We approach the beginning of the year with a touch of an uncertainty for the future of gaming. This generation seems to be beginning it's end with the Wii U pre-emptively beginning the march for the rest of us. While there are still plenty of games for this generation yet to be released, I feel as it is that time of year we use for reflection, now is as good an opportunity to look back on this past generation to find it's high points for me. I started this generation with an Xbox 360 in 2007, then later got a Playstation 3 giving up my Xbox to my brother until finally this year, I converted myself to the PC Master Race. All while playing what I could on friends' Wiis.
I like to believe from this experience I've gained a pretty rounded view of this generation, and it is from watching console companies attempts at breaking through into a mass market that turned me back to the computer, out of fear of what abominations may come out in the next generation. But let us put our fears for the future of gaming aside for now and celebrate the best, at least for me, that has been born from these past six years or so of gaming. In no particular order, these are my six best games I have played this generation that truly stood out for me.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
I've been a hostage to this series since I was about eight years old. Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation was monumental for me as a child. My first game I saw as a “grown up game”, it became so much more than a catalyst for bragging rights. It helped introduce several ideas about humanity in a way unique to me before, as a story within a game. This series, while written in it's own maniacal, ridiculous and fantastic way, introduced a lot of concepts to me as a child, including but not limited to the turmoil of being a soldier coupled with the horrors one experiences providing death to your fellow man slowly degrading to nothing as you run out of fingers to count the number of times you have ended a life. The idea of human beings becoming little more than tools, whether of government or illuminati or both, and how tools can become heroes whilst humans can become villains. And the struggle to find balance between the pros of freedom and the pros of control.
A string of philosophies blanketed by unforgettable characters and storylines, coupled with invigorating gameplay that would be enhanced with each iteration, that while maybe not executed perfectly, were done so uniquely in Hideo Kojima's special way. Metal Gear Solid 4 was the pinnacle of this for me.
The whole game became a gleeful trip through nostalgia for me as Kojima attempted to go deeper into ideas and concepts he had introduced in earlier games by putting the stamp of his world on them. While at this point I was old enough to see some of the absurdities and contradictions littered throughout the game it felt like my Metal Gear of old, and from that the story felt just as intricate and thought provoking as it did for that little eight year old me on the original Playstation. The gameplay was vastly improved once more, creating a system that some would understandably call too complex considering what type of game it was but that was always Kojima's style across the board. And through the eventual learning of the controls complexity you found a toolset that really allowed creativity and intricacy in how you play that couldn't be dumbed down into back of the box bullet points.
Above all else, it did it's best to tie up all the loose ends for the series and did so while tugging at my heart strings the whole ride. It did so with the assumption that the player knew almost all there was to know about the series not apologising once for the lack of friendliness to newcomers. It helped wrap up one of the greatest earliest stories I ever encountered and put it to a perfect rest.
The Walking Dead
Hope for the future remains as a 2012 game managed to make it to this list. I had started reading the Walking Dead comics a couple of weeks before the TV show came out, unbeknownst it was coming out at all. My friend who had introduced me to the comics suddenly mentioned it to me one day so obviously I jumped for joy in anticpation. The show disappointed me however. I found the aesthetic of the comic and the fact it was my mind uttering the dialogue rather than actors creating a much more personal saga than the show could ever hope to achieve.
The first episode of the Walking Dead game came out earlier this year. Me and my buddies all gathered in the dark that night to play through it after a night of inebriation. We had a laugh making cracks about Lee being a paedophile when we could, finding the action scenes pretty intense hearkening us back to our fun we had with Heavy Rain. Then I ignored it. Leaving the whole series at the back of my mind while my friend played through each episode as they appeared online, until the final episode was released, and I downloaded them all.
