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Jeff Marchiafava's Top Five Games Of Last Generation

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jan 01, 2015 at 09:00 AM

In the interest of starting my list with an original introduction, I'm going to say that picking just five games out of an entire generation of awesome titles was super easy. I definitely didn't obsessively stare at my list of candidates and argue with myself like a crazy person for hours on end. Here are my perfect and infallible picks.

5. Left 4 Dead
I've always been a big fan of zombie movies, but for many years, games starring the undead always fell short of their celluloid counterparts. Despite my ingrained skepticism, when I read my first preview of Left 4 Dead (long before I started working at GI or covering games), it was impossible not to get my hopes up. Could Valve finally deliver the zombie apocalypse I'd always wanted to play?

Upon release, I was ecstatic to find out that not only did Left 4 Dead live up to the hype, it completely rewrote the rules for cooperative gaming; fending off hordes of running, shrieking zombies was terrifying, and required real teamwork and communication in order to survive. My favorite memories of Left 4 Dead all revolve around playing with friends in the same room, and many spawned from the climactic finale sequences that end each campaign. Sacrificing your chance of escape to go back and help a downed friend or yelling at your teammates to go on without you (...or selfishly leaving them in the lurch to save your own hide) felt like classic zombie movie moments without requiring scripted cutscenes or developer intervention – they emerge solely from the gameplay and the excitement of your group of friends. Left 4 Dead might still not be my dream zombie game, but that wouldn't stop me from playing the hell out of a third installment.

4. Fallout 3
I'm a huge sucker for open-world games, and Morrowind (despite its crap frame rate on Xbox) instantly made Bethesda one of my favorite developers. I had heard very little about Fallout 3's development before it released, so I went into it gleefully blind.

At first, Fallout 3's atrocious gunplay left me feeling lukewarm about the game, but shortly after wandering out into the wasteland, I stumbled upon an abandoned grocery store. While exploring the dirty, disheveled aisles, a gang of bandits entered, and I spent the next 30 minutes hiding, sneaking up, and dispatching the enemies. Not only did the brilliance of the V.A.T.S. combat system click during this encounter, but the environment came alive; I felt like I was surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, and the freedom to approach situations however I pleased was thrilling.

I didn't even come close to finishing Fallout 3; my 50+ hours with the game was spent wandering around, looting homes, and completing an endless amount of side quests. Despite its bleakness, I can't wait for a sequel – I'm more excited for a new-gen Fallout 4 than I am an Elder Scrolls VI...

3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
And now allow me to contradict myself: Despite being more interested in playing a new Fallout, I've got to give a slight edge to Skyrim on this list, based on the ridiculous number of hours I put into it. Once again, I didn't actually beat Skyrim – as soon as the game opened up, I peeled off of the main quest line and spend the rest of my time screwing around. I did some guild quest lines, acquired a bunch of dragon shouts, and – for some reason – maxed out all of my stats associated with alchemy and thievery. Apparently, whenever I get the chance to role-play a character, I turn into a big weirdo.

Like Fallout 3, Skyrim's combat still isn't great, but it's functional, and the stealth options kept me engaged. So did sneaking into houses and stealing every single spoon, goblet, sheep sheers, and anything else I could take with me. Just because I'm hankering for a Fallout 4 doesn't mean I wouldn't happily play another Elder Scrolls game – or a remastered Skyrim for that matter.

2. The Last of Us
I've played and liked all three of the PS3 Uncharted games. However, I always enjoyed them despite their combat – the standard cover-based shooting and bullet-sponge enemies got in the way of the adventuring, puzzles, and memorable characters. The Last of Us was the first time a Naughty Dog game offered me the complete package.

My first time playing The Last of Us was for a magazine preview, and I instantly fell in love with the brutal melee combat and stealth mechanics. Silently carving you way through a series of enemies from the shadows is supremely satisfying, but I also appreciate the intensity of having your plan go to hell – which happens a lot when I play games. Even as I got good at the game, I felt like I was barely surviving, a testament to Naughty Dog's masterful balancing. The solid gameplay foundation only heightened the characters and storytelling, making it one of my favorite games of last generation...

1. Red Dead Redemption
But still not my favorite game of last generation. After hours and hours of mulling over my choices (despite it being a super-easy list), I'm giving the top honor to Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead provided the perfect merging of my particular tastes in games: The story and characters were almost on par with The Last of Us, but the open world provided plenty of freedom, side activities, and opportunities for tomfoolery.

Remember when I said I never finished Fallout 3 or Skyrim? Not so with Red Dead, and the emotional finale was a great endcap to the tale of a reformed criminal who has been rendered obsolete by the encroachment of society. However, I spent just as much time (actually, a lot more) lassoing bandits, playing liar's dice, and hunting animals as I did appreciating the narrative. Red Dead's gunplay was also topnotch, thanks in large part to the time-slowing Dead Eye abilities you unlocked. Then there was the time I spent a half hour repeatedly jumping off of a saloon's roof to admire Marston's physics-based tumbling animations – hey, I told you I'm a big weirdo.

And now I just want to play Red Dead Redemption again. How about a new-gen remaster, Rockstar?