Well, what a ride it has been. 7-odd years with my beloved PlayStation 4 and somewhat less-loved Xbox One. As transitional consoles from my emo-fringed teen days of angst and moodiness to my emo-fringed adult days of angst and back-pain, both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have been the vehicle for some of the most memorable, haunting and coolest gaming experiences to date. So in the spirit of nostalgia, and a way to say goodbye to old friends, allow me to break down my games of the generation.
God of War – 2018
Remember the God of War reveal trailer? The utter disbelief at the shift from Greek mythology to Nordic? The first time you heard Kratos say ‘boy’?
That voice, that fucking voice! Yes, Kratos is now played by Christopher Judge (who replaced original V.OTerrence C. Carson), but I still knew that voice! That voice was one I had grown up with. It was the voice I heard every day after-school as I destroyed monsters, slew gods and…engaged in QTE threesomes in the original God of War thrill-ogy. When Kratos returned in the reveal of the latest instalment, an older, weathered and world-weary figure, I screamed in excitement. I then spent the next ten minutes in silent rapture, watching what Cory Barlog and the Santa Monica Studios team had created.
They had created a masterpiece.
Not only is God of War, my favourite game of the last generation, but it is also in the conversation as my favourite game ever. To take a character that I was convinced had had his moment in the sun, a shallow avatar for my angst-riddled teen youth, and turn him into a complex, flawed, and ever-changing man spoke to a part of me far beyond the boundaries of the game itself.
The journey of Kratos’ redemption, guilt and bond with his son, Atreus, gave the game an emotional weight I had only experienced in more narrative-focused titles like The Last Of Us. I would be lying if I said God of War didn’t get me a little misty-eyed more than a few times. And while some narrative-focused games drop the ball when it comes down to moment-to-moment gameplay, God of War kept my palms sweaty with cinematic battles against dragons, giants, gods and the fiendishly difficult Valkyrie Queen, Sigrun. Good thing they also introduced the most badass weapon put to video games, the Leviathan Axe.
The God of War franchise should’ve been dead, but just like Kratos, it has proven exceptionally hard to keep down. With Santa Monica Studios’ sequel reportedly just around the corner, I can only dream of what the next chapter looks like.
Control – 2019
Do I like this game more because I won a free copy of it? Possibly (Thanks, Stevivor!). But ask any of my friends, and they will tell you that Control is a game I simply cannot – and will not – shut up about. As a fan of government/inter-dimensional mysteries and weirdness such as that seen in Twilight Zone, X-Files, Annihilation and Lost (the good parts, at least), Control was always going to pique my interest, but once I had it in my hands, I found it was the artistic direction Remedy took that made my experience extraordinary. The way the title of a location appears in large bold font when you enter is a real ‘Woah, shit!’ moment.
From the brutalist/art-deco architecture of the ever-contorting Oldest House to the chaotic, yet fluid, combat and the interconnectivity of other Remedy properties, Control weaves a rich tapestry of lore and story, which will move on without you if you do not keep up. This design philosophy and the technical wizardry (those particle effects!) on display in Control made it feel like a genuinely next-gen title, though sometimes to its own detriment (Yes, that frame rates on console suck).
The game peaks during the Ashtray Maze sequence that feels like a massive exhale, breaking the oppressive atmosphere the game had created to that point, delivering a euphoric rush that got my blood pumping. I won’t ruin precisely what happens here for those that haven’t played it, but I think the game’s protagonist Jesse Faden sums it up well at the ending of the sequence, as she excitedly exclaims “That was awesome”. Yeah Faden, it fucking was!
Despite the game’s ending not entirely living up to my lofty expectations, and the subsequent DLC packs being a mixed bag, Control is hands down the most exciting new IP I have experienced this generation.
Fortnite – 2017
Look, I know what you’re thinking, but this is my list, so hear me out.
Fortnite is an inescapable phenomenon. At its core, it is just a basic battle royale with some gimmicky build mechanics and mass-marketable art-style, tailor-made to spread like wildfire. And oh boy, it really did. In 2018-19, everywhere you looked, there was a banana-man holding a gun or some gross kid flossing. I can certainly see why the over-saturation started to irk people.
