So here we are, the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are finally upon us. Our current gen consoles are well into their twilight years, but what a gen its been. We’ve seen some truly classic games over the past eight years and it seems now would be a good time to give them the praise and recognition they deserve as a salute to the hours of entertainment they brought us. Without further ado here are just a few of the best games this gen..

2006

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
In March 2006 the 360 and PS3 were still very much in their early days. Sure, they had some titles out by this point but few games were doing much to utilise the potential of the new consoles. It was no secret that Oblivion would push and explore the boundaries of what could be done on the new gen. It’s predecessor, Morrowind boasted massive scope, rich graphics and a huge open world to explore, and that was all running on the original Xbox. With all the new technology at their disposal, surely developers, Bethesda, could create a fantastic new world bigger and better than anything we’ve seen before.

Oblivion gave players the chance to create their own character and freely explore the totally open fantasy world of Cyrodiil. Your role was completely open for you to choose, whether you wanted to be a sword wielding knight or a powerful mage. The world was rife with quests and characters for you to complete and interact with as well as a complete mythos you could learn about through books and NPC’s. The player could also join various guilds located throughout the world. Each guild catered towards different play styles like the Fighters Guild which was a must for melee based characters or the Thieves Guild for stealthier, less scrupulous players. There was also the Mages Guild which specialised in magic, the Dark Brotherhood which was for evil characters looking to earn coin through assassination contracts and the Arena, which allowed players to shower themselves in honour and glory by defeating fearsome creatures and warriors in a Coliseum-esque arena. I’ve only listed a few of the attractions to be found in Oblivion but trust me when I tell you this is a game with hundreds of hours of content.     

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Upon release Oblivion was a huge success and received universal acclaim from critics for its beautiful graphics, huge open world and schedule driven NPC’s. A year later Oblivion had sold 1.7 million copies and became the standard following Role Playing Games (RPG’s) were judged by. The audio was also highly praised by critics and gamers alike. The music was composed by BAFTA winner Jeremy Soule who went on to be awarded Soundtrack of the Year by Official Xbox Magazine for the soundtrack of Oblivion.  The voice acting also won numerous awards and included such stars as Sean Bean and Sir Patrick Stewart. The game was also credited in helping RPG’s become more mainstream due to it’s acclaim attracting the attention of gamers who weren’t usually interested in the genre.

After releasing numerous expansion packs including Knights of the Nine (no one mention Horse Armour!) Bethesda once again excelled itself by creating the well received Shivering Isles expansion pack which gave players the chance to explore a whole new realm and interact with the hilarious but unhinged Daedric Prince of Madness, Sheogorath.

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Oblivion went on to be awarded Game of the Year awards from the G-Phoria Video Game Awards, Spike TV Video Game Awards and 24th annual Golden Joystick Awards. It was also named Best Role Playing Game of 2006 by the likes of IGN, Gamespot, 1UP.com and G4.

Gears Of War
It may seem hard to imagine now but, once upon a time, shooters weren’t nearly as popular as they are today. Sure, they had their place in video games but they didn’t dominate the market like they do now. When you think of current gen shooters you probably think of Halo 3 or Call Of Duty Modern Warfare but, the success of Epic’s Gears Of War is arguably what gave rise to the shooter craze we are currently in. 

Despite depicting the story of a war torn world where humans are on the brink of extinction due to fighting a losing war with the fearsome horde of aliens known as the “Locust”, the game makes great use of a feature known as “Destroyed Beauty” which invokes a sense of melancholy that immersed gamers into the struggle of Delta Squad. That said, Gears is still packed full of blood, violence and mature language that certainly doesn’t pull any punches when depicting the horrors of war.

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Despite being a Sci-Fi shooter Gears stays in the realms of realism. The developers took inspiration from the Vietnam war and World War 2 so, rather than firing lasers and piloting spaceships, you’ll be in intense fire fights as bullets ricochet off your cover. The war machines you use aren’t sleek or futuristic in design but are bulky, realistic and clearly designed for war. Your squad isn’t a team of brave, handsome men who can’t possible die, they’re big, brutal men who have never experienced peace. Although at first they may seem absurdly masculine, over the course of the game you will find yourself genuinely hoping they stay alive. This is also greatly helped by the fact they are great AI and will come to your rescue when you get downed by an enemy.

