As we approach the dawn of a new generation of game consoles we take a look back at some games of the current generation.
It should be noted that this is not a list of the ‘best’ games, or the games we ‘liked quite a bit’. This is our view of some of the titles which moved gaming forward in some way. Some games perhaps had a lasting affect which changed many ways in which we looked at games, whilst others perhaps simply changed one small element. We will admit that in some cases the game might not have changed anything, but simply took advantage of features that the 360 brought to gaming, but did so first or in such a way that it grabbed the attention of the gamer and resulted in that games followed doing so following in their footsteps. So let’s kick off!
Gears of War – Gears of War, and it’s sequels (all of which can be considered together in this piece), was a show piece for the now ubiquitous Unreal Engine. A game engine, which is now used on games on many platforms, but which at it’s time was still becoming known to developers. The games were Xbox 360 exclusives, and were designed to show the consoles off. They did this. Despite the games essentially funnelling you down tight and narrow game areas, with each area being a small map, by having amazing vistas the game created a startling and dynamic game environment. The titles also introduced two and four player co-op, hardcore third person multi-player (remember when Gears was one of the main MP games) and the idea of the wave attack mode. The games were gory, and very adult and with their grunge look and feel it helped establish the Xbox as the ‘go to’ console for guns, guts and game chat (and abuse).
Shadow Complex – Shadow Complex was a 2D shooter come platformer. Again developed in the Unreal Engine, it was one of the first games to show that Xbox Live Arcade titles didn’t have to be simple time wasters. The game had a decent story, great controls and a play area which was, whilst generic, interesting. It was priced RIGHT, being more than a ‘app store’ style title, but significantly less than a triple A £50 boxed title. It showed everyone that the future of the ‘filler’ between big release titles was online, and until Sony caught up, the place to get those games were on XBLA.
Left For Dead – Surprisingly a lot of people have NOT played Left 4 Dead or it’s sequel. Shame on you! It’s a Zombie FPS title, and yes now ALL games are Zombie FPS titles – even FIFA. However way back then, whilst not NEW, not all games were Zombie titles. Very few were Zombie FPS games, (yes we had Dead Rising, and the Resident Evil titles but these were not FPS games), but even less were GOOD Zombie games with four player Co-Op built from the ground up into the main campaign.
The title was kinda episodic, in that each ‘level’, was a campaign, as if from a movie or TV show. This allowed Valve to release new campaigns as DLC, which worked really nicely. Another reason for Left Dead leaving it’s mark was that it was a game, which REALLY needed everyone playing to have headsets, something which on the 360 most people did, as you could use non Bluetooth ones, and because consoles often came with a really basic one. In addition the ability to have party chat across titles, just made talking, chatting (and sometimes abusing) people much easier on the 360, which is one reason why we never saw Left for Dead pop up on the PS3.
Elder Scrolls Oblivion – You must of heard of Skyrim, right? Well this is the first ‘next gen’ (well now curent gen) title of the series. Like Skyrim, it created a large massive world for you to explore, with exciting (and er, clunky) combat and hours and hours of missions and things to do! Welcome to the world of the never ending game. Whilst massive worlds ARE important, what this title is also known for is Horse Armour! Yes, as developers and publishers got their mind around downloadable content, this title decided to push the boundaries as to what you could sell and for how much. Since then, the idea of buying a gun, or a picture, or better armour isn’t so strange. We have free to play games which force you to do this! However, it was a bit controversial then, as people HAD already paid for the game and there was a suspicion that the DLC was already on the disc OR was at least ‘made’ at the point of release, so it could have been included on the disc or given away free.
The game introduced many things, but we remember it for the controversy over DLC, something other companies have fallen foul of since. Expect new issues similar to emerge with the NEW, next gen consoles coming out anytime now.
Halo 3 and the rest….. – Halo was Xbox’s Sonic/Mario and the game HAD to be a successful on the 360. Bungie still had control of the franchise and they really took the franchise to new levels. In many ways the franchise hasn’t made such an impact in terms of headlines this gen, due to the COD and laterly BF wars. Yet, ask a 360 owner which FPS franchise has given them a great, and meaningful single player alongside long lasting, strategic (and fair) multi-player and they will tell you it’s a Halo game. Halo IS Battlefield in some ways, in a sci-fi world. Ok, so there are no class systems, (well there kinda are now), but you can play as a sniper, close range, or other type of solider. You have tanks. You have jeeps. You have other weird and wonderful machines, including flying ones. The game packed a lot in and ALWAYS looked amazing.
Halo was the backbone of Xbox Live multi-player, and introduced the ability to capture and share footage, evolved in game co-op further and the wave attack modes which Gears of War had initially made famous. It’s still one of the few FPS games to rely on actual, half decent enemy AI, and not just wave after wave of enemies which only end when you move over an invisible line in the game map. A truly great game series, which seems to be getting better with age.
