Monthly Archives: November 2013

30 Years of Video Games: F1Race Stars (2012)

Today is the final in our 30 year countdown of games, which unfortunately also for me, means I am soon to exit my 20’s and move head-first into my 30’s.  I’d like to thank you all for reading and I hope it’s been as fun for you as it has for me. 

F1 Race Stars

Sometimes I wish the internet was full of free-willed individuals.  Thinking for one’s self is a wondrous thing; developing one’s individual tastes, becoming an individual who is able to express one’s self.  Child psychologists believe that children become aware of themselves as an individual entity early in life, somewhere between 18 and 24 months.  While many of us retain that trait, sadly video game enthusiasts who live their lives through the internet, do not.  This regression is unfortunate as it leads to millions of clones wandering the information superhighway, spouting off the gospel of their internet video gaming churches.  The prophets call themselves ‘the reviewers’, brainwashing their minions with their own thoughts, beliefs and ideas, removing from them the ability to think for themselves, leading to a dangerous hibernaculum of group thinkers.

Of course some of us just call it ignorance.  I’d be fine with ignorance if it weren’t so widespread, and those people who chose its path would keep their mouths shut. It upsets me that the performance of a game is so dependent on the voices of the few purporting to be the voice of the many.

Codemasters’ F1 Race Stars fell victim to this unfortunate phenomenon.

On its surface F1 Race Stars is a kart racer like so many others that hit the market each year.  And every time a kart racer hits the reviewers decry the genre, supposedly searching for the next big innovation.  “The genre hasn’t changed since Mario 64” they yell.  “It’s not worth your money, stick with Mario Kart” they instruct their minions.  Yet when one comes along that changes this up they ignore it and search for other problems.  I’m certainly not claiming the F1 Race Stars is perfect, in fact far from it.  But what it did do was change the genre up in a way that no other game has.  Earlier this year I reviewed both Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing and its excellent sequel Transformed which were great games that stuck rigidly to the formula forged by Nintendo 20 years ago. F1 Race Stars was a genuine attempt at creating something new and the development team deserve credit for that.

The excellent thing about F1 Race Stars is that it feels like what Formula One would be if it were a kart racer.  Formula One is at its foundation a technical sport and it is admirable that this game takes aspects of the sport and tailors them to fit into an accessible racer.  All the racers are here, along with interesting and technical tracks based on the locales (not the tracks) of the 2012 F1 Racing season.  But most intriguingly so is the KERS system.  KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) is technology that allows F1 cars to store energy from braking for faster acceleration during at designated parts of the track.  While its not that complicated each track has designated KERS areas that the player can use to gain a brief turbo boost, manually ‘boosting’ by letting go and holding down the accelerator.  It’s not automatic and there are three levels of boost that can be attained, but this is one example of the game trying to draw on and infuse its kart racer with real life Formula 1 rules and regulations.

Probably most pronounced a difference from other kart racers is that there is no drifting.  None at all.  Instead, like real racing, the closer you stick to the racing line the better you’ll perform.  That means entering a corner slowly and accelerating out of the apex at speed.  While that all sounds pretty straightforward, the impact it has on the game as a kart racer is pronounced.  Overtaking is no longer a matter of boosting out of a corner around a slow opponent, instead like Formula 1, it becomes a battle of wits and skills as the same logic that applies in the sport transfers across to F1 Race Stars.  We’re not looking at the level of simulation seen in Codemasters’ F1 series proper, but it is a unique take on the kart racing genre that successfully captures the essence of Formula 1 and permeates it through a more accessible and light-hearted racing experience.

There are things the game could’ve done better, there usually are.  But it’s important to acknowledge where a developer innovates.  F1 Race Stars isn’t perfect and its not even best in show; but it is a genuine attempt at something new.  It may not be the best kart racer available but it’s different enough to sit, if not on top of, right next to the Mario Karts and Sonic All Stars.  F1 Race Stars represents more than just a decent racer, it represents effort and ambition.  Even with the flaws Codemasters should be proud of what they’ve achieved, even when the group thinking internet tries to bring them down.

F1RaceStars

2011 – 2010 – 2009 – 2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001 – 2000 – 1999 – 1998– 1997 – 1996 – 1995 – 1994 – 1993 – 1992 – 1991 – 1990 –1989 – 1988 –1987 – 1986 – 1985 – 1984 – 1983

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30 Years of Video Games – Thor: God of Thunder (2011)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

Thor: God of Thunder

WayForward Technologies.  Give them a round of applause for almost single-handedly keeping 2D side scrolling beat ’em ups and platformers alive.  From the excellent Shantae on the Gameboy Color, to the sickeningly sweet A Boy and His Blob or the under the radar Aliens: Infestation, WayForward has been the harbinger of all things neo-retro.

