Are you excited about the next generation? Hopefully you are, because then we'll get to have another one after that. In the next few months it's going to get crazy in the gaming industry. Tech specs will be leaked, claims will be refuted and hundreds of developers will be hard at work figuring out how to make a guy hide behind cover in Unreal Engine 4.
Now though? It's a dead zone, and even though this current generation of consoles has a few games left in it yet I think now is the time to look back and think about what the last 7 year's worth of gaming experiences have done for us. I'm not a huge fan of lists so the numbering in this list is vague at best and of course this is all highly subjective so don't burst a blood vessel when you favourite first-person shooter doesn't get a look in.
This is my way of internalising which of the experiences I had in this developing medium were the most meaningful/important/enjoyable or a combination of all three.
Number 10: Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2
When Geometry Wars RE2 came out in 2008 they may as well have canned the twin-stick shooter as a genre once and for all. The phrase "infinite skill ceiling" is one you'll hear bandied about in relation to something like Starcraft or Dota but I can't think of a more skill-based game than GW2. It honed and refined the already superb formula of the first game while setting the standard for leaderboard implementation for the rest of the generation. GW2 made scores-chasing matter again and it did so while at the same time being the most mechanically faultless game on this list. If I was stuck on a desert island with only one game to play for the rest of my life, it would be this one.
Number 9: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Hideo Kojima you magnificent nutter, keep doing what you're doing because Metal Gear Solid 4 is probably the best example I can give for why authorship is important for videogames. Remember how hard the world said it would be to wrap up five years of the Mass Effect universe? Well Kojima tied up 20 years of gaming lore in MGS4 in the most ridiculous and extravagant way imaginable. This is what you get when you give a blank cheque to a gifted madman and tell him to make his kind of game. Even today, few games can match the insanity and audacity of MGS4. From the hours of cutscenes to the stylishness of the presentation to the best damned use of button-mashing in a videogame, MGS4 set the bar for what we consider to be "epic" in games. So far, that bar has yet to be reached by any other game this generation.
Number 8: Braid
The story, gameplay and presentation of Braid are immensely interesting in their own right, but not as interesting as the character of Jonathon Blow and his game's effect on the industry. These days tiny indie platformers made by one guy in his attic are a dime a dozen, just check out Steam some time, but at the time the idea that one man had essentially built this thought-provoking and ingenius puzzle-platformer by himself thrust the very idea of "indie" into our collective consciousness. It helps that Braid is also one of the best puzzle games around, blending a powerful story with puzzle mechanics that kept changing and evolving. Braid made me feel smart, sad and intrigued. Sometimes all at once.
Number 7: Burnout Paradise
"Hey guys it's DJ Atomika comin' at ya live this morning from Paraaadddiiiiseeee Citttyyyy." Yes, I went there.
Damn it Criterion make another Burnout game, or maybe just make Burnout Paradise look a bit better and re-release because for my money it's the best racing game of this generation. It's also, surprisingly, one of the best open world games of this generation too. I never do the whole "let's go out and explore" thing that the Skyrims and the GTAs of this world encourage, because there just aren't enough yellow gates and awesome jumps. Paradise City was and is the perfect defintion of a playground, a sandbox, a place where you and your friends can practice ramming each other off cliffs to your heart's content at 60 frames per second with the most incredible crash tech you have ever seen. The multiplayer alone is the reason Burnout makes this list as no game before or since has realised the full potential of an open-world driving game to the same extent. If only there had been a "Restart" option in on day one.
Number 6: Mass Effect 2
Dark middle chapters are always the best. If I had my way all games would be the dark middle chapters, the sequels to games that never came out because the best bits of a trilogy are the middle bits where everything seems awfully dicey. Although I do love Mass Effect 1 despite its clunkiness, Mass Effect 2 is where it's at. Its broad array of interesting, relatable characters was the reason you cared going into Mass Effect 3 and consequently why I at least was disappointed when some of them didn't get the attention they deserved. Sure the combat isn't what it should have been and the main storyline is little more than a sideshow but Mass Effect 2 is the peak of BioWare's writing talents compressed into a playable product. Hang the depth and complexity of RPG mechanics if it means I can get to the next dialogue sequence faster say I and BioWare did just that. The Mass Effect universe was at its richest, its darkest, its most stylish and most self-assured in Mass Effect 2 and as a result I'll always think of it as the defining RPG of this generation.
