We are a year into the new console generation. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One have already gone through a year of releases and are still working through the kinks. The Wii U has already gone through two years and is finally starting to hit its stride. But let’s go back to the previous generation and talk about some of the best games from it. The previous generation is really special to me because it has so many games that made me the person I am. I’m only eighteen years old; I was ten when the Playstation 3 came out to put it into perspective. Ten years old. A lot changes in eight years of a person’s life and video games were always there as a part of those years. So, I decided to form my top fifteen games of last gen (it was going to be ten…but that was too hard).
15. Saints Row The Third
I’ll say it now: there isn’t a single Grand Theft Auto game on this list. I prefer Saints Row The Third in almost every single way. The game is so absurdly silly and the definition of pure fun in video games. It gives a big middle finger to any type of realism or anything sensible and let’s the gamer do what he or she wants: have some goddamn fun with a controller in hand. The story is insane, yet one of the best I’ve played in an open-world title to date. I don’t think I really need to say much more, the game is just about having silly, over the top fun and it does so with near perfection.
14. Muramasa: The Demon Blade
This game does an amazing job of understanding minimalism in gameplay design. Most of the game is spent mashing a single attack button and moving the control stick in the proper direction, yet it is some of the most fun I’ve had playing games. Sure, the story is pretty pointless and could be taken out, (I’d actually prefer it was, since I’d rather not waste time reading text and just get back into the action) but the gameplay is just so addicting.
I’m currently replaying it on the Vita version (which is even better) and it just reminds me of how fun this game is. It’s a simple action game with a gorgeous art style produced by Vanillaware, who just continue to make incredible games that capture the simplicity of what gaming is always about: the gameplay itself.
13. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
The Call of Duty franchise is one that is universally loved and hated at the same time. Many people are sick and tired of the yearly releases, and I was one of those people for quite some time. The last Call of Duty game I played before Advanced Warfare (which I’m enjoying quite a bit) was Black Ops, but I will always love Modern Warfare 2. I have over eight days of game time on multiplayer. I’ve never played any game that much (at least I don’t think so).
Despite the fact that the game can be incredibly frustrating and has some ridiculously overpowered garbage, (Commando, One Man Army, Noob Tubes, shotguns as sidearms, etc) I kept coming back to its addictive, fast, and simple gameplay that the developers of Call of Duty sort of ran to the ground for awhile (and Advanced Warfare is doing a good job of innovating a bit). I have fond (and frustrating) memories of playing this game and it’ll always have a special place in gaming for me.
12. Hotline Miami
This is sort of cheating, considering I played most of this game on my Playstation Vita, but it’s technically last generation, so I’m putting it on the list. This is another game that captures the spirit of addictive and simple (and difficult) gameplay.
From the 8-bit style graphics, to the Drive-like electronic music, to the absolutely bonkers story that makes almost no sense, this game is an absolute delight in the indie scene of games. It’s a short and challenging game with such a unique style influenced by pop culture, that it’s hard to not like it. I can still go back to this game every now and then and just play a single level to get a taste of the addictive nature of this game, and how it’s basically a rhythm game without being one, an absolutely genius little game.
11. No More Heroes/No More Heroes 2
Okay, okay, I’m cheating again! I couldn’t decide between which game I wanted to put on the list, so I put them both together! They are both wonderful games that are incredibly meta, incredibly fun, and have an absolutely crazy story (which seems to be a strange recurring theme thus far in the list…). The game has a great sense of humor that’ll keep you interested in the story and the gameplay with your Lightsaber katana is the definition of keeping it simple like Muramasa. I could play a new No More Heroes game every year and let’s hope for a third one coming out on the Wii U.
Bioshock is one of the first games I remember playing who’s story really just completely blew me out of the water (pun intended…or not? I apologize). The way the game rarely had any cutscenes yet manages to tell a story through one guy talking to you as you play the game, is absolutely incredible and what more developers should strive for. Cutscenes can be good, in small doses that is, but games that get littered in cutscenes are only hindering themselves from being actual video games. Bioshock got the memo and made a game with an incredible atmosphere, fun gunplay, and a story that is actually intellectual in someway (I mean it was based upon a philosophy by Ayn Rand).
9. Sonic Generations
A lot of people hate Sonic. A lot of people probably didn’t even bother to try this game because they hate Sonic, which is unfortunate because Sonic Generations is such a fun game. The game simply takes old Sonic levels, updates them in both 2D and 3D, and gets the one thing Sonic has always been about right: speed…turned up to the highest possible level.
The 3D levels aren’t frustrating like Sonic Adventure, and they just work. They simply work. They are so unbelievably fun, I can jump into this game at any time and play a level and be so utterly happy from playing some dumb video game with a hedgehog in it. It brings back feelings of nostalgia from always loving Sonic and it brings up feelings of being happy that Sonic Team did something right: they made a Sonic game that actually works and plays well released in the past ten years.