They also have a pretty good knack for bringing a bit of spice to the often (unjustifiably at times) maligned licensed game world.  Batman: The Brave and the Bold held its own against the ever-popular Arkham Asylum in its more cartoony portrayal of the Bat, and recent efforts with both games based on the Adventure Time and Regular Show are well worth tracking down, not just for their licences but also because they’re pretty good retro-inspired games in their own right.  The same can be said for the often forgotten Thor: God of Thunder for the DS, which unlike efforts on other systems, is actually an excellent game based on the film of the same name.

Thor is simple in its execution, and it’s this simplicity that goes a long way to making it so endearing.  Straight away anyone over the age of 20 will be thrown back to the heyday of 16-bit brawlers – and that feeling never goes away.  Thor’s design document could well have been transplanted right from a Super Nintendo or Mega Drive game and we’d be none the wiser – you run left and right, taking on multiple enemies along a 2-D plane, and unleash awesomely devastating multi-hit combos and special moves.  It’s pure and unadulterated retro brawling and while here’s nothing new here per se, in an era where games are seemingly out to out-complicate one another, it is sometimes nice to go back to basics, and when it’s done as well as this who cares that it feels like a 20 year old game.

The developer has a great track record when it comes to its art and Thor is no exception.  I hesitate to call it ‘stunning’, but Thor’s pixel spritework and animation is, like all of its output, close to second to none.  There is a certain retro beauty to the game’s graphics that isn’t matched by the smoother, higher resolution sprites in today’s games.  It looks old, but underneath the game’s still appearance, is a master-craftsman’s work.   Some of the best artists in human history are known for the details of their execution rather than the overall aesthetic of their work; and WayForward are no different in this respect.  The way it moves, the way the characters react to attacks, the excellent use of parallax scrolling for its backgrounds – it is these things that makes it a beautiful game.  Screenshots don’t do this game justice, watching it in motion is a revelation of just how amazing WayForward are as artists.I

ThorDS

Have a favourite game from 2011?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

2010 – 2009 – 2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001 – 2000 – 1999 – 1998– 1997 – 1996 – 1995 – 1994 – 1993 – 1992 – 1991 – 1990 –1989 – 1988 –1987 – 1986 – 1985 – 1984 – 1983

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30 Years of Video Games – Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2010)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey

The Nintendo DS was the undisputed king of the japanese role playing game for most of its life cycle.  It is the close to fact that the traditional Japanese RPG experienced a marked decline this (last?) generation and so those that wanted a taste of roleplaying both old and new were best served by picking up Nintendo’s two screened wonder.  While the big boys of the genre were there, the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quests, it also raised the profile of a number of classic series that perhaps didn’t have a mass fanbase outside of Japan, like the long-running Shin Megami Tensei.

It would be disingenuous to give all the credit to the DS for raising the series’ profile, given its prolific presence on both the Playstation Portable and the Playstation 2, it certainly didn’t hurt that publisher Atlus focused on the system.  While the world’s collective eyes were firmly planted on the more modern Persona games, and perhaps rightly so, the developers were busy crafting more traditional JRPG experiences to take advantage of the DS hardware.  The Devil Survivor series was an excellent take on turn based RPGs, while Strange Journey was very much in the tradition of classic SMT first person dungeon-crawling.  They were all excellent games that I highly recommend anyone with an interest in RPGs period, play.  But there’s one that captured my imagination like no other.

Strange Journey Character

Strange Journey  rose to the top and captured my time and imagination with its sci-fi storyline, excellent art style and addictive exploration.  It was also not ashamed to frustrate with its retro, and in some ways archaic, game design.  The top screen shows the majority of the action while the bottom screen is home to additional information on your enemies during battle, and an excellent auto map during exploration.  If that sounds a bit like Etrian Odyssey, that’s because it shares a developer.  In some ways its Etrian Odyssey for dummies.

But that doesn’t mean Strange Journey is a pushover.  Far from it, actually.  Taking its cues from earlier game in the series, Soul Hackers (recently re-released for the 3DS), Strange Journey takes a no prisoners approach to its gameplay.  Enemy encounters are seemingly random and more often than not capable of wiping your party out, and if you happen to die its back to the save point for you.  Given the game doesn’t auto save and there are only set places at which you can save your process, that could have well been an hour ago.  You’ll learn your lesson soon enough though and once your head is out of the hand holding style of play we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years, you’ll slip into a routine.  It’s hard, but fair.

