The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 have gone head-to-head with battling exclusives from day one. With excellent games gracing each platform like The Last of Us and Alan Wake, we as gamers should also admire the incredible third party entries on these consoles.
With franchises like Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, and the Arkham games appearing first on these platforms, it goes without saying that this has been one of the best generations for third party publishers.
Assassins Creed, when it came out, had some good buzz with it. However, the repetitive gameplay and mediocre story gave it low reviews and it generally wasn’t received too well. Thankfully this did not stop Ubisoft from releasing a sequel which took all the criticism of the original, and quite literally fixed everything about it. A better world, a better character and just an overall better game.
Then came the third instalment: Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. Brotherhood ran with the story of the previous Assassins by continuing Ezio Auditore’s story, who may be one of the most intriguing characters to come out this generation, by the way. Delving deeper into the mythos of templars and assassins, the story is at its peak with Brotherhood.
Gameplay also made strides in innovating the franchise by adding other assassins to send out and do your bidding as well as a better control scheme for free running. With plenty of side missions and literally a town to take care of, Brotherhood packs a lot without ever being overbearing.
Brotherhood also marks the introduction to Assassins Creed multiplayer. Single handedly the best multiplayer experience I’ve had in a long time. Brotherhood’s use of cat and mouse gameplay makes the multiplayer feel more tense than any shooter I’ve played. The constant feeling of looking over your shoulder and paranoia stay with you with every match you play. Add the ability to customize your character and a simple leveling system and you’ve got a solid multiplayer onto an already solid game in a franchise.
There are great arguments that support the other two games as the best in the series. Mass Effect’s story and writing are stellar, and the appearance of a real, tangible villain like Saren legitimizes your struggle. Mass Effect 3 provides some of the best moments in modern gaming; high tension, high explosive action that wraps up the game in a decisive, if not controversial, fashion. Mass Effect 2, on the other hand, took the great foundation laid by the first, and turned the franchise away from cult level space RPG to highly accessible sci-fi space opera, giving players a more active and direct control of Shepard and team and adopting some of the third person shooter genre’s best features. And it did so without compromising in any other area.
Mass Effect 2 isn’t just a premier blend of the best shooting and RPG mechanics of the past generation, but it’s also a cocktail of some of the best sci-fi tropes and elements from any medium. The sleek and sterile architecture ooze Roddenberry, while the Reapers and their repurposed horde scream Giger.
Any nerd from any corner of geekdom could gravitate to Mass Effect 2, simply because of way it looks. The overall design of the characters and races vary from the relatively safe human-like Asari, to the outright weird amoebas Hanar, and – even more than the first game – made these creatures and their cultures seem like things we wouldn’t mind exploring in our world. The depth and breadth of the people, places, and things in this series are some of the most ambitious and interesting in any lore, from any medium, and Mass Effect 2 spends its best moments letting you get as much or as little of it as you choose.
It gets a lot of flak for its story, which has cynically been boiled down to be just, “one long recruitment mission.” But anyone who lets that line sell them away from this game is doing themselves a grave disservice. Just because the story involves getting the right people for a very dangerous mission, doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of story being told. Meeting these people, getting them to trust you, to understand you and your motives is just as engaging as any game with many more mission types. “One long recruitment mission” is the best way Bioware could showcase just how dynamic and outstanding each one of their characters are. Each one steals their scenes from Shepard, who is lifeless in comparison. You begin to separate them in the groups you like and don’t like, you build a report with a few, a budding romance with a lucky one or two. You’ve been convinced that they are as real as your actual boss or your real like significant other before you realize that they’re just characters in a game.
Bookworms always describe a feeling of sadness after finishing a good book, because there adventure with their friends has come to a close. No other game can make you feel that same sort of post-book depression like Mass Effect 2. It is a pinnacle of storytelling, world building, and immersion, not just for this generation, but forever.
When told that one of the biggest games of the year is going to be a Batman game, it was okay to be immediately dismissive back in 2009. But, everything around Super Hero games changed that year after the surprise hit Batman Arkham Asylum. Batman Arkham City, the 2011 sequel, improves on just about every mechanic created in the first iteration, and is, in my opinion, the best superhero game ever made, to date.
The Arkham games have always fueled the true dream of being the Batman. You fly over rooftops, grappling your way from one end of the city to the other. You’ll find yourself in dark rooms with spectating points above, where you contemplate how you’ll horrify and destroy a squad of armed baddies. And of course, you will dance around the field of combat with brutal counters, special takedowns, and your firsts that love to break faces. Everything in the formula contributes to how awesome you feel in that Batsuit.
But past just the excellently crafted gameplay, the storytelling and acting are just top-notch to fit within that comic book style. The voice actors from “Batman The Animated Series” reprise their roles for the most part, with excellent additions such as Nolan North as the Penguin. With Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill taking the lead roles of Bruce Wayne and the Joker respectively, it’s just excellent performances the whole way through the game.
Arkham City weaves a comic book tale of stopping the Joker through a horrifyingly disfigured part of Gotham that’s been turned into a city for criminals. The gameplay is there, the story is there, the acting is there. It is a true Batman experience, and one that should not be missed.
A game that is simply a marvel, Red Dead Redemption takes everything you love about the wild west and embodies it. My playthrough of Red Dead Redemption was one full of delight and wonder, whether it was exploring the lands or completing bounties, I was hooked. Many people will look back on this generation and reminisce about games such as Uncharted and Mass Effect; I’ll just think about the great times I spent with good ol’ John Marston.
