally brought Bioware’s ambitious trilogy to a close. The Reaper threat had attacked Earth and was making its way across the galaxy annihilating worlds left and right, while Commander Shepard and the crew of the Normandy fought and politicized their way into more choices, broken alliances and even more sex with aliens (and sentient AI!). It was nearly impossible for all of the expectations of millions of fans to be met, but for a great many, Mass Effect 3 delivered as promised, closing up the trilogy as well as leaving the door open for a universe of possibilities when the franchise inevitably continues.
“Of all the games I have ever played, The Mass Effect franchise is by far the best and Mass Effect 3 along with all its DLC stands out as my favorite.” -Chris Barnes
8. Street Fighter IV
Fighting games were either dead or too complex, depending on who you talked to. The answer was both, and as much as many people liked Street Fighter 3: Third Strike, that game is not easy to play. Noted developer Seth Killian once said that while Guilty Gear is certainly a great game, it requires a PhD to play.
A genre that once filled every arcade to the brim in the early 90’s was dead. But it came back in late 2008, when the arcade version of Street Fighter 4 released. With simpler mechanics and a focus on the fundamentals, and a marketing campaign that evoked people’s love for Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter 4 sold enough copies to spawn numerous versions, including the upcoming Ultra Street Fighter 4.
The scene grew large enough, and with new streaming technology a major tournament is held somewhere in the world almost every week, and anyone with a connection to twitch.tv can watch. Invariably, the main event at these tournaments is the latest version of Street Fighter 4.
Without Street Fighter 4, we’d still be reminiscing about what might have been. A continuously-shrinking group of people would still be playing Third Strike and talking about the good old days. But that didn’t happen, and I don’t think fighting games have ever been bigger.
“Something unexpected happened. The game was so good and selling so well, other companies released fighting games. The fighting genre was BACK.” -Ted Polak
7. Mass Effect
The one that started it all, Mass Effect introduced us to a future where humanity lived alongside alien civilizations trying desperately to maintain peace throughout the galaxy. Of course, this is tempered by an invasion of a previously thought extinct alien species, and the rest is history. One of the reasons why it gets to be so high on this list is the fact that it attempted something that was never attempted in its genre before: a third person shooter blended with a space opera with RPG elements. It’s true that the later games in the series shed the RPG elements and whittled them down until they were mere flavor, but its presence in Mass Effect meant that you had more control over your characters than ever before. And that’s without those silly quick time Paragon/Renegade events in the later games. Also, you gotta admit that there WERE times that driving the Mako was fun.
“Mass Effect was the only game that I played early morning on a Sunday only to realize that it was 5am on a Monday and I had to go to work. When a game does that to you, that usually means one thing: it’s an immersive experience like none other.” -Alex Inigo
6. World of Warcraft
Undeniably the most popular MMORPG not only of this generation, but of all time, World of Warcraft continues to impress year after year. Each expansion pack adds something significant to the game, and while the original release was so long ago, the game remains shockingly relevant to this day. Every time an aspect of the game starts to show its age, Blizzard polishes it to a shine. It’s no wonder that as of July of 2013 there were still over 7 million subscribers. With another expansion pack on the way, it doesn’t appear that World of Warcraft will be dethroned anytime soon.
“WoW doesn’t let go. It is the single game that I’ve put more hours into than any other, and is surely one of the greatest games of the generation.” -Ari Margo
“In true Blizzard fashion, World of Warcraft took an existing game idea and polished it to perfection.” -Ted Polak
This generation, Minecraft was nothing short of a phenomenon. It captured the imagination more effectively than any game since Lego Building Blocks, and all it takes is a quick search of google images to see the results. But even putting the creative design aspect of the game aside, there is actually a surprisingly deep game underneath it all (no pun intended). Minecraft forces its players to learn while attempting to survive, and though it may take a few tries, once the rules of the world are understood by the player, it becomes impossible to stop playing. Minecraft is also one of the most amazing success stories in the history of Indie game development, and has inspired countless new developers to give game design a try. Truly, Minecraft is a remarkable game.