In one day I played all five episodes back to back and I found it to be one of the most intense, emotional experiences I had ever had in a game. To be given a game with it's priority firmly put into good solid writing was refreshing after going through a lifetime of games that seem to be written more by artists than writers. The character's felt real and each and every one of them could be emphasised with. Each episode packed it's emotional punch where it was due and while some of the decisions made throughout the series may have been contrived and in some cases having little to no effect on the story, it gave a solid illusion that it was. It still to the end felt like my story, that no one else could have experienced the way I did even if their decisions synced up with mine.
It also helped me hammer home to myself that I am a good person. In a lot of role playing games it's easy to go off the deep end and invent some crazy characters that usually end up murdering an entire populace because they liked the look of one resident's clothes. In the Walking Dead, I was playing it as myself through and through. And despite the ample opportunities the game would give me to kill, let people die or straight up execute, I would never let anyone die if I could help it. It wouldn't matter how terrible, how incompetent or how bat-shit crazy that person might be, I refused to do it, despite every part of me sometimes begging myself to go through with some arguably well deserved life extinguishing. I had to keep humanity up to standard, if for no one else but for Clementine. She had to know the best of us didn't die the day the dead came back, and that she can carry on with it inside her.
The Walking Dead gave me multiple inner crises where I almost broke down into tears, truly capturing the devastation and hopelessness of a zombie apocalypse. And for that, if nothing else I heartily thank Telltale, and implore everyone in the world to play this game.
Dragon Age: Origins
I am immortalised in stone in great halls carved out beneath the earth. Not many of you can say the same but this is how I am remembered by the world of Dragon Age. An old school RPG with a lick of paint is all that was required to create a massive epic experience for me with my troop of newly found friends at my side on our quest to save the world from evil. A done to death objective in any fantasy setting true, but this overarching mission takes a back seat to memorable, well written characters, both within your party and out, as well as inter-racial politics, civil wars and a child from Krypton falling to the Earth.
Beginning the game with a two hour origin depending on your race, background and sometimes class, the game did a perfect job of letting me define myself before my quest began. I roamed the streets of an ancient dwarven city as little more than a street rat, working for a mobster in the hope to keep my sister from selling herself on the streets. The violence and the murder started as necessity but it soon turned to something my character revelled in, and the Grey Warden's were where I could find more action.
Despite in my playthrough killing a lot of my potential party members before realising they could be recruited to my cause I still had plenty left in my party to get attached to. I fell in love and turned the object of my affection off her path for redemption back down to my level of spying and deceiving, under the promise she was denying herself her true calling. I got the man that sees pragmatism as a religion to call me friend, and I taught a golem to find herself, literally.
To see my actions and words with my crew rub off on them gave me much satisfaction within this game world. I felt I had made a difference for the better in the people and the races I met along with saving the world they lived in. By the end of the game I felt like a hero, not just to the realm but to my friends, and they to me. The game made sure to help me feel like this too. I was given an epilogue written in prose, something I had sorely missed from games, detailing all my friends adventures post game and where the future laid for me. After reading that I felt I had lived a whole life, one I was darn proud of in every step I took along the way.
It is very hard for me to jump into fantasy games as the setting tends to have been beaten with a dead horse. Dragon Age Origins proved that above all else, good, compelling writing can be all that be needed to de-bland an over exhausted genre. I still feel that Ferelden continues to turn without me, thanking me and thinking of me as it goes about its business, all while my love and I travel around searching for adventure for the sake of adventure.
Batman Arkham City
I've been into comics for a while now, firmly my flag is placed in the DC camp, I find their cast of characters more awe inspiring and are people (sometimes not strictly people) that I can look up to, that I can draw inspiration from. Superman is the epitome of a hero. He stands for everyone and will never drop the little things for the bigger ones, he goes out of his way to save every last person over exacting justice or vengeance against though that do the residents of his beloved adopted world harm. Batman is the most driven and motivated man on the planet, willing to learn every possible fighting style and every possible skill that is available ranging from escapology to ventriloquism to sign language. He goes out of his way to know and do everything a human can do out of his drive to vanquish the evil that took his parent's lives. That drive in itself is awe inspiring, and in times when I need a lot of motivation I remember Bruce's timeless mantra that “There is only the mission”.
