With less than 2 months until we move our 360s and PS3s out of the way for the new boxes, it’s time for a look back on what made these consoles what they were. Since the Xbox 360’s release in 2005, and the Wii’s and PS3’s in 2006, hundreds upon hundreds of games have been released for all of them. Not all of them were good, plenty of them were great, and a select few were spectacular. Today, I’ll be picking my favorites from the enormous combined catalog of the three consoles. This list is unordered because I love all of them equally, and refuse to choose my favorite child. Also, I’m only choosing one game per franchise; If I didn’t, this would be a list of about 6 different series.
As all consoles eventually do, these consoles will fade away. They’ll soon be stored in a closet next to your PlayStation and your NES, but they won’t ever be forgotten. Let’s see what made this generation one of the most exciting yet, and get excited about the incredible talent still out there working on making the games of the future.
Metal Gear Solid 4
The culmination of all the convoluted nonsense of the Metal Gear universe, Metal Gear Solid 4 was everything I wanted to end the series with, and more. The stealth, movement, and gunplay was better than it had ever been, and the Octocamo is still really cool. The setpieces and character moments remain some of the most memorable in the franchise, even with the few moments where they falter. It was probably the best looking game I’d ever seen from 2008, and continues to look incredible in 2013, it’s a technical powerhouse draining the PS3 of all its worth. Metal Gear Solid 4 is most fan’s dream finale, with the Metal Gear fight, the Liquid Ocelot punch-out, the motorcycle chase, “bangbangbang”, and everything else. It’s a game about moments, and it strings them all together gracefully. The four major boss fights may not stand up to the other Metal Gear games, but the amount of things it gets right still lets me to hold it higher than any other game in the series.
After about 25 hours with Fallout 3, I could tell it was going to be something special. Then I proceeded to play about 100 more hours of it. Fallout 3 is an addiction, an escape from reality into a different one. It’s a world that is so easy to get lost in, because it kind of feels like our own, except probably worse. And I can’t stop wanting to see every single corner of it. Getting from one side of Fallout 3’s expansive map to the other is almost impossible, if you’re trying to walk a straight line. This isn’t because of the distance, it’s because of the distractions along the way. You’ll encounter a new quest, find a run-down shack with supplies, fight through an ambush in city streets, and it never gets stale. Exploration is a key factor in why I enjoy playing video games, and Fallout 3 delivers more than nearly any game I’ve ever played. There’s so much to do, so many people to meet, so many things to see, and it’s all worth your time.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
The first Super Mario Galaxy was the best 3D platformer I’d ever played. It oozed creativity and fantastic level design in every stage, and there wasn’t ever a moment that allowed you to be bored. Super Mario Galaxy 2 somehow ended up being a better game than that. Stripping down the hub into a level select map was such a smart decision, and allowed you to swiftly move from one excellent level to the next. There are multitudes of secrets and unlockables to uncover as you progress through the game, with plenty to do even after you think you’ve wrapped up the last level. Every stage exudes a stunning love for platforming, the Mario series, and feels like a labor of love for the biggest fans. With the reintroduction of Yoshis, a revisit to a classic Nintendo 64 classic stage, an improvement of the stage selection, and an increase of difficulty from the first Galaxy, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the best 3D platformer out there, and is the reason to pick up Nintendo’s little white rectangle.
Mass Effect 2
I thought the original Mass Effect was a pretty good game. The combat was a little clunky, the pacing didn’t speed up until halfway through the game, and planetary exploration was a chore. The characters and dialogue are what made Mass Effect something really different, and it almost felt like they were being thrown directly into a missed opportunity. Mass Effect 2 changed all of that, and kept what made the first game unique. Mass Effect 2 is completely driven by its character’s stories, and has one of the best casts ever assembled into one game. Shepard’s mission to save the galaxy isn’t the most original tale, but the universe and people built in it make up one of the best experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. I spent plenty of time just walking around listening to the ambient dialogue of NPCs, desperate to soak in more of this incredible world BioWare finally realized in this sequel. The combat is much improved which helps to make a better game, but still isn’t the reason you’re coming to Mass Effect. While the third game may not have stuck the landing as well as we wanted, Mass Effect 2 is still a showpiece for what video games are capable of when in the hands of supremely talented world builders, and I still enjoy spending time in that universe, even though it’s over.
Dark Souls takes inspiration from every Zelda game out there, then rebuilds them, changes them, boils them down their essence, and then does more. In The Legend of Zelda on the NES, you’re given no direction on where to go, and only discover what you take the time to find. Dark Souls sets you loose upon the most massive, developed world I’ve seen in a game, and asks you to figure out what to do yourself. There are dozens of directions to head at any time, and you’re only limited by how skilled you are as a player. Sure, there are ways you’re supposed to go, and you’ll probably find them after dying in every other area twenty times, but you’re allowed to go wherever you want. There are an insane number of bosses and a ridiculous amount of varied environments to explore, and you could miss large sections of the game if you didn’t have a friend point out which secret wall you’re supposed to break down, but that’s part of the appeal. There are so many enemies, objects, little bits of story, and characters to discover, you can easily spend more time looking for the first boss than it takes to complete most single player campaigns. Sure, if you’re into a more guided experience and not into deciphering where you’re supposed to be, it can be frustrating. But for everyone who wants to rediscover what made old fashioned adventures so thrilling, Dark Souls is more than ready to let you in, but don’t be afraid of being spit right back out.
