Helo welcom 2 my websight
With E3 only weeks away, the Next Gen is finally looming on the horizon.
None too soon, in my opinion, because the architecture of the Xbox 360 in particular has been holding back graphical improvement of games on consoles quite a bit since a few years ago. Since parting is such sweet sorrow, however, it seemed to me that a ‘Best of this Generation’ list was in order to remember the great times we’ve spent with our consoles instead of with our friends these past eight years. A list like this is also feasible, since the past few months have seen a record low of game releases, and there’s only a handful of titles that seem even remotely interesting still coming out before the release of PS4 and Xbox One (except maybe Remember Me), so I’m confident that there won’t be any more games that will be able to challenge these 20 in the struggle for being remembered forever as the best of their time.
I should note that these 20 are my personal favorites; games that I’ve enjoyed immensely, was moved by, or deemed worthy of a ‘great game’ stamp based on other merits. I have by no means played every game ever released on Xbox 360 – especially those outside of my areas of interests -, nor will I be listing games purely because they have a large following. Assassin’s Creed, Halo and Call of Duty fans are advised to head over to IGN for their ‘best of’ list later this year.
Without further ado, let’s kick this thing off!
Viva Piñata is one of those games that has aged really well. Although it was bundled with my first Xbox 360, its cartoony graphics and laid-back gameplay still hold up even after 7 years. While it might not have been a contender for many Game Of The Year lists, even back in its day, it was a unique game that only became more charming after the years went by and the gaming landscape became greyer and greyer. The gameplay is fun, not too demanding and wholly original and there hasn’t been anything quite like it since it was released.
Army of Two was a great game to play with a friend; playing as a pair of gun toting mercenaries, shooting up everyone in your path under the guise of following one of the flimsiest and most contrived stories ever written was a complete blast. The gun customization (nigga check out my diamond-plated magz), competitive nature (lulz I got 2 kills more than you, NEWB) and great co-op centric gameplay (come on just pull me up already you fucking asshole) was a breath of fresh air on consoles that were mostly focusing on online play. Army of TWO: The 40th Day built on this excellent formula and improved it even more; adding more exotic locations, more satisfying shooting and ‘moral choices’ in another completely over the top story that you can’t help but feel good about.
I’d be the first to admit that I usually don’t enjoy these tacticool shooters such as Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon; however, Future Soldier had me hooked from the start. Although I didn’t understand the slightest thing about the terrible story, written by terrible writer extraordinaire Tom Clancy, the gameplay was enough to interest even the most apathetic player. Set in the near future, the game utilizes cool technology like remote controlled drones, cloaking and AR goggles as a team of special forces soldiers shoots up a bunch of Ruskies to prevent them from launching a nuke. I suppose hardcore Ghost Recon fans would complain about the accessibility of this title, as I found it thoroughly enjoyable to map out a plan of attack, positioning my teammates and running circles around Ruskie soldiers while cloaked. It was by no means an exceptionally hard game, but it was exceptionally well paced, well made and more importantly: played amazingly.
Quite possibly the first game that showed it was possible for comic books to be properly translated to a modern interactive medium. While Spider-Man and Superman had been on our TVs under our control for quite some time, their games never really managed to impress, and while Rocksteady usually runs away with the ‘first game that did it well’ title for their game Batman: Arkham Asylum, it quite definitely belongs to Starbreeze for creating this beauty of a game. As someone who doesn’t enjoy many FPS games unless they’ve got something seriously interesting to bring to the table, I was skeptical when The Darkness was announced – but I’m glad I was proven wrong. Not only was the story enjoyable and the graphics pretty rad, the game also used the lore of the comic books in a new but not rage-inducing way and bent it to serve its needs as an FPS, leading to a great shooter made even better by some innovative new ideas. The writing was exceptionally good for a licensed game, with the moody monologues of protagonist Jackie Estacado as a storytelling device that many other games could learn a thing or two from. Its sequel, The Darkness II, was equally enjoyable, but was less of an accomplishment since it was built on the success of its predecessor, which is why I opted to use the first game for this list.
Beautiful Katamari was the first HD Katamari game ever released. That’s basically the entirety of the why it’s up here, since that was pretty much the biggest change when compared to the older Katamari games on PS2. In this case, it worked. Basically Beautiful Katamari is just any other Katamari game, only with HD graphics and a bigger world to play in, which – let’s be honest – is really all it needed to become GOTY. Katamari’s gameplay still feels fresh and original, the art style still quirky and cute and the music is still as amazing as ever, so there was just no way to dislike this latest entry into the franchise. I was especially happy to see a Katamari game on Xbox 360 (Microsoft had bought exclusivity, even) since I didn’t own a PS3 and spent many, many hours playing this wonderful game.
