In our penultimate roundtable considering the best and worst of the passing console generation, we take a look at some of our personal highlights from the last seven years.
Carl – Crowdfunding My Dreams
Okay, I’m sure we can all agree that there have been some let-downs in regards to this particular topic, and yes, we’re still waiting for that Double Fine project, but the fact that over the last few years we as gamers have actively engaged with the crowdfunding of games is something that is absolutely a highlight for me. After all, thanks sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo we’ve had the chance to bring games to life that would have normally never have seen the light of day, or would have taken years to emerge in a much smaller capacity.
After all, what kind of publisher would have taken the risk on Chris Averline to make a new RPG? Who would have provided funds for Ragnar Tornquist to continue his critically acclaimed adventure series? Hell, who would have seriously considered giving $1 million dollars to Chris Roberts to make a space sim game, let alone $30 million? Of course, Project Eternity, Dreamfall Chapters, and Star Citizen are some of the more well-known success stories, but smaller games, such as the highly-addictive FTL: Faster Than Light, have been developed and gone on to make some serious money thanks to crowd-funding. The whole thing has also allowed many of us to directly converse with some of our heroes from the industry, both online and in person – something we never really would have had the chance to in such an open manner through a publisher.
But these are just the games – we’ve had hardware projects reach and exceed their goals through crowd-funding, the most notable of which being the utterly delicious Oculus Rift. Sure, other hardware hopefuls like the Ouya may have not reached their potential once in the hands of backers and consumers, but we’ve also had products like the GameStick and the Raspberry Pi providing cheap and exciting alternatives to big budget consoles. As this craze has shown, not every idea put forth with be a golden one, and at the end of the day it’s a rather big risk for everyone involved, but it has given gamers the chance to see games they desperately want being made with a great deal of openness, and that’s why it has been a highlight for me.
Chris - Beating Dark Souls
It would be incredibly remiss of me to talk about the last generation of gaming and not mention Dark Souls or Demon’s Souls. What From Software created in this series were not only games of a very high standard, in terms of visuals and overall gameplay experience, but they also created some ruddy hard games too.
But the beauty of these games – and perhaps more so in Dark Souls – is that this difficulty is not a throwaway developer remark about being “old school” or being “difficult for the sake of it”. This game was difficult by design to truly test our gamer resolve, and put us through some gaming trial and error.
On the face of it Dark Souls feels too punishing. It doesn’t shy away from giving you the controls and then throwing you in a boss fight that can kill you in a few hits. And it will. Because in your first few moments you won’t have mastered the nuances of the combat system – when to attack, when to dodge, how to effectively use your stamina etc– but they are there from the get go for you to experiment with.
For those that have played the game, you’ll know that at some stages (normally early on and at some boss fights) we’ll bemoan the game’s cruelty as simply impossible and think about giving in. I certainly did at one point after nearly busting a PS3 controller. But persistence and practice was the key, as were the numerous FAQs and wiki sites for the game to help you through the tough points and make sense of how all the different stats worked together.
And so for me pursuing this experience through to the end and finally beating that final boss was a truly rewarding and liberating experience. It was something I thought I’d never achieve on my first session with the game. But this isn’t just a case of overcoming a challenge, beating a game that is difficult. Beating Dark Souls for me was so much more. It was proof that games can truly be a rewarding experience that if done right can shift our perceptions of how we should play, how we as a player can be guided through the developer’s vision.
I’m glad I’ve been a part of it, despite my fiancée’s protestations about my early raging. Of course she was gobsmacked at my instant reaction upon completion was to start up New Game+ and prepare myself to go through it all again. But the joy of the Dark Souls experience can only really be understood if you take up the challenge yourself and see it through.
No small surprise that my most anticipated game of next year despite all the next-gen furore is Dark Souls 2.
Brendan - Being Forgetful In Rapture
When looking back over the best generation of gaming yet, pulling a particular moment out as the best is a complete nightmare. I spent ages playing Uncharted 2 over in my head, trying to pick out the best part and while the chopper scene, the train ride, the peaceful village or entering Shambhala are scenes I’m never going to forget and ones I look forward to playing again, I find myself always looking back on an accidental event in Rapture.
