Top 10 Single Player Videogames of This Generation Part 2 (5-1)
5. The Orange Box
Despite being released in the midst of all the hype of Cod4 and Halo 3 hype, Valve decided to offer gamers some real value for money by combining 5 outstanding titles into one package for the same price as a new release game. The only argument I have ever heard against The Orange Box is people saying “well, if you’ve never played Half-Life 2, then it deserves to be in that company” The problem with that line of thinking is you could apply it to any game on the list. When Mass Effect 2 was released on the PS3, did we ever hear people say “it’s only worth if it if you’ve never played it on the Xbox”? Of course not. The reality is, as a package, nothing even comes close to this. Half-life 2, despite being 3 years old when it was bundled in The Orange Box, was (and by many still is) considered the very best FPS ever created. The depth of each chapter, the characters, the bosses, it was an amazing experience. And when you throw in not 1, but 2 (it sounds like I’m auditioning for a job on an infomercial network) expansions on to Half- Life along with Portal, The Orange Box’s place on this list was an absolute certainty.
4. Metal Gear Solid 4
Metal Gear Solid 4 faced incredible expectations leading up to its release in 2008. What we experienced was a game that not only raised the bar for all gaming, but essentially smashed it and redefined an entire generation and became the new standard that all upcoming games would be judged on (and this high praise is all coming from someone who has been very indifferent to the MGS franchise) Graphically, it was an absolute work of art. The story, although long winded (to the point of needlessly over-done. This is a videogame, after all, and not a philosophical enlightenment.), was compelling and memorable, and featured one of the best endings ever experienced not just in gaming, but in entertainment. The gameplay received significant upgrades over its predecessors. No longer were gamers forced into a game of stealth, although they could certainly use that style if they wished. In MGS4, the ability to purchase weapons and ammo at any time allowed the player to dictate how they wanted to play.
Let me go back and talk about the storyline for a second. MGS4 could have easily been #1 on this list, and in many ways, it should have. As I mentioned before, the graphics and gameplay were brilliant (and I haven’t even mentioned the amazing soundtrack), and stacks up very favourably to games that are being released today. But how do we measure its story? In a lot of ways, it is the best story I’ve ever witnessed. But it is incredibly deep and complex, and needed to be simplified. The focus of the game seemed to be on cut scenes and not gameplay. That essentially is why it is number 4, but when you see what is in front of it, and what games it is in front of, that it is no insult.
3. Uncharted 2
One of the hardest decisions in this list was which Uncharted to put in. The first was so incredible, that 2 and 3 are essentially just extensions with somewhat minor improvements to the gameplay. The second made the sometimes over whelming (just ask Crackdown) leap from unexpected gem into genuine powerhouse. And the third completed the franchise. So why number 2? The answer is simple: there was never a dull moment in the campaign. It had as flawless of a balance between combat, puzzles and exploring of any game. The story, and characters, never lost momentum. In the third, there was some serious back tracking where you would assume the character of Drake (the main character) as a kid and his early beginnings as a treasure hunter. Whilst this was a cool footnote to the story, the campaign lost significant momentum. That was never an issue in the second instalment in this franchise.
Let’s talk about the story a bit more. As the combat and MP improvements came along with the series, I would argue that the script and character development of Uncharted became somewhat underrated. It is a shame that it doesn’t receive the kudos it deserves and what it accomplished. It made a magical fantasy totally feasible and combined it with a post-modern cynicism love triangle seem completely logical. How they achieved that, I will never know. But what I am sure of is when you can capture an entire audience like that, and combine it with brilliant graphics, soundtrack and a variety of flawless gameplay, you have yourself a masterpiece of a game.
2. Red Dead Redemption
Being released in 2010, Red Dead Redemption was widely acclaimed for being ahead of its time in terms of its graphics and combat system. What people forget is the storyline, despite being set in the early 20th century, was a game that present day gamers could relate to. Rockstar did a wonderful job of tackling such tricky themes as personal freedom, expanding government power, racism, immigration and territorial expansion are not just contemporary issues, and previous generations experienced these very same problems as well. Because of this, Red Dead Redemption is able to offer a sense of authenticity that most other great games severely lack. The story, however, is not simply a political preach-fest. The characters are memorable, the missions (including the side quests) are fantastic and the combat is the best we have seen from any Rockstar game. The game also explores a good vs. evil theme element with the introduction of honour. Unlike in GTA 4 where after a period of time the attention and wanted metre disappears, your (negative) actions, and consequences, do not simply go away. Bounty hunters, the law enforcement and even basic interaction with civilians (like trying to buy things from the local shops) is all impacted by this metre. It’s a nice evolution from the system we saw in GTA, and adds substance to your actions. Graphically, the time period is represented wonderfully and there is a genuine satisfaction received when reaching a lookout and watching the sunset over the dessert.