It would be fair to say that Gears of War was pretty light when it came to the story but in terms of gameplay it was sublime. I think what makes the campaign so memorable is the fact it never feels like a soulless corridor shooter. Every act of the campaign is note worthy whether you’re exploring an abandoned mining facility, fighting your way to the front of a moving train or, perhaps most memorably, having to navigate your way from light source to light source before the dread piranha like Krill strip your flesh from your bones.  

gears-of-war-3-carmine-03 Gears won critical acclaim with it’s stunning graphics, excellent voice acting and addictive multiplayer. Oh, and you can also cut people in half with the chainsaw attached to your rifle. Gears went on to become one of the most successful franchises on the 360 with tie in books, action figures, and even a movie in the works. In one generation of consoles, Gears Of War has come to rival Halo as the best Sci-Fi shooter. It’s sequels, Gears Of War 2 and Gears of War 3 went on to be huge hits along with the recent prequel game Gears Of War: Judgement. However, it was Gears Of War that started the ball rolling. Delta Squad, we salute you!

2007

Bioshock
In August 2007, Irrational Games (at the time, named 2K Boston) released one of the most atmospheric and morally driven games to date. Inspired by authors such as Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) and George Orwell (1984), Bioshock tells the tale of Rapture, an underwater city who’s inhabitants have turned on one another. Turning what was meant to be a paradise, into an oceanic hell. The protagonist, Jack, chances upon Rapture after surviving a plane crash in the middle of the ocean. From there he has no choice but to explore the fallen city and uncover its dark secrets, all the while being careful not to arouse the ire of the colossal Big Daddies, who haunt the empty corridors of the underwater hell.

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What’s so compelling about Bioshock is the level of immersion. Casual players will enjoy the obvious secrets and history of Rapture but more dedicated players will be rewarded with a complete picture as to what went wrong, who the Big Daddies are and why they guard the Little Sisters with their life. The main plot is also excellent and there’s a great twist at the end which you’ll never see coming but afterwards you’ll realise the clues were there all along.

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Gameplay is tight and players can use a combination of weapons and elemental abilities in the form of Plasmids, which allow Jack to unleash devastating superhuman abilities upon his foes. That’s not to say you’re over powered by any means. In Bioshock there’s always the feeling of a dog eat dog world and being chased by a Big Daddy is always incredibly tense.

Bioshock was a great new title that has since spawned numerous action figures, books and rumours of a film. The latest title in the franchise Bioshock: Infinite is another fantastic game equally worthy of this list.

Halo 3
Halo 3 was one of the most anticipated games on the Xbox 360 and arguably one of the most anticipated game ever released. Not only was it (at the time) the final chapter to one of the best First Person Shooters ever made but, Microsoft sank over $40 million dollars into it’s advertising campaign. In it’s first week it grossed over $300 million dollars and over a million people played Halo 3 on Xbox Live within the first 20 hours. To date, Halo 3 has sold over 11.5 million copies, making it the fifth best selling Xbox 360 game of all time, the best selling game in the Halo franchise and the best selling Xbox 360 exclusive title. It’s a good job then, that the game was able to live up to all that hype.

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Halo 3 concluded the story of the Spartan super soldier, and badass, Master Chief, also known as John 117. Halo 1 and 2 saw John aiding humanity in a war against an alien race known as the Covenant. As if that’s not bad enough there’s a parasitic alien known as The Flood which intends to infect all sentient life. Feeling a bit daunted by all of that? Well, why not call on up to three friends to help you blast your way through the campaign either online or locally? Yes you can seriously do that and it’s awesome. But, what about new comers to the Halo franchise who hadn’t played the first two Halo’s on the original Xbox? Well fear not, for those who don’t care so much for the story there’s also first class gameplay, fantastic multiplayer modes and a great feature called Forge which allows you to create your own maps and share them with the online community. 

Although the main campaign of Halo 3 will certainly keep you busy for a while (especially on Legendary difficulty) the multiplayer is definitely where it’s at. As I said earlier, players can create their own maps and share them with the online community. This has led to some incredibly creative and fun maps that are on par with the ones made by the developers themselves. You can also customise your Spartan warrior with new armour, colours and clan badges that unlock as you level up. 

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It’s not just the game you’re getting when you buy a Halo game whether it be Halo 3 or one of the sequels/prequels/spin offs. Developers Bungie, and now 343 Industries, really care about the Halo community and cater for them as best they can. Not only do they make an effort to interact with their fans and heed their complaints, they’ve also been known to make DLC free after a certain period of time. How many developers can boast that? We’re not just talking superfluous DLC either.  Entire Halo 3 Map Packs such as Cold Storage and Heroic were, and still are, entirely free. Now that’s how you get happy customers.

Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Nowadays every gamer, whether hardcore or casual, has heard of Call Of Duty, or COD as it’s often abbreviated to. As one of the best selling game franchises in the world, there have been over eight Call of Duty games released on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Despite the number of units it shifts many serious gamers now see the Call Of Duty franchise as a stain on the gaming landscape. Though I’ve no particular problem with the series, and in fact have some fond memories of playing the early ones online, I can’t help but see that not much has changed since Modern Warfare and the series desperately needs to be refreshed lest it become obsolete.

However, there was a time when Call Of Duty wasn’t the biggest fish in the gaming sea. In fact at one time it was competing desperately with First Person Shooter rivals such as Medal Of Honour and Rainbow Six. All this changed with the release of Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Before Modern Warfare, the vast majority of realistic shooters were set during the Second World War. Developers know they’re not going to cause much controversy by having the player kill Nazi’s. A game could ask you to kill a Nazi in front of his children in the slowest possible way and no one would care because we all imagine every single member of the Nazi party to have been evil fascists every bit as despicable as Hitler, who were all born evil and never did a good thing in their evil Nazi lives. No one will ever have a problem killing Nazi’s in video games, not even Germans who have every reason to hate the Nazi’s as much as we do. Making the antagonists Nazi’s pretty much grantees the game will sell world wide and you can have the player kill them in every way imaginable without any controversy. Consider this; Every single Call Of Duty up until Modern Warfare was set during World War 2.

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Developers, Infinity Ward were taking a chance when they scrapped the WW2 setting and decided to make a game set in modern times where the antagonists where a Russian ultranationalist named Zakhaev and Khaled Al-Asad, the commander of the revolutionary forces in the Middle East. Releasing a game where your enemy consists of Middle Eastern terrorists was a pretty ballsy move to make in a post 9/11 world. It was even more ballsy when you realise that most of the game centres around a squad of British SAS and the American campaign is abruptly ended after thousands of US troops are killed within about three seconds. I won’t spoil it for you but it’s probably one of the most jaw dropping moments in video game history. If Infinity Ward screwed this up they would not only soil the Call Of Duty name, they’d also be losing out to their competitors and to top it all off would no doubt get caught in a storm of controversy. It’s a good job then that they ended up making one of the finest multiplayer games to date as well as a fantastic solo campaign filled with intense set pieces, memorable characters and dialogue people still enjoy quoting today….”fifty thousand people used to live here…“.

The solo campaign of Modern Warfare, unlike many shooters before or since was actually very memorable and great fun to play though. For the most part you play as British SAS member John “Soap” MacTavish as his squad, led by the badass Captain Price, try to track down Al-Asad and avoid an all out nuclear war. Levels range from infiltrating a large cargo ship, fighting through a war torn Middle-Eastern town and the awesome stealth based level, Ghillies In The Mist. Once you’re done in the single player, you can hop online and battle it out with your friends as you earn XP and unlock new weapons and equipment to take on your online rivals. The online for Modern Warfare was really amongst the best ever made and upon its release it was pretty much all any gamer played.   

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Although its reputation may have suffered since, Modern Warfare is a modern classic that proves what greatness the series has in it. Some may say the future of COD isn’t so bright anymore, but there was a time when no one could imagine anything taking its place. So next time you’re playing a FPS, spare a thought for Cpt Price, Soap, Gaz and Griggs, and all the good times you had with them.

Mass Effect
These days RPG fans are used to having a nice big map to explore and play around in. Creating an RPG set in some medieval land is one thing, but creating a an RPG set in space is really quite ambitious because, as you may be aware, space is rather large. Undaunted by this, the veteran RPG creators BioWare announced in 2007 they would be releasing the first game of a brand new franchise, Mass Effect. Before Mass Effect BioWare were known for creating such hits like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Baldur’s Gate. Not many (good) space centred RPG’s had been made before so it didn’t take much for BioWare to get our attention.

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Upon release, Mass Effect received universal praise from reviewers across the world. Game Informer called it “the next big franchise for science fiction junkies to latch onto… a huge step forward for video games,” whilst IGN said it was “a new high mark for storytelling in games,”. Mass Effect offered an explorable and mature space RPG for gamers to explore and interact with.