MatadorStrangeJourney

The game is also intuitive despite an appearance to the contrary.  The game will throw term after term and gameplay mechanic after gameplay mechanic at you in the first hour or so, mainly comprising a well-disguised tutorial.  But once you’ve actually been let loose you’ll find it’s all pretty straight forward.  Battles are turn-based affairs, and while they do have some clever twists, are largely in-line with genre conventions.  Like other SMT games it employs a demon recruitment mechanic that forms the basis for building and levelling up your party.  Negotiating with demons is seldom boring, often hilariously funny, and for the most part rewarding if you manage to convince them to join you.  It’s not quite Pokemon but it will, at times, scratch that perhaps latent obsessive collector in all of us.

Where the game will either win or lose you is its polarising art style.  There is something about Kazuma Kaneko’s art style that I am instantly attracted to.  Its is in stark contrast to a majority of the japanese game industry’s output and stands out as a refreshing change from the doe-eyed, school girl, upskirt-filled art that you often see.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that per se, but Kaneko, who also directed Strange Journey, has an art style that feels more mature and distinguished than that of his peers.  His work on Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga is best in class, but Strange Journey isn’t too far behind.

Strange Journey is a uniquely japanese take on the hard sci-fi genre that is worth experiencing.  It is unapologetic in its old school game design and is a reminder that, despite moving forward, there is still merit in the game design tropes of yesteryear.  All in all the developer succeeded in making a simple and streamlined throwback to old school RPGs.  While it may require patience, but it is an excellent trip back for those of us familiar with the likes of Wizardry, and an excellent faux-history lesson for those willing to get past its significant learning curve.

SMTStrangeJourney

Have a favourite game from 2010?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

2009 – 2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001 – 2000 – 1999 – 1998– 1997 – 1996 – 1995 – 1994 – 1993 – 1992 – 1991 – 1990 –1989 – 1988 –1987 – 1986 – 1985 – 1984 – 1983

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30 Years of Video Games – A Boy and his Blob (2009)

I’m waving goodbye to my 20′s and to celebrate I’m counting down 30 games from the last 30 years.  Join me while I countdown 30 great years of game memories.

A Boy and His Blob

They tell you there is nothing sweeter than honey.  They tell you too many sweet treats will give you diabetes.  They tell you it’ll rot your teeth.  Well they’re lying.  WayForward Technologies’ A Boy and His Blob is the sweetest thing on Earth – and there is no such thing as too much.

I have a long and storied history with the Boy and His Blob, spanning right back to the original games on the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Game Boy.  While this game shares a name it is a far cry from the at times gruelling unabashedly old school game design of those classic puzzle platformers.  While some of the puzzles will make you scratch your head, sometimes in frustration, instead WayForward took the approach of making 2009’s Nintendo Wii exclusive A Boy and His Blob a friendly and approachable 2D platformer – a move that paid off in spades.

The game follows the same basic formula of David Crane’s 1980’s and 1990’s classics as you take on the role of a boy who is assisted by a blob who shapeshifts when fed jellybeans.  Like those games it is less about the platforming and more about the puzzling.  Which is a godsend because the boy moves at a slow and plodding pace and his athletic ability is severely limited.  Needless to say the game designers don’t rely much on that mechanic and instead presents the player with clever scenarios one after the other in a progression really not too unlike a Scribblenauts game, but instead of a long list of items, you rely on those defined by the designers and distilled into a small pellet-sized piece of candy.  It’s a safe callback to the original games and one that provides the game with most of its charm and its challenge.

A Boy and His Blob, like most of WayForward’s output, is gorgeous.  The excellent animation of the 2D sprites exudes charm and the areas are beautifully drawn.  One of the big selling points of the game prior to its release was that it was entirely hand drawn, and rightly so, because it looks like nothing else released this generation.  If there was ever a game that proves that horsepower and resolution aren’t the be all end all of video games, this is it.

It could argued that the game is too cutesy, but only the heartless and soulless demons of the underworld could possibly be repulsed by WayForward Technologies’ hand drawn masterpiece.  It is at times a devious puzzler, but even when you’ve got your head in your hands stumped by a puzzle, all you’ll want to do is give the Blob a hug.

Just press up on the d-pad.

