We've officially been in the "new-gen" of videogame consoles for about 9 months now, and even though many games are still coming out for the last generation, it's more or less finished, as most new games come to both new and last gen consoles. So I decided that this week is the perfect week to give my highest accolades to some games that made this past generation one of the best. I don't own a gaming PC, so this list is limited to games I played on either Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Nintendo Wii. But first, an honorable mention:
Honorable Mention: Gears of War (series)
I can't get into competitive shooters. I do play Call of Duty games, however. I buy the game used from GameStop, play the four hour campaign in a night, and return the game the next day for all my money back. Don't judge me. But what I'm saying is that I play as many games as I can, and I just don't have the fortitude to dedicate as much time as I need to in order to become good at Call of Duty multiplayer. Which is why I like the Gears of War series. They have campaigns that last several hours longer than your typical, modern day shooters. In addition to that, while they do have competitive multiplayer, it's the cooperative modes of the game that put this at the top of my shooter list. Not only can you play every campaign cooperatively with a buddy, but then you add in the Horde mode that became a standard for future shooters. CoD Zombies, you owe your success to the Gears of War Horde mode, also, you're not nearly as good. I was really bummed when they decided to exclude my favorite mode from Gears of War Judgment, but considering that game was basically a cash grab, it's not surprising. Gears of War is the series that I will eventually buy an Xbox One for.
5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The holiday season of 2011 was basically just a blur of work and Skyrim for me, because that's all I did. I woke up, played Skyrim for a few hours, went to work, came home and slept, repeat. Weekends were spent playing the game all day, going to wherever my wrestling show was that day, coming home and playing until I fell asleep with the controller in my hand. I explored every inch of that world.
The funny thing is that I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before. I was actually hesitant to even play Skyrim to begin with, as it was a Bethesda Game and I despised Fallout 3, so when someone described Skyrim as "Fallout 3 with dragons" to me, that didn't exactly whet my appetite. By the way, that description is completely inaccurate. Fallout 3 is just walking around the color brown, not being able to defeat anything, and constantly discarding things from your inventory because, guess what, you're carrying too much weight again. Skyrim is a lush, beautiful world full of orcs, giant beasts, bards, dungeons, wielding humongous axes, magic, putting buckets on shopkeepers heads and stealing from them, cheese wheels, arrows in the knee, and yes, fighting dragons. That's what I want out of my videogames. I never felt bored playing Skyrim, and always found myself saying "I'll just do this one thing and then I'll stop" and then wound up playing for another three hours. I don't normally like super-long, open-world games, but I eagerly anticipate the next Elder Scrolls.
4. The Last of Us
The Last of Us set a new standard for storytelling in videogames. Seriously, I've never had a game mess with my emotions on such high levels with such consistency. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons had the most emotional ending I've ever played, but The Last of Us was doing stuff like that throughout the entire game. I experienced an entire range of feelings: shock, sorrow, terror, anger, confusion, and so on. At the end of the game, I sat there for a few minutes trying to decide how I felt about it. When it came to looking at the big picture, it wasn't the right decision, but the human side of me said that it was. The Last of Us also put a different spin on the global pandemic, post-apocalyptic world, going with a fungus rather than, oh hey, another zombie apocalypse, we never see those. Sorry, Walking Dead fans, The Last of Us blows that show out of the water.
The game itself brings a perfect mix of action, stealth, and survival horror. And yes, I do mean survival horror and not action horror like the current Resident Evil games. You're not given a ton of ammo, and some enemies can't even be killed with bullets, causing you to approach encounters differently than the typical "guns blazing" approach. Enemies are actually dangerous in this world, but at the same time, Naughty Dog did a great job improving upon their Uncharted series, where enemies go down in a couple shots, rather than just being bullet sponges (seriously, 6 bullets to kill one guy?).
The game is being re-released on the PlayStation 4, and even though this game is already beyond gorgeous, there's a good chance I'll double dip when I eventually purchase a PS4 just to see how it could get any better. You see the evolution of Joel and Ellie's friendship over the course of the year, and at times you'll love and hate them both. The Last of Us is a 5-star game if there ever was one.
3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
These days, I refuse to buy a system until there are at least five games on it that I definitely want to play. Back in 2008, however, I didn't have that policy, which is why I bought a PS3 for the sole reason of being able to play Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. I actually bought the system a few months before the game was released, I remember the night very vividly: I had just received my tax return check, and I had said for weeks prior that as soon as that check came in, I was going to use it to purchase a PlayStation 3 immediately. Well, the day that it came in, we just happened to have a blizzard in Dayton, and it was advised not to leave your home unless absolutely necessary. Let me tell you, buying my PS3 was absolutely necessary. So I hopped into my parents car (because mine was on the fritz), drove to Best Buy, which was stupid because there was a Wal-Mart literally right down the road, walked in, grabbed by console and a copy of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune--because I needed something to hold me over until MGS4 was released--and headed home. I remember my purchase causing a fight between my girlfriend at the time and I because she was all like "You need to be responsible and use that money to fix your car" and I was all like "Shut up, because PS3."
I should first explain to you that I'm a diehard Metal Gear fan, I love everything about it. I know the story is insane and makes absolutely no sense, and it's this weird juxtaposition of real-life, modern day weapons and completely over-the-top enemies and outrageous scenarios, with some real and totally not real military tech thrown in for good measure. It's sort of like if someone was frozen in the mid-80s until today, then was asked to make an action movie about the future.