“Minecraft stands above them all in my opinion. It is without any doubt my #1 game of the generation.” -Ari Margo
“Minecraft looks like a bunch of blocks, because it is. But that belies its status as a creative sandbox.” -Ted Polak
4. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Bethesda has crafted an incredible open world in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It is dense, and populated with a massive list of things to do, and the best part of it is, you can feel free to ignore all of that and still have a great time with the game. While defining new standards for the genre, Skyrim provides hundreds of hours of gameplay and countless more are available through the modding experience. Skyrim is a game that we will be playing for many years to come.
“Within day one I was addicted to it. The world building in Skyrim is unlike anything I had previously experienced in an RPG.” -Sean Mesler
“It has tons of dungeons, several meaty quest chains, lots of interesting locales and countless reasons to get lost in its depth. This is truly one of the greatest RPGs of all time.” -Ari Margo
3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Within the first moments of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Naughty Dog announced itself as the premier developer in Sony’s house. No other studio on the platform showcased the talent for writing a great story with immeasurably likable characters, or presenting amazing set piece after amazing set piece. A grand adventure better than anything in movie theatres, Uncharted 2 had a presentation unlike any other game and truly showed off what the PS3 was capable of. The campaign alone would have been enough to earn its spot on the best of the generation list, but it also contains a bona fide robust and fun multiplayer mode, adding years to the game’s shelf life. Uncharted 2 is the complete package.
“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.” -Sean Mesler
“Certainly, the experiences and events that have happened throughout the game are some of the best I’ve experienced this generation and, sadly, while Uncharted 3 was still a great game in its own right, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is THE game that I’ll remember when thinking about the series this generation.” -Alex Inigo
2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
It’s hard to imagine the gaming landscape or more specifically the shooter genre, without Call of Duty. For better or worse, nearly every game with a shooting mechanic can trace it’s lineage directly back to Infinity Ward’s behemoth. And it all began proper in 2007 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare exploded onto the scene. The amazingly tight controls, gorgeous (at the time) 60fps graphics, and a campaign that could rival any big budget summer blockbuster would have been enough to include on this list. However, it was the innovative and addictive multiplayer that bumped it so high on the list. Player progression and weapon unlocks weren’t invented by Infinity Ward, but with the fast paced gameplay and the introduction of killstreaks, Call of Duty 4 became the premier console shooter and every successive iteration has remained so. The franchise’s popularity may be on the wane, but staying at the top for 7 years straight is nothing to scoff at and that is all due to this game.
“Its importance can not be overstated, as Call of Duty remains one of the most, if not the most, popular shooter franchises on consoles… 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.” – Sean Mesler
“If Call of Duty 2 loaded up the bases, Modern Warfare drove the base runners home with an explosive grand slam.” -Ari Margo
“A labor of love by the team at Infinity Ward, this game single-handedly brought the entire genre of first person shooters to the modern era.” -Alex Inigo
1. Portal 2
Somehow, Portal 2 managed to top Portal. Though the original was fantastic in its own right, Portal 2 was a bigger game with better puzzles and an excellent storyline. But perhaps the greatest thing about the game was how funny it was! Portal 2 could easily be described as the funniest video game of all time, and that’s worth something. At the very least, it’s worth a spot on this list. With the addition of a co-op campaign and the introduction of Cave Johnson, Portal 2 could do no wrong.
“The portal mechanics alone are amazing and fun to use but couple that in with fantastic voice acting from Ellen McLain as GLaDOS, Stephen Merchant as Wheatley, and J. K. Simmons as Cave Johnson and you get one of the best games ever. “ -Chris Barnes
“Portal 2 may have the best writing of any game this entire generation.” -Sean Mesler
“I don’t think I’ve ever laughed more while playing a video game than while playing through Portal 2.” -Ari Margo
That’s a lot of great games, right? We hope you enjoyed our Games of the Generation coverage and be sure to check out The Top 10 Games of the Year lists (individual as well as overall) which we begin rolling out on January 1st and ends on January 8th. In the meantime, let us know what think of our lists and our scoring system in the comments below!