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Eight games which define a generation | Opinion | Gaming

The seventh gen of gamingMany words have been written about the ‘blockbuster’ games of the so-called seventh generation of home games consoles, but, as we move into a brave new world in November, what will their legacy be?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 boasted the biggest launch day sales figure in history (now more than likely claimed by GTAV) and Skyrim undoubtedly boasted the most hours spent by borderline-obsessed gamers indulging their fantasy lives, but some games made a more definitive impact (for me, anyway).

The titles below are the ones which made a significant impact for me on either Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360. (Sorry Wii U owners, but the real party is still to come, and also since I never owned a PS3, apologies in advance).

Resident Evil 4 (Wii)

Resident Evil 4: Wii EditionUndoubtedly the most suitable and effective port of a game I have ever come across, Resi 4 had it all. There was a great, likeable protagonist, admittedly not the sort of guy you might want to go for a drink with, and an intriguing mysterious action/adventure (not survival horror) coupled with a drop of Japanese insanity to keep things interesting.

Whether it was the obsessive upgrading of my weapons – you never know when you might need an extra shotgun shell – or the cripplingly simple puzzles which I still couldn’t complete, there was fun to be had around every corner here, and on the Wii it took things a step further in terms of control and immersion.

Of course this wasn’t the arcade-machine-in-your-house that was Umbrella Chronicles, which was excellent, but flawed, but somehow there was something terrifying about the fact that you can’t move your character properly. It just added to the experience.

By the time you got to Resi 5 the magic had worn off, and the novelty of not fighting zombies but gunning down people infected by parasites unfortunately couldn’t sustain it through.

Guitar Hero III (360/PS3/Wii)

Guitar Hero IIIAs much as its predecessor pushed the envelope over the first in the series, it was this game which really made its mark and told the world was here to stay (well, for a bit…).

The inclusion of rock icons such as Slash for the first time attempted to bring an element of narrative to proceedings, with mixed success, and shook off the legacy of Harmonix, the first game’s developer.

Like many Guitar Hero titles, the tracklist was key to the game’s success, boasting classics such as Pearl Jam’s Even Flow, Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson and, most memorably, Through The Fire and Flames by Dragonforce – a fiendishly hard track unlocked at the end of the game during the closing credits.

There might not have been a huge jump forward from Guitar Hero II, but the style and execution was more polished, consistent, and fun.

The coop or head-to-head battles made for some entertaining late night entertainment, especially when arriving home at 2.00am at university, and there is the added benefit of being exposed to some excellent music from a variety of bands and years.

Rock Band 3 (360/PS3/Wii)

Rock Band 3Of course, by the time Rock Band 3 came along, the music game was on its last legs, but this title is as close to entertainment perfection as I think any game has ever been.

The addition of downloadable tracks, which began with the first game, reached a peak in this title as new songs were added every single week since launch for years after the game first came out. Plus there was the chance for content creators to share out their own music on the service, and often get more exposure than they ever could have any other way.

The implementation of the keyboard could have been smoother, but it was still fantastic, and opened up the possibility of you actually learning keyboard through a console, something for which I’m sure Rocksmith is most grateful.

The title gave the most diverse range of songs to date and became a classic party game overnight.

The notes runway, developed by Harmonix for the first Guitar Hero, reached its peak with every song playing out its own way – even including space for some improvisation.

The instruments were slightly hit and miss compared to rival title Guitar Hero: World Tour, but the travel version of the game’s cumbersome drum kit quickly made the entire package more accessible.

This game defined multi-instrument gaming to an extent that it has never been bettered since. Some might argue that it was the final nail in the coffin of the music game era, but to finish with an encore like this? Not too shabby.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360/PS3/Wii)

Call Of Duty 4: Modern WarfareProbably the most influential game on this list. It spawned an entire generation of modern military shooters, many of which carrying the COD moniker, and the twitchy-action and gritty fast-paced style of the game was aped just as often as the gameplay.

