My road to the previous generation of hardware was a long one. For whatever reason I didn’t want an Xbox 360 at launch, probably because I’d had PlayStations since the launch of the original, but I couldn’t get a PS3 at launch as I was a teenager who was incapable of saving that kind of cash. It took what was probably around a year for me to get one and I pulled it off by trading my PS2, Gamecube, and all of my games to get enough in-store credit. It was December, it was cold, and I went into town on a bus with two consoles and all these games in a giant bag. If I lived in a city I would probably have been mugged.
I have had a lot of good times this generation with games that not only provided gameplay that had me hooked but storylines that made me react aloud with gasps, laughs, and hoorahs. I have listed games with specific moments in them below, but I must give honourable mentions to both Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots and the entire Assassin’s Creed franchise (except Assassin’s Creed III), both of which I had severe difficulty with bumping from my main list (except Assassin’s Creed III). Please also note that this list may contain spoilers for the games that it includes.
With my PS3 I got Heavenly Sword. I had seen those awesome trailers and lady with swords was relevant to my predictable teenage interests. I wasn’t certain what I expected other than something a bit like God of War but what I got was a storydriven epic fantasy starring Andy Serkis and Anna Torv. At the time the graphics blew me away despite me playing it on an SD TV and it blew me away all over again when I got an HD display that Christmas.
The game also served as a introduction to motion controls with Kai’s sequences and a refresher of how awesome Andy Serkis is thanks to his direction of Heavenly Sword’s motion capture. The scenes with characters (either Nariko or Bohan) talking to the camera were fantastically acted they served to absolutely nail everything I needed to keep going. The gameplay was repetitive, some mechanics were a bit frustrating, but I was hooked on the story: not necessarily due to an amazing plot but due to the performances through which it was presented. It’s fantastic.
Nevertheless, my favourite moment is entirely gameplay-driven and perhaps an early display of the PS3’s power. Towards the end of the game, you are on a wide open battlefield fighting a lot of enemies, enough to be impressive all on its own. You become a god shortly after (or something along those lines) and the entire area – big by any standards – was filled with enemies that you just tore through with your new found powers. Seeing that many enemies on screen at once was jaw-dropping, and the boss fight against a similarly super-powered King Bohan that followed, with each of you idly taking out soldiers in the crossfire, was something else entirely.
To this day, Heavenly Sword is one of my favourite gaming experiences. I might not be able to go back and enjoy it like I did then, but the fond memories won’t be leaving any time soon.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
That PS3 I got? It died after a month or so, just stopped reading discs – I believe it was in January. It was a launch 60GB with backwards compatibility and everything, the last one in the shop when I bought it for £350. So I took it on back to GAME to get it replaced with what had to be a 40GB, which was definitely a shame as I had been taking advantage of that backwards compatibility, because PS2 games were cheaper. However, the difference in price was around £50 so I was able to use that to get Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
MW (I’m not calling it COD) was the pinnacle of the Call of Duty franchise in my (and I imagine many others’) opinion. The multiplayer was revolutionary, its influence still rippling through the industry to this day, but the part I want to focus on was the single player. It’s magnificent: a well paced, fun and, crucially, well told story that lacked the ridiculousness of the franchise’s later attempts. To put it simply, it felt like the people making Modern Warfare still cared about single player.
If you’ve played through its campaign, you already know the moment I am about to describe. You go into a town to save some comrades against all good reason, get back to the helicopter and yes, you made it. But then the nuke goes off. You watch in awe from the back of the chopper as it knocks you out of the sky, most likely with your jaw on the floor. That character just died – that really was unexpected. The next level is called Aftermath. You wake in the husk of your helicopter and drag yourself out to see a wasteland with a mushroom cloud in the distance, buildings crumbling on the horizon. Burnt bodies everywhere, you limp around lamely until your character collapses and dies.
It was almost an anti-war message in a war game. I feel it gives the kind of contrast needed to the relentless shooting, something that shows the harsh realities of war, devastation on a wide scale, thousands of lives snuffed out just like that. It didn’t feel like a cheap way to generate controversy, it’s an important level that lends the game a real sense of maturity that the other games in the series and, indeed, much of the industry lacks.
Grand Theft Auto IV
I spent the months leading up to GTAIV’s release getting more and more hyped, much like everyone else on the gaming planet. I watched everything I could find about it, even the Youtube videos that went live a few days before from people who already had the game. I accompanied my stepdad to Gamestation on the eve of its release for a midnight launch even though I hadn’t pre-ordered it from Gamestation (my pre-order was at Game, which wasn’t opening). In the morning I walked into town at 6am to get my copy from Game, went to Mcdonalds and got a free sausage and egg mcmuffin with one of those Monopoly squares that I had specifically saved. I then proceeded to play for about five hours until I had to go into sixth form.
It was fantastic, I loved everything about it. The more realistic driving, the graphics, the aiming, the gritty storyline, the satire: it was all that I wanted from the game. I have seen people criticise it for its darker tone and look on in disbelief but I just loved every second. The stand out moment was being betrayed by Dimitri. He seemed like the reasonable one beforehand, but at least Little Jacob was there to back me up. I loved that guy. Of course, I spent most of my time in the game having shootouts in hospitals and driving through crowds (sometimes even accidentally), but when I think of the game the thing I remember most clearly was bloody Dimitri. What a git.
