Kyle Hilliard's Top Five Games Of Last Generation

by Kyle Hilliard on Jan 01, 2015 at 02:00 PM

I’m sure many of our lists will feature broad open worlds and RPGs full of choices and alternate player-driven directions, but I have always been a fan of the more curated experience – the one that has been designed with a specific goal in mind that the player must accomplish. I love exploring open worlds and making decisions about my character, but when it comes to considering the best games of the last generation, I recall games with boundaries and direction where the designers knew exactly where it wanted the player to go and how and what they would be experiencing along the way.

5. Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead snuck up on me. I love Valve games and I was excited to play Left 4 Dead leading up to its release, but I prefer single-player experiences in general. I assumed Left 4 Dead would be a game I‘d play for a few days and have a good time, but would quickly abandon in favor of something with puzzles I could stare at for a few hours with no one waiting on me.

Instead it became a temporary obsession. We bought a second copy so my wife and I could play together on a pair of TVs placed side-by-side and we forced every person who entered our home to play with us. It’s the only game to ever inspire me to yell, “Get to the chopper!” in complete earnest, and in many ways it continues to be unlike anything I’ve ever played.

It’s the kind of game my friends and I would theorize about with no expectation of it ever existing after binge-watching Romero’s Trilogy of the Dead on VHS. Where most would opt for a night out of heavy drinking and debauchery for their bachelor party, I invited my friends over for a night in (with heavy drinking) to play Left 4 Dead.

It’s one of my favorite multiplayer experiences ever, and certainly my favorite of the previous generation.

4. Limbo
This is an entry I am certain will not appear on anyone else’s games of the generation lists. It’s not that it’s a bad game – I doubt anyone would argue that point – but it simply did not resonate with others the way it did for me.

I am a big fan of environmental puzzles (hence my love for Zelda) which Limbo executes on expertly, but it’s the dark mysterious world that draws me in so much. I gasped out loud the first time I saw other children in the world; I winced every time I died; I breathed a huge sigh of relief every time I barely made a jump; and when I burst through the glass in slow motion in the end and made my way to the sister, I barely breathed.

Both my wife and I played through the game multiple times seeking out the hidden eggs, and then took it further by seeking out the extra additional non-achievement related eggs that curiously disappeared from the game in every release following the Xbox 360 version.

After completing the Xbox One release of the game, I have officially played the game on every platform available (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Vita, and iOS) and even got the fewer than five deaths achievements a few times. There’s just something about the game that I cannot get enough of.

For my top three games of the previous generation, head to page two.

3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
It’s strange to think back now how pessimistic everyone was about Batman: Arkham Asylum. I remember reading the Game Informer cover story (I wasn’t working here yet) and thinking to myself the game certainly sounded cool on paper, but there was no way it would be good based on Batman’s recent history in the world of video games. I wasn’t alone in those thoughts either, as assorted video game podcasts and editorials I read online shared my pessimism.

It wasn’t until a demo of the game showed up in the store I worked at that I started to get optimistic. It was just a combat demo, but I quickly got the hang of the counter system and played it every chance I got. Even if the game was just combat like this, it would still be pretty fun.

I have a vivid memory of getting the Game Informer in the mail that had an early review of the game and calling my friend to excitedly report it had received a 9 out of 10, though, admittedly, my pessimism still remained.

Once I had it in my hands, however, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the game, with its slow-paced opening escorting Joker down Arkham’s hallways with peeks at other villains I was sure to encounter in the coming hours. And when I realized it took a Metroid approach to unlocking items and weapons to explore new areas of the asylum, I knew I had explore every inch – and I did.

I enjoyed Rocksteady’s follow-up, Arkham City, but Asylum’s condensed single location and tighter pacing of weapons and items is the more memorable experience for me. It showed that a good game can be crafted around a character people are passionate about (which I am when it comes to Batman) and I cherish my memories of climbing through Asylum’s surprisingly large air ducts.

2. Super Mario Galaxy
A common complaint levied against Nintendo is it does the same thing over and over. We may see the same characters again and again, but to claim Nintendo only repeats themselves is simply unfounded, and I think Super Mario Galaxy is the perfect example.

Super Mario Galaxy took the genre Nintendo invented, the 3D platformer, and completely changed the approach to how you interact with the genre’s namesake – the platform. I will never forget the first time I leapt from the side of a world in Super Mario Galaxy, only to begin falling and be pulled in by gravity to land on the other side. Before I ever even took a step towards collecting a coin, or grabbing a star, I must have spent 45 minutes flipping, long-jumping, and just walking off the edge of the first level. It changed my perception of the platformer in the most literal way, and I didn’t put the game down until I had acquired every single star.

Traditional levels were present as well, but even those played with platforming mechanics and gravity in fascinating ways. It’s easily my favorite 3D Mario, even overtaking the first time I ran up to Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64 (which was also awe inspiring) and there is no doubt in my mind, thanks to Nintendo’s solid workmanship and strive for perfection, that Super Mario Galaxy will continue to be fun for years and years.

1. Portal 2
I have a confession to make to my previous employer. On April 19, 2011, I was perfectly healthy. I e-mailed you around 4 a.m. claiming some kind of temporary sickness, but it was a lie. My plan to, “just play through the intro,” of Portal 2 after picking it up at midnight went horribly awry when I looked over at the clock and realized I had to be at work in a few hours. I knew tearing myself away from the game simply wasn’t an option, so I made a new plan. I used a sick day.

Many claim Portal as being the better of the two thanks to the initial discovery inherent in using a portal gun to solve puzzles for the first time, and while that’s a perfectly valid stance to take, I think Portal 2 is simply a better game. It retained the hilarity and charm of the first game, expanded the fiction in fascinating ways, crafted better puzzles (it removed those annoying bouncing energy balls), and had Cave Johnson.

But for me, it’s more than just a solid iteration of an already fantastic game – it epitomizes the kind of experiences I seek when I play video games. It’s one of the few games I want my non-gamer parents to play to showcase why I love video games so much. Even my favorite games have some sort of embarrassing element that makes me pause when I think of showing it to non-gamers like the inclusion of violence, cheesy writing, overt sexual innuendo, or a childlike whimsy that I may be arguably too old for – but not Portal 2. Every aspect of that game is worth showing off without apology and I love it for that.

I have played through the game multiple times on multiple platforms, and even when I know the solutions to the puzzles I have a goofy smile on my face and a worthwhile experience every time. It’s not only my personal favorite game of the previous generation, but it is also one of my favorite games of all time, period.