The nuclear destruction of the protagonist mid-campaign, a tragedy the player could do nothing to escape, was one of the most dramatic moments in video game history. To take such a bold step was something which, unfortunately they weren’t able to live up to in subsequent iterations.

The execution of the gameplay is undeniably one of the most well-produced of the generation, and still holds up well today. Campaign mission ‘All Ghillied Up’, a flashback featuring the player taking control of series regular Captain Price on a stealthy sniper assignment, remains one of the most tense and memorable missions for a first-person shooter.

Although the multiplayer wasn’t for everyone, it undeniably set the standard with its level design and perks system, even pushing the envelope in terms of Downloadable Content, something build upon significantly in later games.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (360/PS3)

Battlefield Bad Company 2What Modern Warfare did for shooters in general, Bad Company 2 did for vehicle combat.

Battlefield has always been about team play and the epic scale of war, and this title created a feeling of immersion within vehicles which I had never experienced before.

Not that it was the height of realism, but the map design and balance of different vehicles made it an incredibly compelling multiplayer experience. Flying vehicles were tricky, and arguably are still a little fiddly even now, but definitely good fun.

More impressive than the gameplay aspects though, where what developers DICE did with their new engine, Frostbite 2, which offered destruction even more impressive than that seen in Red Faction: Guerilla.

Buildings and scenery crumbled under the might of tank shells, with wood splintering, concrete disintegrating and the ground developing huge holes.

On top of that you add some of the most entertaining game modes out there for online multiplayer and you had a fantastic game. The only thing which pushed it that little bit further was the DLC expansion, Vietnam.

More than just DLC, the addition added new maps, vehicles and weapons to completely change the tone of the game within its own digital playground. Most importantly of all, it pushed the fun factor up to 11.

Left 4 Dead 2 (360)

Left 4 Dead 2In terms of multiplayer re-playability, there’s little which stands in the way of L4D2.

Although the game came out a little close to its predecessor for comfort, it managed to bring most of that game along with it through a number of DLC updates (which, admittedly, took some time).

The AI is what really impresses me about this game, as each of the special infected act differently and never fail to catch you out, no matter how many times you have played a particular level.

The feeling of panic as the horde rush mindlessly towards you far outstrips that of your average horror game. The sheer number of infected is overwhelming, not perhaps in the way as they are in Dead Rising, but because of their speed and relentless nature you quickly find yourself flailing wildly to escape.

The AI director, who silently changes the game behind the scenes to make a different experience each time, acts as an evil torturer at times, gifting the odd health pack before hitting back with a world-ending Tank.

Being a Valve game, the attention to detail is excellent and the level design is second to none – every time you play a game you find a different aspect jumps out at you (not literally, mostly).

It might have taken some time to become the game it is today, but that’s Valve, and there’s no doubt that it is the crowning glory of asymmetrical multiplayer.

Grand Theft Auto IV (360/PS3)

Grand Theft Auto 4It might be the fifth iteration which is grabbing all the headlines for its billions of sales, but it’s the fourth instalment which really put the franchise on the map.

After swinging between realism and caricature for years with various games on the PS2, Rockstar decided to go all-out with the vast expansion of its world.

Comedy clubs you could visit, bowling, drinking, and a plethora of other sights were on show in what was the biggest and most detailed parody of New York City that has ever been created.

From the ‘GetALife’ building to the Statue of Happiness, the parody is flawless, mocking American culture at every turn. All to the effortless soundtrack of the Liberty City radio stations, which take things even further.

While the gameplay might not be the best aspect, in fact many aspects such as driving or combat are done far better by even similar games released around the same time, but it’s the overall convincing nature of the game’s world which makes the title truly compelling.

The story wasn’t anything ground breaking, but it fitted in with the game’s world well, offering insights into the life of Niko Bellic. How the player chose to make that character act is another story.

Mass Effect (360)

Mass EffectMass Effect undeniably has the greatest story of any game I have ever played. Not least because it’s a story I wrote (sort of).