Number 5: Saints Row the Third
I love videogames. I love them so much I ADORE those that understand that they're a videogame. If there's one thing we've learned from the past 40 years of gaming it's that games are an amazing form of catharsis. Saints Row the Third takes that knowledge to its logical extreme. It's like every time a designer at Volition came up with a crazy idea for a level or a character, the director shouted down any and all naysayers and stated "Yes we can have a text adventure! Because videogames!" There are so many noteworthy moments in Saints Row 3 that could have gone wrong yet came out so so right that you should just stop reading this and play it. So find a tiger, conquer your fear and embrace the fact that Saints Row the Third is the videogame to end all videogames.
Number 4: Bioshock
Bioshock is so ingrained the pysche of popular videogame culture you might as well replace the Spike VGA's with the Andrew Ryan Awards. It was the first hint at the fact that during this generation, games would become more thematically complex and intellectually stimulating than we could ever have expected. Playing Bioshock is nothing to write home about. Ice hands + wrench = victory. But inhabiting the world of Rapture and seeing how the story played in that setting was its own reward. Bioshock made me think about videogames and how they're constructed, it took philosophical concepts and crammed them into a medium that today is still more about headshots and explosions than it is about exploring ideas. Games are art you guys, it started here.
Number 3: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Naughty Dog are awesome because they made Uncharted 2. Wait what about Crash Bandicoot and the Jak and Daxter series they we really awes-SHUT UP UNCHARTED 2 UNCHARTED 2. Call of Duty 4 changed how we thought about online multiplayer, Uncharted 2 changed how we thought about the presentation of action in videogames. Before, an action game was branded as such because there were guns and red barrels and if you introduced the two excitement could occur. Uncharted 2 showed us that action could be about leaping from truck to truck while fighting bad guys on a snowy moutaintop, or jumping out of a collapsing building just before it hits the ground. It's a game that takes the best elements of Hollywood: the set-pieces, the snappy writing and the setup, while slyly eating Steven Spielberg's lunch by amping all those elements up as only videogames can. It was so incredibly good that Naughty Dog failed to top it with its follow-up and has now resorted to making smaller games about zombies and homeless people in the hope that nobody will ask them to make something as fantastic as Uncharted 2 again.
Number 2: Portal
Again, you know about Portal. Everyone knows about Portal. For a while I felt super smug about having a wallpaper with "The cake is a lie" on it and soon after I realised that I was officially prat. Nevertheless Portal inspired that kind of enthusiasm because it was so different and unexpected. In a stellar collection such as the Orange Box, who would have thought that a 2 hour puzzle game would rise above the games it was packaged in with to simultaneously become the benchmark for humour and puzzle design in the medium? Portal 2 is undeniably a more polished, more thrilling and more overtly amusing than Portal but it wasn't surprising in the same way. I'm probably never going to play Portal again, I probably don't want to either. For those 2 hours it made me feel like a genius and then took the hardest left-turn a clean, dryly humourous puzzle game could possibly take. If you never had that experience then I feel sorry for you.
Number 1: Bastion
It's no secret that one of my favourite games of all time is Max Payne 2. Max Payne 2 is a game that understands that story and storytelling are not things that need to be separated by a six-foot wall from gameplay, with only a small peephole through which such things as cutscenes can be used to connect the two. Bastion also understands this. It respects your ability as a player to take in the world and fiction of a game while also engaging in combative gameplay. In the space of around 7 hours Bastion introduces its world and develops it to the point where everything seems grounded and believable, something that countless 30 hour RPGs fail to do. Its combat system is deep, customisable and crucially, perfectly responsive to you as the player and yet it's also one of the handful of games that have managed to get me all choked up. It's a seamless, polished package of story, presentation and gameplay that isn't afraid to make you listen to one man's voice from beginning to end. Basically, Bastion is the real deal.
Well thankyou ladies, gents and other lifeforms for getting this far. Do feel free to insult my taste in games at every turn and say "but what about Dark Souls", it won't change my feelings in the slightest. Here's hoping that by the time the new consoles roll out this list will be as obsolete as John Carmack is clever.