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
19. Wii Sports
17. No More Heroes
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.