By OneKillWonder_ 46 Comments
So here we are, nearing the end of what seems like a never-ending console generation. The longest one so far, actually. It's undoubtedly been a wild ride, full of excitement, surprises, disappointments, innovation, and tedium. This generation has yielded its fair share of both instant classics that will likely go down as some of the greatest of all time and steaming shitburgers that were forgotten 2 weeks after their release. Either way, the past 8 years (well, 6 years since I've only owned an Xbox since 2007) have brought me great joy and endless memories. However, this is not without frustration, especially over the last 2 years or so. The age of the tech is showing, even as developers put in commendable efforts to work around their limitations. I don't know about you guys, BUT I'M READY FOR NEW CONSOLES. This is the first generation where I will be able to afford and personally buy myself a shiny, brand new console when it first comes out, and goddamnit, I'm going to do it, first-run bugs be damned. We all know that special feeling, the joy and excitement of setting up a new console. It's been so long since I've felt that that I refuse to not take part in it this November.
But really, before we head into this brave new world, I'm here to outline my personal favorite and best gaming experiences, to briefly revisit some nostalgia and because I just have a weird thing for listing things out. I guess none of this is in any particular order, but I'm going to start with games that have been released this year, because there have been a surprising amount that immediately clicked with me in such a way that I feel comfortable putting them among the 'best'.
Yeah, I know, it may be early to be calling this one of the best games of the generation. But here's the thing...it IS. The game is fucking amazing. I haven't even finished it yet, but the mission design, character work, and gameplay are the best they've ever been in the series. I liked IV, but I can tell you right now that it is not one of my favorite games of the generation. Even when it came out, it didn't play very well and had severe pacing issues. Also, the last mission can go fuck itself a thousand times over. GTA V has its shortcomings for sure, but the things it does best it does so well that it makes it seem like none of that shit matters. If GTAV is this generation's last hurrah, then what a way for it to go out!
Naughty Dog may well be my favorite developer around. I have very fond memories of playing all the Crash Bandicoot games as a child, and the Jak series is among my all-time favorites. The Uncharted games are technically impressive and have outstanding writing, characters, and bombastic set-pieces that invoke the biggest, dumbest summer action blockbusters. The gameplay, however, left a sour taste in my mouth, which is why I cannot include any of them on my list in good conscious. The Last of Us appears similar on the surface, but it terms of pacing, mood, and action, it is the polar opposite of Uncharted. It has one of the best told and most gripping narratives I've seen all year, not just in gaming but in all media. It ended up being so much more than just another zombie game. The gameplay took a little getting used to, but the action is intense, tough, and when it wants to be, very unsettling. I love the hell out of this game.
Saints Row IV is absolutely 100% pure uncut fun. That's all it strives or aspires to be, and it does it gracefully and stylishly, without any pretension. You can call it an overpriced expansion or DLC if you want, but then fuck you. Fuck you hard. You can't put a price on this kind of entertainment. Volition knew exactly what they were doing with this game. They took every convention of modern open-world action games and streamlined them to make sure that it was accessible and easy as possible to get into and keep on going. Just getting around the world is a total blast. The combat is chaotic in the best way possible. And all this is to say nothing of how sublime the writing and gags are. There were two moments in this game where I was laughing so hard I had to put down the controller. Therefore, I believe this is funniest game ever made, as no other game has ever done that for me. I don't laugh easy, either.
I'm going to lump both of these games together just to keep things as concise as I can. Metro 2033 is the definition of a diamond in the rough. Its amazingly crafted oppressive atmosphere and interesting gameplay mechanics carry it a long way, but anyone who's played the game knows that it has quite a few issues. For one, just playing it isn't that fun. The combat is floaty and the AI is incredibly shoddy, not to mention the endless list of bugs the game launched with. I couldn't NOT love it, though, as it still did so many things right. I loved just being in the world, and the story had the perfect amount of ambiguity to keep it interesting without making the player feel lost. Last Light fixed so many of the first game's issues, most notably the combat. It was actually really fun and responsive, the way a modern FPS should feel. The AI, however, didn't seem to change at all. The last act of the story, I felt, was rather silly in comparison to everything that had come before it. But still, Last Light had some incredibly intense and terrifying moments, as did 2033, and they are some of the most memorable titles I've played all generation. Any horror fan should give these a shot.
