Even though this current generation of video game consoles isn’t wrapping up for at least another year, the new generation looms over the horizon. And thus, this warrants a look back at our recent past to honor the best of new franchises we were introduced to this gen. The list is based mainly on what franchises I found to be most compelling over the years. These opinions belong solely to me, but please feel free to list your own in the comments!
First, the games that didn’t make the cut. There are some awesome games here, but they just didn’t move me enough to make the list. All of them are still fantastic, though.
Honorable Mentions: Assassin’s Creed, Demon/Dark Souls, Gears of War, Saint’s Row, LittleBigPlanet, Borderlands
6. Dead Space
The horror series from EA went through a lot of changes from its inception to the end of the trilogy, but one thing that never changed was the fun factor. Sure, the series got less creepy and more action-y as time went on, but it still managed to keep me coming back with every release. Easily the premier horror franchise of this generation.
Best Game: Dead Space
The most meme-y of all the entries, Portal shocked everyone with a seemingly simplistic puzzle mechanic that soon turned downright devious. Coupled with the deadpan GlaDos and a brisk paced series full of hilarious jokes, Portal captured many a heart and mind on its way to becoming the most beloved puzzle series this gen.
Best Game: Portal
4. Batman: Arkham Series
Though the third game (a prequel, oddly enough) is only now coming out, it’s still a no-brainer to put the Caped Crusader’s adventures so high on the list. It’s not only a great Batman series, but a flat-out fantastic video game franchise in its own right. The first game was a stunning portrayal of how to make a proper superhero game and the sequel was one of the best open-world and/or comic-book games I have ever played.
Best Game: Batman: Arkham City
My personal choice for best video game hero this gen is the wisecracking, Nathan Fillion-esque Nathan Drake. He is allegedly an everyman, but his superhuman feats of climbing and shooting put the lie to that PR claim. With stunning setpieces, topknotch voice acting from the entire cast and gorgeous vistas to explore, Uncharted seemed like a generic action game upon first glance, but became one of the most critically acclaimed series of this generation. The second entry is widely considered one of the best games ever made.
Best Game: Uncharted 2
One of the many “Citizen Kanes of Gaming”, the original Bioshock wowed gamers with its haunting atmosphere, fun gameplay and a twist that blew your mind. The non-Ken Levine made sequel somehow managed to hold its own in terms of story, while improving the gameplay of the first. But it was Bioshock Infinite that solidified the series as one of gaming’s elite. Infinite told a separate story in a different location, but was even more compelling than the original. It remains my favorite video game of all time.
Best Game: Bioshock Infinite
1. Mass Effect
What started off as pretty good sci-fi RPG with a unique choice system and a compelling setting morphed into a series that inspired one of the biggest Internet hissy-fits I have ever seen. Mass Effect was pretty damn good, but the streamlined smoothness that Mass Effect 2 brought elevated the series into something no one could have foreseen. Never have choices in a video game series been so agonized over.
With the conclusion of the trilogy, Mass Effect 3, the series took a few steps backwards, but still delivered an ending that had people talking for months, so much so that EA had to apologize and give them more of the ending. Whether you liked it or not, the reaction was proof that Mass Effect had transcended the usual game zeitgeist and become something akin to Star Wars, Harry Potter or Lost: it was something you talked about, analyzed way more than you should have and in the end, left you wanting far more of that world and its characters.
It may not be the best series in terms of gameplay, but the journey you take over the course of the series was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It is the defining franchise of this generation.
Best Game: Mass Effect 2