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
Lucius – 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.)
Sir Gaulian – Vanquish 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
Lucius – 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.
Lucius – 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
Lucius – 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
Sir 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.
Lucius – 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
Sir 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
Lucius – 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
Sir 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
Sir 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
Lucius – 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 Gaulian – Mass 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
Sir 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
Sir 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
Lucius – 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.