Another honourable mention goes to GTAV for improving on GTAIV in pretty much every way. It may simply be too fresh in my memory to take its predecessor’s place on this list, or perhaps GTAIV is old enough that I remember it more fondly than I should.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
I played the first Uncharted pretty soon after I got my PS3, but whilst it was a good looking, playable game with plenty of character, it failed to hit the notes that its sequel did so perfecty. While Uncharted managed to get the shooting right, and it was definitely a looker, it was Uncharted 2’s cinematicset pieces that really set it apart. Do you remember when it was first revealed with that footage of the building collapsing around you? That was astounding, and the game was full of other, similar explosive scenarios that really blew me away. Oh, and it all looked gorgeous as well.
This has strongly affected the gaming industry too. The kind of climbing and platforming seen in Uncharted has clearly influenced many other games since its release, and climbing things whilst they are exploding or collapsing has been reproduced time and time again. Not to mention that Nolan North has been the voice of about 70,000 different characters since Uncharted brought him so much attention, my favourites being Desmond in Assassin’s Creed and, somewhat unexpectedly, The Penguin in Batman Arkham City/Arkham Origins.
The best moment has to be the opening, where Drake wakes up in a chair on a train. A train that is hanging from the edge of a very snowy cliff. You then proceed to climb your way around this train as it falls apart and eventually tumbles off the cliff. It was an excellent start to one of the best games of the generation.
I debated long and hard about my fifth game in this article. Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood or IV, GTA V, Metal Gear Solid 4, Far Cry 3: there were a lot of titles in the running but in the end there was only really one choice. For around a year Minecraft took over my life. I put hundreds of hours into it spread across multiple worlds, servers, and computers. I wrote various articles on it, I hosted a server for TSAers to play around on and spent obscene amounts of time on it. Some of my fondest memories from any game ever are from my time spent on there and I was genuinely sad when I had to let it go.
That wasn’t all Minecraft was, however. Even outside of the game Minecraft started a craze. Lets plays were suddenly all over the place, even semi-scripted ones that were brilliant (Yogscast’s initial run of its Minecraft lets play is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on Youtube). Songs appeared everywhere (my favourites here and here), some parodies of existing songs, some original. Not too long after games began to change. Crafting systems are all over the place now, survival is a word I’ve encountered more and more often since MC was unleashed upon the world. Many games have been influenced by it ever since, it’s had a huge effect on the industry and it absolutely is my favourite game of all time.
The first time I played Minecraft is still my favourite. I had a very basic understanding of the game at the time and was just amusing myself by mining out a perfectly symmetrical series of tunnels until a large cave happened to coincide with one of my walls. After blocking it off, I explored it, encountering an underground waterfall, and despite the game’s block-y nature, it looked gorgeous. It had a lasting effect on how I look at games. I realised that it doesn’t really matter too much if the game is pixel-y or not, it’s gameplay that really makes the game. That’s what made me fall in love with Minecraft and when I see a block-y mountain range it’s beautiful, graphics and pixels be damned.
As I wave goodbye to the previous generation I look towards the next with caution as much as I do excitement. I transitioned from teenager to adult, from school to the real world, from living with my parents to living with my girlfriend, all alongside my trusty PS3 and its less-used step-brother, the 360. Now I’m a pseudo-adult and my experience of the coming generation is going to be different, not to mention that the kind of revolution Minecraft was doesn’t feel like something that is likely to be repeated, but I truly hope I am wrong. I’ve been playing games a lot since the original PlayStation but the previous generation is by far my favourite. Maybe it’s just because I was at the right age, the right mindset, or in the right company, but it was something special.
I think I actually preferred GTA4 to GTA5. The story was much much better, imo. Prefer NY to LA too.
Glad somebody included Heavenly Sword.
Don’t you worry mate, that feeling of witnessing and enjoying a revolution and not seeing its like again is a feeling that gamers will always feel.
I can remember playing Quake over LAN against my dad and his two best friends when i was 11 and being blown away by the fact that i was shooting at real people opposed to AI and thinking that games had hit their apex.
I remember playing Half Life and thinking that games couldnt tell a better story.
I remember playing System Shock 2 and thinking that never again will there be such an incredible marriage of story and setting.
One of the best things about being a gamer is how, despite being utterly convinced you’ve seen it all, they continue to astound and amaze.
Then….BAM, Super Hexagon….BAM Minecraft.
Genres that appear stagnant suddenly re-invent themselves, some mental person half way across the world will shove a gameplay mechanic somewhere it has no business being and blows people away.
Gaming at it’s heart is Creation, creation of virtual worlds and virtual people, creation of situations and emotions.
As long as people are creative, as long as people that make games continue to push at the boundaries in the way they’ve been pushing since i was given my Amiga in 199X then you and I and everyone else is going to experience that revolutionary moment again and again until we die or the sun explodes.
Here’s to that!