I think that covers the newest stuff. It's been a real solid year, and by virtue of being here, I would say these are my top four favorite games of the year. But I'm hardly done yet! Let's dig into the past several years. This is going to get long...
These are some world-class arcade-style shooters. The first game nearly ruined my life for awhile when i first played it. For what seemed like a couple of months, I was obsessed with getting huge scores, and I would get so fucking angry at this game that it would make the Hulk blush, though I don't know how well you'd be able to tell that. I'm not proud of it, but hey, it happened. What I AM proud of, though, is S-ranking this mother. One of my proudest moments in gaming, because that shit is HARD. And this game is still fun. So is the sequel, which added five new game modes and local multiplayer. It was an awesome party game. I really hope that somehow, somewhere, another one of these comes out. RIP Bizarre.
Can this really be counted as a separate game? I don't care, because I want to talk about it anyway. It's not really a 'console game', but it had simultaneous release for all its platforms in 2007 (holy shit, its been that long...) and I consider it part of this generation. Half-Life 2 is my favorite game of all time, bar none, and Episode 2 is easily the best part of that whole saga. It's not terribly long, but it wastes no time in throwing the player into another highly immersive, detailed environment to traverse. It is the most expertly paced of all HL2 installments, and it contains a tremendous amount of variety. The set-pieces are inventive as usual, and the story has an incredible ramp up towards the end. As overused as the word 'epic' is when it comes to describing games, it perfectly describes the exhilarating and heart-racing final battle. Then there's the ending...the one thing that truly makes the wait for next HL game feel like torture. It's a dark and depressing cliffhanger that raises the stakes higher than they've ever been prior to this gut wrenching moment...it happens and then it's over. It's beautiful and horrible at the same time. In many ways, I think Episode 2 is one of the most perfect gaming experiences out there, let alone of this generation.
I spent an unhealthy amount of time with both of these games, though I know a lot people have me beat. I think I played about 300 hours of 3 across 4 characters. I didn't play New Vegas as much, but my main character was over 120 hours, more than any single one of my dudes in 3. I can't resist the worlds of these games. They perfectly capture a dirty, grimy post-apocalypse atmosphere and are a joy to explore for hours on end. I've always felt 3 was way more rewarding for exploring random places, while New Vegas had the better story and way more quests and other things to do. They both have their pros and cons, and they both have their mix of horrifying and hilarious bugs, especially New Vegas. The DLC for these games was some great stuff, too. Point Lookout was the highlight of 3's DLC for me. Anyone remember that Chinese spy quest? For New Vegas, the Dead Money DLC was like playing an old-school survival horror game with Fallout mechanics, and I loved every second of it. Anyway, both of these games kick ass, and their jank lends them a lot of charm (except for getting a couple dozen hard locks..that's not at all cool). Fallout 4 can't come soon enough.
I may just be including this out of pure nostalgia, but whatever. This was the first 360 game I bought, and my first venture into real online gaming. I'd played a lot of Red Alert 2 years before, and dabbled in some PS2 online games before, but this was a new beginning for me as a gamer. I loved the multiplayer for this game, and soon after playing I amassed a crew of online friends that I would get together with to play with every night. To speak more of the game itself, it's damn good, and while it may not hold up as well today, I still think it's a solid game. I never found it especially scary, but it was certainly moody and chilling at times. The enemy AI Monolith devised is still impressive to this day. FEAR also has what is perhaps one of my favorite video game shotguns. That thing is devastating and comes along with a satisfying report. The combat in general is fun to watch, just because of the smoke clouds that form from hitting walls. The whole thing looks very cinematic. Admittedly, I think F.E.A.R. 2 is a better game, but I just don't have the same memories or feelings tied to it.
