1. Red Dead Redemption
To this point, Rockstar's masterpiece.
Pitch perfect atmosphere. Rockstar created a western world informed by the movie classics, but in its own way, humorous, bizarre, dark, mysterious. No open world has dripped with style the way this game does.
The stranger quests were so compelling (the cannibals, "I Know You", the man who needs flowers for his wife) and usually ended in a fashion that really left you stunned by what had just occurred.
My favorite ending to any game I have played. Really excelled in the build up, its first and second endings, how it left things, how it wrapped up while still letting you play on.
The shooting was a huge step up for Rockstar and really had that movie cowboy feel thanks to Euphoria physics. I love the weight of the RAGE engine controls, and they did a better job with horseback controls than any game has, making it feel like you are really interacting with a real animal.
The dialogue is so sharp and well written. John and Bonnie are really excellent characters.
My favorite DLC in Undead Nightmare. The "Halloween special" idea was perfectly executed, and a great value when most DLC has not been.
It's not perfect. It drags a bit in Mexico and the gameplay in some of the story missions is a little bland. But it really doesn't matter. This is the best game this generation had to offer.
2. Hitman: Blood Money
A game that achieved Deus Ex tier of level design, as far as feeling rewarded, needing to explore, having a wide variety of options, and pretty much always feeling like you have the appropriate tools, or could at least find them. This series is really a puzzle game dressed up as a stealth game.
The series had outstanding levels before this game, but here it was most consistent. The results are grizzly and super entertaining (dressing up as the grimmest clown ever, ethering a panty sniffing creep FBI agent, swapping a theatre prop pistol with a real one to kill a target in a play, helping a man escape an institution by faking his death with a drug so he is taken to an external morgue).
The music and unique atmosphere of the Hitman games at a pinnacle in this game as well. Kyd's second best soundtrack.
Also a surprising, entirely missable, well foreshadowed ending that was pretty simple yet executed oh so well.
Yes this was cross-gen, but the next gen version was certainly the best and really blew me away right out of the gate of these consoles. Shame the series kind of died, and then got away from the blueprint this one laid down.
Regardless, if this was the last real Hitman game, it was a very special achievement.
3. Mass Effect
It felt so epic and so open. Yes it was a little rough but it has the squad shooting, the decent driving (it's not bad!). Had a strong villain while still having the scope of "this is just the beginning". Great characters. Awesome, large environments (got too cramped in the sequels). An introduction to a great sci-fi universe.
Really bold moments with Kaiden and Ashley and then the standoff with Wrex.
An impressive blending of aspects for one classic game.
4. Assassin's Creed II
As a history fan, the AC series really gets me excited with its possibilities and this was the game to really put it together after the first entry.
Also had the best sci-fi aspects for the series. The historical puzzles were full of cool bits and references and the ending was the 2nd best this gen (HOLY SHIT SHES TALKING TO ME!).
5. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Some of the best moments in the series in this game (the fight with Revolver/Liquid on the Rex, back to Shadow Moses, and the X-Ray hallway in particular). If only hadn't botched the ending this would maybe be the best game of the gen, or even higher at least, that's for sure. Even still, another great MGS game. (lets just pretend Otacon crying and the ending didn't really happen)
6. Max Payne 3
I was glad Rockstar didn't just try to copy Remedy's truly unique style and they did their own thing. It wasn't quite as compelling and unique but it was still very strong. And the gamplay is simply the best TPS ever made, by a wide margin. Graphics and the detail in the environments and a bold and striking soundtrack by HEALTH are the finishing touches that really put it over the top.
7. The Walking Dead
This game made me cry at the end and I can't say any game has come close to that before. A story about how to raise a child (try to protect them and hope they rise above or be brutally honest and hope they are tough enough to survive a harsh world). Really incredible stuff.
8. Fight Night Round 3
Not even a big boxing guy, but this gameplay was really a science. Simple to learn yet very complex. Even with the crappy career (that I've played through probably 20 times) and the bare bones package (and the ugliest character creator ever), just on gameplay alone this stands out.
There probably was nothing this generation as satisfying as dodging a big punch and launching a counter combo on a vulnerable opponent (and watching them awkwardly hit the mat).
9. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
10. Dragon Age: Origins
11. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas
The idea of combining first and third person shooting sounds terrible. Do one or the other and do it right! But here, even feeling kind of disjointed, it all worked so well. A great package for singleplayer, co-op, and multiplayer. Progression across all. Terrorist Hunt should have been copied all gen long. (This spot also acknowledges the sequel, which was kind of an expansion pack almost, but still great too.)
12. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
The most influential game of the generation. A campaign full of crazy moments (a change from the setpieces of CoD 1 and 2) and a multiplayer that was insanely addictive. All on top of the tightest controlling shooter to date. Look through the annualized fog CoD is today and remember how truly fantastic this game was.
13. Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar really pulling together all the things they learned this gen for one final huge game to send it out. Three great main characters. Absolutely stunning graphics that push current gen seemingly past its limits. That fantastic open world that only Rockstar can bring.
Also, the ways they use the characters swapping is brilliant and should go on to revolutionize open world gameplay.
This one deserves all its success.
14. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The biggest straight up spectacle of the generation. The train sequence and convoy sequence were extremely memorable and the plot was fun. They pulled off the modern day Indiana Jones tale nearly perfectly (some stumbles near the end).
15. Fable II
This game was kind of my Zelda for this gen. The combat was simple but I actually really enjoyed how dynamic and timing based it was. The world is charming, funny, and dark and the combination feels very fresh. Some interesting choices to be made through the adventure.
And say what you will about the dog hype... but I really liked the dog! It worked well.
The ending wasn't too hot, but still a really great action-adventure game.
16. Batman: Arkham Asylum
I always enjoy the games about a single mission and having that combined with Batman, done with such a level of polish, was very special.
I prefer the hub layout here over the full open world (it felt big but focused and so well paced). The melee combat and stealth gameplay were unique and executed at a very high level.
Pretty much only poor boss fights drag this one down. Which is kind of a big part to mess up in a Batman game, but still a stand out game of the generation for sure.
17. BioShock Infinite
I wasn't a big fan of Bioshock 1... I found the gameplay boring and the plot itself often pretty bad if the world was cool.
The gameplay in Infinite wasn't amazing but it was fun and the plot itself was pretty great (the ending stuff was really compelling). The world and the details in it were just fantastic. The music theft in particular was a touch that really went a long way for me.
18. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
19. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
20. NBA 2K
Normally kind of ignore annual sports games for lists... 2K basketball was too fantastic all gen long to not get a spot. Hundreds of hours over the gen spent on 2K. While Madden floundered all gen, 2K excelled even without legit competition.