Arkham City and its predecessor Asylum capture the feeling of Batman to a near perfect standard. Equipping you with all the gadgets you require without digging out an entire catalogue of silver age bat gadgets and providing one of the most intuitive, exciting and rhythmic combat systems I have ever come across in a game. It is more than that though, the game helps you capture the mindset of Batman by having it tap into your mentality as a player. I know how good Batman is, and I want to do his name proud, so my skills are honed to as near perfection as I can reach. Whenever I let someone hit me, or am spotted on approach, I curse myself for such an amateur mistake. I curse myself for not living up to the legend. And this is what vigilante life is for Bruce. The Batman is such a solid fixed legend within the DC universe that Bruce is always striving to live up to that image he has created for himself. The Batman has gotten to such a God like level within the universe that no man, not even Batman can be that good, all Bruce can do is strive to prove it every day he sets out. That runs parallel as a player's mindset in any game, striving to be perfect at the controls so everything you do looks well executed and above all glorious. I work as hard as I can to be Batman, just the same as Batman.
On top of it working as the ultimate Batman simulator the story of Arkham City is unforgettable. A classic modern age mega event for the Batman mythos. It pulled in everyone it could for clashes abound, giving each villain a great chance to shine in both their design and dialogue. The conflicts between villains made it feel a little clustered at times but the situations Batman finds himself in are usually more complicated than that. To me, it added that extra level of Batman fever as I had to fight to keep a clear head and my eyes on the mission. All while sorting out problems along the way presented in some of the best side missions I have encountered in a game. Having to deal with the Riddler, Zzaaz, Mad Hatter and of course Hush all while trying to shut Arkham City was hard, it was a strain on the mind. But I could do it. Because I'm Batman.
“Why aren't you making KOTOR 3?” was all I could yell at my monitor when Mass Effect was first announced. Here was one of my favourite developers making a Sci-fi RPG that wasn't a brand new shiny Knights of the old Republic. A franchise I loved, even it's second Obsidian iteration which unfortunately, not the fault of Obsidian, was broken and unfinished. I didn't want to study up on a whole new sci-fi universe when I still hadn't finished discovering the stories and adventures waiting for me in the Star Wars galaxy. Regardless, I bit the bullet and picked it up on my Xbox on it's day of release. I couldn't be happier that I did.
The story of Mass Effect follows that of a classic B-movie sci-fi film. Big evil universe destroying technology on it's way to wipe the galaxy clean of sentient life, get out and stop it. Fair enough, why not use such a premise as its become a staple among video games as well as movies, not even tying itself strictly down to sci-fi. Mass Effect introduced me to brand new races, each with members that grew into character's beloved by both me and my Shephard. It set up decades of history, involving tension between all races, caused through different ideals, war, economic growth or even sterilisation. It made for me a universe that seemed tangible, rich and ancient filling to the brim with characters of all shape and size each with their own personality, not just one defined by their race. This is what made the story interesting, as it was a universe that deserved saving.
Rather than feeling like a shooter with token role playing elements thrown in, it was more like an RPG in a shooter fancy dress costume. This provided a great illusion of space marine gun ho serving as a altered looking glass into RPG tactics. I would still plan my course of action when entering a room as if I were playing an old school RPG, devising the perfect spots for my party members and I to take and when to let loose what abilities. Because of this, my Shephard seemed smart, intelligent, worthy of the title of Commander as opposed to another grunt with one finger in his ear and the other pulling the trigger at all times.
While the dialogue system's depth was stripped back, the new style did allow Shephard to become a character of her own while not restricting player input too much. It struck a good balance and allowed for my facts about my Shephard to come out in the little moments where they belong in life. My Shephard's atheism was revealed in a conversation with Ashley in the lulls between missions as we discussed her late father's life. It wasn't micro managed by the game in a horrendous questionaire at the beginning of the game and wasn't directly asked of me. Just one of the many small opportunities where the tiniest details could seep through, adding depth to my Shephard by having her share it with others in a natural way.