8. Portal/Portal 2
Whoops, I cheated again, my bad. I couldn’t separate these two games because they are companion pieces in my eyes. To me, you have to play both games to fully understand GLaDOS and Chell’s relationship or the ending of Portal 2 just won’t be as great. The game is obviously an incredible puzzle game-one of the best ever made-but it’s the story contained within the game that makes it so much more than just another puzzle game.
The ending of Portal 2 left me with such unbelievably strong emotions that I didn’t expect, it impacted me so much more than I would have ever thought. The game goes from telling a story through narration and puzzles to throwing you into a cutscene and taking control away from you. It is one of the most artistic usages of a cutscene I’ve ever seen in a video game. It makes the gamer feel contentment, emptiness, and escape all at once. I won’t go any further to avoid spoilers, but it’s that final cutscene that solidified the Portal games as some of my favorite games of all time. Oh, and those two end credits songs are amazing as well!
7. Batman Arkham City
Remember how I said a game’s simple push of a button and moving a control stick can make a game work so perfectly? This is another one of those games, just like Muramasa. The combat system is so incredibly smooth that I could just sit and play fights on the Batman Arkham titles for hours on end. It is such a perfectly designed combat system and then beyond that, you actually have a well-written story and a good open world to explore. The game has one of the most powerful endings I’ve ever seen, unbelievably amazing voice acting, and everything just works so fluently. These Batman Arkham games (specifically City) are the only games to ever make you truly feel like Batman…and that’s one hell of a feeling.
6. Infamous/Infamous 2
I’m really bad at not cheating. I couldn’t separate these games; these two games are really special to me. For me, these games are some of the only open world games I’ve played that actually emotionally impacted me. The relationship between Cole and Zeke as friends is so utterly sincere in every single way. One of my favorite moments in these games is a small cutscene where Cole and Zeke are simply drinking beers, the moment is quiet and tranquil, it is so beautiful, and it’s truly the calm before the storm (especially when it comes to the evil ending of Infamous 2 which is heart-wrenching).
The actual canonical ending of Infamous 2 killed me. It sent so many chills down my spine (I literally have chills down my spine while writing it/thinking about it…I wish I was joking but I’m totally serious) and just reminded me how amazing video games are as a medium. They can be totally fun and have this great gameplay like Infamous does in both games…but they can also have these powerful stories that are better than most other art forms. It just makes me realize that Infamous was released in 2008, Infamous 2 in 2011, and those games impacted me so much, games are only going to get more incredible.
5. Super Mario Galaxy 2
Who said these video games needed complex stories all the time to keep me interested? Nintendo still has plenty right about their games, they still know how to craft innovative and fun gameplay that many developers have lost sight of. They still understand the purity of video games being a medium that doesn’t need to necessarily be like film or literature; it can just be about pushing buttons on a controller and jumping on and over things. The combination of wonderful music, incredible level design, and new power-ups, makes this game incredibly special. It’s platformer video game design at its finest and is-by far-my favorite Mario game ever.
4. Bioshock Infinite
Where do I even start? From the absolutely insane ending, to the same fun gunplay carried over from the first game, to the rich story and atmosphere that manages to comment on racism, capitalism, time travel, and American exceptionalism, everything about this game is just…right. Everything is so on point.
The performances by Troy Baker (who might be mentioned later in this list…) and Courtnee Draper are absolutely amazing, just everything about this game brings me pure happiness about what video games are and what they will be.
I can just listen to the Barbershop Quartet version of “God Only Knows” or “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” and so many feeling are brought up from this game (and yes I do have chills again while writing this…no big deal). The atmosphere of Columbia is by far one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had in a video game, exploring that world, being apart of it, being so immersed into it, I played this game in a single weekend and I will remember that weekend fondly, it’s a masterpiece in video games…for every reason imaginable.
3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I played this game in two days during my Christmas break. I had never played the first one. It really didn’t matter. The sweeping cinematic world of Uncharted is better than the vast majority of action films ever produced (if not better than every action film ever produced) because I get to play it and I get to be apart of it. Nathan Drake, Elena Fisher, Chloe Frazer, Sully, and yes, even Jeff The Cameraman (R.I.P.), are some of my favorite characters of all time. The witty banter between all the characters, the emotional highpoints, the near-death of characters in the crazy action-packed world of Uncharted, and the perfectly on-point gunplay and platforming design by Naughty Dog, is something most developers wish they could achieve.