Geometry Wars – whilst Shadow Complex offered a meaty, campaign type experience, Geometry Wars offered the ‘fast fix’ type of game. Since then this type of game has become synonymous with XBLA, PSN and ‘app store’ type offerings, but Geometry Wars (similar to Super Stardust on PSN), was something which could only REALLY work on a proper console, with real physical controls. It looked great, sounded great and made use of Xbox Live by allowing online leaderboards and had a massive ‘one more try’ competitive streak to it. A top down twin shooter which some still play to this very day for that simple ‘fix’ of high tempo gaming they need between GTA5, COD or whatever else they do with their time.
Fifa – Fifa really came into it’s own with this generation. Of course it was already a huge gaming franchise, but PES was still leading the pack for many. It was with this generation of console that EA stepped up, rebuilt the game and devliered both an accesible, yet realistic feeling football simulator. The online connectivity offered by the 360 allows players to play against each other, trade players and once again even have online leaderboards for tricks and simple things such as taking free kicksand free shots during LOADING screens. Some people bough a 360 (or PS3) only to play Fifa! In fact the current gen versions of Fifa are so good that many wonder what, if any, difference the next gen consoles will make to the general experience.
Crackdown - Open world wasn’t NEW when the 360 launched, but it had never looked so good. Crackdown was important as it brought some ideas into the next gen (as it was then). Firstly, Microsoft packed a Halo 3 beta with the game. Buy Crackdown and qualify for the beta – simple. This is common currency today, but back then it was new, and for a game with no heritage, no background it created a reason to buy it. You were a cop taking on gangs. You could take them on in any order (it was possible to complete the game by taking on the gang leaders in any order you wanted to some degree), it had a great range of guns, some physics defying character attributes such as the ability to lift and throw cars and leap ENTIRE buildings! That last one was truly required if you needed to catch ALL the orbs.
Orbs were challenges left around the city for you to try to attain. To do so you needed to be able to leap high and far, but in doing so you levelled up your character (you were always levelling up your character by running, jumping etc). The Orbs were the Pokemon of that franchise, as you just HAD to collect them all. Nowadays games always have things to collect, name an Assassin’s Creed which doesn’t have extra things to collect, high, low and hidden for example. Maybe you can find examples of where it was done before, but it wasn’t until Crackdown that it became one of those things that are now in the DNA of how to design a modern open world game.
GTA4 - GTA4 brought HBO style drama and narration to the franchise and in doing so to gaming in general. Most games have over the top, cartoony, Tango and Cash levels of story and dialogue. Now this generation has brought a number of games which upped the entire quality of story front. Bioshock for example. Yet when it came to gangsters it was easy for simple Godfather rip off stories to become prevalent such as Mafia 2, (which to be honest has a great story, but is a Godfather tribute act) or EA’s long forgotten actual Godfather game (100% Godfather clone!).
GTA4 took GTA to the present day. In a world which had come out of the wars in the balkans, and the dawn of new waves of immigration reshaping the demographics in the ‘western world’, it took a refreshing, satirical look at how parts of this world might play out, whilst interacting with existing communities. Of course it takes a narrow look, only focusing on the criminal element, but then again the game IS called Grand THEFT Auto. Not, Happy Families in their Community Centre.
It also introduced open world online, and showed us how good an open world online experience could be. Well it should us how good it COULD be, but failed to deliver. Even before the launch of GTA5 there was not much of a community left playing it. The game also suffered from dodgy controls, especially the driving and shooting. It is amazing how much better GTA5 IS, but it was GTA4 which took gaming from the kids and made it relevant to the HBO, adult audience.
Read Dead Redemption- we have to follow GTA4 with Read Dead. It continued the Rockstar trend of building a game around a compelling story and narrative, rather than building a game and finding a story with which to justify it. Set in the wild west in the late 1800s, Red Dead stood out from the crowd in a world of gaming dominated by military shooters and sci-fi themes.
You really cared about the protagonist and his family. You sometimes had sympathy with the people your character interacted with along his journey too. The shooting was good (even though snapping to cover was messy), control of your horse was superb, as was the horse animation (we’ve never seen a better bottom in a game). It looked lovely, and despite the game having large amounts of desert, it always felt alive, with realistic wildlife and animals prowling, offering hunting opportunities and ongoing challenges.
In addition Read Dead took DLC to a new level. GTA4 had introduced the idea of new stories, which was great. Read Dead though took things further with a Halloween ‘special’ where the entire plot line and lay of the land was turned upside down. Rockstar knew the players could ‘cope’ especially if justified by the fact it was a Halloween special. We have seen copycats since try to release themed expansions based on events in the real world (Halloween continues to be popular with developers), but we saw it with Red Dead first.
