Andrew Reiner's Top Five Games Of Last Generation

by Andrew Reiner on Jan 01, 2015 at 02:00 AM

In 1989, my parents gave me Dragon Warrior as a Christmas gift. It was the top item on my wish list, yet I knew nothing about it. I was one of those dumb kids who would open up catalogues and jot down gift ideas as I leafed through the pages. I thought Dragon Warrior's box art looked amazing, thinking at the time that it would be an action game.

When I opened that gift – the only one that was shaped like a NES game – I was disappointed. I didn't voice my disapproval of getting Dragon Warrior and instead thanked them. I was more so upset with myself for making a lengthy list with a bunch of stuff I didn't want. I learned a lesson that year.

When we were done opening gifts, I brought the game downstairs and popped it into my NES. After just a few minutes of play, I deemed it the worst game I had ever played. That didn't stop me from playing more of it, however. After another 20 to 30 minutes, I finally started to understand what the game was about. An hour later and my tune changed from "disaster" to "the best gift ever." Although the game's story was hardly present, I rushed upstairs to tell my mom and dad about the amazing adventure I was on. I was blown away by the game's immersion, the size of the world, and the story.

From that day forward, I flocked to video games for the stories they could tell. The Super Nintendo opened that door further for me, and the rest is history. This entertainment medium is capable of telling amazing stories.

When I was asked to reflect on the last generation of games, my immediate thought was that it was the generation of first-person shooters. I thought my list would be comprised of Call of Duty games and titles that helped define that genre. As you'll soon see, however, part of that statement is true, but the real hook of the game of note is the story it tells.

For me, this generation was dominated by storytellers. From Ken Levine to the scribes at BioWare and Rockstar, my list celebrates the accomplishments of video games' best storytellers.

I didn't go into this list with the intent of picking just story-driven experiences. They stood out among the pack of great games, and were, quite frankly, easy selections.

Read on, play these games if you haven't already, and before you venture forth to another website or article, leave your list of top five games in the comments section below. I always enjoy seeing how your lists stack up with ours.

Coming up next: A science fiction soap opera...

5. Mass Effect 3
I'm one of those people who loves Mass Effect 3's original ending. I didn't see it coming, and the final choice I was forced to make held true to the ideology of the Commander Shepard I sculpted over the course of three games. For the sake of spoilers, I won't detail the path I took, but I will say, like most great science-fiction stories, I periodically find myself reflecting on the decision I made and the possibilities that could spawn from it. As I said in my review, I was left speechless by this finale.

Mass Effect 3, in its entirety, is as crushing as it is powerful, a story that beats the war drum slowly and loudly as it depicts a universe on the brink of collapse. I loved everything about it – Shepard's somber interactions with her squadmates, the cinematics that capture the scale of Reapers, the journey into Shepard's mind, and the sense of closure and defeat captured in the art design.

The game also performed admirably on the battlefield, delivering similar combat mechancis to Mass Effect 2 with nice touches like close-range Omni-Blade strikes, improved teammate A.I., and more interesting encounters.

Mass Effect 3 also shines in a way I never thought this series would: in cooperative multiplayer. I logged days of my life into this finely polished experience with fellow Game Informer staffer Matt Miller. The battles in this mode are intense, and push players to work together to clear out waves of enemies. And at the end of the fray, the game rewards the player well. For a baseball card collector like myself, getting a blind pack that could contain rare weapons, new characters, and gear is a special treat.

A good portion of what makes Mass Effect 3 so special is the journey that came before it. Carrying the same character and choices from game to game is one of my favorite breakthroughs in this generation of games. I just wish more developers would do it.

Coming up next: A wild open world...

4. Red Dead Redemption
I blogged about my favorite games of the previous generation a few years back, and spoke at length about Red Dead Redemption, stating that "if the video game industry takes anything away from this game, I hope it's not 'western games sell' and is instead 'period pieces are an untapped goldmine.'"

While I still feel we need more games that focus on world history (anyone else feeling nostalgic for World War II games again?), I'm going to backpedal on my original statement just a bit, and update it with the hope that publishers say "We should try to make the next Red Dead, whether that's a western or a period piece."

