GameCentral looks back at the outgoing generation of video games and names the best console and PC titles of the last seven years.
Now that the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are out (not that you’d necessarily know given the limited stock) the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are officially last generation. New games will continue to be released for the formats but increasingly they’ll have been designed for the new machines and so we’re now able to look back at the generation as a whole and try and pick out the best of the best.
Nostalgia does tend to cloud the issue but it’s not hard to argue that the outgoing generation has been one of the very best, with the base level of quality expected from a new game rising considerably, so that genuinely awful ones are now thankfully very rare. That has come at the cost of losing the middle ground, where new games are now either mega budget blockbusters or tiny indie efforts, but the results below speak for themselves.
There are, of course, hundreds of excellent games we’ve had to leave out, but we feel satisfied this is a pretty good cross-section of the best games released between late 2013 and now. Of course, the Switch is still going, and may still produce a classic or two more, but for now these are the best games of the eighth generation.
Playing Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is the closest any modern game has got to the shellshock of seeing Super Mario 64 in action for the first time. It’s an absolute revelation no matter how many VR games you’ve played before, with a sense of immersion and tangibility to the game world that is literally breath-taking. It helps that it’s also a very good platformer, albeit one that borrows a little too liberally from Nintendo, but in terms of audio-visual impact no game punches harder. The sheer sense of scale when battling the end-of-level bosses, or the moment when you rise up out of the ocean for the first time, feels like a genuine vision of the future and one that the rest of the video game world may not catch up to for a long time yet.
19. Persona 5 Royal
The pinnacle of modern Japanese role-playing games, Persona 5 Royal’s success in both Japan and the West proves that the genre still has plenty of appeal as long as it’s presented in an interesting and dynamic fashion. As it happens, that’s exactly what Persona 5 specialises in, with its real-world setting, three-dimensional characters, and a layer of thematic depth that is rarely seen in any kind of video game. The combat still feels a little old-fashioned, and the English translation is not the best, even for the series, but despite those flaws this still earns its badge as the JRPG for people that don’t like JRPGs (and those that already do).
In terms of the most financially successful games of the generation it’s online titles that lead the way, from GTA Online and Call Of Duty to Fortnite and Apex Legends. Overwatch doesn’t do bad for itself either and for very good reasons. It helped to popularise the concept of the hero shooter sub-genre, with a wonderfully diverse – in terms of abilities and backstory – group of characters that look like they could double as fighters in a 90s era beat ‘em-up. The constant stream of free updates has left the game with an enormous amount of content and a complex lore which is rarely ever communicated through the game itself but instead the highly engaged community and Blizzard’s interactions with them.
The hero of the pandemic may have got lucky with its release date but that shouldn’t distract from just what a good game New Horizons is. As revamps of long-running series go it’s up there with Breath Of The Wild, maintaining the original idea of maintaining your own perfectly landscaped village but greatly expanding the range of customisation options, including a new crafting system, and eliminating distinctions between what can and cannot be placed outside. It’s not only the perfect relaxation during a terrible year but also a very social one, with communities of players working together to create the perfect accessories and beat the lockdown restrictions.
2D platformers with retro graphics are the oldest cliché in the book for indie games but Celeste is not only the best designed example since Super Meat Boy but has some of the best storytelling of the generation. Its sympathetic depiction of mental illness is never overbearing and instead feels relatable and optimistic. The themes are reflected perfectly by the level design but even divorced of context they’re superbly well designed and, much as with From’s games, seem unfairly difficult at first glance but quickly prove that the seemingly impossible is easily within the grasp of any player.
CD Projekt may have gone from hero to zero in the space of just a couple of weeks, but this was the game that put them in the former category. At heart it’s a fairly standard third person action role-player, with mediocre combat and a plot that, while interesting enough, goes on for rather too long. The genius of The Witcher 3 though is in its detail, the grey morality of its memorable cast and expertly crafted side missions that are the very opposite of filler. Classic examples like the Bloody Baron combine gameplay and storytelling in an organic manner that other role-players struggle to match, with multiple options for every encounter and seldom anything as straightforward as a good or bad outcome.