Mass Effect -a Xbox exclusive, for the first one at least. A title which took story telling, but where the player felt they were in CONTROL of the story (or at least how there were going to interact with it). Set in a massive universe, well THE universe, and giving players the feeling that they are a cog in this large multi planetary world of alliances and politics.
The game also took the idea of a game hub (often seen in Mario games) to a new level, with the main spaceship acting as the hub ‘world’. Yet it never felt like a holding ‘hub’ inbetween levels but a real, living breathing base and if you suspended your disbelief your actual spaceship. It felt like YOUR starship Enterprise, in a way in which was far more believable than in any attempt created by an actual Star Trek game! The ‘functional’ hub is now something we see in other games, such as in the latest Splinter Cell game.
Batman Arkham Asylum – Now some people think this is the first great super hero game ever. Not so. Spiderman 2 on the previous old gen, was pretty good for it’s time. Ocean’s Batman on the Amiga was also good. However Batman Arkham Asylum took things to a whole new, never yet mentioned or even hinted at level of awesomeness!
The designers clearly loved the source material. They also clearly loved Metroid games. In addition they had read this entire article, as every good idea EVER to come in videogames was put into this Batman title. Collectables? Check – and different types too! Amazing, true to the material, and ‘believable’ story? Check.
In addition it had the most remarkable two button combat system. There has NEVER been such a great combat system. At first glance it looks like Assassin’s Creed when it comes to combat, but play it, and you realise that Batman allows you to perform ballet! Yes, friggen, ballet! The sequels have been strong too – perhaps simply offering more of the same, but when the same is sooooo good. That’s fine with us.
Batman changed two things, the quality and expectation we have of super hero games, and the ability to bring together so many elements of game design without shrimping or making any individual element seem cheap or there ‘just because’.
Minecraft – Mincraft was not a console revolution, but was a PC one. Yet when it came to console it sold and sold and sold. It showed how mature XBLA had become that enough owners of Xbox consoles knew about and used the digital side of the console, that a product like Minecraft, which was popular but niche, could gain true popularity with a mainstream, ‘all I play is Madden and COD’ owning console community. No wonder one of the key launch titles of the Xbox One is Mincreaft…
Bioshock – Bioshock, and it’s true spiritual sequel Bioshock Infinite, was the brain child of Ken Levine. It was another title where you were given the feeling that you could make real decisions, often ones which really fought with your innate sense of right and wrong. In addition it looked lovely with a stylish, art deco graphical style. Bioshock showed it was possible to do a FPS with a strong story, and open world feeling and was refreshing in a world of military style shooters.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – FPS games were not new. Neither were Call of Duty titles. Modern Warfare though did a number of key things. It took a shooter and merged it with a RPG, allowing people to level up and gain ‘experience’ through the mult-player experience.
It allowed you to see who killed you.
It was 60 frames a second, and looked really good!
The designers had look at movies such as The Rock, Blackhawk Down and any major military film and said, ‘we can do that, and we can do it better’. The concept of the Blockbuster videogame was born.
Modern Warfare and all the games which have followed are digital paintball sessions. Small maps, point and shoot mechanics – what we call ‘twitch’ gaming (spawning a whole streaming channel with the same name, predominantly showing people playing COD). They work, whether you play for fours straight, or just play one multi-player team deathmatch to kill sometime once in a while.
GTA5 – GTA5, similar to the Batman games, takes everything learnt in gaming since gaming began. Perhaps an over statement? Just play it. The controls, generally work. In fact they work SO well, that when they don’t work just a little you really notice it. Tried the latest Splinter Cell? That’s a great game, but GTA5 controls better as a stealth and cover shooter, and it’s doing a million other things at the same time which Splinter Cell isn’t.
The story is deep, yet full of satire. It’s multi-character, which is something new. Mass Effect, Gears, Halo Reach helped to introduce the idea of a strong ensemble cast, but GTA5 allows you to switch between the cast members and bring them together on key moments.
The game LOOKS amazing. On current gen consoles.
Not only that but the online looks like it will evolve and grow. It has had an awful launch, and one worries that this is what people will remember it for. Yet, people are busy playing it every night. It takes from Red Dead to create a massive open world ‘hub’ with the ability to do what you want, but where you can then lock and load and go into a set piece multi-player mission.
GTA5 will surely be game of the year for many websites, and for some is surely game of the generation.
Roundup - so we are SURE, we have left games out. We will also be doing a PS3 list, with some overlap. However we like to think that these titles at least point out a few of the massive changes we, as gamers, have gone through over the last 6-7 years since the current consoles hit the streets.
Name some titles at the bottom where you think we forgotten some major moments in gaming from the Xbox 360 years!