It’s all but over – the Wii has stopped being manufactured and the PS4 and XBox One both debut next month, which means we’re making that bittersweet leap into a new generation. Goodbye to your current back-catalog and hello to your drought of no truly compelling games for about 1-2 years!
Due to that always (usually) lean first year or so of a new console cycle, where developers are still attempting to roll out (upscale) their games onto an entirely new platform, I tend to go back and revisit what I missed from the previous gen. As it turns out you can pick up a ton of really great games for super-cheap once everyone is focusing on the new and shiny boxes – whoda thunkit?. So, bully for us – let’s take a look at the best video games from the seventh generation.
We will only be focusing on home consoles here – no PC and no handhelds (I just don’t play either often enough!), so that means we have three little boxes to dive into – The XBox 360, the Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii.
The next parts of this list (coming soon) will focus on the best console exclusive titles, broken down platform by platform. Today, I present to you the best games (to me) which were available across multiple platforms.
10. Street Fighter IV
If there was an arcade game that ate more of my quarters in the early 90’s I’m not sure what it could have been – Street Fighter II was like a religion for arcade-goers back then – it represented the pinnacle of fighting games and to this day it holds a fond spot in my nostalgic heart of hearts.
Yet, you know what’s odd – I could never get into any of the endless sequels; there were so many iterations of just SFII alone that I Iost track before they even arrived at the next actual number, 3… and it took them another eleven years to get to 4! I mean, good god, that’s crazy talk. Capcom drives me fucking nuts with all these revisions and updates… and I’m fully aware that the same thing has happened with SFIV since its’ initial release – we’re now at Super Street Fighter IV Ultra Arcade Edition for fuck’s sake.
Regardless of Capcom’s apparent ‘miniscule update’ fetish, SFIV was the first SF game I played since the original SFII that truly captured my fancy and kept me playing.
The graphics are fantastic, the cast of characters large and diverse, and all the moves you’d expect are here, tweaked to silky perfection and showy as hell. I’m not a hardcore fighting game player, so all the deep intricacies of the mechanics are all but wasted on me, but to my layman’s tastes this game hits all the right notes and easily ranks as my preferred fighting game of the 7th generation of consoles. Pure pugilistic perfection and always immensely playable any day of the week – local or online multiplayer both work beautifully and an active and obsessive community will keep this game alive for many many years to come.
9. Castle Crashers
This game made me love multi-player beat ’em ups again. When I first picked up Castle Crashers I flashed back to playing Double Dragon, or any classic (S)NES beat ’em up… and it was a fucking glorious flashback, let me tell ya.
Castle Crashers made online multi-player seem effortless, all while wrapped up in gorgeous 2D-HD graphics and a level of pure, unbridled insanity unmatched by most games. Plus it was funny. Hilarious even. The pacing was fantastic and overall it’s a game that has immense re-playability thanks to the numerous unlockables and addictive leveling system. Castle Crashers reminded me why the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre was so popular at one time and it also managed to move the genre forward while genuinely celebrating it in every way imaginable.
8. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
Another glorious update to a game and formula that was dear to me in my youth, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX proves that good game design can withstand changing perceptions and tastes well after they are first introduced – there is always a way to tweak and bring things in line with modern sensibilities. I remember playing Pac-Man Vs. on the Gamecube (an awesome game, btw) and thinking that it took a genius like Miyamoto to finally breathe new life into something as fixed as Pac-Man… but I was wrong, I just don’t think anyone was trying before Miyamoto threw his hat into the ring, because as good as Pac-Man Vs. was, it deviated from the formula and introduced new mechanics and an entirely new play style to the game. It wasn’t one of those terrible Pac-Man platformers, but still, it wasn’t just regular old, single player Pac-Man either.