BoyandHisBlobWii

Have a favourite game from 2008?  Tell us in the comments below.  Don’t forget to come back soon for the next game in our countdown.  Miss a year?  Catch up below.

2008 – 2007 – 2006 – 2005 – 2004 – 2003 – 2002 – 2001 – 2000 – 1999 – 1998– 1997 – 1996 – 1995 – 1994 – 1993 – 1992 – 1991 – 1990 –1989 – 1988 –1987 – 1986 – 1985 – 1984 – 1983

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Xbox One launch: highs and lows

Sir Gaulian’s experience of the Xbox One launch was underwhelming to say the least: only a handful of people turned up for what sounds like a mostly joyless and slightly militaristic midnight launch in Canberra. Having said that, it sounds like the launch went off with more of a bang in Sydney, and London was looking pretty lively too. I happened to be walking through Leicester Square last night, and I was surprised to come across an enormous green ‘X’ dominating the centre of the square, complete with a DJ nesting beneath it.

Xbox One launch 1

Dotted around were a few gladiators too, presumably to promote the launch of Ryse: Son of Rome (a game that, from the sounds of the reviews, will quickly be heading to bargain bins). They must have been bloody cold in those little skirts, but they gamely mugged for photos with the general public.

Xbox One launch 2

So much for central London, but things were a little less glamourous on the outskirts. I popped into Sainsbury’s in Walthamstow earlier today, where I spotted this heart-rendingly tragic Xbox One display. In case you haven’t spotted it, the Xbox One is that half-trampled cardboard thing on the floor.

Xbox One launch 3

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The ‘historic’ launch of the Xbox One

Kotaku has reported that retailer EBGames has called the launch of the Xbox One the ‘biggest launch in Australian gaming history’.  While the photos in the article show long lines full of eager video game enthusiasts waiting to get their hands on the next generation of console gaming, the picture was very different in the nation’s capital.

wpid-DSC_0225.jpg

11:45 – There is a rope line to the left of EBGames to keep the hordes at bay

I arrived at 9pm expecting hordes, but instead was met by four employees, and a guy that had come down from McDonalds during his break to “suss this shit out”.  I smiled and nodded and then proceeded directly to the counter and handed over my receipt and Fast Pass.  In return I was handed my copies of Forza 5: Limited Edition, Dead Rising 3, and (oddly) my Playstation 4 copy of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, along with a raffle ticket thats purpose at the time wasn’t entirely clear to me.  Reassured I wasn’t going to have to stand around aimlessly for three hours I walked back home.

I returned at 11:45 expecting a bit more fanfare than earlier, but again was met with a scattering of people sitting in the adjacent food court, obviously there to pick up their consoles but somehow less excited than the random pimply McDonalds kid from before.  I was at this stage still convinced there would be a late minute rush.

wpid-DSC_0227.jpg

This man was confused that the only EA Sports franchise not coming to the Xbox One was NHL 2014. He broke down into tears a few minutes after this photo was taken.

 At about 11:55 the small gathering was called to the store by a rather loud young sales assistant who proceeded to tell us how the launch was going to work.  Turns out that the raffle tickets that were distributed earlier were sorting mechanisms, Black for Day One, Blue for FIFA 14 edition and Yellow for the last minute orders.  We proceeded to be lined up by colour the order in which we surrendered our receipts earlier in the evening.  It all felt a little bit concentration camp, but at number two I was convinced it was the even numbers that would escape unharmed, while the odd numbers were taken out the back and disposed of.
The Orcs of Sauron storm Helm's Deep.

The Orcs of Sauron storm Helm’s Deep.  Luckily the security guard was there to protect us.

We were waved into the store in twos and handed our consoles without fuss but also without fanfare.  I walked out of the store happily brandishing one of the boxes that would sit under my TV for the better part of the next decade, but I couldn’t help but feel for the plight of Microsoft.  Was it all that bad?  Did the irrational early reaction to the Xbox One destroy its chances in the market?  Was it going to be another Wii U?  Going by the launches in other more major Australian cities the answer to all of those is a very hearty NO, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed that the ushering in of the next generation was less fanfare and more full-on fizzle, as happy as I was to have the console without the fuss of a crowd.
Welcome to the next generation.
The Spoils of war.

The Spoils of war.

