My Favourite Games of the 8th Generation: 20-16

I'm writing a series about the end of the 8th Generation , which includes a Top Twenty Countdown of my favourite games.

So it begins.

Over the coming weeks, I'm going to be counting down my twenty favourite games of the 8th Generation, starting here with 20-16. I have already spent far too long considering the final order, because video games are important business and I like thinking about them.

I also like ranking things, so I'm basically a pig in shit right now. Wallow with me?

The rules:

1. My 8th Generation covers the PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and Switch (up to winter 2020).

2. Remakes are eligible. However, ports and remasters are not, regardless of how expanded they may be. Apologies to Rez Infinite, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Persona 4 Golden etc.

Right, games:

20. Forza Horizon 4
19. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
18. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
17. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
16. Mafia III

There is a lot of unnecessary noise in Forza Horizon 4 (2018). I don't want to buy a house and I don't care what colour my wellies are. However, I absolutely do want to burn it around a miniaturized England and Scotland in a blue Impreza. In this respect, FH4 has me well covered.

Generally, when it comes to modern racing games, there are three things that I need.

1. I want to go fast
2. I want to jump off things
3. I want to do the above while listening to big tunes

Forza Horizon 4 absolutely checks all three boxes. As did FH3 for that matter, but my longing for the English countryside, roundabouts, and British radio ensured that the latest entry was my favourite of the two. The rewind feature is a god-send, an opportunity to undo silly mistakes and not allow them to ruin the remainder of the race. The opportunity is given in just the right measure, allowing it to be useful without making the races too easy. The sheer amount of options is staggering, with every type of event you can imagine spread across a humungous map. Despite all that choice, more than anything I enjoy aimlessly twatting about the countryside, exploring to my heart's content and racking-up multipliers.

With Burnout long since dead, and Need for Speed having fallen off a cliff, Forza Horizon has become the first and last word in arcade racers. I have dipped in and out of FH4 since release, thanks to it being the headline attraction of Game Pass. It is the defining title on the most important service in modern gaming, and is as enjoyable and relevant today as it was back in 2018.

By including Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017), I'm breaking my own rule about ports. However, as Mario Kart 8 was a Wii U game, and therefore also belongs to the 8G, I'm going to allow it. Besides, it's too good not to be on this list.

Mario Kart 8 is the lone reason we have several cheap, third party Switch controllers knocking about the house. It's the one game the whole family can agree on, and we still regularly jump back in for a Grand Prix or two. The Smart Steering and Auto Acceleration options make it possible for my daughter to compete with my wife and I, ensuring that no one gets left behind and everyone stays invested from the first to last lap. That we can enjoy it for so many different reasons - whether that's speed, lobbing bananas or just taking in the surroundings - yet all compete in the same race, is a testament to the excellence of MK8. It's the perfect family game and I'm sure we'll keep playing for the remainder of the Switch's shelf-life.

There's no need to relearn the controls when we return after time away, and everything runs so smoothly. There's so much to see and do, with every track packed full of design flourishes and things to draw your attention, if you dare to take your eyes off the road. This is the best version of one of gaming's defining series. So, pretty good then.

If I'm being honest, there's something about the Zelda series that I have always found unappealing. I can't quite put my finger on what that is though. It could be the whimsy, the character design, the light-fantasy setting, or maybe it's just the SEGA diehard in me refusing to fully embrace Nintendo. I have tried and failed to like several Zelda games over the years. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017) broke the mold, as well as several dozen weapons I would've preferred to have kept hold of. Maybe it was the open-world and Ubisoft-towers that finally convinced me? If so, I am truly hopeless, but I know what I like. And I liked Breath of the Wild.

What stands out most about the only good Zelda game is Nintendo's confidence in the from-the-outset viability of their open world. Within the first few hours, you have been given almost every skill you need to fully traverse the map. You are trusted from the get-go; empowered to explore every nook and cranny, with even the most dangerous of locations free of invisible barriers. It's a land full of mystery and rumour, and there is always something off in the distance, seen or suggested, begging to be explored. In its freedom and scope, BotW was born of Skyrim, but with the added polish that we've come to expect from Nintendo.

It's also as depressing as fuck. We are in search of ghosts, having another crack at averting a disaster that already ruined this world before. There is a sorrow and sense of loss that permeates the entire game, delivered through the painterly and wistful visual design, the score, and even the weapons that shatter in your hands. Even at it's most vibrant, when racing horses through lush green meadows or dashing through flower filled orchards, there's a sadness here that enraptured me, but also ensures that I'll never return to it.

There's a scene in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life (2016/18) where a family of nice-criminals plays rugby with a baby, in an attempt to keep him out of the hands of some bad-criminals. As each is tackled by an evil-shit, he lobs the baby into the waiting arms of another kind-hearted Yakuza. The baby is bloody loving it. For this scene alone, Yakuza 6 deserves to be in my top twenty. But infant hot potato is not the only reason I rate it so highly. Not by a long shot.

Yakuza is, and always has been, gloriously silly. Yes, there is a lot of violence and tragedy, but above all it's funny and never takes itself too seriously. As the series continues to gain more traction outside of its home country, audiences are coming to realise that the GTA-Japan moniker was as ill-fitting as it was lazy. Yakuza 6 is perhaps the most Yakuza of any entry before or since. It features high stakes, heart wrenching stories of people struggling to exist on the edge of society, cartoonish violence, comedy and a plot that made even me, the original Yakuza-liker, do a spit take. 

At the centre of it all, for the last time or so we were told, is the indestructible Kazuma Kiryu. In Yakuza 4, 5 and even Zero, Kiryu shared the stage with other leads. Here, the focus is solely back on him and the lengths he'll go to protect those he loves. Following the bloat of Y5 and the excess of Zero, this was a welcome return to a simpler style of Yakuza. We split our time between two perfectly opposed locations - Kamurocho and Onomichi - and our combat options are more focused than before. This is Yakuza at its most refined, and I greatly appreciated it. 

Mafia III (2016) can at times feel dated. Like a sandbox you might have enjoyed on your PS3 or 360. So why do I rate it so highly? Well, it's all about the setting and the characters. Thanks for asking.

Lincoln Clay returns from Vietnam to the same bullshit he left behind. Inequality, poverty, crime and above all else a system that is designed to keep him down. A tragic turn of events sets him on a path to revenge, one that will be littered with bodies. So far, so sandbox gangster. The story is a very dark one, and while it sounds generic on the surface, it's far more memorable than anything GTA has ever given us, for example. This is in part thanks to the outstanding performances, the superb writing and a cast of genuinely interesting and complex characters.

1968 New Bordeaux, essentially New Orleans, makes for quite the cultural back drop. The prevalent attitudes towards race are front and centre throughout, which makes for a fascinating cultural study, and at times very uncomfortable viewing. There is a certain amount of catharsis in shooting up a police BBQ full of hate-spewing Klan members. However, for the most part M3 avoids simply using racism as a means to justify and encourage murder, even though it does loom over everything.

The city is stunning. I didn't mind Hangar 13's insistence on making me travel long distances across the city and outskirts of New Bordeaux by car, as the handling was smooth, the city was worth exploring, and it was an excuse to turn on the radio and surf the channels of contemporary music. Listening to Sam Cooke, cruising around the city, I felt like I was transported to an entirely different time and  place.

I'd had a copy of Mafia III for over two years before finally playing it last spring. I was ready for that kind of experience, something to sink my teeth into during my lunchbreaks while working from home.  Thematically, it felt very relevant with the BLM movement in full swing and America looking like a powder keg ready to explode. The right game at the right time, and one that left an impression far greater than I had expected.


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