I suppose some people might feel like flogging me for this one, but I would tell them to go back and play it again because the Ghostbusters game was really good. In fact, one could say it was a better Ghostbusters movie than Ghostbusters II! The original cast all pick up their hilarious roles once again and the amazing writers over at Terminal Reality, with a little help from Dan Aykroyd himself, managed to pen down a script that is not only true to the original movies and setting, but also manages to genuinely capture the magic and fun of those stories and translate them flawlessly into an interactive experience. Giving the player a ‘new recruit’ role so as to not break up the existing dynamics of the characters and really taking the time to write a solid script paid off in creating one of the most entertaining video game stories in decades. The gameplay wasn’t ground breaking or intensely challenging, but who really needs that when you can CATCH FUCKING GHOSTS!?
Bayonetta was the first ‘Next Gen’ game coming from Hideki Kamiya, legendary creator of DMC and Okami, so naturally tensions were high. Since DMC was kind of going downhill and trudging increasingly into ‘more of the same’ territory, the masses were ready for another CUHRAYZAY game to take over the mantle. And man did Kamiya deliver. Bayonetta was an amazing adrenalin ride from start to finish as the delicious titular character fought her way through angels, gods and demons in one amazing setpiece after another. The action was quick, stylish and sufficiently gory, but the best parts were without a doubt the far out designs that set this game apart from any other. From the incredible bosses to Bayonetta’s own special attacks; everything was so cool and original that even someone like me who sucks at these kinds of games just couldn’t put it down.
While Bayonetta is generally lauded as a pretty awesome game, the Fable series certainly doesn’t have this luxury. While Fable 1 had its fair share of fans (completely undeserved, in my opinion), Molyneux promising the world again with part 2 and not delivering (again) left a bit of a bad taste in many a mouth. Rightfully so, I suppose, for people who were expecting more than a simple action adventure game. Fable shouldn’t be marketed as being an RPG, really. The immature and completely unfunny way of interacting with NPCs and the overly simplistic gameplay reminds one of a game targeting kids more than anything else. Gameplay and writing are definitely not where Fable II shines, and actually I can’t think of the actual reason I spent so many dozens of hours playing this game. In spite of all its flaws it’s just…fun.
The item fever as you’re dressing up your character, buying and selling houses, romancing women and men in every town, making babies, killing random people, eating a crapload of pies and making your character fat as hell; none of it sounds like it should be any fun but it really is. The design of the world is wonderfully flippant and some of the quests are so original that you tend to forgive the poor execution. Fable II is really a game that you play for hours and hours on end and wonder why you did..but you’re still enjoying yourself so why the hell not, right?
X-Com fans will hate me for putting this game up here, especially since I’ve never played the real X-Com games, but I think it deserves this spot nonetheless. Bringing a classic game into the new millennium in a way that pleases the old fans is a next to impossible task, but judging by the generally positive user reviews Firaxis has done pretty damn well. And they’ve succeeded in what they really wanted: getting people who haven’t heard of the previous games interested in playing a Turn-Based Strategy game. I’ve never been a fan of TBS games because I couldn’t stand the slowness of them, but I enjoyed XCOM immensely. Firaxis did a marvelous job at making the player care about his little pawns by giving every soldier a customizable name and, more importantly, place of birth.
Creating an all Dutch and Korean squad or putting soldiers from certain countries into stereotype positions (Russian Heavy, American Assault, Chinese Snipers) and coming up with backstories and personalities for all of them created an unprecedented amount of emotional attachment to units that you’d just be throwing into the meat grinder in any other game. Even games that tend to focus on smaller squads such as Company of Heroes or DoW2 don’t give you a feeling like this because you can just reinforce your squad whenever you want and most of the soldiers are generic grunts. In XCOM, you really feel like a dick when your high-level sniper gets shot in the back by a straggling alien you accidentally passed by. The gameplay is smart and tactical and infinitely entertaining, even though repetition does rear its ugly head near the end of the pretty long campaign. The graphics aren’t in the style that I would’ve preferred, but they do what they do well and together with the great level design they really bring the world to life.
