10 pivotal videogames of the last generation

Feature Aaron Birch 1/23/2014 at 8:51AM

With the next wave of consoles now in the wild, we look at the most important games of the last generation of videogaming...

Now that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are adorning living rooms around the world, and PCs are more powerful than ever, the gaming industry is spending a lot of time looking forward, speculating about the kind of titles we can expect to see from the new platforms. The eighth generation of consoles promises to be pretty special, even if the step up in power isn't quite as noticeable as previous generational leaps have been. Both units, regardless of your particular stance or fandom allegiance, are powerful and will doubt offer some great games, many of which will redefine genres and what we expect and demand from games in future. They'll change the gaming world once again, just as their predecessors did, by bringing games that are to be considered milestones in digital entertainment.

With this in mind, we'd like to linger in the seventh generation for a little longer, and we're going to round up some of the most pivotal titles released for the last generation. Now, please note, this doesn't mean these titles are necessarily the best games, and other, excellent releases won't be on this list. Instead, these are titles that have had a profound impact on gaming and gaming culture. They're titles that have pushed the boundaries of what's possible, have done things differently, even reshaping a genre, and have altered our perception of things to come. Basically, these games are, for better or worse, hugely important, and without them, the industry, and gaming would be very different. So, let's get to it.

Mass Effect

The Mass Effect trilogy is not only one of the most critically acclaimed RPGs of the generation, but it's also one of the best examples of videogame storytelling. The series has it all – great characters, a fleshed out world packed full of lore, great cover-based shooting, open missions and moral choices. It looks fantastic, sounds brilliant and it's so absorbing you can't help but lose tens of hours to its epic space opera story.

Whatever you thought of the ending, there's simply no denying that BioWare pulled out all the stops with Mass Effect, telling a user-driven story like none before it. It had a world that could even rival sci-fi giants like Star Wars and Star Trek, and the attachment you felt to the game's myriad of characters, not just your own avatar, Commander Shepard, was superbly strong. You cared about these people, either loving, or hating them, and as you helped shape their destinies, it made things all the more important and meaningful.

Many developers have lifted gameplay elements directly out of Mass Effect, such as the cover shooter/RPG hybrid play, and the branching dialogue system, but Mass Effect does it all better. And, even if you dismiss the game's achievements on its own merits, can you remember a game so emotionally-driven and loved that the outcome sparked such a massive backlash, only to be expanded on by the developer due to user feedback? No, probably not.

Whether this fan-driven change was a good thing or not, it speaks volumes about just how attached to their characters and the world players became, so much so they marched on BioWare and demanded satisfaction. That's a story with impact.

Demon's/Dark Souls

Starting out as a relatively unknown and niche title, Demon's Souls arrived on the PS3 to little fanfare initially. However, when critics and gamers got hold of it, From Software's challenging action RPG became a huge hit, garnering praise for its unforgiving, yet fair difficulty and refreshing, heavily skill-based combat. With Demon's Souls, you either became good at the combat, mastering the mixture of attacks, blocks and parries, or you died, a lot. Even if you picked up the skills to wield your chosen weapons with masterful grace, working out your many foes weaknesses was another story, especially the brutal bosses, which could take days, if not weeks to best.

Modern games have often been criticised for their lack of challenge, blessed as they often are with autosaves, plentiful checkpoints and a kind of hand holding you'd usually only see in a kindergarten class, but Demon's Souls, and its spiritual successor, Dark Souls, challenged this. Even the instructions for the game were sparse, leaving the majority of the game's deeper features to be discovered and worked out by the player.

Coupled with this challenge was an online mode that we'd never seen the likes of before. Rather than a simple lobby where players meet up before heading out on a dungeon crawl, others could either help or hinder their fellow players dynamically. Invaders could enter another's game in order to hunt them down and kill them, and more charitable folk could offer their services to help defeat tough bosses or even defeat other, invading players. You could leave messages behind for others to read, and if you died (which happened a lot, did we mention that?) the game recorded your last few seconds for others to see, in order to help them avoid the same, grizzly fate.

Few games have offered a challenge so steep and still retained a fair and beautifully enjoyable experience, and one of the best aspect of both Demon's and Dark Souls is this balance. You may be smashed, burned, crushed, drowned, run-through or ripped into a million pieces, but if you are, the fault is always yours, and you know you can do better next time, and the time after that.