As the first chapter in the most exciting and varied piece of interactive story-telling in history, Mass Effect claims the crown over other RPGs (or, later, ‘action RPGs’) by making the player the centre of that universe so completely that they believe it has been created just for them.

The decisions you make throughout the story continue to shape the universe for years afterwards, cutting out entire characters from the subsequent games or changing alliances between races.

The controversy of the ending was inevitable with so much scope, but I believe that, all things considered, developers BioWare did well.

It’s one thing to create characters people love and care about, it’s another thing to feel like you really know them, love them, miss them when they are gone.

Garrus remains one of my favourite characters of all time, in any media, purely because of the journey he has joined my version of Shepard on. The emotional investment with this franchise, for me, is something which I haven’t experienced since Star Wars.

Is this what it's all about, or is there more to it?
Is this what it’s all about, or is there more to it?

In the end, it is the experiences we have all had with these games, more than the games themselves, which will ‘define the generation’.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration or a grandiose statement to make to suggest that this is the most variety we will ever see in any generation of gaming ever.

The difference between the games which began it, like Perfect Dark Zero, and ended it, the likes of Watch Dogs and plenty more still on the horizon, is vast. The one thing which they do have in common, is the player, and for me, this next chapter of gaming remains just as interesting and exciting because of the new types of experience it will inevitably bring.

So there you have it, my not-quite-top-ten. Which games would you choose?

James Michael Parry

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Gaming | Review: Mass Effect 3 – Part 2 | This Is Entertainment

Take back EarthAfter 45 hours of fighting, the Earth has been saved. Mass Effect 3 is undoubtedly the greatest conclusion to Shepard’s fight against the Reapers we could have hoped for, but it’s far from faultless. Just like in the first part of our review, in part 2, you can expect minor spoilers, but will stop short of ruining it for you (hopefully), just enough to explain ourselves.

After countless disc-swaps, we reached the midpoint in the story (see part 1), which is centred around the Citadel – the same could be said for the entire series to an extent. Needless to say once it is over, things have changed over at the hub of the galactic community, and this brings up the first of a few bugs.

You will find the map highlights ‘places of interest’ as well as people on the right hand side. Unfortunately, due to the endless number of plot threads, the game can often get confused about which people should be there and which aren’t. For example it assured us banking Volus Barla Von was behind his desk at his store in the banking area in the Presidium Commons, but after Act 3 he could no longer be found there. Luckily, the journal marked his quest as completed, so we weren’t short of his war assets for the grand finale.

Other issues with the game stem from its cover system. While leaps and bounds ahead of Mass Effect 2, the game still struggles with cover at various points, sometimes taking you around a corner rather than mantling over cover, and rolling into cover often ends up with you just standing there looking at a wall. Generally it isn’t a major issue, but in the occasional fight, particularly the more frantic battles you face towards the end (think four Brutes at once…) you feel as though the game restricts you rather than enables you.

Scanning, while now dealt with in systems rather than planets to an extent, is still a fairly laborious process, with no clues as to whether there is even anything to find in a particular system, and some entire clusters seem to be pointedly empty, as if DLC might unlock something to do on one of their many worlds. The impending danger of scanning revealing the Normandy to the Reapers provides an initial fear, but quickly dissipates when you realise the auto save merely takes you back to when you entered the system – meaning if you can remember where the assets are, it is a simple case of trial and error for the game to give up its treasures.

Cut scenes too are riddled with issues. The usual conversation wheel loops from ME2 remain, which allow you to ask for elaboration on a point multiple times, and at one point in a conversation with Liara on the Normandy, both she and Shepard decided eye-contact was for losers and instead looked to their left and right respectively, while continuing to talk normally.