One of the games released in the early years of the Xbox, when Microsoft still pretended to give a shit about Japan by buying some promising exclusives left and right, Eternal Sonata is a wonderful, colorful and surprising JRPG about the life of Frederick Chopin. Well, I wouldn’t exactly call this game a documentary since I’m pretty sure Chopin never battled ogres and dragons with the help of a group of people all named after musical styles. Regardless, the story is more interesting than most JRPGs, mostly because of the excellent characters. The main pull for me to get this game, however, were the amazing graphics. I still remember seeing screenshots of this game on /v/ and thinking it was an anime. The cell shaded style is absolutely breathtaking, and together with the magical music really sweeps you off into a different world. Add to that an active battle system that throws all JRPG clichés on their ass and a Japanese dub for those who can’t stand 4Kids quality voice talent and you’ve got a recipe for 30+ hours of fantastic gaming.
The first XBox Live Arcade title on this list (or the second one, if you’re an ANARCHIST and are reading from bottom to top) is one that has been praised so much that it’s basically useless to do it again. An engaging story, believable characters, interesting setting and heart-wrenching choices made Telltale’s The Walking Dead a game that latched unto anyone’s ‘Game of the Year’ lists out of fucking nowhere. Not only that, but it also has the honor of being the very first (and, so far, only) actually good zombie game ever created. This is especially impressive when you look at Telltale’s past record, which doesn’t exactly scream quality. Even though the graphics were archaic and most of the choices only gave you the illusion that they mattered, the emotional pull of the story and excellent use of the source material made this a visual novel not to be missed.
Dead Space as we know it is dead and will never return, but back in 2008 when I first put that disc into my console I was immediately gripped by the tense atmosphere, amazing sound design and intense shooting. Something else Dead Space had going for it, of course, was the great setting with a fascinating story that unfortunately did unfold a little too slowly. Aside from that though, Dead Space was gold. The extremely oppressive atmosphere of the tight, badly lit and decaying corridors and the initial horror of the disgusting enemies combined with the satisfying limb-cutting focused combat made for a horror game that made me wary to play, but still couldn’t put down. I remember playing it at night in the dark with only a candle on, surround sound, and everyone else in bed…walking to the toilet was the scariest thing in the world.
The series has kind of gone down hill with Dead Space 2 and went to complete shit with Dead Space 3, but we’ll always have this great game to remind us that awesome new IPs can still come along.
Speaking of awesome new IPs, here’s a game that was supposed to be a sequel to True Crime, got bought up by Square Enix and became friggin’ amazing. Basically it’s the GTA for people who don’t like gangstah culture/are weeaboo, but just calling it that would be a great disservice to this great and expansive game. I had so much fun running around doing random stuff that I kept having to pull myself back to the excellent main quest. The writing and voice acting were great, lending the overall story an air of polish that hadn’t been seen in an open world game outside of the GTA franchise before. This polish not only showed in those areas though; the entire game was excellent from beginning to end. The city you roamed around in was huge, the minigames enjoyable, the focus on martial arts worked out perfectly and the cars handled like a dream. Really, there isn’t even one bad thing I could say about Sleeping Dogs; it was just that well made.
Enslaved is one of those games many people might’ve missed. It wasn’t hyped up much, sold incredibly poorly and you never hear anyone talk about it online. All of those things, I assure you, are completely unwarranted. Odyssey to the West is a wonderfully original, character driven story with (at the time) great graphics and even better art direction. The only let down is in the gameplay, which is a rather tame mash-up of Prince of Persia (the reboot, unfortunately, not the original games) and God of War that never manages to inspire. It’s serviceable though, and the main draw of Enslaved is without a doubt the finely crafted and well written story and endearing, relatable characters. These strong points are further enhanced by excellent voice acting and great music, making Enslaved an amazingly enjoyable and original experience for someone like me who mostly plays games for the story.
I’ve been a casual fan of Batman for quite a while. I never got too big into the ongoings, but I enjoyed many isolated story arcs and miniseries; it’s actually the only DC published comic I really enjoy. So, when I heard they were releasing a game based on him, I was a little worried. This was around the time the Dark Knight hype train had made its way through all of Europe and everyone was busy cumming buckets over Christopher Nolan’s work, so of course I was worried about yet another shitty tie-in game with a different marketing hook. Luckily, there was no marketing hook. The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t anywhere near release yet and the game wasn’t based on the previous two rebooted Batman movies. The fact that Rocksteady was working on it didn’t mean a thing back then though, since their only previous game was Urban Chaos: Riot Response Team which had nothing to do with the Urban Chaos I enjoyed many years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this novice developer had managed to create a AAA game based on a comic book character that didn’t suck. As I mentioned above, this wasn’t the first time this had happened, but it was rare enough to warrant a sigh of relief and a little happy dance. Arkham Asylum tied all the aspects of the Bat into a new and exciting package that was a joy to play. For the first time you really felt like a creeping shadow, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. Of course a lot of this was due to the purposely gimped AI of your enemies while you were sneaking, but still it made for a satisfying experience that had me exclaiming ‘I’m the goddamn Batman’ more than once. The counter-based fighting system Rocksteady developed for this game was so good that it is still being ripped off even to this day and the story and supporting characters were as interesting as they were in the comics. Arkham City was, in my opinion, less of a Batman game, which is why I prefer its prequel even though it wasn’t ‘bigger and better’.
