5. Mass Effect 2
BioWare may have cut its teeth on fantasy RPG adventures such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, though the studio is perhaps most fondly remembered for Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic. Establishing a galaxy far, far away as a place to explore the morality of the Old Republic, many of the themes and morality systems were first implemented in KOTOR before BioWare perfected them in its own IP, Mass Effect. Mass Effect 2 was something else entirely however, improving on its predecessor in almost every facet of its design, it is undoubtedly one of this generation’s defining RPGs. The studio may have placed more emphasis on the action and third-person shooter elements than ever before, but in doing so it seamlessly integrated combat with the ingenious morality and role-playing elements that resonated so well with gamers.
Mass Effect 2 raised the stakes for Commander Shepard and the crew of the SSV Normandy, as players navigated the Milky Way galaxy building loyalty with a varied ground of battle-hardened misfits before taking on a suicide mission to save everything you’d sunk so many hours into preserving. The outcome and survival of the characters was never assured throughout the narrative, and it created more than its share of talking points.
Media Molecule, PS3
It was a world of your own making. A whimsical diorama built on sponges and cardboard, seemingly kept together by sticky-back-plastic and a few tears of tape. But what really held it together was your imagination. And what elevated LittleBigPlanet from indie curio to triple-A blockbuster was the collaborative imagination of a whole universe of worlds.
‘Play. Create. Share’ became ingrained into a new generation of gamers dipping their toes into the vast waters of a zealous community of creators. Media Molecule’s 20-or-so levels of retro platforming were just the tip of a very big iceberg and barely scratched the surface of what was possible with the developer’s provided tools. Levels inspired by other notable games became the norm, but outside these would-be Miyamotos was a constellation of uncharted lands rich in anarchic humour, wild creativity and raw ingenuity that could only have been conceived by determined amateurs outside of the industry.
What started out as a little game became very big in a few short months and the extraordinary efforts of one little knitted hero and millions of dedicated players worldwide revealed a common yearning among gamers. They wanted to collaborate, to create, commentate and proudly exhibit their efforts. In some way, it was the return of the bedroom coder.
Irrational Games, PS3/360
The impact of Irrational Games’ BioShock is still felt to this day. Six years on, and the world beneath the waves is still an inspiration to any aspiring would-be game makers. The concept of BioShock wasn’t particularly new, itself a spiritual successor to System Shock 2, but the way Ken Levine and his team at Irrational executed the game mechanics and narrative set BioShock apart from the mass of generic first-person shooters in development at the time. Set in Rapture, an underwater city built on the pillars of objectivism and crushed under the weight of power and addiction, it was an awe-inspiring location to explore – with each corridor and room seemingly hiding yet another piece of Irrational’s grand puzzle.
We arrived when the city was buckling under the weight of the Atlantic Ocean. An unforgettable plane crash led to a mysterious lighthouse and a bathysphere ride of a lifetime. Once on dry land, Rapture revealed a winding narrative that not only managed to remain captivating from start to finish – but it made players question agency throughout all gaming experiences. When it comes to rich, compelling narratives and unbeatable game design, it’s hard to question BioShock’s dominance.
2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Infinity Ward, PS3/360
No one had more reason to be angry with Call Of Duty than Valve. After years reigning supreme with Counter-Strike as the pinnacle of online first-person shooter, it was usurped by inarguably the most progressive, addictive and energetic shooter to hit the market since Bungie’s Halo. It was a simple notion, implementing experience points, unlocks, levelling- up and the like, cribbed mercilessly from the role-playing genre. It was in no uncertain terms a revolution: driving personality and customisation right into the heart of the battlefield. Suddenly your decisions pre-match could lead to consequences as fatal as a poorly-timed flashbang grenade; selecting the wrong perk or secondary weapon could have devastating ramifications both in the immediate and the larger match.
It also, for better or worse, came to define what was affectionately labelled the ‘Xbox Live’ generation. This was a group of individuals that savoured their own voice, with speakers across the world throbbing with the sound of vociferous goading alongside the deafening cacophony of machine gun fire. Despite the culture it inspired, Modern Warfare should be lauded for making online multiplayer meaningful, with its reward system that honoured genuine skill with achievements and incentive. The fact that it came packaged with one of the most bold, tactile and punchy campaigns that the genre has ever produced ultimately makes its innovations all the more special. And they say war never changes…
1. Fallout 3
Bethesda Softworks, PS3/360
The first tentative steps into the blinding sunlight of fallout 3’s irradiated dystopia are simply unforgettable. Looking out over the endless expanse of the Wasteland and realising the magnitude of the adventure that awaits was an equally daunting prospect for both Vault 101’s fugitive and the player. n The revolutionary Vault-Assisted Targeting System created a unique tactical aspect that set it apart from other FPS games. The husk of DC is rich in history and secrets, with pockets of isolated communities chained together to form an immersive backdrop as vast and compelling as anything we’ve had the pleasure of playing over the past console generation.
Fallout 3 showcased the depth and tangible nature that open worlds can offer, with a nebulous approach to its structure that enables players to absorb the narrative at their own pace; time invested in exploring the wilderness peeled back more layers of intrigue, its spoils unknown but plenteous. Whether scavenging through the ruins of a village or infiltrating a clandestine mutant hideout, there is always a fascinating sub-plot to tackle, a secret to unfurl, or some anarchic thrill to be had. It may be a grim vision of the apocalypse but fallout 3 still knew how to have fun. A punchy arsenal and gratuitous kill-cam was matched with the precision V.A.T.s. system – a welcome stroke of absurdist design, making enemy encounters over-the- top without jarring the overall tone.
Admittedly this all amounts to an incredible, uninhibited ambition, and as such it has its problems, with a litany of frustrating bugs that plagued the title on launch. But it’s easy to ignore such minor quibbles when the wasteland is brimming with personality, enabling players to trawl its ravaged planes and determine exactly the type of survivor they wanted to be. There’s no faulting the elegance of a dialogue system that seemed to offer endless permutations and opportunities – that often circled a murky moral grey area, avoiding two-sided binary routes – to define the nature of your journey. Individuality was the keystone of Bethesda’s masterpiece, and the concourse of several involving, intricate gameplay systems matched with the way it eschews traditional conventions created a wasteland that was perfect for wasting time in.