Seven long years. Who’d have thought it?
On the 22nd of November, 2012, the Xbox 360 will reach the unthinkable achievement of celebrating its seventh birthday in the same console cycle. Microsoft’s nearest rival, the PlayStation 3, is just one year younger; two ageing giants creaking under the constant expectations of their demanding masters.
And then there’s the Nintendo Wii. Ridiculed for being an entire generation behind to begin with, Nintendo’s next-generation of hardware, the Wii U, has already been unfairly brandished as the black sheep of the family – seen as nothing more than a reimagining of the experiences we’ve been enjoying since 2005.
But throughout this generation, whether you’ve stomached the underpowered capabilities of the Wii, witnessed the Red Ring of Death, or bemoaned the lack of PS2 backwards compatibility on future PS3 hardware, one thing’s for sure: it’s been one hell of a ride. And remarkably, some of the biggest games are still yet to come.
Ultimately however, this strangely elongated cycle will come to end. And when we look back on seven, maybe even eight years of the longest-ever console cycle in the history of gaming, what will we remember? Will it be the games that captured the praise of the critics, destined to adorn the highest echelons of Metacritic’s ranking system for the rest of time? Will we remember the games that sold millions upon millions of units? Or the ones that stirred up the most controversy before release?
Our interest inevitably moves on to the next console; our once prized-possession suddenly becomes obsolete, relegated to the attic or – worse yet – sacrificed to fund its successor.
Perhaps some of you will. But not this gamer. The reason being that soon enough, our interest inevitably moves on to the next console; our once prized-possession suddenly becomes obsolete, relegated to the attic or – worse yet – sacrificed to fund its successor. At this point in time, we tend to forget seemingly trivial matters such as awards, ratings and whether our old games sold 15 million, or 25,000 copies. All we care about is whether that particular game left a lasting impression; one which will stay with us until we grow old and grey.
And that’s why we game right? To find the diamonds in the rough, to discover those rare and unforgettable moments that provide us with so much joy. To find those classic games that become evergreen in their appeal and charm.
Of course, each and every one of you will have your own memories to share – your own conquests, choices and personal achievements. Hopefully some of these selected moments will resonate fondly with many of you, but naturally, please feel free to share your most memorable gaming moments of this generation in the comments section below.
Wii Sports – Playing Tennis
Bundled in with the console at launch – an absolutely brilliant move by Nintendo and a crucial move for the Wii’s future success – Wii Sports was the perfect advocate to promote Nintendo’s bold new vision.
The graphics were dated, crudely simplistic and signified anything but a so-called ‘generational leap’; however, once you picked up the ominous-looking wiimote, set yourself into position, and swung the wiimote wildy through the air… you instantly got it.
As your bobbled-headed mii ran towards the ball – SWOOSH! THWACK! – the tennis ball magically flew towards your gestured direction. And all of this was created without a single button press in sight.
It was a truly surreal sensation: controlling the game with nothing more than a swing of your arm was a groundbreaking moment in video game history. And as expected, the world took notice.
Millions of Wii’s flew off the shelf. Grandma and Grandpa discovered gaming. And Wii Sports would go on to help Nintendo sell more consoles than anyone else this generation.
Gears of War – Performing Your First Chainsaw Kill
Contrary to popular belief, not every gamer is a bloodthirsty sadist. But sometimes, on the odd occasion, a spray of crimson claret is immensely satisfying to watch – especially when it’s drawn out with a sickening amount of brutality. (Remember, we’re not sadists, ok?)
Performing your first chainsaw kill in Gears of War was one of those “oh my God that’s freaking awesome!” moments. Forcing the Lancer’s whirling meat-grinder-of-a-blade down an ugly locust’s torso – beginning from the centre of the skull and exiting through the groin and anus – was just stupidly fun.
The chainsaw kill was such a stark contrast to the main gameplay mechanic – hiding behind cover, peeking out and firing opportune shots – that the spray of blood, guts and locust flesh acted as the ultimate aphrodisiac, sustaining your lust for death until the next opportunity presented itself.
Oh, and if you managed to chainsaw kill an unsuspecting human opponent online?… Forget about it! Talk about getting PWNED.
Mass Effect – The Art of Conversation
They say it’s good to talk.
Today, we live in a world where instant and constant communication is part of our daily lives. But funnily enough, whilst people were busy poking each other on Facebook and tweeting nonsense to the universe, video games continued the trend of talking at gamers, rather than to them. In 2007, under the banner of the almighty Bioware, Mass Effect finally gave gamers a voice. Sort of…
Although the idea of character interaction was already present in numerous games, albeit mainly reserved for RPGs and the ilk, we were always restricted to picking a few standard options – voiceless in their delivery. Upon choosing your dialog options, you’d quickly become ‘the good listener’ as a voiced NPC would go on to spew out a plethora of drilled lines with an uneasy, disconcerting glare.
