This is it, the final five in the countdown of my top 20 favorite console games from last generation.
|Calling in the assassin recruits.|
The original Assassin’s Creed was a promising but somewhat flawed game. Assassin’s Creed 2 realized the potential of the series, making significant improvements to the game structure, but for me Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (referred to hereafter as just Brotherhood) is where the series found its strongest expression. While the storyline of Assassin’s Creed 2 is a bit stronger, in my opinion Brotherhood is a bit better overall as a game, mainly for a few notable improvements in gameplay. Brotherhood continues the story of Ezio, who is sort of the Renaissance version of Batman except that he kills people. A lot of people. The Assassin’s Creed series tells the story of the struggle between the Templars and the Assassins over the course of history, which is actually interesting, but these are games, so I’m going to focus on gameplay when talking about them. Brotherhood was the first game in the series where offense was just as viable as defense in regular combat. The original Assassin’s Creed suffered from a combat system where the only times going on the offense was a good idea were when you were making stealth kills, chasing down a target, and a few boss fights. The vast majority of the time you would just wait for enemies to attack you and then counter them. Assassin’s Creed 2 made a few improvements to the system but you were still playing defensively at least 90% of the time. In Brotherhood the combat system was tweaked yet again and allowed for more offensive options. The biggest change was the ability to chain together kills, which shortened fights that would have normally dragged out in the previous two games. When you kill one enemy, if another is standing nearby you can immediately move to him and kill him too, and then repeat until either all enemies are dead or you run out of enemies standing close by. Another feature Brotherhood introduced was the ability to recruit and level up other members of your assassin order. At certain points in the game you can find a new recruit and then send him/her on missions to gain experience. Gaining experience levels up the assassin recruit and with each level you could upgrade the recruit’s offensive and defensive capabilities. Your assassin recruits can be used in regular gameplay and are handy as both backup in combat and as assistance in pulling off your assassinations. The assassin recruits have shown up again in successor Assassin’s Creed games with changes made to the system, but it was Brotherhood’s original design that I found most enjoyable. These and other gameplay elements are what makes Brotherhood my favorite game in the Assassin’s Creed series. Other games in the series have done certain things better, but for me Brotherhood stands as the best overall Assassin’s Creed.
The original Infamous was a good game. Infamous 2 was a great game. Superhero games have had a checkered history with plenty of turds to accompany the gems, but the Infamous games have truly been gems. Infamous 2 is the story of Cole McGrath, an ordinary guy who, in the first Infamous, was given electric superpowers and then had to decide whether to use his powers to help save his city or to abuse his powers for his own selfish gain. Towards the end of the first Infamous, Cole learns that the reason he was given his powers was so that he might fight The Beast, a god-like being who is coming and will destroy humanity unless stopped. Infamous 2 begins shortly after Infamous ends, with Cole trying to prepare himself to take on The Beast. Unfortunately, The Beast shows up before Cole is ready and overpowers him, destroying Cole’s home of Empire City and forcing Cole to flee to the city of New Marais (which is loosely based on the real city of New Orleans). There he hopes to become strong enough to defeat The Beast, who is slowing making his way towards New Marais. Infamous 2 takes everything that made the first Infamous good and improves upon it while fixing some of the problems of the original. The “parkour” (a term I use loosely) system is refined to be more precise and the city has some new items to help Cole more efficiently traverse it. Audio and visuals are also improved, with the in-engine cutscenes looking almost an entire generational leap from the original game. New Marais, like Empire City before it, is alive with friends, foes and civilians alike with ample opportunities for you to flex your hero or villain muscles. Cole’s powers are also expanded beyond just electricity, giving Cole new options for combat and traversal. The karma system of the original Infamous returns in Infamous 2 with Cole’s decisions and behavior giving him either positive or negative karma. As Cole becomes increasingly heroic or villainous he unlocks new powers that reflect his stance as either a superhero or superjerk. Good powers tend to be more about precision and maneuverability while evil powers tend to be more about brute force and disregard for collateral damage. Your karma ultimately decides which of Infamous 2’s endings you get, and a notable change from the original game is that Infamous 2’s good and evil endings are very different. Whereas the original Infamous’ endings were really just the same situation with different details, the good and evil endings of Infamous 2 are night and day, giving you good incentive to play the game twice and experience both the good and evil paths. I’ve personally played through Infamous 2 (and Infamous) several times now, and will definitely play it again before I buy a Playstation 4 and the latest game in the series; Infamous Second Son.
