Matt Bertz's Top Five Games Of Last Generation

by Matt Bertz on Jan 01, 2015 at 06:30 AM

Given the amazing run of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, I could have gone several different directions with this top five list. I could have focused on the best of the best, delivering a predictable list featuring stand-outs like BioShock, The Last of Us, Mass Effect, Fallout, and countless Rockstar games. I could have favored the trailblazing efforts of indie upstarts, highlighting personal favorites like Braid, Limbo, or Journey. Neither approach would be wrong. 

Instead, I chose to highlight the games I spent the most time in during the last generation. Not only were these titles great, but I found myself returning to them in between playing other games as the years went by. Here are my top five games of the last generation:

5. NHL 09

The sports genre suffered a severe thinning of the herd over the course of the generation as beloved franchises bit the dust. But amid that reduction, some games rose to unprecedented heights. While Madden and FIFA were struggling to find their game early in the console cycle, the stalwart sports franchise from EA was undoubtedly its NHL game. In honesty I could have chosen any title from 09 to 11, but I spent the most time with NHL this version. The debut of both Be A Pro and the EASHL gave me two major destination modes to enjoy throughout hockey season. The thrill of cracking an NHL lineup with a created player wasn't topped for several years until the introduction of NBA 2K's MyCareer, and I still think the 6v6 EASHL is the best online multiplayer mode in sports games. Before EA debuted NHL 10, I sank hundreds of hours into this unforgettable hockey sim, and for that it earns a place in my top five. 

4. Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Before Battlefield got caught up in the arms race against Call of Duty, DICE released this beauty of a multiplayer shooter. I enjoyed the subsequent Battlefield games, but for me this was the high water mark for the series this past generation. Bad Company 2 had the best campaign of the series to date, but the real draw was the perfectly distilled action of the 24-player skirmishes online. Without all the throwaway modes like capture the flag and team deathmatch, Bad Company 2 brought a laser focus to promoting teamwork with its small handful of modes. All of the maps were well balanced for both rush and conquest, the two modes that define the series for me. This game also had the purest form of destructible environments, which DICE has since scaled back in Battlefield 3 and 4, and several of my favorite multiplayer maps of the generation (most notably Arica Harbor). Bad Company 2 only got better with stellar Vietnam expansion, as well. I hope future Battlefield games take note of the pure experience this game offered.

3. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

When I think of the qualities that originally drew me to my favorite game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, it was the sense of wonder exploring the world, finding loot in dungeons, and meeting the curious citizens of the various towns. No modern games scratch that itch for me better than modern Elder Scrolls games. I poured over 300 combined hours into Skyrim and Oblivion, so I would be comfortable listing either of them on this list, but Skyrim gets the nod for its superior open world. The avalanche of missions doesn't weigh me down in the world of Tamriel, it makes me think I'll never run out of things to do in these wonderful fantasy settings. 

2. Grand Theft Auto V 

From the early top-down games to its modern marvels, the Rockstar aesthetic has always spoken to me. I love the studio's cynical take on American culture, its dedication to nailing the vibe of its east and west coast approximations, and its steadfast conviction to continually bush the boundaries of the open world experiences. As a former New Yorker, a large part of me wanted to give the nod to Grand Theft Auto IV. Liberty City perfectly captured the feel of NY, and Niko may be my favorite GTA character of the generation. But Grand Theft Auto V gets my nod because Los Santos is the most fully realized open world I've ever experienced. Sometimes I turn on the game and ignore all the available quests in favor of a leisurely cruise up the coastline admiring the sights and sounds of this amazing destination. 

1. Red Dead Redemption

Ever since I was a kid, I have wanted a game studio to create a video game that captured the spirit of the Clint Eastwood movies I grew up watching with my father. Over the years, games like Dead Man's Hand, Red Dead Revolver, and Gun tried hit the target, but inevitably came up short. Then Rockstar released Red Dead Redemption and changed everything. The studio went all out to tell former outlaw turned family man John Marston's tragic tale, motion capturing a horse to nail the feel of a trusty steed, building an expansive countryside that felt vast while still drawing players to activities, and honing its shooting mechanics to perfection. The startling ending is perhaps my favorite video game conclusion of all time, and I think the Texas Hold 'Em game within it is better than the hundreds of poker games being sold at retail and digital stores to this day.