Sean’s Games of the Generation
There have been a lot of excellent games released over the last eight years. That’s the realization I came to when I sat down to figure out my top five games of the generation. I was able to list two dozen games with relative ease, each of which I felt I could make a case for being one of my absolute favorites. In doing so I passed over fantastic games, like Plants vs. Zombies, Thomas Was Alone, Metro 2033, The Witcher and Hotline Miami. I had to decide what I valued most in an experience. Was it the “fun factor”, the depth of a world and its fiction, a single incredible mechanic or the fond memories I have from playing it? I still have no answer, and if I had to do it again the list might be completely different, minus the game at the bottom (it makes my list every time).
It pains me to snub several great games but lists are fickle things: they’re always incomplete to somebody, including the author themselves.
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes straddles two genres I adore. I’ve always been a sucker for a great puzzle game, and in a generation largely devoid of promising console JRPGs, Capybara’s effort was a godsend. Its seamless fusion of RPG tropes, lush HD sprites and timeless match-three gameplay make for an addictive evolution of the Puzzle Quest phenomena.
The campaign is a fun, straightforward mix of combat and puzzling. However, the real star of Capybara’s work is the multiplayer. Each of the main heroes, as well as many of their allies and enemies, could be pit against one another in a duel to the death. Heroes were differentiated by skills and each faction could be customized with different loadouts of units, allowing players to tailor a team to their desired playstyle. It’s a little annoying that many of the units and heroes have to be unlocked via campaign progression, but in a game as consistently fun as this, I didn’t hesitate once before replaying the game on three different platforms.
I didn’t play Mass Effect until a few years after it came out. It was the sole reason I pined for an Xbox. I had no preexisting affinity for BioWare (outside of MDK2), but for some reason, their sci-fi vision called to me in a way few other Microsoft exclusives could: I bought a used copy of the game for a system I didn’t, and still don’t, even own.
When I finally sat down to play Mass Effect (via a borrowed 360), I was whisked away to a universe I felt very much a part of. I felt a connection to my Shepard, a brash no-nonsense woman with shoulder length locks of crimson and a long scar perforating her left cheek. At times I felt close, alienated and even protective of my crew. The Mako handledlike shit, but I relished every moment I had to take my new intergalactic family out for a spin on a largely empty, inhospitable rock. Along the way we accumulated more tricked-out space sniper rifles than we knew what to do with, but it was just another layer of Mass Effect‘s awkward charm. It wasn’t sure if it was a shooter or a role-player, and I was completely okay with that. I just wanted to soak up everything that Mass Effect was, and everything that it wanted to be; I wanted my front row seat to watch one shady Turian’s slow descent into madness.
The Last of Us
Of their PlayStation 3 offerings, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us is the one that continues to resonate with me. Though it tells yet another genre tale, their latest work exhibits a new maturity for the studio, not only as storytellers but also as game designers. Within the admittedly familiar template, The Last of Us is cleverly realized with systems and mechanics that match its setting, creating a game that feels as reactive as it is carefully scripted.
I wasn’t surprised that I loved The Last of Us, but rather, I was surprised why I loved it. Joel and Ellie were clearly the draw for many folk, but it was Naughty Dog’s commitment to their fiction that really won me over. The makeshift existence, the quarantine zones, the supporting cast, it all felt remarkably considered, all the way down to the fantastic/forgotten multiplayer. Though it was a difficult pill to swallow I still think about The Last of Us constantly. I don’t know if I can have that same experience twice, but I’m sure going to find out.
Bionic Commando Rearmed
Local multiplayer games have unfortunately played a decreasing role in my life as an adult. Prior to my move to the West Coast in 2009 I shared an apartment with a childhood friend, and we played an absurd, unhealthy amount of Bionic Commando Rearmed. We would play hours upon hours of ‘Don’t Touch the Floor’, which was a versus game mode for up to four players. He’d come home from school or work and we’d immediately migrate to the television without so much as a word.
It’s hard to explain the beauty of Bionic Commando Rearmed, and it’s even more difficult to convey the drama of Bionic Commando Rearmed multiplayer. To eliminate a player they have to touch the bottom of the screen. This can be accomplished in a handful of ways, the most hilarious being self-inflicted deaths via poor bionic arm grappling. But what makes the mode so addictive is the way matches can turn on a dime. A single, well-timed gunshot can be the difference between a clean swing to safety and a long, unavoidable fall death. It’s this dichotomy that kept Bionic Commando Rearmed a staple of our lives for an entire year.
Fallout 3 was my first Bethesda game, but not my first Fallout game. I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time in the Capital Wasteland. When I stepped out of Vault-101 for the first time I was overwhelmed by the view. There were no walls and no barriers, an endless expanse of nothing just waiting to be explored. I stopped in the bombed-out neighborhood at the foot of Vault-101’s entrance and began to scrounge through mailboxes, dumpsters and people’s homes, eventually wandering into a school populated by some raiders; I made my exit towards Megaton.
I’ve made my way through Fallout 3 twice, each time playing a sneaky bastard with a heart of gold – basically, I’ll help you out while stealing everything you own. And even having wandered the DC wasteland for well over 200 hours, I could still go back; I want to go back, whenever I finally rebuy it for PC. Nothing compels me more in gaming than the combination of exploration and discovery. When I step into the wastes there’s always something in the distance, beckoning me. It could be a worthless old shack, a previously unknown settlement or a cave filled with Deathclaws. I don’t know, and either way it doesn’t matter: the journey is always worth it to me, and the reward is merely getting there.