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The Gentlemen decide: the most agreeable games of the generation (Xbox 360, PS3)

It’s crazy to think that it’s been eight years since the dawn of this generation. Kicked off by the launch of the Xbox 360 in 2005 in North America (early 2006 in other territories) and slowly followed by the PlayStation 3 in early 2007, the current generation of hardware ushered in the HD generation and fuelled an explosion in HDTV sales. Games were prettier than ever, and people wanted to view them in all of their high resolution glory.

Although things didn’t start with a bang, the generation brought with it some incredible game experiences over the following years. Some have defined genres, some have created them, and others brought them back from the dead. One thing is certain: regardless of your tastes, there is bound to have been something released that has tickled your fancy.

We have deliberated and decided, and here are what we think are the best games of the first generation of HD consoles. (Earlier this month we compiled a list of our favourite Wii games. If motion control is more your style, read more here.)

The Top 15

 15. Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops The Line Xbox PALLucius – It’s rare that you’ll see me playing a military shooter, but this is so unlike Modern Warfare et al. that I’d hesitate to put it in the same category. The story is the focus here: based on Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, the game cleverly reclocates the setting to near-future Dubai, which has been devastated by epic sandstorms. Cue lots of imagery depicting the hubris of capitalism and the fallibility of man, all leading towards a stunning ending… and it’s a pretty decent shooter to boot. A game that sticks in the memory long after it’s over. (See Lucius’s review.)

Sir Gaulian – I played Spec Ops: The Line earlier this year over the span of a couple of days. It was an excellent game to be sure, with the shooting brilliantly balanced, the setting varied and the story a masterstroke in video game storytelling. But I didn’t come away happy, and it’s that feeling that makes the game so memorable. Underneath what looks like a standard military shooter is a thought-provoking plot that is absolutely worth experiencing if you haven’t already. You won’t just come away questioning how games handle narrative, you’ll come away questioning humanity. Not many games you can say that about. (See Sir Gaulian’s review.)

14. Vanquish

Vanquish Xbox 360 boxSir GaulianVanquish is so stylish it’s the sort of thing that Gok Wan would wear if you could wear a video game. It’s a big, beautiful, bombastic and brilliant game that I suspect probably induced seizures in a small majority of people who played it. The flashes on the screen, the speed at which it moves, the explosions, the acrobatics… Vanquish isn’t just a great game, its a modern classic – something that developer Platinum has proved it is more than capable of delivering on a regular basis. But above all of that it’s proof that Japanese developers can indeed go toe-to-toe with Western developers on third-person shooters.

Lucius – It’s the knee slide that does it. Boosting between one bit of cover and the next by rocket sliding on your knees is as fun as it sounds, and it makes for a frenetic and endlessly entertaining slice of entertainment. Add in the obligatory giant robot to climb up and destroy, and you’ve got one of the most fun games of the generation. (See Lucius’s review.)

13. Assassins Creed II

assassins-creed-2-xbox-360Lucius – We’re six games in to the Assassin’s Creed series now, but Assassin’s Creed II still remains the highlight (although the just-released Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag looks like giving it a run for its money). This impressive sequel significantly improved on every aspect of the original game, as well as giving us the most wonderful-looking city the series has recreated: Renaissance Florence. It’s worth playing this game just to clamber up Santa Maria del Fiore and take in the view. The plot, which involves the intrigue and backstabbing of the infamous Borgias, is also one of the best in the series, although unfortunately those naff sections in the modern day still remain – it’s telling that these sections have all but disappeared in later games. (See Lucius’s review.)

Sir Gaulian – I liked the first Assassin’s Creed when I played it. I recognised the limitations but learnt to live with them so as to continue my quest to become the ultimate hooded assassin. Then Assassin’s Creed II came along and made me hate everything that the first game was. The Renaissance setting, the excellent characters (including Ezio, who will go down as one of the best this generation) and the fundamental changes the developer made from the first game all combined to create a game that wasn’t just beautiful, it was also a blast to play. Simply put, the sequel did everything so much better.

12. Dishonored

Dishonored Xbox 360 cover artLucius – What a breath of fresh air this game was when it arrived late last year. The ‘Blink’ move was one of the best things to happen to gaming in years, and the mix of stealth and all-out action meant that there were loads of different ways to approach each level – although I mostly ended up blundering through unintended firefights owing to my inept attempts at being sneaky. Most of all though, like the majority of games in our top 15, it did an amazing job of creating a sense of place – Dunwall is so beautiful and intriguing that it almost feels like I’ve actually been there in real life. (See Lucius’s review.)

