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Top 5 games of this generation: Rick’s choices

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This proved an immensely difficult task. After all, how do I go about it? Do I go with my own favourites, biased as that may be? Or do I go with games I recognised as technically brilliant but which left a damp impression on me, personally?

I was torn. So I took the middle road, the coward’s path. In one instance I called it a tie. I cheated by including some of my personal besties in the Honourable Mentions section. I think this speaks to how diverse games have become and how fortunate we’ve been in this generation. It also reflects the growth of games as a medium and pursuit – both in their play and critical analysis.

So read on. And judge. And disagree. And opine, because choosing the top 5 games is folly – but you need to make a stand somewhere.

Demon’s Souls

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In an industry desperate to “streamline the user experience” and appeal to the lowest common denominator, Demon’s Souls stood as a stalwart beacon, with its gritty hard fantasy aesthetic and stoic difficulty. It encouraged exploration and discovery, and while brutally challenging, was utterly fair – every death was a taunt and reproach. You never felt alone, though: with the unique online aspects that allowed you to leave warnings for other players (or invade their worlds to help or hinder them), Demon’s Souls was a group effort, and a shared traumatic experience.

When did I know it was love?

Playing with a friend, who upon encountering the Tower Knight immediately TURNED OFF THE CONSOLE with a, “Nope, not right now”. I knew then I was going to finish and explore every nook and cranny of Demon’s Souls.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

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The only PC exclusive title on the list, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Call of Pripyat (COP) was everything I wanted from Fallout 3 but never received. COP was a true survival FPS – a world of industrial decay, mutated monstrosities and dark, secret places. Despite being post-apocalyptic horror, the world of COP felt alive, with desperate factions battling over the Exclusion Zone and roving wildlife with their own ecosystem. More importantly, the game made every decision feel consequential – assisting factions and NPCs often had long-term ramifications, while your kit became a unique identifier of your personality and approach to the dangers of Zone.

When did I know it was love?

Wading through a swamp to seek shelter before an emission hit, I stumbled on an opposing faction looking for the same. In an intense gunfight with both of us trying to make it to safety, I managed to kill them all only to perish as the emission fell upon me, my last sight of circling crows dropping dead from the sky.

The Walking Dead

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The Walking Dead is a magnum opus in narrative games; in episodic content; in handling of licensed material; in consequence and pathos. The game puts all the emphasis on the dialogue and story, with the game systems tying in perfectly – a timed dialogue system, tight mini-games and engaging characters drove players to make decisions on the spur of the moment whose significance only becomes apparent much later on.

The characters were well-realised and that you developed a poignant bond with some of them in such a short time – especially Clementine – is an achievement in of itself when compared to similar rambling epics like Mass Effect. It’s a tale of guardianship and trust, and while The Last of Us had the budget, The Walking Dead had the heart, and that’s ultimately what matters.

When did I know it was love?

When I was trapped in a meat locker and needed to make the decision whether or not to kill Larry – a bear of a man who had just suffered a heart attack – in case he turned into a zombie. I was torn right up until the last moment when I crushed his brains with a salt lick and instantly regretted my decision. Not because of any retribution delivered in-game, but because it made me feel like a horrible person.

Rayman Origins & Super Mario Galaxy

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There’s a lot of dark choices on my list, but that’s not the case with these two. It’s a tie, I tell you, a tie, because they’re equally important on two ends of the platforming spectrum. Super Mario Galaxy was a return to form for the series: a 3D platforming extravaganza with unique mechanics, inspired stages, incredible art direction and – for once – a passable story. Super Mario Galaxy was Nintendo’s potential, a “could of been” for future titles which they inevitably squandered, but it nevertheless stands on its own as the best Mario game ever made.

Minus a dimension, and you have Rayman Origins. Rayman is gorgeous and kinetic – a fever dream ripped right out of my childhood imaginings where games would be like my cartoons. This is where I saw gaming going before a somewhat disastrous turn into 3D and low-poly… low-poly everywhere. It helps that Rayman is a fluid game, one with sleek controls and enough diversity to keep the player interested right to the end. Rayman Origins proved there’s still a market for good platformers.

When did I know it was love?

It was a gradual process, but I soon realised that I was saying “One more stage. One more stage,” through my first sitting with both. They kept unpacking new surprises constantly, and for that I was grateful.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within

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Disclaimer: I’ve played almost 100 hours of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and I’ve realised I don’t actually need another game in my life. Firaxis and director Jake Solomon aimed boldly at reinventing a 18 year-old turn-based PC strategy game for a new audience; they took the shot, and critically hit their mark. Punishing and rewarding in equal measure, XCOM: Enemy Unknown re-invigorated the turn-based tactical genre, urging players used to the run-and-gun style to eschew recklessness for cunning – and players loved it. The expansion, Enemy Within, only builds on the solid foundations, and it stands up to repeat playthroughs.

When did I know it was love?

My first Outsider encounter. When this glowing entity emerged and proceeded to murder the rest of my squad, and I in a fit of rage rushed one of my Assault soldiers right up in his grill – dodging his attack of opportunity – and blew him to shards with a full shotgun blast in the face.

Honourable Mentions

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, for forever altering the trajectory of the FPS genre. Valkyria Chronicles, for being my other turn-based strategic love and a beautiful game to boot. Journey, because it was. Finally, Far Cry 2, because it wasn’t the game we wanted, but the game we needed.

  • Victor Ribeiro

    I was that friend on Demon’s Souls hahahaGreat Stuff Rick

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