Red Dead Redemption revolves around John Marston, a former outlaw looking to change his ways in 1911 America. This is short lived, however, as corrupt government agents threaten his and his family’s freedom unless Marston kills or captures his former gang members.
Red Dead Redemption is a spectacularly written story and John Marston’s tale of redemption is up there with some of the all time greats.
When I first stepped into the the entrance hall of Columbia, water flowing down the steps, and a chorus singing, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” I knew I was in for something special. What I didn’t realize was that I was about to play what would become one of my favorite games of all time.
Exploring the floating city of Columbia was an incredible experience in itself. The location was heavily inspired by the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which is evident from the classic Americana aesthetic the entire city is bathed in. Walking through Columbia feels like walking through an amusement park, but when you peek behind the curtains, you see that everything is not as perfect in Columbia as it seems. Columbia has a corrupt and malicious side to it, and this is made more impactful when contrasted with the bright and colorful facade it presents. None of this is ever overtly commented on however, it is simply presented to the player for them to either observe or discard.
The gameplay in Infinite is an absolute blast. Battles are big, bombastic affairs with a variety of enemy types entering the fray as Booker uses a large arsenal of weapons and powers to defeat them. The most thrilling part of battle in Infinite is the level of experimentation encouraged in the combat. I can settle a clash by lifting my enemies into the air with supernatural tonic powers and light them up with my machine gun; or, I could latch onto a Sky-Line to get an aerial advantage on my enemies and rain death from above. I could even have Elizabeth pull in a Gun Turret through a tear to take out my attackers while I sit back and watch. The ability to approach every encounter in different ways allows combat to feel consistently fresh throughout the game.
Finally, there is the story. Infinite tells a fantastic tale about a desperate man down on his luck, Booker DeWitt, and his quest to rescue a damsel locked away in a tower, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the best companion character to be feature in a game. Not only does she contribute to gameplay, but she is also a three dimensional character who goes on an incredible character arc throughout the game. It would be hard to discuss what is so great about Booker without spoiling the game, but the truth that lies beneath his quest make for one of the best reveals in gaming history. More than anything, what I love about the story in Bioshock Infinite is that it means different things to different people. It’s a game that can be analyzed, dissected and discussed ad infinitum. Few games offer this sort of depth with their narratives.
I’m sure many people would argue that the first Bioshock belongs on this list over Infinite, and it wouldn’t be a hard case to make. Both games feature fantastic locales to explore, and impressive combat, but Infinite’s endlessly captivating story is what pushes it over the edge. Bioshock Infinite will go down as one of the most important narratives in gaming.
Spec Ops: The Line sadly graces the lost of most under-appreciated games of the year/generation, but if you are holding back on moving on to the next-generation of consoles and are looking for a great story, then look no further.
On the outside, Spec Ops looks like your average milquetoast third-person military shooter. What it actually brings to the table is the deepest look at the real horrors of war and how it affects the people that must follow these orders. More than any other game this generation, Spec Ops explored what the killing of hundreds of men would have on a person’s mind. Rather than shrugging off the killings of these men, a la Nathan Drake, the player plays through the countless mental breakdowns and struggles of Captain Martin Walker.
The story of Spec Ops is short and sweet, meaning almost every narrative moment has purpose and weight. For the first time in a military shooter, I felt connected to the protagonist and for the first time in my gaming life, I was horrified by the destruction I was dealing and the lives I was taking.
The phrase ‘games are art’ gets thrown around a lot nowadays. It’s a shame one of the best examples of that is so criminally underplayed. Do yourselves a favor and experience this game.
Dead Space was able to do something unique, apart from other survival horror games, and that was the ability the story had to make Isaac Clarke a character to never forget. The player gets to evolve through the game with Isaac Clarke whether it’s upgrading the rigs and the plasma cutter or helplessly trying to rescue Nicole. As amazing as the story is behind how the necromorphs came about due to the planet cracking for rare resources to sustain humanity, the individual focus on Isaac helps the game progress in a more fluid presentation on how the two situations play off one another, without overstepping to one side or the other.
It also wouldn’t have become as iconic as it is if it wasn’t for how damn frightening Dead Space can be at times. Necromorphs come in all shapes and sizes, but all have one thing in common, and that’s making you piss yourself. They either hide themselves in the shadows or run full speed towards you with disturbing sounds that will leave you holding onto Isaac Clarke’s flashlight the whole time. Aside from gruesome necromorphs, the hysteria certain characters undergo can haunt you to your core.
But if you thought fear would compromise your ability to finish this game, the plasma cutter is the light at the end of the tunnel. The combat in Dead Space is as exhilarating as much as it is terrifying and constantly upgrading the plasma cutter will boost anyone’s self-esteem during this game. That’s not to say every once in awhile you shouldn’t bash a necromorph’s head in, I mean there is an achievement/trophy for dismembering 1000 limbs. Even though you’ll tend to lean more towards your plasma cutter, it’s nice to have an outlet in smashing necromorphs to ease your anger towards them.
This title never stays one dimensional and refuses to follow one direct pattern in terms of gameplay. Dead Space never confines itself to a simple structure and gracefully flows through combat and puzzles while not emphasizing one over the other. Being able to juggle different factors for the franchises launch is a testament to the incredible efforts to make more than your average survival horror game and actually bring some life to the genre.
Dead Space was able to establish itself with core constructs that usually take franchises several games to master, but Dead Space did it right out of the gate. As much fun as it can be to see a franchise evolve itself overtime into something remarkable, it is remarkable and almost unheard of to achieve it on the first title.
[We understand we are omitting the Wii with these articles, and we are very sorry, but we are focusing on the two competing consoles that were relatively comparable.]