Eight years. It’s a little hard to believe that it’s already been that long since our current generation of consoles first debuted. So much has happened in this generation, the longest one yet. So many technologies and practices have come into being, things that we now can hardly imagine gaming being about. This was the generation that saw the rise of DLC. This is the generation that witnessed the closure of longstanding publishers like THQ, and this is the generation that saw the explosion of “casual” gaming and the advent of crowd-funding. All of these were huge developments in gaming, all of these and much more we saw over the course of a few short years. Still, as incredible as these things were and still are, they don’t hold a candle to the true stars, the games.
These were the best games seen to date. Games that pushed the boundaries of graphical fidelity and reached new plateaus of gameplay excellence. The following list is comprised of those games that were not only good in and of themselves, but had a lasting impact on gaming as we know it. These, in my humble opinion and in no particular order, are the greatest games to be turned out this generation.
(This list focuses on games available on consoles, so none of the excellent PC games will be found here.)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Love it or hate it, there’s no denying the impact CoD4 had on the multiplayer FPS, not to mention its influence in bringing gaming more into the mainstream culture. What did it really do? It made the online FPS accessible, as well as more relevant to the modern age. Players were no longer bound to the dated weaponry of the WWII era and admittedly stale gameplay mechanics. Being set in the modern day captured the imaginations FPS players and non-players alike, and it’s fast paced gameplay and policy of a steady stream of rewards/constant feeling of progression made this FPS more accessible and exciting than any before it.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s success is likely the biggest factor in the dominance of the FPS genre to date.
The Last of Us
The Last of Us isn’t a ground-breaking game in terms of gameplay. What’s there works and works well, but there’s nothing really special about it. What’s really important about it is its story, characters, and atmosphere. No other game has demonstrated gaming’s capacity to tell an emotionally engaging (oftentimes heart-wrenching) story, than this one. From it’s fully realized world, to well-developed and relatable characters, the Last of Us is a benchmark in video game story crafting.
Mass Effect 2
Although I’m more of a fan of the original. Mass Effect 2 makes the list for perfecting Bioware’s formula for character building and story personalization. While the original Mass Effect gave players choices, their consequences felt more distant than those of its sequel. Along with this ME2 featured the ability carry-over save data from one game to the next. While it wasn’t the first game to do so, it was also the game that introduced many of us to the concept. This character we played in ME2 was just some shadow of our Shepard from the first game, this was our Shepard! Their story became our story, all of it taking on a level of personalization and even emotional investment that hadn’t really been seen in a game before.
Like all the games on this list Mass Effect 2 had it’s problems, but it also opened our eyes to possibility. In the case of ME2, we were shown just how much potential there was for connecting with what goes on in our games.
Portal’s contribution to gaming was reminding us just what makes an excellent game. It isn’t the newest graphics or top-notch sound, or even multiplayer. Indeed, all that is needed is well-developed gameplay. (Though a subtly snide AI definitely helps!)
Ingenious gameplay aside, Bioshock’s greatest success lies in world building as well as in the thematic. Even among a host of intriguing and often disturbing characters, the real star or the show was the city of Rapture itself. It was much more than a mere gamespace, going so far as to truly feel alive. It’s every space spoke of the decay that afflicted it, both the physical and the moral. It was a place that was slowly changing and unraveling even as players progressed through is dank and misty halls. However, Rapture was only so successful in this regard due to the expert theming present in the game. Every aspect of the game’s story, characters, dialogue, and the space itself was drenched in a layer of philosophy and morality, and done in such a way that it made Rapture a logical conclusion to the ideals expressed. It made sense out of Rapture’s apparent madness.
BioShock showed us the importance of theme in games, and how it could accomplish more with tone and atmosphere, than any amount of direct exposition ever could.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
While Skyrim doesn’t sport the largest in-game world or the absolute best graphics, it offers something better: potential. The world of Skyrim offers a vast amount of possibilities. Secret dungeons, caverns, and cairns litter the landscape. So much so, that all you have to do to find adventure in the game is to simply walk in a given direction until you find something. It gave us a world that we could truly make our own, with each player able to have an experience unique enough to compare stories and experiences with friends and find that each did things differently.
On top of this, the game is beautiful, it hosts many memorable characters, has gameplay that simultaneously easy to pick up and enthralling. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may not have reinvented the wheel but what it did do is show us what that wheel looks like when it’s been shined and polished to a previously unknown level.
Super Mario Galaxy
After the disappointment of Super Mario Sunshine (though honestly I don’t understand why anyone was disappointed with that game) some of the Mario faithful were fearful that their favorite plumber was staring to lose steam. Where else could Mario go? How could Nintendo possibly think of yet another new twist on platforming gameplay? Indeed for a time it looked as though the days of the Mario games being ground-breakers were over. Then we got Super Mario Galaxy, the best possible example that the platforming genre still had life in it.
With this game, Nintendo showed us that they intended to keep the mustachioed plumber charging ahead of the curve rather than sitting around and being absorbed into it. Super Mario Galaxy delivered an experience that none of us could have imagined! Not only did it set new horizons for level design and platforming but showed us how a modern game could make use of physics beyond things like high-jumping and ballistic trajectory.
Super Mario Galaxy was something we’d never seen before and it worked beautifully.
You may agree with this list, you may disagree with this list. All the same, we’d like to know what you think are the greatest games of the generation and why you may or may not agree with the games on this list.