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A great feature was the level of RPG immersion available to the player. Not only could you pick your class, whether that be a tough Soldier or crafty Infiltrator, you could also choose what kind of background your character came from. These decisions would have real effects on the dialogue and attitudes NPC’s had towards your character. It wasn’t just the gameplay BioWare had focused on. They had also created a totally unique universe to explore, full of different races, myths and spaceships. You could spend hours reading up on the culture and biology of just one type of an alien race. BioWare should be applauded in succeeding in creating an entire universe that feels as though it’s alive.

We can only imagine how awesome new Mass Effect games are going to be on the next gen consoles…

 

2008

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
If Halo 3 was one of the most anticipated games of the Xbox 360 then Metal Gear Solid 4 was certainly one of the most anticipated games on the Playstation 3. The Metal Gear franchise first became popular in 1998 after the hugely successful Metal Gear Solid on the Playstation. By 2008, after more hits like Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3, the franchise was a household name that stood alongside other video game giants like Grand Theft Auto, Zelda and Mario. The announcement that MGS4 would be a PS3 exclusive was reason enough for some gamers to buy a PS3. Beloved protagonist Solid Snake hadn’t been a playable protagonist since 1998′s Metal Gear Solid and players were itching to be in control of him once again to conclude what was to be his last chapter.

To say this game was hyped would be an understatement. There was huge pressure on developers Konami and creator Hideo Kojima to deliver a game that lived up to past games, and boy did they deliver. Upon release MGS4 received overwhelming critical acclaim from both reviewers and fans alike. It gained perfect scores from the likes of Playstation Official Magazine, Game Informer, Game Pro, Famitsu, X-play, GamesSpot and IGN. The game sold over a million units on it’s first day and dramatically boosted the sales of the PS3 itself, which at the time sold around ten thousand consoles a week but went on to sell over seventy seven thousand during MGS4′s release week.

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Solid Snake was a huge video game icon who deserved a proper send off, and boy did he get one. Players were treated to the stealth action they loved but were also given a fantastic and emotional story filled with larger than life characters as well as awesome environments to sneak around. The graphics too were the best ever seen at the time and they are still better than many games coming out today in 2013.

Many fantastic new features were added including Snake’s Octocamo suit which would change its camouflage pattern and colour in real time depending on what sort of surface you’re on. The guns are fully customisable to fit your play style. Like to go in guns blazing? Why not add a grenade launcher and grip to your rifle? Prefer to be a stealthy Steve? Then why not add a silencer and scope to help you eliminate enemies quietly from afar? The gameplay possibilities are almost endless and once you’ve completed the game there’s still loads of weapons and items to unlock. This and the added Trophy patch in 2009 gives MGS4 a lot of replay value. Even if you see and do everything you’ll still find yourself coming back to the game if only for it’s fantastic story. Oh, and believe it or not, Raiden’s a badass now.

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Not only was MGS4 a fantastic game but it also showed gamers the potential of these new consoles. MGS4 truly marked the end of the PS2 and Xbox era and ushered in the era in a blaze of glory. Hideo Kojima, Solid Snake….I salute you!

Fallout 3
Fallout 3 developers, Bethesda were already in our good books when they announced Fallout 3. After all, they were the team behind The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion which received great acclaim back in 2006. Being set in a post apocalyptic wasteland, Fallout 3 is an RPG that allows players to explore an open map and interact with other survivors.

Fallout 3′s gameplay was top notch and Bethesda lets you decide how you want to play. Will you be a stone cold killer who will do anything to survive, or are you a saint amongst sinners who brings justice to a lawless land? Or perhaps you’re somewhere in between? Dialogue options allow the player to respond in a variety of different ways and missions can often have multiple endings depending on the choices you make. The choices aren’t superficial either, take for instance the town of Megaton that was built around an old nuclear bomb. You can wipe this large town off the map if you’re so inclined or you can disarm the bomb and render it harmless if you’re the moral kind. The choice is up to you and that kind of deep choice system is what sets Fallout 3 apart from the many other shallower RPG’s out there.

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Fallout 3 also introduced the VATS combat system which allows the player to stop time during combat and pinpoint a specific part of the enemy to cause damage to. It’s hard to explain just how satisfying it is to head shot a charging bandit at close range with a shotgun but trust me, it never gets old. Levelling up is also mightily satisfying as you get to pick a perk every time you do so. It makes levelling up really rewarding when you get to choose from new abilities like unlocking every location on the map or finding more loot in lockers and containers.