Sir Gaulian – I appreciate everything Dishonored did but never felt like I was playing it right. I tried the stealthy approach and found it clumsy. I tried the full-frontal assault approach and it felt wrong. On its surface Dishonored is the perfect game for me: it has stealth, its world is beautifully realised, and its narrative from the outset seemed like it was going somewhere interesting. Despite all of that though, I couldn’t pull myself through more than the first couple of hours with the game, and there it sits right at the top of my backlog. Despite all of this, Lucius has convinced me to go back and give it another chance.

11. Fallout 3

fallout3xbox360Lucius – OK, let’s get this out of the way first: Fallout 3 is buggy. Sometimes hilariously so. But despite that, it does a phenomenal job of crafting a breathtakingly large and fascinating post-apocalyptic world – with scope this large, a few bugs are forgivable. There are so many surprises and stories to uncover in the Capital Wasteland that I spent far more time traversing it than I probably should have – this is easily in my top three for the amount of time spent playing a single game. But I’d happily go back and do it again… and I might spare Megaton next time.

Sir Gaulian – I’ll admit to never having finished Fallout 3. That didn’t stop me from plugging a good 120 hours into the game over two seperate playthroughs. The half-arsed story didn’t do much to pull me through, but I found myself compelled to, sometimes aimlessly, wander the destroyed beauty that was the Wasteland. Years later and I still can’t get the Ink Spots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” out of my head.

10. Dead Space

dead space xbox 360Sir Gaulian – I was a survival horror tragic in the era of the Playstation 2. I would play anything I could get my hands on just to get my fix. Honestly though, 95 per cent of those games I played didn’t come close to being half the game that Dead Space is. It was as good an action game as it was a horror game, making it not only terrifying at times, but also a cracking game to play. If Resident Evil 4 evolved the genre, then Dead Space damn-near perfected it.

Lucius – Until ZombiU shuffled onto the scene, this was undoubtedly the scariest game I’d ever played. It’s the sound effects more than anything else – the eerie quiet of the deserted ship is occasionally punctuated by distant clanks and creaks that could just be parts of the old ship breaking down… or could signal the approach of a bloodthirsty necromorph. It’s a game that constantly keeps you on edge, and when one of the alien fiends manages to sneak up on you, it’s all you can do not to panic and spray precious ammo into the walls and ceiling in a effort to get away from the damn thing. A chillingly good example of survival horror at its best.

9. Bayonetta

BayonettaBoxLucius – Hooray for excess. From the opening battle against angels in a graveyard, you know you’re in for a treat with Bayonetta, and it just gets better and more ludicrous from that point onwards. It all climaxes in one of the most enjoyable, silly and over-the-top sequences I’ve yet seen in a game (I won’t spoil it for you here), and the end credits are genuinely hilarious. Add to this a solid and suprisingly versatile combat system, and you’ve got easily one of the best games of the generation. (See Lucius’s review.)

Sir Gaulian – Another Platinum game, this one even more outwardly crazy than Vanquish. Bayonetta took everything I love about the Devil May Cry series and amped up the crazy, even if it is a bit garish at times. Its bizarre character design, nonsensical plot, and what can only be described as batshit boss fights were a breath of fresh air that this generation sorely needed, and its complex free-flowing combat picked up the slack of disappointing entries in both the Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry series.

8. Forza 4

Forza4boxSir Gaulian – I’m a bit of a sucker for racing sims. While I’m not the kind of guy that will go out and spend $600 for a full racing cockpit set up, I find I can spend hundreds of hours racing my favourite cars around some of the world’s premier tracks. Although Forza Horizon was an excellent change of pace, it’s still the purity of Forza‘s racing that won my heart. While the fourth entry (and third for the generation) improved the tyre physics and career mode, the only thing you need to know is that on the road Forza 4 is one of the best, possibly the best, racing games available. Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment I’m off for another lap around Suzuka circuit in my Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.

Lucius – I’m afraid I haven’t played this one, and I’m not a huge racing game fan anyway, but Sir Gaulian’s ravings about Forza have suitably convinced me that it deserves a place in the top ten!

7. Batman: Arkham Asylum

BatmanArkhamLucius – It was difficult to decide between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but Asylum perhaps has the slight edge in terms of a feeling of coherent place and story (although it lacks the batgliding fun of the sequel). As a bit of a Batman fan though, what’s so impressive about this game is the sheer attention to detail and the reverence when it comes to handling the character – finding all of the references to various villains was brilliant fun, and Batman himself has a weight and movement that is simply spot on. Ignore the various films, THIS is the definitive interpretation of The Bat.