Despite what Namco had believed for so long, Pac-Man’s basic mechanics and original game design could still be strong on their own, all you really needed to do, as it turns out, was notch it all up a bit and add some modern processing horsepower behind it to make that old dog look as though he’s performing new tricks. By simply allowing the game to take advantage of modern consoles we’re able to add speed, bombast and complexity into the same formula, easily re-invigorating it in the process. Pac-Man CEDX can get so hectic at times it must seem unplayable to a spectator, yet to the one with the controller in their hands, it always remains sustainable and natural. There is a rhythm to everything and once a map ‘clicks’ for you, you’ll flow through it like a goddamned ninja master, hitting those corners and stringing together huge chain combos like nobody’s business. It’s full of modes, features and can be customized to look and sound pretty much any way you’d ever want – it is simply a fantastic game and one that I still go back and regularly play just for the pure fun and feel of it.
7. The Walking Dead
This is yet another example of a genre I thought dead for many years now: the adventure game. While not an on-rails ‘point and click’, it may as well be due to its unbending linearity and small collection of character choices (which really, don’t add up to much variety) and its entire reliance on QTE – something most gamers despise…
Okay, so that sounds kind of negative, yet, in spite of all these probable shortcomings, The Walking Dead still manages to be genuinely enjoyable – the characters and the story keep us invested and having our goal in the game become the simple task of reuniting a scared little girl with her Mother (a noble goal if ever there were one!) should spur even the most cynical gamers to invest some emotion into the plight of their digital avatars.
Plus – there is all that awesome fuckin’ zombie killin’ to keep us engaged as well. I mean, come on… who doesn’t like caving a zombie’s head in with a brick?
There are certainly lulls throughout the game though – and glitches abound, but on the whole the game is a big success – we’re invested emotionally in the characters (at least two of them anyway) and the carrot of bloody dismemberment is always dangled in front of us to keep us moving forward through the plot to see the next super-satisfying zombie killing sequence. Stabbin’ brains is fun… just don’t question it.
6. Rayman Origins
Rayman Origins is the best platforming game I’ve ever played (that wasn’t made by Nintendo) – that’s a lofty claim. The. Best.
Trust me, this isn’t hyperbole on my part – it is absolutely true. Rayman Origins oozes polish, the hand-drawn graphics are just jaw-droppingly gorgeous and the precision of the controls is so satisfying that, like the best Mario games, it’s fun simply to run and jump around the environments.
The multi-player is some of the best of the 7th generation as well; the instantaneous drop-in/drop-out nature lends itself beautifully to impromptu play sessions that can unfold into hours… just watching someone play makes you want to jump in on the frantic fun. Fun is a word that really carries some weight when it comes to describing this game, too. It’s wacky, Surreal, frantic and it always remains just shy of frustrating, even in it’s most challenging moments (of which there are legion) it always remains fun because you never blame the game design or controls for your failures – you can see it was you and you alone, who fucked up that perfect, rhythmical run through one of the treasure chest chases. I love playing a game and getting my ass handed to me while never becoming frustrated by feeling as though I’m fighting against the game to succeed in spite of its’ designers.
Once you really get your runs down, Rayman Origins becomes one of the most pure and transcendent experiences you may ever have playing a side-scrolling platformer. SERIOUSLY – if you like platformers at all you must play this game straight away, I promise you – you will be amazed.
5. Arkham Asylum
So… Batman… yes… we all know how I feel about Batman (see almost any article on this damn site, really). Therefore, it probably goes without saying that it was a great coup for me to find a really, really great Batman video game come out. It was honestly a total shock that it was as good as it was. From the fantastic, Half-Life-esque opening sequence to the silky combat mechanics – everything just felt… right. Sure, the boss fights were redundant and the end boss was straight out of a really bad comic – but everything else was pitch-perfect.
Exploring Arkham Asylum and the surrounding grounds was fascinating; the secrets, the mood, the look – it was a Batman fanboy’s wet-dream finally, beautifully realized in the video game medium. The combat was fluid and dynamic and – holy shit – it actually made you feel like a total bad ass when taking out a group of thugs, or silently swooping down from a gargoyle to stealthily choke out an unsuspecting guard.