Will more games, aside from Dark Souls II, carry on this tradition? Who knows? It's clear, though, that there's a market for games that don't treat players like beginners, and a hankering for more challenge has been demonstrated by the series' success thus far.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Although the series may have overstayed its welcome many times over in the opinion of some, with the later outings receiving lower and lower overall scores, it's simply impossible to argue with the impact the Call of Duty series, from Modern Warfare onwards, has had on the gaming industry. The individual influences are too numerous to go into here, but we'll cover the most important.

The FPS wasn't exactly struggling at the time, having been one of the most popular genres for several years, but CoD launched it even further into the record books, and it created an online multiplayer experience that would reshape the entire online FPS landscape, spawning countless clones that would shamelessly steal features and design time and time again. It also crafted the now common, modern FPS control scheme aped by so many other titles.

Single player may have become a constant stream of over the top set pieces, but the first Modern Warfare succeeded in creating characters we liked and wanted to protect, something of a rarity in the genre, and that fateful mission couldn't be seen without an outpouring of emotion. As with multiplayer, CoD's single-player has influenced many clones and the FPS genre as a whole, such is its appeal and class.

Even if you simply can't bring yourself to agree with CoD's good qualities when it comes to the game, the amount of sales the series generates is so high that a year without a CoD title (which is hardly likely to happen any time soon) would probably cause an industry crash.

Braid

Arguably one the most important indie titles ever released, Braid is one of the biggest reasons for the upsurge in indie successes (apart from the next entry), and even though the game itself offered some brilliant, mind-bending time puzzles and charming visuals, it's the impact on the indie market that gives it a place in this list.

Although there were great indie titles before and after Braid, a lot of people didn't take notice until Jonathan Blow's title arrived, and it set the scene perfectly for the sudden rush of independently developed titles like Super Meat Boy, Bastion and Fez. It was also one of the first indies to make it big via a commercial gateway.

Now that the indie market has grown so large, with console manufacturers including it as a major focus of current platforms, not to mention allowing the scene to grow to such proportions on the previous generation, it's easy to see why Braid is such a pivotal title, and one that's opened up doors and possibilities for both developers and gamers.

Minecraft

There's simply no way this list would even approach any form of completion without Mojang's masterpiece. Minecraft is the ultimate indie, originating on the PC and making the jump to consoles, where it continued to spread the block-building phenomenon, this is a juggernaut of a title that cannot be stopped.

Braid may take the nod for growing console indies and the indie market as a whole, but Minecraft transcends its indie origins, and even dwarves most commercial titles. It's redefined not just the indie market, but the entire gaming world, and even parts of popular culture. Its iconic, and no sandbox game is as flexible, open or as community-focused.

It's also a game that truly has something for everyone. If you're a traditional gamer, there's the quest to reach The End and take on the Ender Dragon. If you're new to games, it can present as much challenge as you like, and if you're a creative-type, you can use the game's creation mode to let your imagination run riot. It shines in multiplayer, but is also terrific as a solo game, and Mojang has kept the game interesting with regular updates and new features.

It's a true example of the perfect balance of simple and well-executed ideas, and could arguably be said to be one of the few games that approaches perfection.

Wii Sports

Motion control is now a solid part of the big three consoles, regardless of how each manages to implement it, and it was kickstarted by Nintendo and the original Wii (after all, the Wii U is Nintendo's 'next gen' console, making the Wii last gen). The first game most people played on the console, and the one that gave them the first taste of motion control was Wii Sports.

It may have been light on actual, real gameplay, but as a console seller and a trend setter, few games can touch it for impact. It spawned many clones, it made motion control viable, and it allowed anyone, even your Grandma, to play games together.

The appeal of motion controls may have worn off for many (just look at the Wii U's sales and people's disliking of the Xbox One's integrated Kinect for easy examples), but they still changed the market, and the technology has evolved and shows no sign of going away any time soon.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

Not all games are pivotal for good reasons, and Bethesda's Oblivion is one example. Although it's undeniably one of the best RPGs of the generation, perhaps even all-time, it's not the actual game that gets it a place in this list. Instead, its the title's inclusion of DLC that brings it here.

The first DLC, the infamous horse armour, quickly became a running joke, but despite the ridiculous nature of the content, it succeeded in making post purchase content a thing, and a very big thing at that.

It may not have started the DLC trend as such, but it was very high profile, and many would agree it was a key title in making the practise so prevalent. When you look at just how saturated the gaming market is with DLC-enabled titles now, including games some would argue are released in an unfinished state just to facilitate DLC, Oblivion has a lot to answer for, including different coloured costume DLC.