We would describe Return Of The Obra Dinn as a detective game but that would imply that there were enough others to qualify as an actual genre. Needless to say there are not, as detective work is something that has never really worked in games since it’s so difficult to offer challenging puzzles without making them either pointlessly easy or having players get constantly stuck. This indie release uses a number of affectations to manoeuvre around the problem and in the process creates one of the most engaging, original, and downright strange video games of the generation. The Mary Celeste style plot does not unravel at all as you would imagine and the low-tech visuals are beautifully reminiscent of not only Victorian line art but also old Macintosh Plus graphics.
You can argue over whether the story takes too long to say too little but if any game in the next generation is able to create an action scene half as good as the Madagascar chase sequence from Uncharted 4 it will be doing very well indeed. In fact, everything in the Madagascar portion of the game is near perfect in terms of third person action, with the chase, the preceding platform puzzle sequence, and the open world area all showing Naughty Dog at the absolute height of their craft. It also helps that the graphics are absolutely fantastic and that Nate and most of the supporting cast (maybe not so much his brother) are such a delight to be around. It’s also nice that for once a game series is given a proper conclusion, even if the door is left ajar for more.
In the space of two generations FromSoftware has risen from complete obscurity to creating the unexpectedly influential Dark Souls and now having one of the most anticipated games of the new generation, in Elden Ring. Technically Sekrio isn’t a Soulsborne game (there are less role-playing elements and no multiplayer) although most of the other ingredients are the same, with a similar style of open-ended level exploration and brutally difficult combat. Sekiro is also a ninja game though, clearly influenced by the old Tenchu titles, and that adds a distinct flavour of its own, with one of the most satisfyingly difficult final boss battles of all time.
11. Into The Breach
We wish the art design wasn’t so bland, and the random elements do repeat a bit too often, but beyond that Into The Breach is a perfect video game. It doesn’t look like much but that tiny eight by eight grid plays hosts to some of the most intense video game action ever put to silicon. It may be a turn-based strategy game but Into The Breach is fast-paced and accessible, although admittedly very difficult. Literally every single decision matters, with an easy victory turning into total failure in an instant. The roguelike elements add almost infinite longevity and this may well be our most played game of the generation.
10. Bayonetta 2
Although Devil May Cry 5 represents a convincing return to form for Dante and co. it is Bayonetta who remains queen of the still nameless sub-genre which the two franchises occupy. Part action adventure and part fighting game, Bayonetta 2’s combat may seem relatively straight forward at first but layer upon layer is added as the game progresses, with new weapons, moves, transformations, and items that add depth but never overcomplicate. And yet it’s the game’s bizarre sense of humour and arcade style logic that seals it as a classic, with enormous boss battles and wonderfully imaginative action set pieces that make this one of the greatest action games ever made.
No matter how good they are some indie games never manage to find their audience but when one of them hits a pop culture nerve it can gain the sort of success that makes traditional publishers green with envy. Undertale is one such game and while technically it’s a role-player there really isn’t any easy way to explain it’s full appeal, with its menagerie of bizarre characters, heartfelt storytelling, and peculiar bullet hell-inspired combat. Partly a parody of role-players, and video games in general, the consistently clever writing is funny but also thought-provoking, with each character having a relatable motivation no matter how inhuman they may seem. The attention to detail and characterisation are light years ahead of most big budget games and the game’s cult success is thoroughly deserved.
8. God Of War
On the PlayStation 2 and 3 Kratos was one of the least sympathetic video game protagonists ever created, to the point where having to play as him for another 40-hour long video game seemed more a threat than a promise. But the magic of this soft reboot is that it would never have the same resonance if those earlier games didn’t exist. At the start Kratos has mellowed but is still something like his early, belligerent self. Then, over the course of the game, you see his attitude slowly change as a result of his experiences and in particular having to protect and nurture his son. It’s one of the most successful character arcs ever seen in an action game and a skilfully crafted action adventure that’s not quite open world and not quite a Metroidvania; a game where neither the story nor gameplay dominate but instead operate in perfect synergy.