Like Oblivion, Fallout 3 also features some top notch voice acting. The NPC’s in general are good but the game also includes characters voiced by the likes of Ron Pearlman and Malcolm McDowell, oh and of course Liam Neeson voices your characters dad. The game also features various radio stations the player can tune in to including the Galaxy News Radio which is hosted by the infinitely cool Three Dog who comments on the players actions as he progresses through the game and plays 1940′s American hits.

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Fallout 3 gained rave reviews from fans and critics alike. Due to it’s massive content and re-playability, there are many gamers who have put hundreds of hours into this game and still do five years later. For that it more than earns its spot on this list.

LittleBigPlanet
Many of the games on this list are serious, gritty and violent. Whatever happened to gaming’s innocence? Perhaps on the Nintendo you can still have child friendly times with Mario and Sonic but it seemed that on the 360 and PS3 the best games were also the most adult ones. That may have been the case until a charming title called LittleBigPlanet was released…

LittleBigPlanet is a platforming game where the player takes control of the charming (and now iconic) character known as Sackboy as he leaps, swings and clambers his way across a variety of unique and challenging levels. Along the way you collect stickers with which you can customise your Sackboy and change his Pod (the place he hangs out in between levels).

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Gameplay is obviously a homage to classic 2D platformers like Mario and Sonic but adds the twist of having “depth”. There’s a foreground, middle ground and background which the player can switch between to tackle different obstacles. With over fifty different levels in the  story mode it would have been easy for the game to get repetitive but this just isn’t the case. There are several different locations and each one has it’s own levels that are inspired by different cultures from around the world such as the jungles of Africa to the streets of New York. Each level is packed full of interactive puzzles and collectables as you make your way to the finish line. The levels don’t just go from one side of the screen to the other. You’ll find yourself going up, down, left and right as you explore each area. A good way of describing it is like a giant, colourful assault course.

The graphics are cartoony but beautiful and the game features some great music that plays and is specific to each area. For instance, in the Africa inspired level your ears will be treated to some catchy African drumming as you navigate your little Sackboy along. The game is also narrated by Stephen Fry who has one of the best voices ever and adds infinite charm to an already charming game. Although LittleBigPlanet will certainly appeal to kids, it’s still easy to enjoy as an adult. Like the LEGO games, LittleBigPlanet’s charm and humour can make even the most jaded gamers crack a smile and whilst there’s no real penalty for dying, the levels still require some skill and can be really quite challenging. 

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All this on it’s own would be enough to earn LittleBigPlanet a page in the gaming history books but that’s not all. Players are free to create their own levels in an easy to use level editor and then upload them for other players to try out. Since its release over five million user created levels have been uploaded. That’s a lot of replay value right there.  

 2009

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The first Uncharted game was a very good but not especially ground breaking game from developers Naughty Dog. It was a huge surprise to everyone when Naughty Dog released the fantastic Uncharted 2 and turned the Uncharted series into a household name.

I want to stress that the first Uncharted was by no means a bad game. It got good reviews, looked great and was definitely a new franchise that had potential. You just have to understand that no one predicted how fantastic Uncharted 2 was going to be. From graphics, to story, to gameplay, Uncharted 2 was superior in every single way not just to its predecessor but also to many of the other big games that were out at the time. It’s the gaming equivalent of The Beatles following Revolver with Sgt. Pepper.

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Uncharted 2 has you playing once again as Nathan Drake, the worlds most destructive treasure hunter, as you globe trot in search of ancient treasures. Along the way you’ll fight atop a speeding train, sneak into a museum and explore ancient and treacherous mountaintop temples in Tibet. The gameplay is flawless and the only time the game lets up is during as beautiful section where, after receiving serious injuries, you control Drake as he explores an idyllic Tibetan village while he recovers.

Even after you beat the story line there’s still plenty to come back to as you can earn cash by completing challenges which can then be used to unlock extras such as concept art, different character skins and even cheats for you to mess around with.

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If Naughty Dog had stopped here Uncharted 2 would still be a fantastic game but no, they went above and beyond the call of duty. Uncharted 2 also features a fully fleshed out multiplayer experience which includes classic game modes such as Team Death match and King of the Hill as well as a cooperative mode where players work together to complete goals and team based objectives. As players level up they can unlock new skins, weapons and even perks to customise their online character. The maps themselves are also well designed and include lots of verticality which allows players to outflank one another and makes a nice change from many of the corridor shooters we see these days.

Uncharted 2 propelled the series into one of the biggest franchises around and has established Naughty Dog to be one of the best developers around. If you own a Playstation 3 then grab your compass and pack your bags, this is one adventure well worth embarking upon.

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