Speaking of bigger and better: here’s a game that shows those two can go hand in hand. Lost Odyssey is an early Xbox 360 Exclusive JRPG that has, in my opinion, never been topped. It has all the mechanics and clichés attached to the genre; random encounters, turn-based battles, a protagonist with amnesia and many other tried-and-true plot devices, but it ties them all together in a way that is so finely crafted and perfectly realized that it feels like you’re playing it all for the first time. There’s not many games that can pull off turning a cliché premise into a story you actually want to follow for over 50 hours and populating it with interesting and enjoyable characters at the same time. The graphics were simply gorgeous at the time (and still look quite decent even 5 years later), but are easily overshadowed by the plot, masterfully crafted by Hironobu Sakaguchi of Final Fantasy fame, and great short stories littered throughout the game. The atmospheric cutscenes, dreamy music (by world renowned Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu) and excellent voice acting (incredibly rare in Japanese games because the dubs are usually done half-assedly) only serve to pull you more and more into the world of Kaïm and make it hard to put down the controller. The classic turn-based battle system that Lost Odyssey uses isn’t as user friendly as modern JRPG systems, but it opens up a surprising amount of tactical possibilities during combat, and the Ring system is an engaging and interesting take on the classic press-button-to-punch gameplay. If this list was purely based on how immersed I got into a game or how much I cared about the story and characters, Lost Odyssey would be Nr. 1. But in the end the dated gameplay and limited ‘fun’ value keep it back a little. Make no mistake though, this game is as much – or even more so – a ‘must own’ as the rest of the top 5.
Who says great games should cost millions of dollars, have celebrity voice actors and state of the art graphics?
From Dust, a surprising Xbox Live Arcade game from Ubisoft, shows a great game can come in a small package. I’ve already covered most aspects of this game in my recent post about it, so I won’t repeat everything here. The reason From Dust is so high in this list is quite simple: it’s freaking FUN. Capital F-U-N. The simple idea of manipulating sand, water and lava in a puzzle-environment, combined with Populous-like worshippers and realistic physics works out wonderfully in this game that will entertain you for days.
Yup, there it is: Alan Wake. After all the crazy hype, shaming, waiting and hating, it’s taken its proper place among the top 3 games of this console generation. Alan Wake was teased as early as the announcement of the Xbox 360, if I remember correctly, and spent a long, long time in development hell. After all was said and done though, Remedy delivered a game that was nearly perfect in everything but graphics. The story – penned down by Mr. Max Payne himself, Sam Lake – was so great you’d almost believe you were reading an actual book and the twist and turns it takes before entering the shocking finale are one for the books (pardon the pun). The light/dark antithesis is used in a way that feels natural to humans at the most basic of cognitive states: light good, darkness bad. You’re spending most of the game running away from the dark and into the light, using light as a weapon to burn the darkness away. It’s something that works amazingly well, probably because it connects perfectly to our most primal fears. Creating a genuinely scary atmosphere that has a player running from safe spot to safe spot even though there’s a pretty large world out there to explore is something most games fail at but Alan Wake tackles with ease. There’s a truly oppressive atmosphere whenever you leave the safely of the light, and even though the combat system is excellent, you’ll prefer to high tail it whenever you have the chance. Coupling a deep and well thought out story with intense and satisfying gameplay resulted in this game that we should thank Remedy for on our bare knees. If only their new game, Quantum Break, will be just as memorable.