Would DLC have become so successful without horse armour? Probably, but it may have taken a lot longer to sink into gaming's collective consciousness, and paying for a red bikini instead of a blue one may not have happened so readily.

League Of Legends

As an actual game, as good as it is, League of Legends isn't the most original title in the world, with battle arena titles like DotA doing it first, but it's on this list instead for its mammoth impact on eSports. The professional gaming scene has been around for a long time, but LoL came along and began tournaments that handed out hundreds of thousands, and even millions of dollars. This is lucrative and highly skilled stuff, and in South Korea it's a truly massive sport, complete with screaming fans.

LoL players are so high-profile now, and the sport so big, that players are even recognised as pro-athletes in the US, with special considerations for visa applications, making them easier to get in order to get to tournaments, and lasting years.

The Last Of Us

This is the most recent game on the list, just making it in time, but there's no debating its inclusion, even if the core gameplay is often a little overrated.

The Last of Us plays very much like a survival horror version of Uncharted, and although it's excellent, the game itself provides little original content over Uncharted, save for a more in-depth stealth element.

What The Last of Us does provide, though, is story, and a bloody good one at that. Much has been made of the game's emotional tie to players, and Joel and Ellie's journey is one of the most harrowing and touching we've ever seen, even if the pair take a little too easily to killing all and sundry to survive.

You could argue that the amount of violence the two indulge in as the game progresses robs them of their likeable qualities, but it could also simply be a case of life being so harsh, that this alone is a poignant side-effect of the desolate future, forcing even little girls into horrible, violent acts. As such, it makes the experience even more harrowing, as well as presenting the challenge a game needs in order to stay entertaining.

Whatever your opinion of the violence, and the game's rather odd approach to the ending, for the most part Joel and Ellie were two of the most likeable and relatable characters the medium has ever seen, and this alone is enough to earn the game a place here. This kind of player-character attachment has been tried before, but The Last of Us nailed it, and it'll surely be a story-telling element that'll make waves for future releases.

Journey

Rather than igniting the market or galvanising the digital marketplace, Journey does something else: it advances the argument of games as art.

Now, this is something that most gamers will happily already agree with, but there are plenty of critics who would disagree. Journey argues strongly for gaming's artistic merits, being a visually stunning, emotionally-charged masterpiece that could have well sown the seeds for many future games. It's simple elegance and almost hypnotic play border on intoxicating, such is the enjoyment to be gleamed from what is a very simple premise.

Thatgamescompany has a penchant for evoking emotions in unique ways, already stirring our souls with the delightful Flower and Flow, and Journey takes this skill to the next level. It's so impressive that it's even been nominated for a Grammy, another sign that games are now more widely accepted as an art from.

Te icing on the cake is the clever, and equally striking multiplayer implementation, which presents you with another, anonymous player on the same journey that you communicate with using simple chimes and nothing more. Even without traditional communication, you form a bond with your fellow traveller, and it's a very unique gaming experience. Rarely will you find online multiplayer as enjoyable, and as productive as this. Class.

Honorable mentions

Missing the list, but only just, there are some other titles that also deserve a mention, and have affected the industry and gaming in various ways.

Valve's Portal revolutionised what was possible with a puzzler, with a truly unique take of brain teasers, and it also introduced us to GLaDOS, not to mention “the cake is a lie”.

BioShock was an incredible FPS outing, with more story and personality than the myriad of cookie cutter military clones, and one of the best story twists so far in gaming.

Angry Birds has taken casual gaming to a whole new level. Available on practically every device known to humankind (and some beyond that, we'd wager), it's a total gaming domination, and one that's only growing larger and larger with extended merchandise and licensing deals.

Gone Home isn't a title for everybody, but we can't think of a more original, or interactive way to tell a story in recent times. It may have lacked guns and enemies, but in terms of atmosphere and pure storytelling, it was a masterpiece.

Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments below...

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Where is Fallout 3?!?

Halo 3? That to me seems like the biggest omission of all. Not only does it have a campaign mode that still makes me excited when I only think about it, but I had more fun in its multiplayer then I ever had in any other game. Also, (and this will most likely get hate) but I feel that the Last of Us is overrated (not going to go into details, but my opinions align with Zero Punctuation's if you watch him) and Bioshock 1 or Infinite would have been a better storytelling choice.