In Bioshock 2, the player was put into the boots of a Big Daddy. You would have to protect the Little Sisters while they harvested Adam from corpses. An unnerving affair, made even more complicated by what to do afterwards. Would you harvest them for a large supply of Adam, or free them, hoping there’d be an award later on? I opted to try to save them all and this is where the standout moment of the game -and now, generation- occurred.
There were two Little Sisters in the same area. One of mine, harvesting a corpse while I was fending off splicers and the other one cowering behind a Daddy I accidentally pissed off (thus had to kill) during the shoot-out. Yep, I picked up the wrong one and didn’t realise for an hour.
After dropping off my free-loader, I made my way back to the area where I’d lost the first one and felt genuine guilt (and massive relief) when she emerged from the shadows and ran over cheering: “I knew you wouldn’t leave me behind.”
Other games just didn’t get close to how much emotion they can provoke, or ask questions from a gamer about how far they'd go to make life easier on themselves. Bioshock Infinite was going to have a go, but Irrational ditched the concept of having Elizabeth use her powers weakening her throughout the story, with the possibility we’d be able to push her too far, possibly to her death.
The recent Burial at Sea DLC, was pure fan-service as it took us back to Rapture and it kept reminding me of the moment in Bioshock 2, affirming that it really was my pick for finest moment of the generation. I can’t wait to see what the PS4 and Xbox One are going to do to top it.
Matt - Journey
BioWare nearly popped up here. After all, in order to prove a disappointment you have to instill a certain amount of hope, and BioWare's phenomenal character development in both the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age: Origins certainly did that. We'll always have that day drinking beers in the rafters of the Presidium, Garrus. So too could XCOM: Enemy Unknown/Within been in with a shout. Jon and Brendan died early on, but losing Carl after I'd spent hours outfitting him with the very best skills and weaponry because of one stupid moment of madness was utterly crushing.
But after careful consideration, I've gone with the two hours or so it took me to play through Journey. I locked the doors, turned off my phone, drew the curtains, and lapped up thatgamecompany's magnum opus in one sitting, as the developers intended. By the end, and I have no real idea why or how this happened, I was simultaneously grinning like an idiot and crying my eyes out.
For me, Journey proved a reflection of life itself. The beauty, the vibrancy, the fluid nature of things. How we all start off not really knowing who we are, but our march towards our end is inexorable, tumultuous, filled with both light and dark. That those who take the time to delight in the world around them will find joy, that those who persevere will find reward, that sometimes you have to travel the lowest depths to reach the highest peaks. That a Sam Mendes' plastic bag dancing in the wind has nothing on thatgamecompany. That doing it alone can be devastating.
Pretentious waffle? Perhaps, and what I experienced and drew from the game is only true to me. It's one of the most subjective and divisive gaming experiences I've ever witnessed, and certainly one of the most strikingly, daringly original.
Jonathan - Rocking Out
I was good and ready to use this section as a pretentious soapbox to talk about the rise of digital marketplaces on home consoles; the wealth of amazing games that Xbox Live Arcade and PSN brought us over the last few years. We take the likes of Bastion, Super Meat Boy, Journey and Limbo for granted these days, but a decade ago, this entire sector didn't exist beyond cult PC downloads.
You'd better believe that I'll pen an article about it at some point, but frankly, this category is all about personal highlights, about the best and most memorable moments we've taken from Generation 7.
Most of which, for me, involve getting irresponsibly tipsy and jumping onto sofas clutching a plastic guitar.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band may have been a fad, a product of all the lovely disposable money we had before a bunch of despicable bankers ruined everything for everyone, but it was glorious. Guitar Hero brought friends and family into a single room, rocking out on plastic axes, drums and nasally screeching into a microphone. We felt like rock gods, regardless of real ability, and spent countless hours enjoying fantastic music in a revolutionary new way. Together.
I still feel that there's room for entrepreneurial companies to release downloadable games that are compatible with the guitars and drum kits cluttering up our attics, even though the time is past and the next generation is upon us. But years from now, I'll still remember the days when I'd return to my disgusting flat to discover a room full of people waiting to rock out, and the fun we had in those heady, wonderful days.