Another Monolith joint and everyone's favorite hobo-murder simulator. Condemned 2 is a fucking BEAST of a game. I can't say enough good things about it. I will admit that the first is maybe a little more consistent with its tone, as it never tries to become a straight-up FPS by the end unlike 2, but 2's highs are so unbelievably and breathtakingly good that it's very much the better game. I also didn't really find the first game scary, but 2 has some scary shit, man. Going through that abandoned hotel for the first time is unforgettable. They also managed to make some really neat puzzles out of the game's detective sections. It felt like a true survival horror game. No game has managed to do first-person melee combat quite as well, either. You feel every single hit, and some of those executions are downright nasty. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the infamous bear chase sequence. Everything about that part and the surrounding moments are gaming perfection. If you haven't played Condemned 2, you are really missing out. I can only hope that one day, Monolith will get to conclude this series with something at least as good.
Fucking Borderlands, man. Another game I put an absurd amount of time into. I followed this game since its initial reveal on the cover of Game Informer, where it sported a realistic art design and a more traditional open world. Randy Pitchford described a lot of exciting features in that article that didn't quite make it into the final game, sadly. Needless to say, the game was quite different from what it was originally described as, but I quickly got over my disappointment and embraced what it had become. I think it was my first real loot-driven game, and it had me hooked. The endless rewards, the unique and appealing art style, and the goofy sense of humor all worked in concert to create one of my favorite experiences of the generation. It was also supported with some amazing DLC. As for the sequel, well...I think it is technically a better game in almost every way. Better graphics, better story, better characters and writing, more possibilities for loot. But there are some fundamental design flaws in the loot system and combat that keep it from being as fun as the first in high-level play. I still love it, but since Gearbox refuses to do anything about its issues, it's not the game it could be.
At face value, Darksiders is a highly derivative action game in a long line of highly derivative action games, but that really undermines the magic that lies within. Taking heavy inspirations from the likes of the Zelda and Devil May Cry franchises, Darksiders is an epic adventure if there ever was one. There's a lot of combat, puzzles, and, big boss fights, all of which feel just finely tuned enough to feel rewarding and fun rather than impede your progress to the point of frustration. There's a solid story to back everything up, and one of the most badass, fist-pumping endings in all of video games. It's a shame that the sequel squandered all of that potential and ended up being a massive let down. But the state of Darksiders II does little to affect my love of the first. I've never really been a Zelda fan, so it's nice to have that kind of adventure wrapped in mechanics I can enjoy.
Max Payne 3 may very well be the best third-person shooter I've ever played. I've written all my thoughts on the game before in my review of the game, so I won't go into great detail here. Everything about this game jived with my tastes perfectly. The combat is brutal while the story and characters are tight enough to rival any movie. James McCaffrey's performance as Max is unparalleled and solidifies him as a true legend. This is all coming from someone who has a lot of reverence for the first two games, too. They are among my favorites, and despite being so different from them, MP3 just works because Rockstar know what the hell they're doing. I hope this is not the last we see of Max, but even if it is, I'd be fine with that. This is the highest of notes to go out on.
The original Deus Ex is a top 10 game of mine, so imagine my delight when this long awaited prequel is finally released and it manages to keep just about everything great about it intact. DEHR managed to avoid falling into the trap of trying to streamline and modernize everything about it to appeal to a wider audience. It is a decidedly old-school game with a shiny coat of paint. It has the most fully-realized cyberpunk world I've seen in a game thanks to its stylish art design and moody electronic score. I loved just standing around looking at the gorgeous cityscapes on occasion. The story is really solid and curiously relevant, and the player is given such a wide amount of choice that it really warrants replays. I'm eager and excited to see how Eidos Montreal can top this in the coming generation.
The first Mass Effect is something quite special. It's hardly a perfect game, but it has a lot of heart and inspiration, and the new world it creates is authentic as can be for a space opera. There is so much rich backstory and lore than it can feel overwhelming, but if you don't delve into that, even knowing it's there makes a huge difference. The story is grand and the start of something huge, something that unfortunately doesn't deliver a worthy payoff by the end of the series. The sequels are certainly good games in their own right, but BioWare made a lot of questionable decisions along the way that held the series back from its full potential. The first Mass Effect will always have a special place on my heart, but it will likely be remembered as what could have been instead of what was.
