As the current console era draws to a close, we find ourselves wondering what games will define it. We’ve got hardware covered – the Wiimote and Kinect made sure of that – but in five years’ time what will people look back on and call the most defining games of this generation? Here’s a few ideas.
(Note: these are in no particular order, so don’t get offended if your favourite game isn’t first or something.)
Gears Of War
A title from the olden days of 2005, when nobody had an HDTV and 3D was still a laughable and outdated idea. Epic Games’ uber-macho future shooter kicked off the Xbox 360’s life with a bang, propelling the brand’s popularity skyward like a rocket – albeit a rocket that would occasionally stall and nosedive into the sea.
Although I never found the series’ mechanics or storytelling to be particularly compelling, and its fanbase to occasionally be downright annoying, one could certainly be forgiven for saying that Gears exemplified many of the traits we encountered throughout the seventh generation. Addictive, quickfire multiplayer, a gritty brown colour scheme and lots of bloom effects? Not everyone’s cup of tea of course, but it definitely made its mark.
Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Let’s be honest here – we all played one of the Call of Duty games this past few years. We might shake our heads and sigh now, hoping that Activision puts the cash cow out to pasture soon before its udders fall off and this metaphor becomes overly strained, but when we first paid a visit to Captain Price and co. in 2007’s installment of the previously World War 2 based shooter series, we all thought it was brilliant. A mix of fantastic cinematics, wonderful set pieces and easy to grasp but brilliantly satisfying shooting, as well as introducing level-based multiplayer to the mainstream, Modern Warfare laid the groundwork for the most successful franchise of the generation as well as the emphasis that ended up being given to first-person shooters where the previous generation had tended towards action-adventure titles.
Though the later installments may have drifted towards the ridiculous with their plots and weaponry, Modern Warfare wasn’t too far removed from reality and indeed was better for it. If you enjoyed the later titles but haven’t revisited this in a while, go back and play it. It’s at least worth another go through. Go on, it’s not long.
Sam and Max Save The World
Ah, where would adventure gaming have been without the timely arrival of the psychotic bunny and his canine companion Sam? A return to the old games’ mid-90s graphic adventure style, Sam and Max helped to revive the genre for modern audiences, with its fantastic writing and stylised but gorgeous 3D graphics. Along the way, you’ll meet a green man, gangster rats, a hypnotist and a questionably good value general store.
The episodic format served it well, allowing the franchise to draw in new players who were uncertain about paying full retail price for a genre they weren’t sold on, as well as older fans who wanted to dip a toe into the water to see if it could reclaim the lost LucasArts magic. The format also inspired the release method of other adventures like the recent Walking Dead game and proved that sometimes you need to take your meals slowly for them to really hit the spot.
Oh alright, this one is cheating a bit – but it’s still relevant! The Wii series marked the end of Nintendo’s downturn in fortune. After finishing an embarrassing third to the original Xbox, Nintendo’s Wii took the market by storm at its Christmas 2006 release – and its opening salvo was Wii Sports. A bundled game (except in Japan), the games were simple and entertaining enough to see people through more than a few family games nights, but also served as a tutorial for Nintendo’s radical new control method. When gamers grew tired of the same five games, Nintendo was finishing up their new peripheral the Wii Balance Board, which launched with Wii Fit and set off a chain reaction of console-based fitness games, for the agorophobic fatty.
Midway through the Wii’s life, sales began to dwindle so it was time for another cutesy minigame-fest, this time using the new attachment Wii MotionPlus (later incorporated into the controller itself), that offered more realistic and accurate motion control than ever before. So what did Nintendo do? Why, another Wii Sports game, of course! Wii Sports Resort took the concept of the original game and ran with it, creating an actual setting for the games as well as trebling the number of events.
For better or for worse, these titles expanded the gaming world to include players we never thought we’d see holding a controller, making Nintendo the king of the hill once more (Still doesn’t make wake boarding any less hellish at three in the morning though).
Left 4 Dead
Ah Zombies. It seems like every game and their dog has a zombie shoehorned in somewhere nowadays, from Call of Duty to Red Dead Redemption. It used to be that zombies were a niche genre pretty much dominated by Resident Evil (and even that went to great trouble not to call them that) which never saw much attention in the media or from players.