Can you beat Cerberus AND the Reapers?Despite this, it isn’t enough to ruin what is an incredible tense build up to the finale. In the second half there are a number of side missions (depending on how many you did in the first half, obviously), which see you meet up with more members of your ME2 crew. In our playthrough, we only had one squadmate missing – sociopath biotic queen Jack – and we didn’t miss her. Some squadmate appearances seem more significant than others, and you feel that without mainstays like Garrus and Tali you would lose a lot of what makes the game fun.

Passive conversations take a step up a notch as well, depending on your personal story. Some moments we enjoyed from these were Garrus and James Vega’s verbal sparring, EDI and Joker’s romancing in Pergatory and Tali drowning her sorrows in the lounge after Shepard meets up with Miranda to face-off with her controlling father.

The From Ashes DLC provides you with a brand new squadmate, a Prothean called Javik who was preserved in a life pod back on Eden Prime to be discovered by Shepard. The debate rages over whether this content should have been included in the retail release, and for 800 points the price is high for little more than a simple side mission, but having a Prothean in the ranks makes for some interesting encounters through the game.

As you near the end of the game, you feel the urgency of the mission build, in what is a masterstroke from BioWare in terms of their much boasted ‘integrated storytelling’. The occasional line is often thrown in to hark back to the first title in the series, but sadly the memorable side missions from Mass Effect, such as collecting Keeper data, aren’t tied up in what would have been a great opportunity to reward veteran players.

Combat difficulty gains momentum as you take the plunge and commit to finally taking down The Illusive Man, something many players have been begging for since the shifty head of Cerberus (voiced expertly by Martin Sheen) appeared on the scene at the opening of ME2.

The War Room in the Normandy gives you a breakdown of your forces, as well as the chances of success, ahead of the final assault to take back Earth, and it’s here that the Galaxy at War multiplayer really makes a difference to your final fighting strength.

The odds are always stacked against Shepard and his crew, and setting down on Earth – in London no less – this time around is no exception. While the setting raises a smile from a British perspective, (little other than big ben’s clock tower and some traditional English phone boxes set this apart from any post-apocalyptic warzone) the streets lie strewn with rubble and destruction as all manner of Reaper-class enemies advance on you almost relentlessly, particularly the instant-kill weilding Banshees, created from biotically charged Asari.

Despite the uncertainty of a war zone, Shepard still makes time for a chat, catching up with each of his squad members – end even video calling those who aren’t in the thick of it – for what is a deep breath before the plunge of the final big push.

The games ending  (which will try our best not to spoil) is the biggest bone on contention with the game as a whole, with Facebook campaigns and petitions already well underway in outrage at how BioWare could have ended the game as they did.

The truth of the matter is that there is no way the ending could ever have lived up to the events that paid the way to it, and the team have ended up tying things up with a head-scratching moment rather than a definitive ‘The End’.

While many would argue the conclusion alludes to the finale of Deux Ex: Human Evolution in its simplicity, the result is that players can discuss their ending knowing that the context of others’ games – which are infinite in complexity – are irrelevant, which is both and a strength and a weakness at the same time.

However players decide to end their game, the fact that their is still a choice goes back to what BioWare set out to do, and the ride always had to end sometime.

In the end, Mass Effect 3 is up there with the likes of Skyrim for epic story, but has a wealth of different experiences for each player in a totally different way. If a character is there or not changes the experience significantly, but doesn’t disadvantage or penalise the player as other games would. In the case of our playthrough, it was easy to work out where Jack should have been, but the mission was still hugely enjoyable without her.

Shepard’s story is one which everyone who plays ME3 will have a different level of investment in. To get the best possible experience, an import is crucial, and too an extent a lot of the emotional weight from the story just wouldn’t be possible without it.