Naughty Dog managed to craft one of the most memorable games ever designed (and the only game I’ve ever bothered to get a platinum trophy for because I loved it so much) and it’ll always be apart of me in someway, it reminds me of why video games are so awesome and incredible in the first place, because they can do a balancing act of gameplay and story with near perfection that no other medium can achieve.
Technically, this game could be my number one pick simply because of how it is going to help video games innovate more in the future. This game, twenty years from now, people will look at and go: “this is why video games are the way they are.” This game will have changed video games forever, whether people see it now or not is irrelevant. It tells a sweeping, emotional story purely through gameplay, visuals, and an incredibly innovative use of online multiplayer that changes the way you think of online gameplay.
It’s hard for me to describe what this game is beyond the fact that the title is very important. This game takes you through a “journey” of emotions. Almost no other video games (or art, for that matter) have made me feel so many different emotions in a span of two hours. I’ve never felt such a strong series of emotions in such rapid succession while experiencing any other art. In fact, this is one of my favorite experiences I’ve ever had in general because it is so utterly special. It is so utterly different and unique and I’ve yet to play it a second time simply because of how unique that first experience was, not that I’d expect anything different the second time around, it’d be just as impactful and important to me as it will be to the games industry in general.
1. The Last of Us
I don’t even know where the hell to start. No other piece of art has hit me on so many emotional levels. This is my favorite video game of all time. Whenever I think about this game, I’m hit with strong emotions, whenever I listen to the soundtrack, I’m hit with strong emotions, whenever I see the ending or certain scenes that have impacted me so strongly, I’m hit with such ridiculously strong emotions. Whenever I play this game, (which I’ve only played it three times thus far…though I’m planning on a fourth once I get the Remastered Version) I probably have a solid two or three weeks where this game doesn’t leave my memory whatsoever. It is so solidified in my mind.
Ellie and Joel are such amazing, incredible, and memorable characters that are two of my favorite characters ever written for anything ever. The relationship and bond between these two characters is so strong and no other medium could have had me truly experience that. By playing as Joel through this post-apocalyptic world, I became him, I was so engrossed and immersed playing as Joel and getting to know Ellie and the world surrounding her and empathizing with everything.
The key word here is empathy. This game has such a strong understanding of what that truly means and what caring for someone so strongly truly means. It goes so far beyond what a video game is. It has such an understanding of the human condition and compassion and pure understanding of what people are and why we manage to care so strongly for each other, even through the toughest and most dire circumstances. It does all of this through cutscenes and gameplay, a perfect combination of both that works so fluently in telling a story that hits you on a multitude of emotional levels.
The game is littered in small, beautiful moments of conversation between Joel and Ellie that are just as good as any big twist thrown at you in a cutscene, those moments are what make this game so purely a video game, it couldn’t be done in cinema or literature because it simply wouldn’t work. Those moments are crucial.
And going through the experience of taking down Clickers and other Infected are so important to the story itself as well, it makes you feel the emotional distress that Joel and Ellie are feeling purely through the usage of a controller.
Beyond that, the performances by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson…I just can’t get over how powerful they are. I had no idea who these two people were before this game and now I consider them two of the greatest actors living after seeing their performances in this game. The dynamic between Joel and Ellie could not have been done without them. They made this game work on the levels it strives for.
I think the last thing worth mentioning is the ending, some people absolutely hate it, I think it is one of the best endings I’ve ever experienced. It makes the gamer think for hours on end and that is what good endings are supposed to do. It makes you question on whether you agree with the actions that Joel partook in (I do agree with said actions personally) and that is what a good piece of art should do, make you question, ponder, and challenge you. The Last of Us is one of the only video games that has. It made me cry-more than once-and hit me on such strong emotional levels, it’s so utterly special to me, not only as a gamer, but as a human being who cares so strongly for other people and holds empathy so highly as a quality everyone should have, on not just a minimal level, but an extremely high one. (Yes I did slightly tear up while writing about The Last of Us, what’s your point?)
And that’s my list. A list where I managed to talk about The Last of Us way more than every other game on the list (trust me, I could have blabbered on for awhile). What are your top 15 games of the last generation? Or at the very least, what was your favorite game of the last generation? Let me know in the comments below and let’s have a discussion!
Did you enjoy this post? Follow my blog for (almost) daily posts on video game news, opinions, reviews, and a bunch of other stuff!
Author of this post (and the only author ever on this blog):
Jesse Jordon is an aspiring writer who writes this stuff on these blogs to make you learn something I guess. (Wait, why am I mixing 3rd and 1st person point of view when I’m the only one writing this?) He’s trying to be a video game journalist but is probably failing at that. You can follow him on Twitter @jjordon96 (if you want I guess). You can also purchase his first self-published book On Human Empathy for only $5.00 (you can buy literature or coffee, it’s up to you to decide. I’d go with the coffee personally).