|For the first few weeks I was the guy on the ground.|
One of the marks of a truly great game is that it can be fun even if you’re terrible at it. As a general rule, I am pretty bad at online first-person shooter multiplayer games, lacking the twitchiness and quick reflexes needed for success in most of them. But with Battlefield Bad Company 2 (and Battlefield 3) I enjoyed multiplayer so much that I kept coming back again and again, even as I was getting murdered at every turn during the early days. Bad Company 2 (referred to hereafter as just BC2) does have a singleplayer campaign, and a decent one at that, but the Battlefield games have always been a multiplayer first series and they remain the only video game series whose online multiplayer has held my interest for an extended period of time. Part of the reason for this is just how much you can do in Battlefield multiplayer. The open maps and vehicles available to you give you a lot of options for how you choose to prosecute your objective. You can grab a tank and drive straight at an enemy position, or you can take a helicopter to provide support from the air or you can try to sneak around on foot (just to name a few options). Another reason I have enjoyed Battlefield multiplayer is its emphasis on teamwork to win a match. While with games like Call of Duty a single really good player can carry an entire team to victory, in Battlefield a single really good player will certainly gain lots of points, but without working with his teammates he will still lose. Like other Battlefield games, BC2 uses a class based system for the type of soldier you play as and each class has its own specialty that contributes to the team. The assault class hands out ammo, the engineer class specializes in destroying and repairing vehicles, the support class heals teammates and the recon provides long range reconnaissance and sniper support. I found every class enjoyable to use, even the recon class, (I’m a terrible sniper) which I modified from a sniper to a close-quarters specialist who ran around in a ghillie suit with a shotgun (the “wookie with a shotgun” as it is sometimes called in the Battlefield community). BC2 did not have many game modes, but the ones that it did have were about as solid as you could hope for. My favorite was Rush, where a team of attackers trying to destroy a progressive set of targets and a team of defenders trying to stop them. After much time I actually did get decently good at BC2, but not because of any inherent skill on my part. I had learned the maps, studied the tactics and unlocked weapons and equipment; all through many hours of being murdered over and over again but coming back undeterred because the game was just that much fun.
|Just another day in the life of Nathan Drake.|
You can think of the Uncharted games as something like a modern version of the Indiana Jones movies. They tell the story of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who scours the world for antiquities. In Uncharted 2, Drake is talked into helping his old associates Flynn and Chloe steal an ancient oil lamp from within a museum in Turkey that contains a clue to the lost fleet of Marco Polo. Drake gets the lamp but is betrayed by Flynn and left to rot in a prison cell. Bailed out by his old friend Sully, Drake learns from Chloe that Flynn is working for a psychopathic war criminal named Lazarevic who is attempting to locate Marco Polo’s lost fleet. The lost fleet holds clues as to where to find the fabled city of Shambhala and the Cintamani Stone, a treasure that will grant great power to whoever holds it. Drake and company thus set off on a globe-trotting quest to beat Lazarevic and Flynn to the stone and keep it out of their hands. If all this sounds a bit crazy, that’s because it is. The storyline of Uncharted 2 (and the other Uncharted games) goes off the deep end at several points, but it is the one of the best told crazy stories you’ll experience in gaming. It is said that a good story starts with good characters, and Uncharted 2 proves that maxim with a cast of characters and interactions between them that sell the storyline and keep you invested. Married to the story and characters are strong gameplay mechanics and game design that make you want to keep playing; both to advance the story and to experience everything the game has to offer. You’ll go from exploring and puzzle solving one minute, to fighting mercenaries the next and then you’ll find yourself on your way to the next locale as Drake tries to stay one step ahead of Lazarevic and Flynn. The timing and pacing of events is near perfect, keeping the story moving forward without giving you combat fatigue or boredom from a lack of excitement or interest. Sprinkled throughout the game are a number of great setpiece moments that the Uncharted series is known for, such as fighting across the rooftops of Nepal while being chased by an attack helicopter and the best train ride in any video game ever (play the game and you’ll know what I mean). The locations of Uncharted 2 are all beautifully realized and full of detail. A personal favorite of mine is a mountain village that Drake is brought to after being wounded. After waking up, Drake slowly walks through the village, taking in the scenic landscape and trying to interact with villagers who don’t speak a word of English. If Uncharted 2 consisted only of its singeplayer campaign, it would be an outstanding game just for that, but it also includes a small but strong multiplayer suite. I was a bit skeptical when developer Naughty Dog announced that Uncharted 2 would have multiplayer in it, but when the game launched and I had a chance to try it out I found myself quite impressed. The game mechanics of the singplayer campaign have been translated very well into mulitplayer and the game modes, although basic, were enjoyable to the point that I consistently played multiplayer for about a month and a half (which is saying a lot since I normally am a singleplayer-only type of gamer). Uncharted 2 is a masterpiece of a game, and nearly got the top spot on this list. However, there is one game that I liked even more.
