Matt Helgeson's Top Five Game Of The Last Generation

by Matt Helgeson on Jan 01, 2015 at 06:00 AM

It was the longest console generation in history, beginning with the release of the Xbox 360 in 2005 and generally ending in the fall of last year. Looking back, it also may have been the best. With three successful consoles, there were more games than ever before, and console game designers finally had the technical power to accomplish things they'd only dreamed about in past generations.

It really was a great time to be a gamer, and I'm very grateful that I was able to be a part of it. Here are my top five games of the last generation.

5. Super Mario Galaxy

The first game on my list is at once one of the great games of the last generation, and one that has the greatest connection to the great games of video games' past. Nintendo's shown an amazing ability to reinvent Mario's simple platforming mechanics over the years, and Super Mario Galaxy is a brilliant reimagining of the iconic series.

It hinges on very simple design question: "What if Mario was platforming on small, three-dimensional planets instead of flat planes?" From this concept springs a long series of breathtaking platforming levels. It's completely novel, yet totally familiar. It's everything you love about Mario games from a slightly different perspective, and a master course in level design. As always, the basic movement and jumping controls feel perfect, allowing you to enjoy each inventive obstacle the game throws your way. It's everything I love about 3D platformers, a genre that, sadly, I don't expect to see much in this new generation of gaming.

4. Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar famously follows its gut when it comes to the games it makes, eschewing focus group testing and market research. Inspired by the classic spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, Red Dead Redemption proved the conventional industry wisdom that a Western game wouldn't sell to be laughably untrue. Like everyone else, I was enthralled by exploring the open plains of a long-past America, finding a host of amazing missions, myriad side activities, and a cast of memorable loutish frontiers-men and -women.

The game offers the seemingly endless content and exploration we've come to expect from Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series, but it also tells a story that is more emotional and resonant than anything the company had done before. John Marston is one of gaming's great characters, and the emotional ending of Red Dead Redemption can't be forgotten.

3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Games are art, but they are also entertainment. And, creating blockbuster "popcorn" entertainment is an art in itself; there's a difference between J.J. Abrams and Michael Bay. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is unapologetic big-budget entertainment, using Naughty Dog's mastery of the PlayStation 3 architecture to deliver explosive eye candy and huge set-piece moments.

The globetrotting, Indiana Jones-inspired action would have been enough, but the game also has something missing from so many triple-A games: real heart. While the tone isn't serious, the natural, easy dialogue and great voice performances make the relationships between Nathan Drake, Elena Fisher, and Sully resonate with the player.

When I was a kid, I was drawn to video games for their ability to send me on a grand adventure in places I could never dream of going to. That's what Uncharted 2 gave me.

2. Portal

Perhaps the best thing a video game can do is defy your expectations about how you interact with the world. Portal is a perfect example of that. There's so much to love about this game, but the best moment for me was my first minutes with the game, figuring out that if I could move in and out of the two portals I shot on the wall, even catching an elusive glimpse of myself as Chell in the periphery.

The game progresses brilliantly, slowly layering on new puzzle elements and ways in which you need to use your portal gun. Even more impressive is the way the game tells one of the generation's most compelling stories with nothing more than dialogue from a disembodied A.I. being GLaDOS. As you move through the series of test chambers, the malevolent truth behind Aperture Science becomes clear, culminating in an musical ending that no one saw coming. It's a short but brilliant experience that I'll never forget.

1. The Last of Us

In many ways, attempting to rank games numerically is a fool's errand, especially when games have evolved in so many directions over the years. Is Forza better than Braid? Is Tetris better than Mass Effect? You tell me.

At the end of the day, I chose the game that affected me the most: Naughty Dog's The Last of Us. Much has been written the game, and for good reason. Its storytelling, graphics, tense gameplay, and superb voice acting all make this a survival/horror game with an emotional punch that series like Resident Evil couldn't hope to replicate.

The post-apocalyptic setting isn't unique, but the eerie, deserted cities and landscape convey a sense of quiet dread that's often punctuated by visceral bursts of action. It's a gripping journey, and conveyed through graphics that can stand up to even new-gen games. Ultimately though, this is my choice for the best game of the last generation for a single moment: the bittersweet, ambiguous final scene. It's stunning, and – unlike so many games – leaves the message open to interpretation by the audience. It was a brave bit of game development.