And look, the game has some legitimate issues. It has been well-reported that Fortnite has significant problems in regards to some extremely toxic members of the fanbase, complete disregard for the Save the World mode and highly predatory microtransaction system, and these need to be addressed and corrected going forward. Still, I will defend Fortnite for one reason: it kept me close to some of my best friends.
2020 has been a shit year (shocker, I know), and one of the things that has helped me through the garbage-times is the nightly rounds of Fortnite with mates aka The Coward Squad aka The Spitroast Squad (don’t ask). It’s not even really about the gameplay, or strategy, or new skins/themes when we play. We play to talk shit, have a laugh, and sometimes grab an elusive ‘dub’. Hell, we are at the point where we are pretty good – at least by our own standards.
If this was a list of our favourite moments in games from the past generation, the time my squad of four all hid in a hay bale watching a sole confused remaining enemy look high and low for us would probably take the cake. When we all jumped out, chased the lone enemy down and still only scraped in a win by the skin of our teeth, I was in hysterics. I honestly couldn’t care less about other people’s takes on the game, because for what I get out of it, it is truly one of the most important games I have ever played.
Still refuse to build though.
No Man’s Sky – 2016
What a comeback story No Man’s Sky is. Hammered from pillar to post upon release due to being a buggy mess, the game didn’t come close to the vision of sprawling, dynamic galaxies full of life and wonder that Hello Games’ Sean Murray sold us. And look, I was pretty bummed out when I first sat down with it. I had pre-ordered the game, and somewhat coincidentally fallen ill on the day it released, having to call in sick to work (nothing sus!), with a plan to sink hours into what I thought would be a rollicking space-faring adventure! It was not.
The first twenty minutes or so were quite interesting as I went around my planet, collecting resources and trying not to get poisoned/frozen/burnt to death, but aside from the exhilaration of breaking the steely bonds of the planet’s atmosphere for the first time and punching the face of God with my little ship, No Man’s Sky was all down-hill from there. Every planet was barren and uninteresting, the resource collection was confusing and tedious, and the mystery and the centre of the universe was a complete let-down. Heartbroken, I relegated No Man’s Sky to collecting dust on my shelf.
But obviously, there is a happy ending here. I feel like if this were a visual medium, this would be where we have an inspirational montage of the dozens of outstanding, free updates the game has received, possibly with Eminem’s Lose Yourself playing over the top. Every trailer for an update showing weird organic ships, mech-suits, dynamic weather or the hundreds of quality-of-life improvements, my interest would shoot back up. With VR integration rolling out as part of one of the latest updates, I finally jumped in and was absolutely floored. Though still not exactly what was first promised, No Man’s Sky had become something else: a testament to persistence.
The game is almost unrecognisable to what was released, now a massive, vibrant universe that I not only want to explore, get lost in, create my own stories in, and have that rollicking space-faring adventure I wanted from day one. I fired the game up on the Xbox Series X a few days and was yet again stunned by the improvements. If you were burnt by this game when it first came out, I understand entirely, but please do yourself a favour and revisit it. I think you will be genuinely surprised.
The Last Of Us Part 2 – 2020
To me, good art should make you feel something. That ‘something’ doesn’t always need to be positive, either. Hate, sadness, loss, grief, anger – these are all feelings I felt while playing The Last of Us Part 2, in ways I have never felt while experiencing a story across any medium. This game seriously fucked me up.
Following up a masterpiece like the original The Last of Us was something I didn’t think possible, so I will admit I was sceptical when the sequel was first announced. But yet again Neil Druckmann and the team at Naughty Dog showed us just how good they are, releasing a game that improves on every aspect of the original, from the story to the gameplay and most impressively, the emotional impact. Even the switch-up in character perspective, though controversial for some, just added to my appreciation of the game’s unwillingness to portray actions as merely black or white.
As I said in my spoiler-heavy review of The Last of Us Part 2, ‘Despite a few moments where the gameplay stumbled under the weight of the narrative, I found myself constantly in awe of what I was witnessing. I may not have ‘enjoyed’ my time playing The Last of Us 2, but it certainly is one of the best experiences I have had with a game and a story that will stay with me for years to come.