But the memorable element in RDR is the story. Everything you do in the campaign has meaning and merit, and all leads up to John Marston’s (main character) goal. There is a true sense of pleasure once you have accomplished this, but that leads to a shattering and shocking climax that will be talked about for years. In a generation of surprises where Left for Dead surpassed Resident Evil as the premiere zombie franchise, Call of Duty became the dominant FPS over Halo and NBA 2K became more critically acclaimed than Madden, perhaps the most astonishing was Red Dead becoming the King of open world video games over fellow Rockstar title, Grand Theft Auto.
Certain great titles usually open the door to other, copycat franchises to try their hand in that genre. Despite its success, we haven’t seen anyone seriously attempt a Western since Red Dead Redemption. This might be the ultimate sign of how truly amazing this game was.
1. Mass Effect 2
Like Uncharted and Gears of War, selecting which Mass Effect to be included in this list was much more difficult than if it was to be chosen. Where, however, it would rank, would be the most difficult. Number 2 got the nod over the 1st because of the vastly improved combat, and over the 3rd because of the incredibly subpar ending to the trilogy. Mass Effect 2 did suffer from the rare visual glitch and also having to probe planets for resources, but what it was successful in was the total mind fuck aspect. The user plays the role of Commander Shepard who actually dies in the very first scene of the game. He is pieced together by a Human extremist organisation, and the change in plot is significant as the interaction with other characters (whether Humans or Aliens) is impacted by Shepard’s new alliance with an organisation that has such a shady past.
The graphics and soundtrack, like every game on this list, are phenomenal. The combat, as mentioned previously, are vastly improved over the first. The RPG elements in the game have been expanded to include an interrupt feature when in in a conversation. The conversation wheel returned and became the trademark of the entire series. But the emotional attachment to the characters and decisions that you make are essentially what separated this game, and series, from the rest. This game allowed the gamer to assist each of his squad mates in their history and earning their loyalty. In doing so, this allowed for their abilities to be improved which was essential for their (and your) survival in an insanely awesome final boss fight. This is what really separated number 2 from 3. In the 3rd, a lot of your decisions really didn’t matter in the end. In the second, whether a character was loyal to you (once again, which was dependant on how you acted in conversation and in combat) was the primary reason for their survival.
Its greatest achievement, however, is the impact it left on gamers once they had completed the game. I remember wanting to tell anyone and everyone that was willing to listen about some of the choices I made and some of the unbelievable things I witnessed during the game. To put things into perspective, I didn’t even complete the 1st game when it came out. My friend, Fourat, was in Australia, and he purchased it to take back home with him. He let me borrow it because he didn’t have access to an Xbox. I played it for a few hours, it didn’t strike my interest and I gave up on it. When the 2nd was released, I heard about it, saw some reviews and gave it a shot. I was so blown away by it that when I finished it, I went out, bought the 1st one, and finished that in a matter of days, just so I could replay the 2nd with all the choices I wanted. Then I went back and did the first again in a much more detailed play through, and the second again. I wish I was joking, because that is so freaking nerdy, but that’s how good Mass Effect 2 was. And then when it was released on the PS3, despite playing it multiple times on the Xbox, I went out and purchased it on there just to get the trophies. Then when I finally upgraded my PC, I purchased 1 and 2 on Steam and talked a few friends into buying it as well.
The talking points it generated were fantastic because each play through with the various decisions always required explanation. Why you saved a certain character, why you pursued a certain romance, why you disliked a certain species etc. They all had validity on both sides, and to this day, it creates a great discussion with anyone else that has played it. No game in this generation came close to leaving that kind of emotional attachment with the characters. And that is why it’s number 1 on this list.