Certainly, the sequel, Arkham City improved upon a lot of the small details from the first game, notably the boss structure – there was also more to do in general and a greater cast of characters to indulge in – yet, I really responded more the the Metroid structure of the first game; leveling up and re-opening previously inaccessible areas made me become much more familiar with the environment of the game and therein made me much more comfortable with every nook and cranny. I felt like I lived and breathed in that world, yet while playing Arkham City I felt like I was continually being pushed forward, almost rushed through a bombastic action movie equivalent of the first game. Which is fine in its own right – there is certainly room for both types of games – I just enjoy going at my own pace and really getting to dig around in the dirt. I even enjoyed finding the Riddler statues much more in this first entry moreso than in its’ sequel… the Arkham City Riddler challenges became too obtuse and more often than not I just lost interest in trying to figure out the nonsensical puzzles that were required to obtain them. Overall, both games are fantastic, I just have to give the slight edge to the first game due to my personal idiosyncrasies concerning game structure.
Plus – those scarecrow sequences... enough said. The greatest Batman game ever made? Certainly, but more than that, this is the greatest superhero game ever made.
4. Fallout 3
If you’ll excuse me I’m going to have to put one of those contemporary “brown and gray, post-apocalyptic shooters” on this list. But hey – this one is actually good! A massive open world RPG shooter with great writing, great graphics and an awesome story. Yes, Fallout 3 was really, for my money, the only ‘brown and gray’ game of the generation that did anything to tickle my fancy. Written with a razor sharp, darkly acerbic wit, it catapulted itself into gamer’s hearts the world over upon release. Even the V.A.T.S. system; the ‘bullet time’ shooting mechanic worked beautifully in a perfect risk vs. reward balance where you made choices that directly influenced how you could complete the game.
That’s the real beauty, isn’t it? You could play it as a shooter, or you could play more methodically like an RPG, it all depended upon your preferred play-style. Both were valid and the freedom given to the player in this, and many other regards, is the game’s biggest strength. Violent, beautiful and jam-packed with large and small freedoms to utilize all available mechanics to custom suit your personality, Fallout 3 takes a barrel full of aesthetic and thematic cliches and makes them all seem fresh again.
3. Portal (The Orange Box)
This really has to be the greatest value in all of gaming. With The Orange Box, you got ALL of Half-Life 2, Team Fortress and Portal. Going into this collection, I considered Portal the underdog. I had seen it briefly and thought, meh… ‘could be a nice diversion’.
Then I played it.
Then I didn’t put it down for a few years. Portal 2 is even better in pretty much every way, but the first was such a surprise and such an eye-opening experience for me that I have to give this spot to the original.
Portal came so out-of-left-field for me and it was so amazingly unique in every regard that I was blown away from the first test chamber. Mind-bending, polished to hell, and one of the most well written games I’d experienced in a long time. Glados became immediately engrained into the gaming culture and a whole host of memes born out of this game live on to this day with such feverish enjoyment that “The cake is a lie” can be used in pretty much any context and people will lap it up.
Portal never took itself too seriously even as it changed the face of modern shooters and puzzlers. Also, I think it goes without saying that packaging this phenomenal game with one of the best first person shooters of all time makes this one of the greatest packages of any generation.
Let me just get this out there: I think Jonathan Blow is a goddamned genius and it bugs me to no end when people relentlessly dismiss him as pretentious.
Blow truly is one of the most innovative and important minds in the medium today; he not only speaks passionately (and intelligently) about game design, but more importantly; he speaks about the player’s expectations and how we understand and manipulate the language of interactive experiences. He can see the larger picture and he considers not only the base necessities inherent in creating a playable and enjoyable game, but he also understands you should always engage players on an emotional, intellectual and even instinctual level.
Braid is a platformer and a puzzle game, featuring a succinct arsenal of tools which are simple at heart, yet facilitate a rich experience when married with the rock-solid level design and visual cues worked into each and every facet of the game. There is just enough instruction without devolving into a blatant hand-holding experience and there are just enough story elements parsed out without becoming forced and expository. This flow of design in both the technical and artistic sense, keep one engaged throughout the entirety of the game and in this regard, the pacing of the game is stunning – and for a puzzle/platformer that’s saying quite a lot.
