Our three-part farewell to console generation seven comes to a close! In Part One, we looked at our favorite exclusives, and in Part Two we went multiplatform and dug into our favorite games from each genre, but to wrap it up, we're looking at the more personal side of gaming, with CRN's gamers' favorite characters, moments, visuals, and more!
Now, just to be safe, we're going to be discussing a lot of story elements, endings, and twists, so let it be known that there will be PLENTY OF SPOILERS! Now, let's get started!
Favorite New Character
Joseph Luster - Frank West (Dead Rising)
This one took some thought, because I don't actually think this generation saw many standout characters, and that's mostly thanks to the scarcity of great writing. Frank West still stands out to me, though, even after all this time. It's telling that those who've had to follow in his footsteps thus far in the Dead Rising series haven't had the same impact, and besides, he's covered wars, you know.
Nate Ming - Garrus Vakarian (Mass Effect)
Plenty of games saddle you with a second-in-command, or a best friend, or a rival of some sort. Oftentimes, you just tolerate them. Sometimes, you hate them with a fiery passion--hey, Gary Oak! But former C-Sec officer and former vigilante Garrus "Archangel" Vakarian does more than just fight alongside you and provide witty banter. He recalls embarassing old stories with other crewmates, he challenges decisions of yours he's uncomfortable with, and you feel like his totally fictional loyalty (or love, depending on how you play Shepard) is earned, rather than forced upon you.
Amanda Rush - Connor (Assassin's Creed III)
It's hard not to feel like a badass when you're playing Assassin's Creed, but with Connor we brought the franchise over to American turf and meddled with our founding history. I loved having an Assassin with Native American-influenced combat techniques (and dat tomahawk).
Favorite Returning Character
Joseph Luster - Raiden (Metal Gear Solid)
I know Nate is going with this one, too, but I can't help but follow suit. No one else made such a spectacular comeback from the pits of mediocrity than Raiden. Think about how disappointing it was when he shuffled Snake out of the picture in Metal Gear Solid 2, and then cut that memory to ribbons with his starring role in one of 2013's best actioners.
Nate Ming - Raiden (Metal Gear Solid)
"DEAD ON!" The award for most unexpectedly badass rebirth goes to poor Raiden, who was so utterly hated in his Metal Gear Solid 2 debut that his appearance in MGS4 blew everybody's minds. Seeing him in action on his own in Revengeance only further demonstrated how first impressions aren't everything.
Amanda Rush - Kratos (God of War)
He's the baddest mother around (sorry, Shaft). He's brutality embodied--it's hard not to love this guy.
Most Hilarious Moment
Joseph Luster - Demonic Curse (DmC: Devil May Cry)
This isn't the kind of demonic curse you're probably thinking of. One of my favorite bits in Ninja Theory's unfairly dissed DmC: Devil May Cry involves the boss fight against Poison. The 1200-year-old demon may essentially be a Futurama gag, but it's her initial exchange with Dante that cracked me up. Only our brash hero could rile up an ancient demon enough to reduce it to a simple and childish volley of f-bombs.
Nate Ming - Getting a New Skillshot (Bulletstorm)
Bulletstorm is a stupid (yet insanely fun) game with writing that I'll admit is kinda shitty and juvenile. I even love the "I'll kill your dick" exchange from early in the game. But the absolute best thing about this, and what sets it apart from every other shooter that isn't named Vanquish, is the emphasis on style and creativity with its insane Skillshot system. From the messed up (Homie Missile, where you wrap grenades around an enemy and kick him into a group of his friends) to the more messed up (Breakdance and Ceiling Fan, where you drill an enemy into the floor or ceiling, respectively, and watch them spin around), to the fact that alcohol was a score multiplier... yeah, more games should be like Bulletstorm, and stop taking themselves so damn seriously.
Amanda Rush - Claptrap's Robolution (Borderlands)
The insanity of thousands of modded and insane Claptraps intent on world domination and robot indoctrination is quite possibly the most absurd DLC... and the best. I laughed at those little bastards incessantly.