The number two on this list might surprise people who know me. Indeed, Mass Effect is without a doubt my most treasured franchise that has been created in the past decade, even after the travesty that was the ending of part 3. There’s one game out there, however, that managed to entertain and capture me even more than this epic space opera. We’ll get to that gaming gem in a while, but first I’d like to explain what makes Mass Effect so great. As you probably know if you’ve played any of the three games, it’s definitely not the gameplay. While Mass Effect’s clunky cover shooting mechanics were serviceable for an RPG, they were certainly nothing to write home about. The roleplaying aspects, too, seemed to have been reduced with every sequel, I imagine mostly because of the high cost of full voice acting. Where Mass Effect shines, however, and has stolen my heart, is the universe itself. So much thought and creativity went into creating this new, exciting and completely original sci-fi setting that I would’ve loved it even if it was as bad as Two Worlds and looked like EDF 2017. Luckily, it isn’t and doesn’t though. The sleek, modern designs feel consistent across all three games and all different locales that you visit, and while the actual gameplay mechanics aren’t particularly impressive it’s still a lot of fun to play, mostly due to the well written characters and plot. Even Mass Effect 3, without a doubt the best reason to hate this franchise, was exceptionally written up until the very end and kept you interested in the fate of the galaxy and your companions throughout.
When Mass Effect 2 was released I also praised the fact that the decisions you made in the first game carried over into the next, but after seeing the result of these choices in the third installment I suppose I should temper my enthusiasm on that front…in the end, nothing you did really mattered..but what a ride it was getting there, right? A lot of the not-so-big choices had either direct or indirect consequences that drastically altered your game and in most cases you had ample opportunity to resolve certain conflicts in whatever way you wanted. Of course compared to classic RPGs like Baldur’s Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment the options were laughable, but when compared to other recent RPGs there’s no doubt Mass Effect was top of the line. What really sold the series were the characters and your interactions with them though. Bioware’s strongest point has always been writing interesting and engaging characters, and Mass Effect is no exception. Whether you’re more partial to the biggest bro in the galaxy, Garrus, or the ultimate waifu material Tali, there’s something for everyone and most of them have an interesting and personal story to share. While Mass Effect 3 ended Shepard’s story with an enormous let down instead of with a bang, I still can’t wait what EA will do with this incredibly rich and detailed universe. Knowing EA, they’ll milk it for all it’s worth, and I’m totally along for the ride on that.
And here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the number 1 best game of this generation according to my own fine and experienced tastes. Catherine is not a high-budget shooter, 50+ hours RPG or frantic action game. It’s a modest Japanese puzzle game that would normally never have left Japan. What made Atlus decide to go through the trouble of porting it to the West, we’ll never know, but we can only thank them for bringing the best game of this generation to our shores. Catherine might not have amazing gameplay, or the best story out of all the games in this list, but it’s certainly the most original and it’s fun as hell. You play as Vincent, a sorrowful loser who’s close to tying the knot with his girlfriend Katherine, when you meet a beautiful, sexy young girl called Catherine. One thing leads to another and you kind of end up waking up next to her, leading to a very awkward situation for everyone involved. Oh, and a curse that throws you into a nightmarish world of sheep where you’re forced to move and climb blocks until you reach a divine elevator where falling down will mean certain death every time you fall asleep.
Yeah, that’s I meant by being original.
The game can be split into two parts; puzzling, which takes place in the ‘dream world’ and visual novel, I suppose, which are the parts where Vincent is hanging out drinking with his friends in the Stray Sheep bar. Both parts are equally awesome and interesting. The puzzles are quite hard (they even had to tone down the difficulty from the Japanese release) but always completely logical, and as a result the feeling of accomplishment you get when finishing one of the levels is intensely gratifying. The VN part of it, on the other end, is extremely entertaining, interesting and well written. The game really makes you think about the nature of relationships, and I have to admit I learned a thing or two about myself and became so much more appreciative of my relationship while playing it.
In the end, this is the game that strikes me as most remarkable, memorable and entertaining out off all the games released on Xbox in the past 8 years. It completely deserves the number 1 spot on this list.
I have to admit it was actually quite difficult to find 20 games that were really good. I thought about stretching the requirements up a bit so I could include HD remakes or games that were novel but not really all that great such as Alpha Protocol, Brütal Legend or the first Assassin’s Creed, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to put those flawed games up in the list so I went with slightly less flawed games that were still actually enjoyable. It’s kind of sad that after 8 years of gaming it’s difficult to name 20 games you thoroughly enjoyed, but I’m glad that I didn’t have to cut the list down to 10, which is something I would be forced to do when speaking about the Nintendo DS for instance.
All in all we’ve had some good times this Gen, and I just hope we can still see some innovation and perhaps some more flawed gems in the next.
I’ll see you all at E3.
Oh, and before I forget, I thought I’d try this for once:
Here’s a poll where you can vote for your favorite game of this Generation. If your favorite game is missing, just add it!