The mechanical aspects of the game design work beautifully and there was, at least for me, also an equally perfect emotional resonance that grew into a stunning crescendo as you play through the last level of the game and suddenly realize that your understanding of the game from the very first level has been one big long-con and has succeeded in preying upon and subverting your own presuppositions regarding video game narratives. In short, Braid is a brilliant game both in concrete design terms and as a meta-conceptual undermining of the modern game vernacular.
Now herein lies the paradox between my #2 pick and Bioshock, my #1 pick.
Bioshock excelled very handily in one area where I lauded Braid so much; artistically – yet, if we’re being honest, it fell short, or rather, was content to not innovate, on the mechanics (or the utilization of said mechanics) side of the spectrum. As an interactive piece of art all the right notes were hit; beautiful graphics, a haunting score, amazing writing… yet the tried and true FPS play-mechanics which were the vehicle in which players interacted with the game were staid and clunky at best. No innovation or grace was offered and even compared to other popular FPS of the same period, the controls in Bioshock felt a bit stiff and cumbersome. Plus there was that final, completely superfluous boss fight which pulled you right out of the narrative the game had crafted so expertly, only to painfully reminded you that you were playing a game that was, at its end, perfectly content to wallow in silly video game tropes. Would you kindly recall a game that was on such a high after it pulled the rug out from under you, which then seemed to suddenly forget that it was commenting upon haphazard design tropes and blind consent in games. Bioshock’s third act (more epilogue, really) hastily threw all that intelligence out the window in favor of pandering to the maddening crowds. We already had the perfect ending to the game…
Yet, despite any late-game narrative or gameplay stumbles which may have marred an otherwise perfect experience, I still found Bioshock to be the multi-platform game of the generation for me because the whole definitely transcended the sum of it’s somewhat disparate parts.
The atmosphere of this game is one of a kind, without a doubt. Rapture is one of the most fully realized and absolutely bat-shit insane, downright frightening and gorgeous gaming worlds ever conceived. Splicers are also some of the most intensely disturbing enemies I’ve ever come across in all my days. The story, or more to the point, the dialog/monologues written for the audio diaries in the game stand as some of the most engaging and interesting writing I’ve come across in a video game. So all in all, even though it didn’t necessarily achieve everything as elegantly as Braid did, it still did so many things well and hit so many highs that I must admit; I enjoyed playing Bioshock a bit more than I enjoyed playing Braid.
Not to diminish Braid’s accomplishments in any way – Bioshock is just something that appeals to my appreciation for the darker, more disturbing horror-show-like aesthetic . It also happens to be the game which convinced me that the HD era of gaming was indeed capable of all it was touted to be.
The possibilities Bioshock presented with its’ fierce acuity of design coupled with its’ unabashed and unfettered developer vision convinced me that artists were indeed working within this medium and within the framework of what. in the film world, would amount to working within the studio system – this was a beautifully subversive big-budget nightmare which was gleefully going balls-out in terms of content when it didn’t need to in the least. For that alone, I have to say Bioshock was much more important to the industry than Braid was. Both are near-perfect games in my opinion and both helped to genuinely forward the argument that video games as a medium had the ability to stand up against literature and film as a valid art-form that could transcend the expected and agreed upon nature of a “game” altogether. They both took the knowledge of how people play games, what they expect from them and used those platforms to posit something new to the gaming world. They played a trick on people’s expectations and allowed us an opening to engage in serious dialogs about how the mechanics and expectations concerning why we play games with said mechanics and motivations matters – and what it all means in a larger context. They shattered the fourth wall and we all, collectively, were able to walk beyond the confines we’d been content to stay within for so long. Braid and Bioshock both proved to us that we were complacent without us even realizing it – they taught us something about the way we interact with the medium in and of itself and for that reason, I consider them the two best multi-platform games of the seventh generation.
Thanks for reading!
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