Most Touching or Tragic Moment
Joseph Luster - Quiet Time (The Darkness)
The Darkness is a game no one really talks about any more, but it was a solid shooter with some fun mechanics. Outside all the tentacle-lashing action and Mike Patton-voiced demons, one of the nicest moments involved simply sitting on the couch and watching TV with your girlfriend. Maybe adding an achievement to it took some of us out of the experience for a second, but the scene was essential to sharpening the blade on Jackie Estacado's tragic motivation.
Nate Ming - The Very Model of a Scientist Salarian (Mass Effect 3)
I went into Mass Effect 3 completely ready to say goodbye to some characters, no matter what I did. This wasn't like the Suicide Mission in ME2: this was the end, and I was okay with letting Mordin--a "doctor who'd killed millions"--go to his certain death to make sure a lethal disease was cured. Redemption's cool and all, but it was his last moments, singing to himself and being completely at peace with his end, that caused me to lose it.
Amanda Rush - The death of Sarah (The Last of Us)
The Last of Us grabbed the player from the very first moment and didn't let go, and it did that by murdering a little girl. There have been very few moments in games that have made me well up like that.
Most Epic or Awe-Inspiring Moment
Joseph Luster - Sailing the Seas (Assassin's Creed III)
Overall Assassin's Creed III was just alright, but man, the first time I set out to sea in a full-on ship, I was in awe. The crashing waves, the dull thud of distant cannonballs; it all seemed so vast, so it was a no brainer for ACIV to expand upon those amazing moments.
Nate Ming - "Survive." (Halo: Reach)
It was all leading up to this one moment. The rest of your team was gone, the rest of the planet was overrun, but your mission was accomplished. Now it's just you, a charred, hazy battlefield shrouded in smoke and ash, and a literal army that's on the hunt for you. You have one objective: survive.
You won't, you know that. And I know that a ton of less-motivated gamers just threw a grenade at their feet and called it a day, but I led the Covenant on a merry chase for what felt like a solid hour (it was really closer to like twelve minutes, but hey), with me jumping at every new contact. Halo tends to make you play as an armored super-soldier, but the vulnerability and inevitability you feel in this scene really make every small victory stand out.
Best Visuals (2D)
Joseph Luster - Rayman Origins
Both this and its more recent sequel, Rayman Legends, are some truly gorgeous games. The method of incorporating art via UbiArt Framework, which allowed Ubisoft Montpellier's artists to worry more about the art and not the technical side of things, really made for a unique style that towers above similar family-friendly platformers. It's also really fun!
Nate Ming - Dragon's Crown
This generation's crop of fantasy games all borrow heavily from the visual style of the Lord of the Rings films, which is awesome, because there's some lovely filth a palpably grimy realism--these are places where people live, from tiny towns that have streets paved with mud to the ivory towers, flapping banners, and hilariously unsafe back alleys of big cities. Then, there's Dragon's Crown, which is a Frank Frazetta painting come to life, colorful and larger-than-life and dripping with style.
Amanda Rush - Limbo
As simple as Limbo's graphics were, it was also amazing. The creepy factor of Limbo, the subtlety of the art, everything about it made the game beautiful, a little mesmerizing, and engrossing.
Best Visuals (3D)
Joseph Luster - Mirror's Edge
The way the stark white environments made the red guide areas pop resulted in a truly unique-looking game. Mirror's Edge is one of those titles that didn't seem very appreciated when it came out, but one day, WHAM, a sequel was announced, so everyone wins. If they can make a few tweaks in the combat department--or even find a way to nix it completely and make it all about evasion--then we'll have something even more special and no doubt even more beautiful, on our hands.
Nate Ming - Street Fighter IV series
It's a proven fact: top-tier "realistic" graphics never hold up as well over time compared to stylized graphics. No matter how real a world may seem or how lifelike characters can appear, they can be completely blown away by something coming out only a few years or even months later by visuals going for the same feel, and then the cycle begins anew. Good thing, then, that Capcom went out of its way to just create 3D renderings of Daigo Ikeno's stylized and exaggerated character designs, borrowing heavily from the classic SF stylings of Bengus and Kinu Nishimura. Street Fighter IV is a gorgeous playable cartoon that's full of expression and life, and its visuals still astound me five years later.