Sir Gaulian – I played Batman: Arkham Asylum over a few scorching summer days in the Christmas of 2009, and I honestly think that they are some of the best days of gaming I have ever experienced. Swinging around in the darkness and clocking the Joker’s goons in what is probably the most intuitive and instantly gratifying combat systems in gaming was addictive fun. But the real star of the show was Arkham Asylum itself, which the developers managed to give a real sense of place. After finishing the game I knew the layout so well that I felt like I’d actually been to Arkham Asylum. But more importantly, I felt like I didn’t want to leave.

6. Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite PAL coverSir Gaulian – I  haven’t held back from my criticisms of the original BioShock – while the premise and setteing were excellent, the gameplay never gripped me. The sequel fixed a lot of that but still didn’t sink its claws into me in the way I expected it to. BioShock Infinite, however… well that delivered in just about every way. Like its predecessors, it tackles interesting themes and issues that no other game has managed to in quite the same way, but it was the improvements to how the game plays that sealed the deal for me. Elizabeth too was an excellent touring partner that didn’t need to be wrapped up in cotton wool, rather helping the player through some of the more difficult areas of the brilliantly defined world of Columbia. Masterful stuff.

Lucius – The first couple of hours of BioShock Infinite are stunning, and that opening is probably one of my favourite experiences in video gaming so far. For a start, Columbia looks amazing, and the sheer imagination and love that has gone into its creation bleeds off the screen. Then there’s Elizabeth, who marks a new high for AI – finally, a non-player character who actually feels like a companion rather than an irritating cardboard cut-out with a propensity to wander into your line of fire. The story is impressively intricate (if a little pot-holed, perhaps an inevitability when you start flipping between dimensions), and the ending will stick in my memory for years to come. The only downside is that your interaction with the remarkable world of Columbia is sadly limited to gunning down its inhabitants – now if only there was a BioShock RPG… (See Lucius’s review.)

5. The Portal series

Portal-2-xbox-360Sir Gaulian – So, Portal. That little game that accompanied the behemoths Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2 but managed to outshine them both. That was pretty good. The first game was an excellent, contained point of contact that anyone who played it couldn’t help but talk about to unsuspecting randoms on the street. But for me it was the sequel, Portal 2, that really proved that Portal was more than just a flash in the pan. It expanded on everything that made the first game great, added some new puzzle elements and ‘weapons’, and mixed things up in the environmental stakes. Almost more importantly though, it remained consistently laugh-out-loud funny for the entire duration of the game. All of the games on this list are great, but if there is one that I would brand ‘must-play’, it’s Portal, if only for the feeling of real satisfaction you get from solving its sometimes brain-scratching puzzles. Brilliant stuff.

Lucius – I’ve yet to play through Portal 2, but the original Portal is easily one of the most delightful, funny and thoughtful games I’ve ever played. It’s only a few hours long, but in its brief expanse it does a remarkable job of creating a believeable, fascinating world through just one speaking character and a few simple props in bare rooms. Plus the portal gun is one of gaming’s greatest toys – a simple idea that provides endless complexity and amusement.

4. Mass Effect Trilogy

Mass Effect Trilogy XboxLucius – I’m still working my way through Mass Effect 2, but despite arriving late to the series, I’m overawed by its ambition. The first game felt like a work in progress, with too many placeholder sub-missions and frankly dull planet exploration, but it was still compelling thanks to its gripping plot and astonishing attention to detail when it comes to world-building. That attention provides a solid foundation to build on in the sequel, which manages to improve on every single aspect of the original, and the way that your decisions in the first game are carried over to the second is genius. This fact alone means that every choice you make in the game feels meaningful.

Sir GaulianMass Effect, in a word, is epic.  The first game was a flawed gem that had great intentions but didn’t necessarily pull them off as I’m sure the game’s designers would have hoped.  The second game though, by jove, what a game. Thinking back, I can’t remember much that the game did wrong: its place as a sci-fi epic was fully cemented with what seemed like a living, breathing word, and its gameplay… well, let’s just say it out-shot the shooters. Although many Bioware fans of old cried foul of the more streamlined approach the sequels took to the RPG elements, there is no doubt that Mass Effect 2 and 3 were both deep gameplay experiences, if not perfect RPGs.

