The End of a Generation - My Favourite Games of the 7th Gen: 15-11

 
I'm writing a series of posts about the games and consoles of the seventh generation (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP and DS). This will include a Top 20 countdown, thoughts on the industry, silly pictures and whatever else comes to mind.

A quick reminder of the rules:

1. Games for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PSP and PC are eligible.
2. Although they have been out for ages, the Wii U, 3DS and Vita belong to the 8th Generation, so will not feature.
3. Re-releases and updates are excluded.

My Favourite Games of the 7th Generation:

20. DJ Hero
18. Journey

15. Grand Theft Auto V
14. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
13. Grand Theft Auto IV
12. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
11. Mass Effect 3

I really don't know what to do with Grand Theft Auto V (2013). Is number fifteen too high or too low? Design-wise, it's a significant improvement on IV, so why have I ranked it two spots lower? While the experience is too recent, and my opinion not yet fully developed, I do think it is one of the fifteen best games of the last eight years.

Los Santos isn't just a massive sandbox. Well it definitely is that, but it is also a miraculous achievement of game design, one that I can't imagine coming from any studio other than Rockstar. We have had bigger sandboxes (Just Cause 2) and cities that felt more alive (Yakuza) but nothing that balanced size, content and detail so expertly.

Trevor grew on me. GTA leads tend to be badly written, but with Trevor you could just shrug your shoulders and convince yourself that he wasn’t supposed to make sense. He represented the average GTA player, unconcerned with narrative conventions and full of murderous rage. He understood that sometimes I just want to crash a helicopter into a hatchback and then mini-gun some public servants, in a dress. Although I wasn't as fond of Michael and Trevor, the ability to jump between characters was a wonderful addition and created the illusion that the city was alive, and that our gangsters didn't stop hustling once we'd stopped paying attention.

The driving was improved, the combat sufficiently enjoyable and the side missions unapologetically silly. The heists, though scarce, were the absolute highlight. They succeeded in being cinematic without sacrificing gameplay, and even managed to keep the Heat-lite cut scenes to an acceptable minimum. I’m greatly looking forward to online heists, and still intend to fully explore GTA V with friends.


I had missed the initial buzz, knew nothing of Naughty Dog and had decided, based solely on its unappealing front cover, that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007) was probably not a good game. If it wasn't for the persistence of a friend who forced me to borrow his copy, chances are I wouldn't have played it before the arrival of Uncharted 2. It's a good thing I relented, as I raced through it three times in less than a week and fell in love with the series.

Drake's Fortune was a paean to the best of Indy, an old fashion adventure full of mystery, danger and a shit load of treasure. It also drew inspiration from more recent sources, most notably Tomb Raider, while adding its own distinctive splash of colour. From the deep blue of the ocean to the luscious greens of the jungle, Uncharted was resplendent, a visual treat on hardware that was barely a year old. Wading through a partially flooded submarine for the first time, I was so taken aback by the visuals that I felt obliged to call my wife over to the TV to have a gander at the water effects. I can't recall her reaction (a disinterested nod?) but the scene has stayed with me.

Uncharted's likable and memorable cast set it apart from the competition. I’ll refrain from going into detail here about Nate and friends, as this won't be the last time I’ll be writing about Uncharted, but their chemistry was undeniable. With its high profile sequels, it's easy to forget about Drake's Fortune. That’s a terrible shame, as very few franchises have started out so polished and confident.


Before Grand Theft Auto IV (2008), I had never finished a GTA. I had enjoyed the series, but there was always something missing. At the first opportunity I’d deviate from the narrative and just mess about, and just messing about does not a good game make. Grand Theft Auto IV was the first in the series that made me want to pay attention, and that’s why I hold it in such high regard.

Liberty City has international appeal. It is New York, without being New York, and you don't have to be from the US to appreciate the landmarks and districts it copies.  Unlike previous entries, Liberty City felt more than just a soulless playground; it was a lived-in city and the characters that populated it were far more interesting than any that had come before. The ludonarrative dissonance (fuck me, I finally used it!) didn't bother me all that much and I appreciated the slightly darker tone. This was the American dream gone wrong, not just some guy shooting up Triads with a rocket launcher for shits and giggles. Despite being a murderous cunt, Niko remained a sympathetic(ish) character throughout; he might have just run over a nurse, but I still cared when bad things happened to him.