Amanda Rush - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Everything about this game was beautiful, from the night sky to the dragons.
Favorite New Game Mechanic
Joseph Luster - Perspective-Shifting (Fez)
Like any great puzzle-platformer, Fez makes the player feel like a million bucks when they solve its many puzzles. The perspective-shifting mechanic was utilized in some increasingly creative ways throughout, and it's a hook that never got old.
Nate Ming - Freeflow Combat (Batman: Arkham series)
I've always been a big fan of action games that I call "fight scene generators," which focus on a combination of skill and style, and tend to be pretty difficult--think Viewtiful Joe, Devil May Cry 3, or Bayonetta. On the flipside, most action games have a few canned combos or animations, and fights boil down to a hit/block/dodge rhythm, completely lacking the energy and flow of the best cinematic fights. Enter Batman: Arkham Asylum and its Freeflow Combat, which focused on combining aggressive rhythmic melee combat, mobility, and Batman's entire arsenal of gadgets to create one of the most fun combat systems in video games today with surprising enemy variety, each one bringing new challenges to each fight. You can even see hints of it in Sleeping Dogs and Uncharted 2 and 3. It's simple, but challenging--anybody can survive a fight in an Arkham game, but not everybody can come out of one with a Perfect Freeflow or a half-decent score.
Joseph Luster - Sif, the Great Grey Wolf (Dark Souls)
A bunch of fights from Dark Souls could have made this entry. The Bell Gargoyles, for instance, pop in my head instantly, mostly due to them being the first major triumph of the game. There's something about the moonlit battle with Sif that makes me smile, though. Maybe it's the fact that he's a giant wolf that carries a massive sword in his mouth. Really fun and challenging one-on-one test of agility.
Nate Ming - Deus (Asura's Wrath)
I'm always used to taking on threats alone in video games. I don't count AI companions as much help, either--I'm usually the one doing all the work. But in Asura's Wrath, during the final showdown with Deus, both Asura and Yasha leap into the fray. Getting to control both of them as they tag-teamed Deus made for a really exciting to watch, and especially exciting to play fight to the finish. CyberConnect2 is just that damned good with its QTEs.
Joseph Luster - Playing golf with Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)
I'm going to have to be a bit boring and parrot Nate below, because I really can't think of much else that surprised me narratively outside of Bioshock's big reveal. There were some other moments, like the nuke actually going off in Call of Duty 4, but that series has the player character getting shot in the face so much that it's really no big deal.
Nate Ming - A man chooses, a slave obeys (Bioshock)
I went into Bioshock cold, trying hard to avoid all talk about it on the internet, so imagine my surprise when I find out I've been dancing to Ryan's tune this whole time! I'm always in control in video games, except in cut scenes, so helplessly watching as I beat my supposed enemy to death with a golf club threw me for a loop. Once it was all done, what the hell was I supposed to do? What came next? And could I have avoided doing any of the stuff that came before?
Amanda Rush - The Last Enemy That Shall Be Destroyed (Red Dead Redemption)
Just when you've got him at badass mode, suddenly the game up and murders him and makes you play as his punkass son. Thanks, Red Dead... thanks.
Game You Love that Everybody Else Hated
Joseph Luster - Dante's Inferno
Like I said in Part 2, beat-'em-ups and hack-'n-slash action games are some of my favorites, and while I thought it sounded ridiculously dumb when it first came out, I absolutely loved Dante's Inferno. It's gruesome, action-packed, and y'know what? It is ridiculously dumb. It's just the kind of dumb I happen to eat up happily.
Nate Ming - Resident Evil 5
When this came out, I felt like I was the only person who had friends who played video games, because the co-op is hilariously good fun. Yeah yeah, "not survival horror when you're that well-armed" and all, but just like Blade and Deep Rising are fun action movies with horror elements, Resident Evil 5 is a total blast when you're back-to-back and taking on a horde of not-quite-zombies.
Amanda Rush - Disney Universe
Yeah, yeah, I know. Sometimes it's just easy to amuse me. Plus, it reminded me of the Lego games, and those are the best.