Imagine the delight then, when gamers discovered that their character could finally talk back; and not only that, but they could talk back with attitude. Mass Effect’s lead protagonist, Commander Shepard (male or female), had an actual audible voice and could interact with a staggering amount of believable and convincing characters from across the galaxy.
If you didn’t like someone or a particular situation, you could voice your opinion. If you wanted to chat someone up, defuse an argument, interrogate a suspect – you could do it. And yes, you could hear every word; every syllable; every enunciation. And it was awesome.
The dialog wheel and gift of speech encouraged you to talk to every creature, every being and even artificial intelligence. You listened. They listened. Thanks to Mass Effect, the art of conversation had been reborn.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – If You Can See it, Then You Can Reach it
Invisible walls. They’re the bane of any budding adventurer who’s become engrossed in a fantasy world. Running face first into these transparent nasties can rudely awaken any player from their immersive sleep, jolting them back into the cold, boring reality of real life.
While fans of Grand Theft Auto IV were treated to a playground of unprecedented scale and freedom, the inquisitive RPG player was left to suffer in the tight, cold corridors of dingy dungeons, and sometimes they were even teased with an pseudo open-world that was actually confined inside an invisible box.
Yes, our young heroes could only dream of traveling to the snowy mountains in the horizon; or killing a proper dragon. You know, the kind that actually flew through the sky? Not the ones that dwelled in dungeons.
Thankfully, a saviour came in the form of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Suddenly, players could literally go anywhere. If you could see it, then you could get there. That abandoned town through the woods? The house on the hill? The cave below the waterfall? Be it by horseback or on foot, unrestrained exploration was finally a possibility.
And yes, you could kill an actual dragon, too – an incredible and unforgettable experience in itself.
Red Dead Redemption – Riding into Mexico
Rockstar’s wild western epic had it all. Stunning vistas. Captivating characters. Amazing attention to detail. And that typical mark of excellence that only Rockstar can seemingly provide.
John Marston’s unforgettable journey through the wild wild west was one of the highlights of this console generation, as millions realised their boyhood dreams of becoming a gunslinging, horse riding, cattle-herding cowboy.
But hidden amongst all the dynamic firefights, poker games, bar brawls and bounty hunts lay an unexpected surprise. One skin-tingling moment which will be forever ingrained in this gamer’s memory… The ride into Mexico.
Out of nowhere, a couple of stray guitar notes pricked up your ears. Then suddenly, the distinctive tones of Jose Gonzalez began to serenade your grand entrance through the rocky mountains, winding paths and scorching heat of Mexico. What should have been just a simple crossing from ‘A to B’ was magically transformed by the tranquil musical backdrop into an extraordinary moment.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – ‘All Ghillied Up’ Mission
A controversial choice admittedly as most of you will probably be thinking: “It was the multiplayer!” Well, quite frankly, you’re wrong.
Online competitive multiplayer was nothing new for consoles at the time of Call of Duty 4’s release (Halo 2 had been doing it for years not to mention many others). Call of Duty 4 may have set a new standard that others would continue to follow (or plagiarise) for years to come, but it only provided the proverbial cherry on top of an already delicious cake.
Before Call of Duty became the worn out, over-exploited cash-cow of the industry that it is today, the letters ‘C.O.D’ used to carry an incredible sense of meaning – worn like a badge of honour. The games were a perfected blend of drama, suspense, atmosphere, sound and award-winning design. But most importantly, they were actually original and attempted to innovate. Oh how things have changed.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was without a doubt the pinnacle of Activision’s first-person blockbuster. And the highlight? The ‘All Ghillied Up’ Mission.
Combining a number of fresh gameplay mechanics such as stealth, teamwork and the necessity of keeping a steady aim throughout, the ‘All Ghillied Up Mission’ was a thrill ride of held breaths, heart-pounding moments and a misconstrued chance to finish the fight there and then.
With Captain Price by your side – whispering commands as you crawled through the long, dry grass – the strict emphasis on a ‘covert operation’ radically changed the dynamics of the game.
Sadly, this memorable mission’s format would soon be done to death by the never-ending stream of annual updates. Still, none come close to capturing the initial excellence and creativity of the original.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – Discovering the Stranded U-Boat
With games that flattered to deceive and a slew of dreadful third-party ports a year into the PS3’s lifespan, the price tag of “five-hundred-and-ninety-nine US dollars” was beginning to sting more than just people’s wallets.
Sony fans were yet to see the fruits of Ken Kitaguri’s labour (or lies?) and the old excuse of “well it’s a blu-ray player as well you know!” was beginning to wear perilously thin. Needless to say, PS3 owners wanted a game that would justify their investment, lay down the gauntlet to others and most importantly, brandish a middle finger to the boys in green.
Few would have predicted that it would be Naughty Dog (previously famed for Crash Bandicoot and the Jakk & Daxter series) who would answer the call with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune; their PS3 debut no less.