Regardless of your choices, ME3 is a game which helps define this gaming generation, and makes the best stab at a Hollywood-esque franchise ever committed to disc. The issues tackled, romantic sub-plots, combined with the action and drama, make Mass Effect as a whole the most affecting story in gaming history, and one which demands attention from anyone who has ever picked up a control pad.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry

Gaming | Review: Mass Effect 3 – Part 1 | This Is Entertainment

Prepare to take back EarthWith so many countless variables in Mass Effect 3, one person’s game will play out very differently from another’s. What is certain is that the game, so far, is one of the most involving, rich and diverse titles in the Xbox 360’s history. In this (spoiler free) first part of our review, we will look at the game up to the events on the Citadel, the political capital of the galaxy, around half way through the game.

The first thing to note is that importing a save is vital to the complete experience of Mass Effect 3. The story so far adds to every event which unfolds in the game, so if you haven’t seen the ancient Prothean beacon on Ilos, pondered the Krogan’s mass fertility disease the Genophage with Mordin or punched a reporter in the face, then you won’t be as invested in the galaxy as Shepard is.

Even so far there have been over a dozen occasions when characters who you have previously met, or decisions you have previously made, directly affect the outcome of plot points, from relatively minor side-missions to the main story arc.

The line between Paragon and Renegade has never been more blurred as Shepard must do whatever it takes to gather as many ‘War Assets’ as possible to take down the Reaper threat.

You’ll see many characters from Mass Effect 2 return as well, who have varying levels of integration with the story, since you have to bear in mind they could be completely absent from the game for some players if they did not survive 2’s Suicide Mission.

Many were disappointed with the Citadel in 2, and those criticisms have been met head on in part 3, with six areas of varying size to be explored, and selling more than just fish and space hamsters.

The most common difference you will notice between Shep and his shipmates is that they are far more dynamic. Far from static characters, you will find squadmates both all over the good ship Normandy and across areas like the Citadel, which makes them far more convincing as independent characters rather than just vaults of information which have to be teased open by talking to them at just the right time.

Another difference is the dialogue in general. There are far more ‘passive’ conversations, which don’t leap into a face-to-face conversation wheel, but just play out between characters. Often there will be conversations or arguments going on between NPCs and Shep can decide to back one side or another, but even when you can’t get involved you will see conversations progress as you re-visit areas, with characters offering new dialogue and giving you a glimpse into their personal struggles with the war. It’s details like this which really fill out the world and make it authentic, or as authentic an end to the universe as you can imagine.

Mini-games like hacking, bypassing and planet-scanning are gone, streamlining the experience, but instead you will find a more dynamic edge to the galaxy map. With the Reapers spread across the galaxy, zipping around isn’t as care free as it might have been. Some systems are being attacked by the Reapers as you visit them, meaning there is a chance you will run into one by passing through. What makes this more likely is the Normandy scanning the system for War Assets, since the sonar-esque signal reveals its location and draws the Reapers in. A bar indicates their alert level and when it fills you will hear the tell-tale Inception-horn of their arrival, often it’s a close call just to get away.

While you can read our initial impressions of combat in our previous post about the demo, which was representative of the finished product, there are a few more aspects to combat which are worth noting. The most pesky thing to come across is the deployable turrets put down by Cerberus Engineers. These shielded death-doers can cut down your character in a matter of seconds if you find yourself caught out of cover. The easiest way to avoid these confrontations is to beat down the Engineers before they deploy them, but this is far from easy.

While combat in the main game is more epic than before, and the accompanying cut scenes really show how BioWare have opened out the world so it’s more than just a collection of corridors, the real hard-as-nails nature of the enemies is revealed in the multiplayer mode.

A new addition for Mass Effect 3, the  mode contributes to the single player campaign by boosting ‘Galactic Readiness’. AS you kick ass and take names in multi player, the galaxy’s armies gain confidence for the final confrontation. While not essential, even a few multiplayer games can make a real difference to the effectiveness of your war assets.

Expect more on Mass Effect 3 in the next week or so as we polish of the single player campaign and give a verdict on the reportedly controversial ending, as well as the oft-mentioned From Ashes DLC. In the meantime read our interview with Commander Shepard’s male voice actor Mark Meer both early in development and deep in the middle of it.

James Michael Parry