Humberto Saabedra - Wartech: Senko no Ronde
This game had no business being released in the US, since it was ported from Japanese arcades and was a weird-ass hybrid shmup-fighting game. Everyone hated it for being sold at $59.99 with barely two hours' worth of content, which led to it getting a massive price cut not even a week after it came out, or as was the case at GameStop when I worked there, the new copies quickly getting moved to "used" status and getting a massive price cut a month after launch. Gaming press hated on it for its mechanics and really thin content, but my friends and roommates would get drunk/stoned and play against each other almost every night when we got bored with SFIV. Good times. Too bad we never got any of the updates or DLC, though.
Joseph Luster - Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
This is a spoiler, so if for some reason you haven't... you know the drill. I loved the ending of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and was dying for the game to keep going on as Gabriel sat in his cold, modern-day throne as Dracula himself. I kind of saw it coming but wasn't sure, and I was so happy they went through with it.
Nate Ming - Grand Theft Auto IV
In the tradition of the greatest crime films, Grand Theft Auto IV was a series of painful tragedies that saw Niko descend further and further into his city's underworld, and ended with a painful choice: who dies? Niko's hapless cousin Roman, who finally has a new lease on life with the woman he loves, or Kate, a woman who could be Niko's only chance at a normal life? They even handled this choice in an unclear way--the way you handled the previous mission determined the direction the ending would go.
Amanda Rush - Portal 2
It's over-the-top, hilarious, and has some of the best songs in gaming.
Favorite Butthurt Gaming Community Moment
The backlash against Anita Sarkeesian's "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games." Whatever you think about the video content Sarkeesian has delivered thus far, her means of doing so are legitimate and the message is, at its most fierce, mild. The fact that the community can't handle any kind of self-reflection or criticism is both troubling and hilarious. Grow up.
The whole blowup over the Mass Effect 3 ending. Stories end, and sometimes--hell, most times--they're not what you expect, or even what you like. In a way, that's really what makes the exceptional endings stand out, and why I've always felt that the journey is more important than the destination. I think Harry Potter has one of the stupidest fanfiction-esque endings ever written, and yet I love the series, it doesn't take away all the time I spent enjoying the books. Sci-fi endings as a whole tend to be confusing, abrupt, and lacking, often all at once. I've lost track of how many shitty video game endings I've played through. I'm not saying everybody has to like the ending--that's a totally individual thing. But BioWare didn't owe anybody shit for making a disappointing ending. Call them out on it, leave it at that, and hope they do better next time.
Everyone throwing their Wiimotes through their televisions. It's always a good time watching the world at large try to operate a new gaming system with totally redone mechanics, but add in mass destruction of high-definition TVs? Comedy gold.
There are so many moments of anal devastation in the gaming community that it's hard to pick just one, but my favorite over the years has to be one of the more recent hemorrhoid flare-ups: the Sony press event for the PlayStation 4, where selected press got a personalized PS4 unit with the launch game slate. As usual, "gamers" got mad and incorrectly cried conflict of interest and/or gifts, when the reality of the situation was nothing of the sort.
If you could change one current industry practice for the coming generation, what would you do?
Maybe show some more respect to consumers? It's easy for gamers to feel like they're being catered to, but they're not. I'd love to see less paying for promises in the industry. I know making games is expensive, but I'm not feeling any pubs that try and get me to shell out extra dough for a Season Pass full of maybes and well-sees. I just want everyone to be honest about what they're delivering. Remember the whole fiasco with Gearbox and Aliens: Colonial Marines? That was pathetic, and everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.
You know what really stokes this fire, though? All this ridiculous brand loyalty; consumer allegiance to some corporation that rarely has the end user's best interests in mind. So yeah, let's turn this around and perhaps try and be a bit more discerning when it comes to plunking down sixty dollars on a game, or hundreds on a console. Think about what you're getting in return, and think about sticking to your guns if you're feeling a bit cheated.
Enthusiasts, particularly gamers, have a bad habit of talking big about speaking with their wallets, but when something they want hits shelves or online stores, it usually all goes out the window. I'm not trying to preach to anyone, I just want all of us to take a moment and think rationally before giving a company something like, say, another $30 (that's half the total game price!).