Yes, Red Dead Redemption sets the bar stratospherically high for gameplay, scope, and story, but there are still plenty of great stories out there to tell, and the spaghetti western films offer a deep well for inspiration.

Red Dead's success starts with its story. John Marston, a former outlaw turned family man, gives us a great window into America's West at the dawn of the industrialized era. He's a fun character to follow, conflicted morally, but determined to do what's right for the people around him.

The time we spend with Marston plays out like an emotional highlight reel. Just looking back on the game now, I can recall a dozen-plus sequences that made this experience unforgettable. The big, earth-shaking events, like watching Marston step out of the barn at the end of the game, have been discussed ad nauseam since the game's launch. The little touches like the music building as Marston enters Mexico for the first time is held in just as high of regard. The game flat out delivered, even in its slow moments with Marston doing chores for the homestead, riding horseback across the prairie, and mingling with townsfolk.

Red Dead Redemption is one of those ideas that many of us have wanted to see since we first started playing games. Neversoft's Gun planted that "what if" seed of expanding the scope to an open world. Rockstar made those dreams a reality, and turned the Wild West into one of the most exciting and unpredictable settings of the generation.

Coming up next: Down the rabbit hole...

3. BioShock
BioShock is one of those games that I likely will never play again. It's not for fear of it not holding up to my past memories, but the fact that I still remember it clearly, almost as though I played it yesterday. The colorful sights and horrors of Rapture are likely forever engrained in my mind. I can clearly recall the lumbering animations of the Big Daddies, the sounds of the vending machines evoking thoughts of carnivals, the vibrant gold glow of interactive objects, and everything about Andrew Ryan, his voice, attire, and slicked-back hair.

The big reveal is one of the coolest twists in all of gaming, and it can only shock you once – another reason why I likely won't return to one of my favorite games of the generation. If you haven't played it, you are missing out on an experience that lures you in with its unusual setting, and leads you along a tantalizing breadcrumb trail that questions your morality as much as it messes with your mind.

Coming up next: Stressful but rewarding...

2. The Last of Us
I wouldn't necessarily say The Last of Us is a "fun" game. It's exhilarating, powerful, and one of those experiences that pulls no punches and beats you down continually. It delivers a story that you want to see through to the end, clinging to hope that things will get better for Joel and Ellie.

It makes you enjoy quiet moments in which nothing is happening more than most games do. But even in those seldom moments of safety, you can't feel great about Joel and Ellie's current standing in the world. You know you have to push on through the madness and murder fellow man to potentially reach that happy ending that may or not fabricate.

It's a stressful game to play, but Naughty Dog's artists take some of the edge off with their gorgeous interpretation of a world in ruin. I won't spoil the ending for you, but by the end, when the credits roll, that exhale that comes with knowing the adventure is over feels so damn good.

Coming up next: Last generation's big apple...

1. Grand Theft Auto IV
I played through Grand Theft Auto IV four times in the previous generation, and I often find myself hoping I have time to finish it a fifth time. I don't often obsess over games, but for reasons I don't even know, I can't seem to get enough of Liberty City. Grand Theft Auto V delivers superior gameplay, more interesting missions, and a wider selection of vehicles, yet I still find myself daydreaming about running and gunning with Niko Bellic again.

I know a lot of people think his story is ridiculous to a fault, but I love how gonzo it gets. He seems to know it, too, offering hilarious quips and observations that often echo mine. I also love the choices that Niko is forced to make. Just thinking back on the decision made at the wedding, or who to frame in the sniper scope makes me want to drop everything and play this game again.

It's the ultimate sandbox experience for me. Yes, I know the gunplay is a little archaic now, but the core gameplay and missions remain just as dynamic and remarkable. The heist mission. Cruising into Times Square at night. An NPC grabbing the wheel while you are trying to drive. Every little moment with Roman. The Lost and Damned DLC. The multiplayer component. I could go on and on. This game is overflowing with great moments.