Games of the Generation – Part 3: The Heartfelt

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No longer satisfied with the usual pretexts of captured princesses and alien invasions, as videogames matured they attempted to tell bolder stories and give players greater motivation and emotional investment in the gameplay. Over the last few years certain works have emerged to challenge the popular notion that games are mindless entertainment, standing up to (and even exceeding in some regards) the best drama in any medium. It’s the interactive core of videogames that make them uniquely capable of creating a truly empathetic link between the player and the characters, and designers are starting to exploit this, and to explore ways to tell stories unique to the medium. Here are a few games that, for us, pushed the creative envelope and often made us cry in the process.

Richard Murphy
The Last of Us
last-of-usThe Last of Us manages to combine the thrill of stealth, the intensity of a cover shooter and the terror of low-fi survival horror. Played on the hardest difficulty setting even the most steadfast of gamers is reduced to a quivering lump of fear armed with only a broken bottle and their wits to traverse the ravaged America.

By blending the familiar with the new I was always one step away from getting too cocky with my ammo supplies and biting off more than I could chew. It was a technological masterpiece that blurred the lines of exploration, explanation and realisation, with visual clues and narrative hints paced to perfection, but subtle enough to not bear down upon me.

It favoured quiet stalking and misdirection over headshots and reaction time, and when the pace was cranked up it was as breathless and brutal as you would have expected in a world of such desolation and ruin.

And at the heart of it, at the very core was Ellie and Joel. Two people so wracked with loss, so poisoned by chance that hope was all but extinguished. Their relationship was bound by circumstance and strengthened by dependency so much so that they were willing to risk the entirety of human existence just to be together. This selfish act showed that humanity, in all its wretchedness and purity, could survive even the worst of times; because the moment we stop wanting to be with each other is the moment we stop being human.

Martin Robertson
Heavy Rain
heavy-rain2010 – a year in gaming I’ll never forget. I had initially ignored the hubub about Heavy Rain, then decided it was something I had to play. Glad that I did. Here was a game that questioned my decision making process. A game that tackled a tricky subject matter. A game that showed the power of the PlayStation 3. More importantly, a game that completely altered my perception of games. I was hooked and blown away in equal measures. Playing it through shattered every perception I ever held about the mature content of games. It almost felt as if the game had been made for me and me alone. It’s very rare that I’ve connected with a game like I did with it. If you haven’t played it, I won’t spoil it for you but I would urge you to get it and play it to the end. For me, it’s the game of the last generation.

Ben Sykes
Tales of Xillia
tales-of-xilliaThe game of the generation for me was Tales of Xillia, not so much because it was the best game that I played, but for a lot of little personal reasons.

If you’re an avid Ready Up reader, you’ll have seen me pop up every now and again ranting about RPGs and how they’re amazing. However, since my interests are pretty limited to RPGs I’ve never found something that I’ve been so passionate about that I could write a feature length article on. Until this year.

In May I woke up to an email from Kirsten [Ed: our magnanimous overlordess] saying “LOOK AT ALL THIS STUFF” in not so many words, preparing us for the Western release of Tales of Xillia. It was at that moment that I realised that I wanted my first feature to be about something that I really cared about, and it took the form of “15 Years of the Tales Series – Tales of History.” A piece I am still very proud of.

Then in July I reviewed the game and once the review was published, I buggered off on holiday for two weeks. When I got back, Dan and Kirsten called me out for a coffee and handed me a framed page from PlayStation Magazine October edition. On this page was a full advertisement page for Tales of Xillia, along with a pull quote I had used in my review. Life = Made.

Shaun Greenhaff
Uncharted 2
UnchartedUncharted 2 may seem like the easy choice to some, but that should say something about it being one of the right choices. For better or worse Among Thieves embodies everything about the last generation – the escalation of spectacle, trying to capture the feel of a Hollywood blockbuster through set pieces and fantastic dialogue/acting. Uncharted 2 was a game that just had so many great moments, some of which were even slow and quiet pieces of almost non-gameplay. Even the trailer was a great thing to watch, with pieces of gameplay playing underneath a melancholy monologue given by Nathan Drake, regarding whether fortune really does favour the bold.

There’s not a lot to be said about Uncharted 2 that hasn’t been said already. Honestly, Uncharted 2 wasn’t the first time games had tried to be like movies, or had contained such exciting set pieces, or had been acted well. Honestly though, for me at least, this was the first time that everything had been put together so expertly and had worked so well. That’s the beauty of Naughty Dog in my opinion, they can take an idea that may already be well worn, and craft an experience so fantastic that it can feel new and exciting again. Uncharted 2 is the perfect example of this, and that is why it is my game of the generation. Mind you, it helps the multiplayer was a hell of a lot of fun as well…

Dan Bendon
bastionGathering my thoughts on the ‘best’ game of the generation is a daunting task but naming the game that meant the most to me is a no brainer. Bastion took me by surprise and hit me from all sides at once, the world, the characters and the story all work so perfectly that the gameplay itself seems to just happen. Like turning the pages of a book. Then there’s the music, I’m listening to it as I type this, I can’t imagine a time when I won’t listen to it.

But the thing I’ll never forget about Bastion is the choices, leaving Zulf or rescuing him. In all my playthroughs I’ve never left him, that slow walk of death that follows and the eventual reprieve leaves my hands shaking. Then there’s the final choice, the greater, but likely doomed, good weighed against the happiness of those you’ve grown to love. The first time I had to choose I selfishly selected happiness, the second I chose the greater good. God, I wish I’d never seen that ending, I regret it every time I think about it. If you’ve not played Bastion, you should, it has very literally become a part of me.

Dean Bowman
Gone Home
gonehome-4It’s difficult to add anything new to the many words that have been expended on Steve Gaynor’s emotionally taut achievement, yet it’s equally hard to over-estimate its importance. Despite having no visible characters, Gone Home makes you feel a part of an absent family’s life to the extent that you empathise fully with the dramas that have befallen them, most specifically with your younger sister’s fraught sexual awakening. By playing on the natural curiosity of gamers and the tropes many games share of leaving tangential information in ambient notes and audiologs, the game leaves a breadcrumb trail of ever deepening clues and insights. The atmosphere is superb, making you feel isolated and vulnerable in a spooky house during a storm, scrambling for each light switch like a frightened child and desperate to fill the silence with punk rock music from tapes found here and there. The haunted house references are a red herring, designed to put you on edge, but they also demonstrate how programmed we are to interpret things in games a certain way. That sense of relief we feel when reality reasserts itself makes the bittersweet ending all the more powerful.

Like a finely crafted short story, Gone Home executes on one strong idea and explores its surprisingly mature themes with a sophistication and subtlety hardly ever seen in the medium. Many accused it of not being a game, which is partly true. It’s so much more than that. Like anything truly new it feels strange and uncertain. Yet this will be remembered as a watershed moment for videogame storytelling for decades to come.


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