Critical Mass: The Best Games Of This Generation...So Far

by Jeff Cork on Sep 01, 2011 at 07:31 AM

Time flies when you're having fun. It seems like it was only yesterday, but our current generation of console hardware launched nearly six years ago, with the release of the Xbox 360. Nintendo and Sony followed suit a year later, with the Wii and PlayStation 3. Since then, we've been able to enjoy some of the greatest games of all time. We're taking a quick look at the top 10 games of this generation, according to score aggregator Metacritic. While the site has its critics, it's tough to argue that the games on the following list are anything but excellent.

Due to a clerical error, BioShock was accidentally omitted from this list when this story was originally published. We apologize for the error and any confusion that it may have caused.

#11: Portal 2
Valve Developer: Valve Release Date: April 19, 2011
Metacritic score:
95 Game Informer score: 9.5

Valve's followup to 2007's puzzle game Portal made quite a splash, blending intricate physics-based puzzles with fantastic characterizations. The game added more tools to Chell's arsenal, including glops of paint that interacted with surfaces. Portal 2 definitely showed that the series had a longer shelf life than all of those "The cake is a lie" references.

#10: Red Dead Redemption
Publisher: Rockstar Games Developer: Rockstar San Diego/Rockstar North Release Date: May 18, 2010
Metacritic score: 95 Game Informer score: 9.75

Rockstar's cowboy-themed game was more than Grand Theft Auto with horses. The company, famed for creating believable worlds, outdid itself with this title. Players could spend dozens of hours simply exploring the game's various canyons, plains, and wilderness. It boasts one of the best ending sequences in games, Which played to the medium's strengths while shocking players.

#9: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo Release Date: November 19, 2006
Metacritic score: 95 Game Informer score: 10

The Legend of Zelda series is one of Nintendo's most prized franchises, and this Wii release shows why. The launch game introduced motion-based swordplay, and while the controls weren't entirely accurate, it was close enough. For players who grew up swinging sticks and pretending they were swords, this was a dream come true.

#8: Mass Effect 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts Developer: BioWare Release Date: January 26, 2010
Metacritic score: 96 Game Informer score: 9.75

With Mass Effect 2, BioWare took a critical look at the first game's design and overhauled many of its shortcomings. The game's inventory system was streamlined, mining was retooled, and the game played like a contemporary shooter. Better still, BioWare made good on its promise that players would see the effects of their decisions from game to game.

#7: The Orange Box
Publisher: Valve Developer: Valve Release Date: December 11, 2007
Metacritic score: 96 Game Informer score: 9.75

Valve's game compilation remains one of the best deals in gaming history. The Orange Box bundled together Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episodes One and Two, Team Fortress 2, and a little puzzle game called Portal. Each of these games was outstanding on their own, and being able to snatch them all at once felt nearly criminal.

#6: LittleBigPlanet
Publisher: Sony Developer: Media Molecule Release Date: October 27, 2008
Metacritic score: 96 Game Informer score: 9.5

Media Molecule's game generated a lot of buzz at 2007's GDC, where Sackboy and the game's whimsical world were shown in public for the first time. A year later, players had the chance to fall in love with the game's simple level-building tools and deep customization. Being able to share and download other users' creations was just the icing on top.

#5: Uncharted 2
Sony Developer: Naughty Dog Release Date: October 13, 2009
Metacritic score: 96 Game Informer score:10

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The first Uncharted was a solid game, but a bizarre fourth act and dodgy Sixaxis functionality kept it from greatness. Naughty Dog didn't hold back for the sequel, creating the gaming equivalent to a blockbuster action movie. It wasn't just a cheap thrill ride, though; Nathan Drake was a fleshed-out character accompanied by a cast of well-developed supporting players.

#4: BioShock
Publisher: 2K Games Developer: 2K Boston (Irrational Games) Release Date: February 9, 2010
Metacritic score: 96 Game Informer score: 10

In case there was any doubt before, BioShock reminded players about the importance of setting. BioShock's world featured menacing Big Daddies, superpower-granting Plasmids, and a variety of unusual weapons, but they were all overshadowed by Rapture. This would-be utopia under the sea was the stage for a memorable morality play about the illusion of free will and the nature of humanity.

#3: Super Mario Galaxy
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo Release Date: November 12, 2007
Metacritic score: 97 Game Informer score: 9.75

Nintendo took a risk with Super Mario Galaxy, moving from the traditional Mushroom Kingdom setting and pushing the action into space. As it turns out, Mario was perfectly suited to explore the game's selection of microplanets. Super Mario Galaxy did a great job of keeping a gimmick from feeling gimmicky, providing some of the most satisfying action that the plumber has ever seen.

#2: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo Release Date: May 23, 2010
Metacritic score: 97 Game Informer score: 9.25

Nintendo doesn't usually release direct sequels to its Mario games, but the company made an exception with Super Mario Galaxy. Thankfully, we're all richer for the experience. Galaxy 2 expanded on the first game while maintaining its critically important quality. It's one of the rare games that appeals to both hardcore players and casual gamers.

#1: Grand Theft Auto IV
Rockstar Games Developer: Rockstar North Release Date: December 2, 2008
Metacritic score: 98 Game Informer score: 10

The Grand Theft Auto series defined the latter half of the PlayStation 2's life cycle, giving many players their first taste of an open-world experience. With the Xbox 360 and PS3's improved capabilities, Rockstar was able to push the genre ahead even further. GTA IV's Liberty City is a fully realized metropolis, with distinct boroughs and architecture. Above all else, it's one of the few in-game cities that actually feels alive. This is where Niko Bellic will make his mark. Rather than tell a rags to riches story, Rockstar decided that Niko's journey would end, at best, with him in slightly better rags. It's a technical marvel, an example of the medium's potential power, and, most importantly, it's fun as hell.