GTA IV was one of the very first games I played on the PS3. It demonstrated the leap between generations better than any game of that era and continues to influence my expectations for sandbox titles. It’s also by far the best game in which you can listen to Alexander O'Neal whilst wearing a shell suit, which is definitely a bonus.


Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) arrived at a time when shooters were still infatuated with Nazis, and the annual release was the sole reserve of sports. The fury had not yet taken hold and we were able to enjoy Modern Warfare for what it was: a genre defining game that took its story just as seriously as gameplay. While Modern Warfare 3 may have been the best all-around Call of Duty, the first games' single player campaign has yet to be topped. I realise I'm in the minority, but for me that is what is most important.

Modern Warfare had more than its fair share of memorable moments. It was both spectacle and slow burn, full of surprises that made you rethink your expectations of an FPS. Perhaps the most unforgettable scene takes place in the Middle East, where the US Marines Oscar Mike-ing is brought to an abrupt end with the detonation of a nuke. Infinity Ward made you suffer through the last, miserable moments of Sgt Jackson's life - in Modern Warfare, war was abhorrent and the player was never safe - and the game was better for it.

Captain Price's infiltration and escape from the abandoned city of Pripryat, home of the Chernobyl Reactor, was another moment that stood out. It offered the perfect balance of stealth and Terminator-mode action, starting quiet before building up to a failed assassination and bombastic escape.

Revisiting it last weekend and picking some of my favourite levels, it dawned on me that almost everything I enjoy about Call of Duty was already done, and done exceedingly well, in the first Modern Warfare. That speaks volumes about this game, but is also a knock on a series that, as a single player experience, has changed very little in six years. Call of Duty 4 is the source of your FPS deja vu, but that's not something to hold against it.


Mass Effect 3 (2012) was the spectacular finale that Bioware’s trilogy deserved. It expanded the universe, revisited old friends, introduced new comrades and revealed the final consequences of decisions made earlier in the series.

My favourite part of Mass Effect 3 was catching up with old crewmates, or at least those who hadn't already been pulped into a grim milkshake. Reunions ranged from the joyous to the mournful; Bioware were rather fond of tugging at my heartstrings, forcing me to part with beloved crew members well short of the finish line. Fortunately, Garrus stuck around so that he and Shepard could resume their ever-entertaining relationship, a bit like an intergalactic Nate and Sully. Sort of.

I eavesdropped on countless conversations and devoured all the codex I could find, constantly expanding my understanding of the universe I was trying to protect and the species that dwelled therein. I even took to reading the Mass Effect Datapad app, in an attempt satiate my desire for even more ME lore. Very few series have inspired this kind of curiosity and ME3 kept me intrigued throughout. Did you know that Asari don’t like to settle down before the age of 350?

I haven’t even mentioned the excellent multiplayer, satisfying combat, outstanding soundtrack, visual design and all the other elements that make one of the most complete and well-crafted games of its generation. While you may take issue with some of the final scenes, it’s difficult to find fault with the journey.

Comments

  1. GTA V was one of the best experiences I've had returning to a series. I took a break on GTA IV, simply had a lack of interest and I'm glad for it. With so many sandbox games I feel I would have been burnt out by the time GTA V hit and taken the break then. GTA V showed me, for once, a sandbox game isn't just and giant open world filled with kill-able NPCs. I had a blast with the living, breathing world that is GTA V. The story kept me going, the heists were more than just fun, and everything is simply a blast. Online with friends... let's just say it should be taken in douses or you risk hospitalization. You don't wanna be the guy on life support for laughing so hard you forgot to breathe.

    Ummm, I actually really like the cover for Uncharted, lol. As most know Uncharted is my go to game, I've been a Naughty Dog fan since the beginning and swear by their games, they can do no wrong.