Unlike Breath Of The Wild, Super Mario Odyssey wasn’t aiming for reinvention but a recreation of the more open-ended style of 3D Mario game seen in Super Mario 64. Its intentions may not have been as radical as its stablemate but it is almost equally as successful in its goals, with an energy and sense of fun that is infectious from the moment you pick up the controller. The complicated, sandbox style levels and the precise but versatile controls make every step and leap a joy and the new gimmick, of being able to control other objects and characters with your hat, is a great idea. It’s not our favourite 3D Mario – we’d still rate the two Super Mario Galaxy games higher – but that still puts it ahead of 99% of all other video games.
The fact that NieR got a sequel is a miracle in itself, the fact that it turned out to be one of the best games of the generation and a surprise commercial success is something we still can barely believe. The collaboration with PlatinumGames is an inspired one, as the combat was the weakest part of the original game (which is getting a remake next year) but here it’s an equal partner with the bizarre but surprisingly profound storytelling. NieR:Automata may seem offputtingly weird at first but while the way it’s presented may seem absurd it deals with serious issues of self-identity and existential angst in a manner that is genuinely thought-provoking. Add in some cool boss fights and a great soundtrack and you’ve got one of the best games of the generation.
5. Mario Kart 8
Whether you consider it a Wii U or Switch title, Mario Kart 8 is a game that’s hard not to describe as perfect. Perhaps that’s not surprising given Nintendo has been refining the series for over 25 years now, with far less difference between each sequel than their other franchises. There have been ups and downs over the years, but Mario Kart 8 perfects the formula with the most satisfying handling model and the best collection of power-ups ever seen. The anti-gravity gimmick is neat too, and helps show off the gorgeous graphics, while the revamped Battle mode in the Switch version is a very welcome addition.
4. XCOM 2
For years strategy games were assumed by console gamers to be slow and unexciting experiences, with many never caring if they remained on the PC. That stigma hasn’t gone away entirely but XCOM has certainly helped to turn things around. The performance on last gen consoles isn’t great (although it’s much improved on the new formats) but the control system and interface is wonderfully intuitive, allowing you to control your squad of alien-busting soldiers in battles that are just as tense and fast-paced as any action game. The meta level strategy element back at base adds additional depth but is just as easy to get to grips with, although there’s never any help with the most difficult decision: what to name your soldiers and what to do when they die and you realise they’re never coming back.
Some games have cool names that immediately make you want to know more and some games have names so offputtingly generic you instantly write them off before bothering to find out more. Unfortunately Original Sin 2 is in the latter category, but it is without doubt the best traditional role-player of the generation and a seemingly impossible achievement for a relatively small studio like Larian Studios. Every element is worthy of praise, with combat to rival XCOM, a hugely complex character customisation system, stealth options, dialogue options, a highly involved magic system, and, importantly, a winning sense of humour and surprisingly good voiceovers. The cherry on top is a split-screen co-op mode for everything but the Switch version, which really is going above and beyond.
FromSoftware may be most famous for Dark Souls but their greatest achievement so far is the slightly more action-orientated Bloodborne. As with many games on this list it seems impossible that so relatively small a team could make such a massive and intricate game, one where every inch of every map is packed with hidden detail, every enemy has purpose from both a gameplay and story perspective, and every weapon and item has its own unique properties. The atmosphere the game generates, of hopelessness and mounting terror, is so thick you can almost see it seeping through the TV screen, especially once the Lovecraftian elements become plainer and the game’s simple monster hunt becomes something much more eldritch and terrible. Like any From game, Bloodborne isn’t easy but it rewards every effort you make with it a hundredfold.
The fact that Breath Of The Wild is such an uncontroversial choice for game of the generation speaks volumes about its quality. That after more than 30 years Nintendo was able to not only create the best entry in the series but institute a root and branch reimagining of the whole Legend Of Zelda concept is extraordinary, especially as in doing so they showed just how unambitious and formulaic other open world games have been this generation. Yes, the world is big but it’s the level of interactivity you have with it, enabled by the physics system and your toolset of magical abilities, that is truly extraordinary. You can barely walk a step without finding a new secret, stumbling upon a new character, or realising a new skill. Breath Of The Wild is unquestionably the game of the generation and by that virtue very probably the best game ever made.
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