So, here it is. Like all generations of gaming before it, Generation 7, the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii, is officially coming to and en with the birth of Generation 8. I feel like it’s been a good 8 years for gaming. There have been some incredible steps forward in the genre in terms of story-telling and gameplay mechanics, and there’s been some more questionable steps in the genre, with regards to regularity of sequels and the shifting of focus on certain gameplay modes.
I had intended on waxing lyrical a little bit about my first experiences with this generation of consoles and what I liked and disliked in depth, but then I thought ‘fuck it – just get to the good stuff’. So here’s my experience in a nutshell – focus on single-player story = GOOD, focus on multi-player = BAD. Yeah, not a huge fan of the Call of Duty series, but games like Bioshock are totally up my street.
So, without further ado, here’s my favourite five games of this generation!
Super Mario Galaxy
Say what you want about Nintendo, I myself have taken part in some Ninten-ragging, but one thing they do very well is make Mario games. Mario Galaxy is the first Mario game since Super Mario 64 that went right back to the series roots and just decided to reach for the stars, literally.
This instalment takes place in space, and puts our favourite plumber and his myriad gang in another struggle against the mighty Bowser, chasing him across the Galaxy. It’s standard Mario fare as far as game-play goes, but that’s where the memorable quality of this game comes in. The platforming is airtight, the controls totally responsive It’s fun straight from the get go – as soon as you land on your homeworld and kick into the first level, the whole colourful, wonderful experience just makes you happy and reminds you of why Mario is an icon in gaming.
The level design is ingenius. Playing around with the idea of 360 rotation in platforming is not easy, and something that could go very wrong, but Super Mario Galaxy nails it. The levels feel new, but familiar to old standards, and are all very memorable, each with their own charm and mystique that makes you want to explore every corner and facet of their design. Couple this with the best Mario soundtrack in years (talk about whimsical, specially tracks like ‘Comet Observatory), and some very interesting new characters (Rosalind in particular) that keep the story remarkably interesting, and Super Mario Galaxy is platforming at it’s best, made by one of the companies that created the blueprint.
What do you get when you get a Japanese game that’s one part dating/life sim and one part Q-Bert inspired puzzler? You get ‘Catherine’, one of the strangest, most bizarrely immersive, frustrating, rewarding games I’ve ever played.
This is literally one of the most charming and addictive games you can find. You play as Vincent, a guy going through a bit of a mid-life crisis who is stuck between two beautiful women and have incredibly horrifying dreams of climbing towers with a bunch of sheep. You guide him through the crisis, basically choosing which woman for him to stay with, while conversating with his friends, getting drunk and taking advice from the barman, and then you guide him up these towers, pushing blocks every which way in the hopes of reaching the bell at the top so Vincent doesn’t wake up dead.
It is as infinitely bizarre as it sounds, but man, you do not want to put that controller down. The weirdness of the title adds to it’s charm, and doesn’t overstate itself. The game doesn’t rely on being completely left-field for you to be entertained – you want to continue out of intrigue and you fall for the game more and more as you go on. It helps that the puzzle based gameplay of both the life sim and the actual levels is very simple, and doesn’t ever feel too hard. The graphics are a very nice, cel-shaded 3D style, which helps for the cinematic elements and give ‘Catherine’ this odd balance between being an interactive film and a full on game. Through-out I was never sure which one Altus truly wanted to achieve, if either, and frankly I didn’t care. One of the enjoyable, unique gaming experiences I’ve had, I want to say ever, but that would be over-zealous, but definitely of this generation.
Batman: Arkham series (Specifically ‘Arkham City’)
The last ten years is going to be remembered as the decade of the Bat, I can guarantee it. Between the Arkham games and Christopher Nolans ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, Batman has been celebrated more than any one other single superhero probably ever, to the point of near over-saturation. That said, there is much merit to the celebration, because much like the ‘Dark Knight’ films, the Arkham series is a very solid entry in the franchise, and sets a bit of a standard for comic book games.
Growing up with the Batman 90’s cartoon, there is one thing Arkham Asylum and City have that instantly sold me on checking them out; Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman. That right there is already nostalgia by the bucket-load. In checking them out, I knew I wanted to do two things – Be Batman, and beat up criminals using awesome gadgets. These games deliver that, and then some. While being story-based, Asylum, and more-so City, have a free-roaming aspect to them, so you feel like you’re actually Batman having to solve all the puzzles and put together what exactly is going on, while mowing through the Bat’s enemies. You can even just bust random crooks, freeing their hostages for rewards, and out-do the Riddler on various challenges he has set you and listen to him descend into madness.
Even with the solid gameplay, and it is as smooth as you’d want it to be, I think my favourite aspect of the games is their dark tone. Being Batman, he’s a dark character, he is the night, and he only comes out of the shadows to punch crime in the face. You want to control him as he takes down the scum of Gotham City and wages his one man war, and this is as close as it gets to doing that. Not only this, but you get to see Batman interact with Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Nightwing amongst others, and learn more about his mindset and his flawed person while you’re at it. Rocksteady did dam goo – both as an adaptation and as a game in it’s own right.