BioShock was one of the first games this generation that us really think. We thought about what games were becoming, and what they could become. It developed characters more real than most games to come before it, and built a world around them that feels like it should exist just beneath our feet. Andrew Ryan felt like a real man, not only because of the performance given to him but because of his motivations. Sander Cohen was insane, but not without reason. How many other games actually build characters like BioShock did, especially before BioShock came out? Rapture felt manmade, and is still one of the most believable worlds out this generation. BioShock is a masterwork of drawing the player in, and never releasing its grip until the bitter end.
Mechanically, Resistance 3 is the best feeling first-person shooter I’ve ever played. The guns have a heft to them, you feel like you’re controlling a person, not a floating appendage. Aiming and shooting a target feels better than any other FPS I’ve played, and it feels really satisfying to take down those ugly aliens. There’s plenty of them to shoot at too, as well as plenty of guns to shoot. Resistance 3 is a great achievement in making single player first person shooter constantly exciting to play. You’re always being introduced to new weaponry, your guns upgrade and change over time, new enemies are introduced, and new environments come and go without hesitation. The trek to a frozen New York City really feels like a cross country adventure, and each stage feels like you’re getting just a tiny bit closer to some incredible goal. This adventure is heavily inspired by Half-Life 2, and is a better playing game, making me constantly want to jump back in. Floating a riverboat directly under a several hundred foot tall monster, the amazing train sequence, the kidnapping, fighting the boss known only as “SATAN”, there’s just too much here not to love.
Portal was one of the first games I played this generation, and it’s one that has stuck with me the longest. For an exceptionally short, maybe 4 hour game, it’s been on my mind far longer than the time it took to play it. One of the first, genuinely funny games I’d played, Portal’s writing and storytelling are only pieces of what makes it so wonderful. The core puzzle mechanic of wrapping rooms across each other is still so mind-bendingly brilliant they never really grow old. The major twist at the end of the game that it’s been kiiiiiind of hinting at the whole time is still one of the best moments you’ll ever have in any game, ever. It’s a game that’s not afraid of breaking itself down and exposing its most inner workings, giving you the chance to feel like you’re inside a machine that was never meant to be seen. Portal is a game that set the bar for how to subvert expectations while delivering a brand new gameplay experience at the same time. It was such a surprise, nobody bought the Orange Box for Portal, nobody really knew what it was about, but now it’s by far the showpiece of that collection. Portal was the perfect storm of innovation, surprise, and delight that came from nowhere, and it’s hard to imagine anything like that ever happening again.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Multiplayer games have never been bigger than they have this generation. They come out swiftly, sometimes in games that don’t need a multiplayer component. Call of Duty 4 defined what first-person shooters were going to be in the multiplayer arena, and Modern Warfare 2 perfected it. While Call of Duty 4 may have superior single-player, and arguably the best one in the series, the multiplayer feels lacking today compared to its sequel. Call of Duty 4 introduced the hyper detailed environments, extremely-precise and quick controls, and the base pieces of the perk system. Modern Warfare 2 blew all of that away by taking everything Call of Duty 4 did and bumping it up thirty notches. There was many, many perks and ways to create a unique class. So many weapons to customize, the advancements in the killstreak system, the large number of game modes. Modern Warfare 2, in my opinion, has the best selection of multiplayer maps of any game out there. The tight city streets, the huge open fields, all of the places felt so perfect for a map. Spec-Ops was also introduced, with dozens of co-operative missions for two friends to blast through, whenever you’re not racking up kills in multiplayer. Each of the Spec-Ops missions are designed like short arcade games, and can be replayed again and again to test your high score capabilities with friends. Modern Warfare 2 is still one of the best deals in gaming if you’re looking to have a good time with a group of friends, and still stays in my multiplayer rotation 4 years after its release.
The Walking Dead
As popular as The Walking Dead has been in all forms of media, this one hit me the hardest by far. As gritty and dark as the comic and the show, this entry forces you to make the decisions. Playing this during it’s initial release is an experience new player’s won’t be able to have with it. Having to wait a month between episodes was harder than any wait I’ve ever had for the next episode for a tv show. Your choices impact the world around you, and every line you choose to speak develops Lee, the main character, more and more. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I was playing the role of a person on screen as much as I did playing through Telltales astonishing masterwork, and I felt the impact of what I did as much as one can while sitting on the edge of a seat in front of a television. This is a video game that I feel can be appreciated by anyone, regardless of interest in the medium. It’s a genre defying, medium-surpassing piece of art, and I strongly recommend anyone even slightly interested give it a chance.
Thanks for checking out my favorite games of the past several years, and keep an eye on the site to find out the runners-up that barely missed the cut for my top 10. Here’s hoping to another decade of awesome games for the next generation!