Call of Duty 4, aka The Game That Ruined All Video Games Forever. Okay, that's kind of harsh, but it's closer to the truth it is far. Yes, since its launch in 2007, CoD4's influence has been felt far and wide in games of all genres...but that's not a good thing. I'm not going to bitch too heavily about my feelings towards the game and the series as a whole right now. I'll just say that I loved this game when it came out. The campaign was crazy and the multiplayer was unlike anything I've played before. Now, it's like everything I've played in the past 6 years. I have a lot of disdain for the series now, and what it did to games in general, but it is what it is, and it doesn't change how I felt about 4 at the time of its release.
Battlefield 3 is my favorite competitive multiplayer game of the generation. I adore Battlefield's design philosophy, mostly how there are multiple layers to every battle and how it encourages teamwork to get things done. Battlefield is essentially a giant game of rock-paper-scissors, and that's awesome. Those signature "Battlefield moments", you know the ones, are what kept me coming back. It's a shame that more games don't try to embrace this kind of dynamic design, but then I suppose that's what makes these games really unique. I've attempted to play BF3's campaign 3 times and have never finished it, so....yeah. That's not what I'm here for. That's not what anyone is here for. But it's there in case you want a CoD campaign with better gun sound effects.
The Left 4 Dead games offer a one-of-a-kind co-op experience, the kind of experience that brings friends together and then immediately makes you hate them and blame them for fucking your shit up. Seriously, despite all of the copycats out there, nothing has come close to offering what L4D does. The memories I have of playing these with my core crew are some of the best. They offer endless hours of tension, laughs, frustration, and anger, all of it good. Another one of my proudest gaming moments is getting that infernal 'Nothing Special' achievement. Holy shit, I went through hell and back to get that fucking thing. If you haven't played L4D by now, then shame on you. L4D1 is kind of obsolete now that all of the maps are on L4D2, unless you don't want to play them with those annoying new special Infected from 2. These games will never not be worth playing, though.
This game blew me the fuck away when I first played it. It was hauntingly beautiful and irresistible as that lighthouse beckoned me out of the water. The story to follow, at the time, was the best I've seen in a game, and it's still up there. The combat situations had a lot of freedom, and even though the mechanics weren't necessarily up to snuff, discovering all of the ways to take down a Big Daddy were always a huge draw. The sequel was fine, nothing to write home about, though its mechanics were improved. Infinite is one of the biggest games this year, and while I liked it quite a bit, I don't consider it one of my favorite games of the generation simply because it didn't give me the same sense of awe and wonder as the original. The ending is still conceptually mindblowing and maybe my favorite thing about it.
Damn, I'm tired! But here we are at the end of this obscenely long blog. Red Faction Guerrilla...a hell of a game. I'd go so far as to say it's the most underrated game the generation. The technology that fuels it is spectacular and amazing but criminally overlooked. Seriously, how the hell did this game not get huge? Why can't GeoMod be in more games? This is the best destruction engine out there, hands down. The game itself is solid, too. There is a perfectly serviceable story nestled in this open-world action game. The game is structured very similarly to the first two Saints Row games, making sure you have a lot of things to do besides just finishing the main story. Most of the game's objectives are smartly designed around destroying the living shit out of everything in sight, and that never, ever gets old. Especially in the multiplayer. The MP in this game was AWESOME, man. For some reason, Volition and THQ shot themselves in the foot by releasing Armageddon after this, which wasn't a bad game, but didn't offer near the same experience as Guerrilla. Now THQ is gone and Volition no longer own the IP, leaving the future of the series in uncertainty.
Well, if you actually read all of this, then thank you. Really. But what the hell are you doing? If you just looked at my list without reading all or any of what I had to say, still thank you. Just thank you less.
I'm so glad this generation is about to be over. BRING ON THE NEW CONSOLES, BABY.