I’ve never understood peoples’ aversion to the “mainstream”. Be it games, music, film, whatever, there will always be someone hovering over your proverbial shoulder ready and waiting to berate you for perpetuating some bourgeoisie boogeyman by giving your money to the “mainstream”. Look, stuff is just stuff and if you’re more concerned with its role in some sort of cultural hierarchy than with its actual content you are, probably, a colossal hipster douche. Guess what? Mainstream stuff becomes mainstream because people like it. And guess what else? Everything becomes mainstream eventually. There is, in fact, no such thing as this mysterious “mainstream”. There is only stuff that’s liked en masse and stuff that’s niche, and eventually most niche stuff will gather a big enough following to be considered “mainstream” anyway, simultaneously losing all its hipster douche allure in the process. Don’t believe me? I heard The Cure’s Lullaby on the radio in a family restaurant this week. How many times do you think that happened in 1989?
So I feel obliged to point out, before you proceed into this list, that the games discussed below are not necessarily what I consider to be THE BEST games of the last 8 to 10 years, as I’m sure there’ll be countless indie-steam releases I’ll be accused of ignoring, just my own personal favorites. They may well represent the best work of this generation in some cases, but are listed primarily for the level of enjoyment they gave me personally. The beauty of this disclaimer is that it perfectly entitles you to leave angry comments telling me I’m wrong while simultaneously entitling me to completely disregard them. A win-win situation I think you’ll agree. Feel free to comment if you don’t.
Assassins Creed II
Know this; I have an assassins emblem tattoo. I have read the AC Encyclopedia (which my mate Soc brilliantly refers to as the ‘Encyclocreedia’) cover to cover and consider it the best and most consistent franchise of this generation. That said, I fucking hated the first game. Never in my life have I come across such a haphazard mess of conflicting design choices. In fact, when people ask me about getting in to AC, I often encourage them to skip the first one altogether and instead throw themselves headfirst into its superb, infinitely superior sequel: Assassins Creed II.
I agonized over which AC game to include in this list; Brotherhood for introducing its surprisingly brilliant multiplayer section? Revelations for its astounding art design and emotionally powerful plot? III for the sheer mass of land, rooftop, treetop and mountainous landscape available to explore? Maybe even Black Flag which feels like the ultimate culmination of all AC‘s ideas up to now. In the end, I chose ACII because rarely has a sequel so openly acknowledged and valiantly rectified just about all of its predecessors’ faults. Ezio was a magnificent protagonist, Renaissance Italy provided a vivid and vibrant playground for our assassin antics, platforming and combat were overhauled and all the rough edges sanded off for a game that was simply a joy to play. Not to mention the fact that II is where the plot really started to kick into gear as well as introducing the now infamous double assassinations.
Mirrors Edge was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever played, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, plot was thin on the ground. Yes, combat was an unintuitive mess and yes, the game was plagued by collision detection issues and an unfortunately frequent reliance on that unintuitive, messy combat. However, Mirrors Edge broke my heart not for its faults, but for how tragically they held it back from greatness.
Running away had never felt so terrifically intense, every chase sequence full of enough oh-jesus-don’t-look-behind-you tension for many a terrified deathgrip to damage many a poor controller. Its stark, minimalist visual aesthetic was stunning to behold and its sound design was equally exceptional. Add to that some of the most visceral and intense first person platforming ever attempted and you’ve got the ingredients for a winner. It’s all the more unfortunate that these virtues were missed by many in the face of its glaring vices. Hopefully the long-overdue sequel, announced at E3 this year, will make up for it.
No More Heroes
The nintendo Wii might not have been the console of choice for most ‘gamers’ this generation but while these people have been busy worrying about whether or not the granny demographic would turn Call of Duty into a knitting simulator (which would probably be just as interesting), they probably missed out on one of the most unique and enjoyable action games in recent memory. Suda 51’s Gen7 debut No More Heroes (initially a Wii exclusive, later released in a HD remake for PS3 and Xbox360) was a criminally ignored masterpiece.
Leading man – and total otaku nutcase – Travis Touchdown buys a beam-katana online and shortly after falls into a ranked assassin league where he must take down the remaining 10 members to rise to the top. Laced with self-aware gaming (and anime) humor, filled with frantic, frenetic combat, enemies that explode into coins (in Europe, their creamy fillings were blood red in other territories), bizarre and unpredictable gameplay sections and a cast of incredibly iconic heroes and villains, No More Heroes deserved much more attention than it managed to get.
Sometimes the stars align and everything just comes together. Sometimes you can experience something so profound that you just can’t shake it; it becomes a part of you, shaping and defining you, burrowing its way into your heart where it waits to be recalled. For myself and many, many others in 2012, Journey was where it all came together. A beautifully unique art style gave mystique to a game that used simplistic gameplay to hide beneath its surface a poignant, evocative experience unlike any other. A story without words but not without meaning, a game that rewards sentiment rather than skill and a score so sublime in its subtlety that you could almost miss its many, many majestic moments, Journey is as impossible to describe as it is to define. If you haven’t played it, play it. It might just change your life.
The Last of Us
If you haven’t played TLOU, it might be easy to look at clips or read reviews and wonder what the fuss is about. On the surface it can at times look like just another third person shooter and god knows the last thing 2013 needed was ANOTHER zombie game, but as most who’ve played it can attest, TLOU is infinitely special and all the more interesting for how it stands alone in a sea of similar experiences. Third person shooting has never felt this tight, survival horror has never felt quite this unnerving (not since Silent Hill 2 anyway) and it’s been a long time since caution felt so essential. TLOU might not have broken any new ground in terms of gameplay, but it perfected the shit out of the path it trod, however familiar it may have been. Narratively, TLOU stands completely unmatched this generation. A heartbreaking exposition guides you into a relentlessly unforgiving world and a story that never shies away, even in it’s remarkable conclusion, from showing you just how impossibly out of reach solace really is. Bleak, beautiful, horrific and heartwarming; The Last of Us is now the benchmark for video game storytelling.
So there you have it; my top 5 games of generation 7. Go quietly into the night my friend. Or actually just stay where you are for a while, I haven’t finished Agarest yet.
Honourable mention goes to the following games which very nearly made this list but didn’t for various reasons which I won’t go into.
Lollipop Chainsaw, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Portal, Super Mario Galaxy.