Trying to narrow down eight years of cross-platform console games into a list of the 10 best or most important is one of the more difficult tasks we’ve had to undertake. There simply have been dozens upon dozens of excellent games released during expiring console generation. Still, we’ve managed to carve out a list of the titles that mattered most.
Assassin’s Creed II (2009): While there’s no doubt the first Assassin’s Creed was a technical masterpiece, the game suffered from repetitive action. Ubisoft Montreal fixed that in its second outing, the first starring everyone’s favourite Italian assassin, Ezio di Auditore. Assassin’s Creed 2 didn’t just have an incredibly detailed and a living open world, it was a ton of fun too thanks to varied missions and an economy system, which allowed Ezio to upgrade his villa. The franchise has since become Ubisoft’s most valuable property and is on its way to the silver screen.
(Developer: Ubisoft Montreal)
The Walking Dead (2012): Based on the TV show that is based on a comic book, The Walking Dead video game is about as different a zombie game as there is. Instead of focusing on all-out action, like many of its kin do, this game instead centres on character development and relationship building. Moreover, the game was released in five, separate downloadable instalments, a strategy that helped build buzz and anticipation over time. It’s a trend setter that will inevitably be copied by plenty of next-generation games.
(Developer: Telltale Games)
BioShock (2007): Amid all the mindless first-person shooters came BioShock, a game that was similarly built upon blowing away a lot of guys but which also challenged players to think about their actions. Set in the failed (if still gorgeously realized) undersea utopia of Rapture, BioShock played with novelist Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy and required players to make moral choices with regard to either freeing captive children or harvesting them for energy. Subsequent games delivered even more existential debate… packed in amid all the shooting, of course.
(Developer: Irrational Games)
Mass Effect 2 (2010): There’s no studio better at script writing and character development than Edmonton’s BioWare, and the Mass Effect trilogy cements it. The sci-fi space opera, an homage to Star Wars, sets players against the evil Reapers, an alien race bent on wiping out humanity. The second instalment in the series furthered the great story and characters that debuted in the first one, but added better action and exploration capabilities. The third game was even better, but Mass Effect 2 really got the recipe right – also, unlike ME3, players didn’t hate its ending.
Portal 2 (2011): It’s possible that no one has ever had as much fun with physics in a game as the developers at Valve did with Portal 2, a mind-bending trip in which players had to shoot doorways into walls, floors and ceilings. They’d then have to shoot their own exit points, which made for some mind-bending puzzles. And as if that wasn’t enough, the game also featured hilarious – and sometimes creepy – voice-acting from the likes of Stephen Merchant and J.K. Simmons. It was a first-person shooter that was anything but.
(Developer: Valve Corporation)
Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009): When it comes to superhero video games, there’s BAA and AAA – before Arkham Asylum and After Arkham Asylum. Rocksteady’s 2009 open-world game, starring the Caped Crusader, was so good it sent every other superhero game developer back to the drawing board. Not only did Batman have tons to do in his open world, the game was also an exceptionally crafted love letter to the character’s deep history. On top of it all, it also introduced a perfectly balanced, timing-based fighting system that has been copied in numerous games since. The 2011 sequel, Arkham City, was even better, but it was the original game that significantly raised the bar on action-adventure games.
(Developer: Rocksteady Studios)
Guitar Hero II (2006): It seems silly now that people used to congregate in bars and pubs to play plastic guitars in the same way they do for karaoke, but that’s how big of a phenomenon Guitar Hero was only a few short years ago. The first game got the mechanics down, where players had to hit buttons in time with “notes” as they floated down on the screen. Guitar Hero II was the one that blew up, however, since it featured mostly original songs instead of covers. Sequels followed in rapid succession and original developer Harmonix took the core concept to its logical conclusion in 2007 with Rock Band , which added drums and vocals to the mix. Alas, an oversaturation of games killed the trend almost as quickly as it began. Still, we’ll always have the solo in Carry on Wayward Son.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007): There aren’t many sure bets in this life, but among them is that the annual Call of Duty release will end up as one of the year’s top-selling games, making the franchise the undisputed king of first-person shooting in this console generation. The fourth entry in the series, Modern Warfare, was a departure from its Second World War roots – and it paid off big time. Fighting terrorists with futuristic weapons rather than Nazis with old carbines turned out to be a smart move, with millions of players snapping the game up and getting hooked on its online multiplayer. Other franchises have tried to emulate and improve on the Call of Duty formula perfected in Modern Warfare, but Activision’s bread-and-butter is still the series to beat.
(Developer: Infinity Ward)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011): There are open-world games and then there is Skyrim, a game with an open world so vast, you can almost see a future where we can jack into a virtual reality and live there instead. It’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous and seems to function entirely on its own; salmon hop upstream, rabbits scurry away as you approach and city guards talk endlessly about arrows to the knee. To go with all this exploratory freedom, Skyrim also entreated players to play as they wanted – with swords, stealth or spells, or any combination thereof. With huge new enemies – dragons! – and dynamically generating quests, it was a game that could literally be played for hundreds of hours. And many did just that. Skyrim was astonishing in its scope and forced many rival fantasy role-playing game developers to rethink their plans.
(Developer: Bethesda Game Studios)
Grand Theft Auto IV (2008): It’s pretty incredible that, in this day and age of rapid sequel releases, that until last week there had been only one Grand Theft Auto game for the current generation of consoles – especially given the devices’ exceptionally long life span. But what a game GTA IV was. Starring Niko Bellic, an Eastern European immigrant to the New York-inspired Liberty City, the game delivered on all of the series’ trademarks: a huge open world that ran with clockwork-like precision, fun and varied action, questionable morals, controversy, a great soundtrack and hilarious characters. And even online multiplayer to boot! GTA IV was one of those few games that transcended the genre; it was a full-on pop culture sensation. It was also proof that good things take time to make, which is why its follow-up – Grand Theft Auto V, which shattered sales records last week – was so eagerly snapped up.
(Developer: Rockstar North)
Honourable mention: Red Dead Redemption (2010, Rockstar San Diego), Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure (2011, Toys For Bob), FIFA Soccer 12 (2011, EA Canada), Dead Space (2008, EA Redwood Shores), Rayman Origins (2011, Ubisoft Montpellier), Limbo (2010, Playdead), Far Cry 3 (2012, Ubisoft Montreal), Street Fighter IV (2009, Capcom), Fallout 3 (2008, Bethesda Game Studios), Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011, Eidos Montreal).
(Developer: Rockstar San Diego)