3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM-Enemy-Unknown-Xbox-360Sir Gaulian – The first night I got XCOM: Enemy Unknown I played it for about 15 hours straight. It’s just that kind of game. I’m a sucker for turn-based strategy, but XCOM‘s excellent micro game combined with its addictive and high-stakes macro game blows almost everything else out of the water. Its dynamic approach to battles provided for seemingly endless options for disposing of Earth’s enemies, and with the permanent death of squad mates always hanging over the battlefield like a black cloud, the game rewarded patience and strategy. XCOM isn’t just one of the best strategy games of the generation, it is one of the best strategy games period.

Lucius – My podcasting buddy Ian spent countless hours playing the original XCOM (aka UFO: Enemy Unknown) when we were at university, so when this remake came out I was keen to see what all the fuss was about. And by jove, it deserves that fuss. It deserves all the fuss it can get. It deserves to have ladles of fuss poured down its flanks as it reclines in a tin bath full of fuss. You see, it’s obvious from the moment you begin playing that an enormous amount of care and attention has gone into this game – every single facet of the experience has been polished ’til it gleams, and the designers have done a remarkable job of making a brilliantly intricate and nuanced strategy game fantastically easy to play and understand. The updated version, XCOM: Enemy Within, arrived on my doorstep a few days ago, so I’m sure that will keep me going for another year at least. (See Lucius’s review.)

2. The Last of Us

Last-of-us-cover-1024x1024Sir Gaulian –  The Last of Us actually made me cry.  The only other game I can say that for was Final Fantasy IX. Narrative is an obvious strength for The Last of Us, but every other part of the game was executed perfectly by Naughty Dog, resulting in a game that is nigh on perfect. It created and maintained tension in a way that no other game has: couple that with excellent character development and relationship building, and you’ve got not only a great video game narrative and world, but one that in more ways than not outplays the big boys of cinema. (See Sir Gaulian’s review.)

Lucius – Sadly, I’ve yet to play this game, but judging by Sir Gaulian’s rapturous praise and the fervour with which it was met by the games industry, I’m happy to see it in the number 2 slot. The advances in video game acting over this generation have been astonishing, and along with The Walking Dead, Enslaved and LA Noire, The Last of Us points towards a bright future for convincing performances in gaming.

1. Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption-box art-360Lucius – The other day I was wondering whether Rockstar will ever do a sequel to Red Dead Redemption. The truth is, I’m not sure that there’s any point in doing a follow-up because I don’t see how you could improve on the original – it’s rare to find a game that pretty much nails everything first time (let’s just ignore the weird, Capcom-developed, RPG hybrid Red Dead Revolver for now). The designers have carefully taken every single Wild West trope and distilled it into a game that captures the very essence of roaming around the Great Plains of America. And even three years down the line, it still looks stunning – I often found myself just stopping to simply enjoy the sunset. More importantly, the attention to detail is astounding – this is a truly open-world game in which every possibility has been carefully thought through by the designers and incorporated into the final experience. “Can I jump onto the back of my horse from a balcony?” I wondered. I can! “Can I tie someone to a railway track like in those old Westerns?” I pondered. I can! And with hilarious results! Not only this, Rockstar sought to make sure that this truly open world is packed to the gunwhales with things to do and see, so that although there’s an option to fast travel anywhere, it’s always worth it to take the slow route, just to marvel at what the Wild West has to offer.

Sir Gaulian – Rockstar is always full of good intentions and excellent ideas, but Red Dead Redemption is the first game that I think has delivered on everything it has set out to achieve.  The game was a classic tale of redemption, a beautiful tribute to the Wild West that was as much about creating a believable open world as it was about telling the story of the people in it. The sparsely populated environment is full of detail and comes to life as the sun sets or a storm rolls in over the horizon while you ride confidently across the countryside. Setting this aside though, protagonist John Marston’s yarn is a well-spun one that is well worth experiencing, and his outlaw turned honest persona is one that feels absolutely genuine. For the first time, I felt like Rockstar had avoided the narrative dissonance that has plagued them at almost every corner as they’ve tried to fit a tight narrative into a loose gameplay construct. John Marston’s motivation, plight, or actions never feel outside the realms of how you would expect a man in his desperate situation to behave. Red Dead Redemption is a beautiful game set in a dirty and dastardly world, and it should be the very template that next-generation developers look to when shaping the games we play in the coming years.

Do you agree?

So, there you have it. Inevitably, in narrowing down eight years of video games – equivalent to hundreds of games played between us – some had to lose out. We’ll focus on some of those that missed out on the top 15 later next week, but for now we want to hear what some of your picks would be for this generation. Tell us below in the comments.

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