Pull back the budget some. Instead of making a "directed, cinematic experience" that's really only good once, make a game that you can actually play over and over again. SmallWorld and Settlers of Catan are f**king board games that are more engaging and replayable than many of the popular video games today. I mean, don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Uncharted 2, but I've only played it once. I enjoyed the hell out of it the one time and haven't touched it since. Very, very few games are designed for replayability these days, which brings me to my next thought:
I want to see a bigger range of price points. Today, games come in "cheapy downloadable" and "brand-new physical copy" rates, with very little in-between short of sales and deals. I think games could do a lot better if their prices reflected the amount of content available--some publishers are already doing this, since Anarchy Reigns launched at $30 and Deadpool streeted at $50. I think this is a great way to show the consumer exactly what they're getting.
Here's one more idea that won't gain any ground at all: still release Call of Duty (or any multiplayer-centric shooter) annually at $40 as a multiplayer-only purchase. There are people who skip single-player and go straight to the MP, and that will make the game move a whole hell of a lot faster. For those interested, you can pick up the single-player later as DLC. This gives them time to put something good together--Halo 4's episodic Spartan Ops started out kinda weak, but got a lot better as it was released week-by-week as free DLC.
I'd like the current DLC trend to ease up a bit. If we keep going the way we're going--especially when you consider games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity--it's easy to see us in a place where we buy the first piece of the game for $70, and then end up buying so much DLC that we've eclipsed the original price of the game.
If it was within my power to change an industry practice, it would be the working conditions developers deal with. No one should have to go through weeks of crunch time without getting paid overtime, nor should 80-hour weeks without rest be the norm for such an industry that requires one to be well-rested in order to avoid mistakes.
What do you most want to see in the coming generation?
Balls and color. I'd love to see more risk-taking in the industry, and less reasons for magazine covers to look like depressing deserts of grey and brown. We need big companies to give a chance to more bold creators--believe in your ideas enough to think they'll succeed without having to rehash the same old stuff year after year.
Remember, the only reason we have some of the major league IPs we have is because they were given a shot at existence once. I do think there are a handful of interesting games coming out of the big publishers this year and beyond--The Evil Within from Shinji Mikami looks particularly promising, and Titanfall and Watch_Dogs both have some life in them.
But we can't stop there. While EA works on Titanfall III and Ubisoft cranks out Watch_Dogs: After Dark 2 we're going to need more interesting experiments in design that push more in the new consoles than graphical capabilities. Because seriously, at this point the indies are straight-up embarassing everyone else in the creativity department.
It seems like developers are getting it now, but not everything has to be like Call of Duty (or really any other action-packed shoot-em-up), and very few games are going to make that kind of money. CoD fans are going to play CoD (likewise for Battlefield fans--hell, I play ARMA for my current military shooter fix), and when they want something else, they'll play something else. I'd like to see a bigger variety of genres, settings, visual style, and a little more risk-taking. Make a game difficult! Not all shooters (hell, this goes for action games now too) need multiplayer! Make a game's story gut-punch the player out of nowhere! Give players stories to tell, and stuff to recommend to their friends! Variety is good!
The graphics horse race has no effect on me when I can play Android games that have more fun built-in than 95% of AAA games. What I want to see is a renewed focus on storytelling and world-building over graphics, but I know that's too much to ask from the usual suspects, so I'll make myself content by focusing on indie and mobile games, while I sit and wait for the consoles to get any issues ironed out. I'll be too busy playing Gran Turismo 6 in the meantime to care about the XBONE or PS4 yet.
And that's a wrap! I guess I should be thankful (alongside plenty of other people) that this console generation isn't completely on the outs just yet--even while the focus shifts to next-gen, a lot of titles are still coming out for PS3 and 360, even titles that will be available on the PS4 and XBONE like Watch_Dogs and Thief. So while this console generation may yet have a few surprises in store for us, I think now's as good a time as any to look back at the past seven years. Thanks for joining us on this trip! Be sure to sound off in the comments with your favorite moments of this past generation, along with what hopes you have for the eighth generation!