You could argue that this trend started with the slightly earlier Dead Rising, but Left 4 Dead really kickstarted its popularity by emphasising a linear, objective-based and team-oriented experience that focused less on the zombies and more on the interaction between players. It was frighteningly fun to play and its short match-based design ensured that the scream of an oncoming Witch never lost its power. So long and thanks for all the undead!
The antithesis of the first two entries on this list, Angry Birds is a game about birds. And these birds are mad. The title solidified the idea that mobile devices like smartphones and tablets could be used as gaming platforms as well as communications machines. At time of writing, Angry Birds has totaled 700 million downloads across various platforms, a number most likely down to the simplicity of the game and the price point being nothing at all (not that that’s stopped developer Rovio Mobile from raking in advertising cash).
Along with independent stablemates such as Fruit Ninja, mobiles have taken off in a big way and it looks like they’ll continue to do so for years to come. Still, it’s doubtful there’ll be any real challenge to the handhelds until they release Call of Duty and Mario for phones. Which won’t happen, right guys? Guys?
It’s unfortunate that much of the gaming world believes that stories don’t matter. Yet it’s when a game like this one shows up that I have my faith in video games as an artistic medium restored. A tale of love, guilt, murder and redemption, it evokes the style of fifties Film Noir with its private detectives, gloomy locations and dark narrative. Driven by a combination of simplistic movement controls coupled with action commands and a mechanic whereby you can listen to your character’s thoughts, Heavy Rain might not be the most challenging thing in the world but it allows for a very simple way of playing that enables the developers to emphasise the plot.
After the release of Heavy Rain, the developer started work on several DLC chapters, but unfortunately all but one were abandoned thanks to demands from Sony to divert attention to the Move port of the game. Without this publisher meddling we might have seen more fantastic adventures, but unfortunately our imaginations will have to do for now.
Back in the ancient world of Generation Six, you shut your mouth and took whatever levels the designers gave you. By and large, level editing was restricted to the PC or some console ports of things like The Sims. With the release of LittleBigPlanet in 2008 however, everyone suddenly had access to a very diverse and powerful set of level editing tools which when combined with a powerful physics engine resulted in some of the best designs we’ve seen in years – proving not everyone has to be a level designer to, well, design levels.
A fun and lighthearted campaign narrated by the perfectly suited Stephen Fry gave the game a gloriously dreamlike feel that few have managed to emulate. Those few include the sequel, LittleBigPlanet 2, which took the existing concept and expanded the level editing tools to accomodate not only tremendously detailed stages but also rather complex capabilities including entirely different genres of game, like top-down shooters. A fantastic game that gave the idea of player-created content real credence, we hope that LittleBigPlanet continues to see a lot of success in future.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Now, I have a confession to make. I’ve never actually finished an Uncharted game. However, I have it in very good authority (read: my girlfriend) that it sets the standard for cinematic gameplay in a big way. Epic set pieces, flowing controls and a sweeping soundtrack easily let this one slip onto our list. Never before have gamers been able to experience a game that felt and looked so much like a film.
Uncharted spawned three sequels for PS3 and Vita, quickly becoming one of the PlayStation’s iconic franchises and securing its place in the fans’ hearts. Developers Naughty Dog (responsible for Crash Bandicoot) are currently hard at work on survival game The Last Of Us, which should be released later this year. We look forward to it!
Portal is the game on this list that could win every award in the book. A beautifully written and impeccably acted tale of an unwilling test subject in a sinister underground holding facility, Portal will live on not only for its lovingly implemented gameplay mechanics and fantastic level design but also for its memetic nature, which ended up bringing on a wave of gaming trying to reach the legendary status the cake eventually obtained.
Of course, Valve have never been one averse to experimenting with new things, so it came as no surprise when it was announced that Portal would be receiving a proper boxed sequel in 2011. Featuring a main campaign around three times as long with a much heavier story and additional mechanics, Portal 2 launched to great acclaim last May. In fact, it’s probably much better even than the original and you should go play it right now just to reassure yourself of that!
Well, this concludes the list of the games we feel have made this generation special. However, we couldn’t include everything in detail, so here’s our runners up!
- Super Mario Galaxy
- L.A. Noire
- Mirror’s Edge
- The Last Story
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
- Fallout 3/New Vegas
- Professor Layton Series
- I Am Alive
Thanks for reading!