It's also well-known for the ludicrous amount of cutscenes that are put into the game. The series has always been a cinematic front runner on whatever console it's appearing on, but even I must admit that they went a little overboard with MGS4. There are at least two cutscenes in this game that push near the 90-minute mark. That's as long as an actual movie, and it's only covering a section of the game. At the time I was finished, I had spent 12 hours watching cutscenes and only 8 hours actually playing the game.
And you know what? I don't care. I still loved every single second of it. I played (and watched) those 20 hours of game in a span of 32 hours. It was literally the only thing that I did other than sleep in that time frame. The amount of polish and options given to you in the game was well worth the five-year wait from Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. It actually gave you the option to use an iPod and choose the song you wanted to play from the soundtrack. The camouflage system from MGS3 was altered a bit, rather than having to navigate the menus in order to select what type of camo you wanted, it was streamlined into the "Octocamo" system, where Snake's bodysuit adjusts its color to match whatever surface he was on or against, like a chameleon. It was different and more practical from a gameplay perspective, but caused us to miss out on opportunities to see Snake in a cutscene wearing the weird oyama makeup.
The final battle with Liquid Ocelot atop Outer Haven was reminiscent of the original Metal Gear Solid battle on top of Metal Gear Rex, and while the actual fighting mechanics of that battle weren't as fleshed out or intuitive as I would have liked, it still made for one of my favorite moments I've ever experienced in gaming. If you've never played the game before, I recommend it, but make sure to grab a snack and a drink for those cutscenes.
2. Borderlands 2
I've written this story so many times that I'm sure some people are starting to get sick of it, but I owe my marriage in large part to the original Borderlands. When my wife and I first met, we discovered that we were both huge fans of the game, and wound up replaying the game together every night. The moment I got text from her saying "I just hope I can find another Combustible Hellfire SMG" I knew I was going to marry her.
The original Borderlands was already one of my favorite games of the generation, having played through it three times with two different characters. Fun fact: Borderlands and its sequel are two of the few games I've ever felt compelled to get all 1000+ achievement points on, I've spent a lot of time on the planet of Pandora. So when the sequel hit store shelves, both my wife and I were there on day one, it was the last game that I spent a full $60 on, I just couldn't wait for it to go down in price. Once again, between playthroughs with my wife, my buddy Chris, and my brother-in-law, I've played through the main story at least four times. Not to mention all of the add-on campaigns that they've released.
Our living room the night of release. It was beautiful.
Speaking of the add-ons, I must say that the four released for Borderlands 2 pale in comparison to the four released for the original. However, between Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage and Tiny Tina's Assault on Dungeon Keep, they more than makes up for the other two lackluster additions. People can say bad things about the villain, Handsome Jack, but I personally find him to be hilarious. Between his megalomania, his humor, and trying to convince you that he's a sympathetic anti-hero, I find him to be a nice change of pace from the typical videogame villain.
Borderlands 2 improves upon an already fantastic game. It's the perfect blend of shooter, RPG, action, frenzy, and humor. And say what you will about the story, but I found it to be perfectly serviceable, with some legitimate sad moments, especially with Assault on Dungeon Keep. Even after they released the Game of the Year Edition of the game, they continued to release small pieces of content. I understand why that upset people, but how many companies do you know that continue to support their game almost two years after it was released? The next entry will be coming out in just under three months, and even though it's not made by Gearbox, and will likely be a smaller game than the other two, I'll still be there on day one.
1. Super Mario Galaxy
You see that? You see that picture? You know what that is? That's called fun, I found it. I'm showing you the definition of fun. I don't care that I'm 28 years old, I still get just as excited for a Mario game today as I did as a kid.
This game is everything that is good about videogames. It's beautiful despite not being in HD, the music is whimsical, the planets are all unique and offer different enemies and visuals, there's a decent challenge for those who want it. After the disappointment of Super Mario Sunshine (critical disappointment, not my own, I love that game), this was the best possible way for Nintendo to come back. It was new, it was different, it was incredible. The usage of gravity--or lack thereof--to complete levels was done perfectly. You can tell that Nintendo had a blast making this game, so much so that they made a sequel, which was the first time there was a direct sequel to a Mario platformer since the NES. Yes, I know Yoshi's Island is technically a sequel to Super Mario World based on the title, and I do count it as an entry in the Mario platformer pantheon, but it's too atypical for me to be considered a direct sequel.
The only real problem with Super Mario Galaxy 2 is that they discarded the overworld hub and the really interesting story stuff with Rosalina. At the end of the day, gameplay is king, which is why the game is still outstanding, but with the original Galaxy, everything was new and original. The new suits were a welcome addition as well. Bee Mario, Boo Mario, and Ice Mario were all very welcome additions and made for some fantastic moments. They almost batted a perfect 1.000 with the new suits, but Spring Mario was a bit too difficult to control, especially when trying to attack enemies.
The boss battles were all great, even if they did have a giant sea creature and required me to be in water. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate water in games? Granted, every boss basically just consists of hitting the giant, glowing "Hit Me Here" section of their body three times, but just look at the designs of some of these guys:
Then you have the battles with Bowser himself, which all play the same, but get a bit more challenging throughout the game. But after you've completed the main game, you've only scratched the surface of Super Mario Galaxy. You have hidden stars to find, you have the purple coin time challenges, you can even replay the entire game with Luigi, who is more than just a palette swap of Mario like in years past, he controls differently, and that adds an extra dimension of challenge. Speaking of controls, Mario controls as perfect as you have come to expect.
There's nothing bad about this game. It's almost perfect. If you want to have fun playing a videogame, bust out your Nintendo Wii again and pop in Super Mario Galaxy.
Thanks for reading.
You can follow me on Twitter @TheDustinThomas. I also have a videogames based podcast, you can subscribe to it on iTunes here.