In one action-packed swoop, Uncharted reinvigorated the faltering prospects of the PS3. The graphics were mesmerising, the gameplay mechanics were exceptional and the storytelling entered the unknown realms of cinematic entertainment.
Tied with the moment where you first entered the jungle and found yourself wondering whether you were still watching a cinematic or playing the actual game (remember that?), is the discovery of the U-Boat jutting out of the river.
The U-boat presented a number of surprises. Firstly, the U-Boat had absolutely no reason being there; it defied all sense of logic. Secondly, no one expected that not only could you swim to the boat, but you’d be able to run all over it and enter it as well.
It established the magnificent sense of scale that the Uncharted series would go on to deliver. Nothing was as it seemed, and most of the time, Naughty Dog would leave you speechless with their epic set-pieces and seamless transitions between movie and in-game action. Discovering the U-Boat was the beginning of an unbelievable, sensational journey.
Bioshock – Battling A Big Daddy
Ken Levine’s underwater city of hell, Rapture, was a haven for freaks, weirdos, junkies and all-sorts of misfit masked marauders. But lurking beneath the submerged metropolis was something far more sinister than the aforementioned welcome party. And boy did they get angry if you attempted to harm their little sisters.
Of course I’m referring to none other than the guardians of the deep, everyone’s favourite metal murderers: the Big Daddies. These nautical nasties would absolutely slaughter you if you weren’t prepared properly. Remember: Prior preparation prevents pitiful pounding by a pissed-off Big Daddy.
Due to Bioshock’s brilliant blend of RPG and survival horror elements, combined with the key decision to promote player choice, players were left to devise their own way of killing these unlikely child-carers. And that was half the fun of it.
How should you go about taking down this drill-touting tyrant? Carefully placed traps? Strategic use of your plasmids? Brute force? Cowardice? Either way, if you didn’t have a well-executed plan, you’d soon end up sleeping with the fishes (and in a pool of your own blood no less).
Yes, these dynamic battles with Rapture’s paternal pugilists would continue to excite and frustrate as you kindly made your way through the depths of Andrew Ryan’s watery grave.
Super Mario Galaxy – Getting to Grips With Gravity
Angry, frustrated and dejected, Nintendo’s hardcore fans were beginning their regrettable exodus away from the console that promised so much but failed to cater to both sides of the gaming community.
A year and half in, the mascot in red was still nowhere to be seen, as loyal Nintendo legions were left to toil in a sea of miserable shovelware and a scarcity of first party offerings.
The Wii desperately needed a hero, and predictably, there was only one moustachioed man who was up to the job.
With the stigma of being a last-gen console already weighing on their shoulders, a disillusioned fanbase, and a controller which was still yet to be fully utilised, Nintendo had to deliver. Luckily, they produced a game that was so magnificent, so wonderfully charming and exceptional in every department that it was out of this world. Cue Super Mario Galaxy, the greatest platformer since Mario’s 3D debut and one of the best games of this generation.
Often belittled for stubbornly rehashing their tried and trusted IPs, Nintendo proved the naysayers wrong with Mario’s sensational Wii debut. The cosmic shift of taking Mario from the sanctuary of the Mushroom Kingdom and into space was a simply brilliant and monumental change that no one saw coming.
Every galaxy, planet and level design was an awe-inspiring culmination of creativity, imagination and ingenuity. Landing in the Egg Shell Galaxy for the first time and realising that you could actually run around a planet, soar to others and find yourself appreciating the force we all take for granted, gravity, was enough to make any disgruntled Wii owner beam with joy. Better yet, they were even treated to an equally stunning sequel in Super Mario Galaxy 2.
Heavy Rain – Press X To Jason
Quantic Dream’s PS3 exclusive, Heavy Rain, was a cinematic thrill ride from start to finish. A topsy-turvy storyline, near-photorealistic visuals, accomplished motion capture work, and a cast of believable characters delivered a unique video game experience quite like no other.
But strangely enough, in a game filled with heart stopping drama and emotional twists at every turn, there’s one particular moment which PS3 owners will never forget thanks to the unintentional hilarity of it all. Pressing X to Jason.
Yes, what was supposed to be a typically dramatic scene in Heavy Rain quickly escalated into a button mashing frenzy as Ethan Mars manages to lose sight of his son (twice!) in a disturbingly busy mall.
The player could call out for Jason by pressing X – spamming the recorded sound bites to humorous results:
“JASON! JAAAAASON! JAYSUN! JEYSOON!”
This wonderful musical interpretation by deadworkersparty reconstructs the events of that fateful day perfectly:
Sadly, everyone’s favourite son (Jason) is now the butt of many a joke as people childishly impersonate Ethan Mars when entering a mall or shopping plaza (I would never).
Try to remember, the poor blighter never made it out alive in the end, while Ethan was forced to move out of his mansion and into a grimy bedsit by his utter cow of a wife – did Shaun really need new shoes?
To be honest, I blame the clown and his time-consuming balloon stall. He was one shifty customer.