    I'm not a big FPS guy but since Bioshock opened my eyes to the fact that devs do actually try to make it more than just "point here, shoot this dude, run over here, shoot this dude." A friend got me COD MW2 and I did in fact have fun, I even looked into Black Ops and MW3 but seeing more of the same I couldn't justify picking up a $60 game I had already played (only MGS3 gets that treatment, lol). I try not to knock most FPSs but I honestly can't see the appeal to "point, shoot, run forward, rinse and repeat."

    ME3 was amazing but sadly ruined by fans... for me at least. Whether you like the end or not, it didn't warrant the hate. As far as I'm concerned, it's ending was justified. That's not me saying it was a good ending but you're dealing with a series that has built up so much, so many great moments, amazing characters and a deeply rich history that deeply affects the story and even some of the players decisions. And for those who say that dumb extended cut was a better ending... well the over all ending is the same with some changes, I don't see how it is better. I also don't like the fact that people feel entitled to force change in another's hard work. I'd like them to put on the writers shoes and see how they feel when fans rip them apart to the point were they quit because they can't take that kind of hate. Let's just say R.I.P. to the great writing that was once held in high regard at BioWare.

    Your list is looking pretty great so far, got some of the greats up there already. Looking forward to what's to come.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thinking about it, I didn't really get into the series until GTA IV. I played the first game when it came out, as well as GTA London and GTA 3, but none of them really grabbed me. They were just throw away fun.

      My copy of Uncharted is Japanese, so maybe the cover is different!

      I think we are in agreement when it comes to ME3. While the ending could have been better, I didn't have any real issues with it. Bioware had to maintain control over the narrative, and an ending that reflected innumerable player choices would have been an absolute nightmare. And yes, the extended endings were silly. Glad I just watched them on Youtube!

      Cheers

      Delete
  2. Nice to see Drake's Fortune get some love on here. The first next-gen game to really wow me. Such a strong start for a new IP and a blast to play through. The graphics and presentation were amazing especially if you played it around release and I really fell in love with those characters. The main trio that returned in the other games the most of course, but I loved Eddie Raja too. Such a great villain/rival character. The AI is still quite impressive too. One of my most replayed games this gen.

    I still need to get to GTA V. I see you have it below IV, but I am personally hoping I like it more than IV.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I played the first 30 mins or so of Uncjarted DD the other day and was surprised by how great it still looks.

      Comparing GTA IV and V is difficult. I have much better memories of GTA IV, but that's probably because it was one of my first PS3 games and it impressed so much. Also, as a setting, I do prefer Liberty City to Los Santos. When it comes to gameplay however, GTA V is far superior, so hopefully you will enjoy it.

      Cheers

      Delete
  3. Out of these, the only two that would appear on my list would be Call of Duty and Uncharted. MW is probably the only CoD game I'd even consider, but it moves at such a brisk pace the others lack I couldn't help but put it at least at number 20.
    ME3 is in my top three, think it would be pretty obvious what the other two are. I spent a ton of time reading the codex entries like you, love bits like when Asari like to settle down or Quarian eating habits, just so much thought and care put into it. I feel the same way where you can't fault the journey despite the ending, but for me that ending made ME1 and 2 retroactively worse. It was clearly rushed and not edited because to someone who read the codex as much as me, you realized you actually made the galaxy worse off than better off. That's the reason I was glad they made the EC at least, not a perfect ending, but it filled in all the plot holes that made the original so bad. And not like Bioware resisted either, how quick they changed it shows me something went wrong with the ending and they were looking for any excuse to change it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mass Effect is great at building up back story and providing context. It makes the series so much more enjoyable.

      That is very true about Bioware's willingness to patch the endings. They certainly didn't put up much of a fight, though I wish they had resisted it more. Whether the fans were right or not, I'd prefer to see the developer stick to their guns. Giving in to a vocal minority, or at least appearing to give in, sets a dangerous precedent.

      Cheers

      Delete
    2. That's kind of my point though, I don't think they wanted to stick to their guns even if fans didn't react the way they did. I really think it was them admitting they rushed it and should have postponed the game to give a worthy ending.

      Delete
    3. You'd hope that Bioware would have had the endings sorted a long time ago. Not the part of a narrative-driven game you really want to rush! You might be right though. While I don't have a huge problem with the original endings, I do agree that they were overly simplified.

      Cheers

      Delete

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