I play games to be told good stories. That is what I look for 90% of the time when I sit down to play a game. I look for good stories, and good gameplay to get me through them. I want to think about things while I play games, I wantgames to grant me perspective, and perhaps allow me to think of things in a new light. Bioshock Infinite is all of these things and more for me.
Bioshock set standards back in 2007. It was grim, heart-breaking and utterly brilliant in it’s delivery of an alternate history where we over-stepped boundaries and created dystopia in our journey for utopia. It was also DAM good as a game, it looked good, felt good and was just an experience to remember. Fast forward to 2013 and a pseudo-sequel is released. Bioshock Infinite took the baseline of Bioshock, and went in a whole other direction with it. Core gameplay is very similar, but instead of being 10,000 leagues under the sea, we are now amongst the angels and airwaves in the sky. Booker is our name, and we are a man on a mission. ‘Give us the girl, and wipe away the debt’. We must get the girl, and wipe away the debt. That girl is Elizabeth, and getting her is a journey through time itself as the story unfolds.
In Bioshock, you arrive after the downfall, and must explore the wreckage. In Bioshock Infinite, the downfall of Columbia happens during your journey, and this gives the game a sense of urgency that I find incredibly rare. You feel the struggle of the Vox Populi as they rise up against Columbia’s Founders, particularly Zachary Hale Comstock, the games protagonist. You beomce part of it, on both sides of the war, and must fight for yourself and Elizabeth, trying to make sense of everything.
There’s a great chill to the atmosphere of Bioshock Infinite. The game takes place mostly in daylight, which gives you this feeling that you really can’t hide, you have to face what’s coming – regardless of whether you’re ready or not. It’s actually one of the core themes of the game, fate, and whether or not your belief in it means you can avoid it. It’s deep stuff, and more than once I found myself pausing the game to ponder what had just happened and what had just been said in game. This of course all climaxes in one of the top 5 endings in video games I have EVER seen – which is perfectly accompanied by Gary Schyman’s emotionally charged score. The whole experience is something I implore you to try. To this day, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night to play some Bioshock Infinite, just to hang out in Columbia. That’s not something you get very often.
Mass Effect Trilogy (Specifically Mass Effect 2)
Speaking as a near lifelong Star Wars and Star Trek fan, all I’ve ever wanted from a sci-fi RPG is just a replication of either of those, and the ability to carve my own adventure within them. Unfortunately nothing has ever gotten that recipe quite right in terms of direct adaptations, Mass Effect definitely scratched that itch in a BIG way.
You’re the hero of the story, and you get to carve your path through it in a completely distinctive manner by choosing how you interact with everyone you encounter in your story, and if you have all three Mass Effect games, your decisions and legacy travel from game to game as the galaxy gets bigger and bigger. Encounter a drug dealer? You can choose to kill him. Encounter someone smuggling medical supplies for their family? You can choose to turn a blind eye to it. Choosing a team for a special mission while you deal with enemies? Careful who you choose, because the wrong choice may lead to death. The choices resonate with you as you make them, and resonate with your character as you play through the game. You aren’t someone being read the story so much as you’re someone who is writing one of the many, many possible combinations of it.
This is enhanced by game-play that is varied across the three titles, but always rewarding. Combat never feels over-zealous, and equally, the character-development never feels under-utilized. Everything has it’s place, and everything is paced very nicely so you are never far from a different aspect of the game. My favourite part of the games is, without a doubt, the space travel. A common element in all three is that you can captain your ship travelling the galaxy, and there are few things that made me happier playing a game. You get to explore how you want to, and find supplies, enemies and side missions as you go. Immersion doesn’t get much greater, and the sense of person within a galaxy that exists without you, but still needs you is unrivalled.
The journey is bolstered further by how good it looks and sounds. Guys like Jack Hall, Christopher Lennertz and, most famously, Clint Mansell (The Fountain, Black Swan) create a soundtrack that is memorable and absolutely epic. The grand events feel huge, the sad events are crushing, and the happy events are joyful because of the soundtrack and how much it transports you into those moments as you see your choices come to pass as you attempt to make the right one and hope for the best.
With Mass Effect, Bioware have created not only the pinnacle of this generation (that I’ve played), but also a pedestal of gaming itself. The action RPG genre has a steadfast title, and the sci-fi genre has another galaxy for people of all ages to explore and grow up with and grow into. I look forward to the new titles in this new generation.
Of course, there’s got to be a few honorary mentions, which didn’t make the list for one reason or another (admittedly, mostly because I haven’t played them until I own a ps3) : Mirror’s Edge, Skyrim, Oblivion, The Last of Us, Journey, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Halo 3, Gears of War, Alan Wake, Burnout Paradise, Assassin’s Creed, Dead Space.