I had a blast exploring a whole new galaxy on my way to saving it, blasting my way through the minions of Dark Space with my two bros Garrus and Wrex. All while enjoying a new slant on role playing that didn't involve writing an essay about yourself but through pokes and prods in conversation.
Fallout New Vegas
Obsidian tends to get a lot of bad luck. Lucasarts ended up forcing them to begin development of the second Knights of the Old Republic before the first had came out and before Obsidian had even played it with a deadline of just a year. Yet somehow they made a game, while broken in places and missing huge chunks, that presented a story of ambiguity, a rare concept in the world of Star Wars. They challenged our traditional sense of the Force and those who wield it without resorting to saying it's all bacteria. I know from the previous work of their employees that they have the potential to do some incredible games if given the chance. I believe New Vegas is one of those games.
I played the original Fallout when I was a child. It helped teach me that there was a world of RPGs outside of Japan as well as introduce the concept of pop culture references to me by a cameo from a certain police box that until the internet I was sure could have been entered had I just walked up to it fast enough. It was only when Fallout 3 was announced that I realised that there were sequels and spin offs to the game I thought was a world in itself. I was hyped about a new Fallout for a new generation and was not disappointed when it was eventually released.
New Vegas however, became my favourite of the two new fallouts. Fallout 3's story bogged down on my shoulders too much, restricting how my character could develop and what decisions I could legitimately make. New Vegas started with me being shot by Matthew Perry of all people, while minding my business, doing my job. Upon regaining consciousness, the world was once again mine to explore. I could legitimately count my blessings and get on with whatever I wanted, living in the Mojave rather than feeling constantly pushed to do the main story.
For me, Fallout games and incidentally the Elder Scrolls games have always been about the character's I create and the stories of their lives. The stories constructed by me as origins or the explanations of their actions in the world they find themselves are always much better than the actual story in the game. Not because I see myself as a better writer than game developers, but because the stories I made were tied to me and all helped my characters feel substantial. New Vegas allowed me to take it in at my own pace and my own way. It let me carve out my own stories for my character rather than try to shove my character into it's story and force established relationships between myself and the world's people.
I hated Matthew Perry for shooting me in the head. I wasn't about to dedicate the rest of my life to a manhunt tracking him down for the sake of satisfaction. Almost everyone in the Wasteland is trying to kill you so you can't get much done filling your journal up with nemeses. I, as my character, had resigned to the possibility that I would never see him again no matter how long I tried and the game let me think that way. Upon reaching and entering New Vegas I found Perry by chance, cornered him in his hotel suite, killed him and then ate him. This wasn't objective completed, but a wonderful bonus on top of the vast fortune I had gained that in-game weekend gambling.
When you have an RPG in a open world like this, its important to let any game narrative take a back seat so the player can twist it into their own tale with their imagination. New Vegas let me do this just like the original Fallout did. It provides a canvas that allows me and the game to work together to make stories, providing interactivity beyond button pushing.
So there are my salacious six as it were, deemed specifically salacious for the sake of alliteration but magnificent all the same. There were many more games that I adored of this generation too but it was these six that stand above the shoulders of everything else concerning my personal experience I had with them. These are the games I never get tired talking to people about that I always end up thinking of when I worry about the future of my beloved medium. A future awaits us where the library offered will be more vibrant and varied than anything any other medium has to offer. A future where the best games can come from giant developers or just some random guy in a basement. A future of traditional ideas standing side by side with innovative ideas, emotional ideas and of course my favourite, the bat shit crazy ideas.
But this wouldn't be the internet if I didn't ask what you the reader thinks. What are your games of this generation and what were your experiences with them? Do you think it is too early too ask this question? Are there games yet to come that might make it your lists? Are there games in mine thoroughly undeserving of being in such a prestigious place? Or do you just want to call me a faggot and say TL;DR?
The four games I would have added if this was the standard top ten:
Grand Theft Auto IV
Red Dead Redemption
X-Com: Enemy Unknown