|Fight for what’s left.|
There can be only one. I couldn’t possibly describe everything that made Mass Effect 2 great in such a small space, so I’ll limit myself to just a few items. As a role-playing game, Mass Effect 2 (referred to hereafter as ME2) represents one of the best realized game universes ever constructed with a cast of characters so diverse and expansive it boggles the mind to consider of how developer Bioware thought it all up. Set in the future, the Mass Effect games tell a story where mankind has expanded out into the galaxy, encountered alien races and found its place in the galactic community. ME2 begins with your character, Commander Shepard, getting killed when his ship is destroyed by an unknown alien vessel. Resurrected by a shadowy pro-human group known as Cerberus, Shepard is put in Cerberus’ employ and sets off to investigate the aliens that killed him and find out why they have been attacking human colonies. Along the way he recruits a diverse cast of humans and aliens to join his crew and fight alongside him. Underlying everything that goes on is the impending threat of the Reapers, an race of advanced sentient machines who will one day arrive and wipe out all advanced civilizations in the galaxy. As Shepard treks across the galaxy the web of mysteries is unraveled and in the end Shepard leads his team on a suicide mission to take the fight straight to the enemy. For a game that spans the galaxy, ME2 has a fittingly massive cast of characters and lore. Every main character (and many side characters) has their own backstory, personality and aspirations. Every race has its own history, social structure and beliefs. Every planet has its own unique composition, geography and ecology. One of the things I enjoyed most about ME2 is that you’re rewarded for exploring the galaxy and getting to know the characters. With each world potentially holding items, sidemissions or characters that can help you with your mission, or that are just interesting find, you’ll want to check every area to see what’s there. Each of the characters you can recruit has their own sidemission which gives you, on top of the chance to earn more experience points, the fuller details of who these characters are, why they think the way they do and gameplay bonuses. Helping them also makes them more willing to help you, which is especially critical to the final mission of the game. One of the other major features of ME2 is the ability to make choices that affect how the story plays out. Some of these choices have only subtle effects while others have major consequences. Most of the choices revolve around how to resolve a particular situation. How you choose to proceed builds your ranking as either a Paragon or a Renegade, and if you build a high enough ranking on either one you unlock new options for how certain events play out. Other choices are more straightforward and can be morally neutral, but even these mundane decisions have their effects on your experience. One of the most common decisions you make in the game which characters to take with you on missions and who you select has both minor and major consequences. Each character has their own specialty which affects how you play the game and they also have their own opinions on what’s going on, meaning you’ll get different bits of dialogue depending on who you choose. But perhaps the biggest decisions of all come right at the very beginning of the game. Unless you’ve imported your save file from Mass Effect 1, at the start of the game you will create your own Commander Shepard, choose from six character classes and decide how the major events of Mass Effect 1 played out. These decisions and the ones you make as you play the game can make each play-through different, and give a serious incentive to play the game multiple times to experience all the ways your choices can play out. ME2 is not a perfect game. There are a few slight technical and gameplay deficiencies in ME2 (and the Mass Effect series in general) but the story, cast of characters and universe are so strong that they overwhelm any nit-picking I can come up with. Mass Effect 2 is my favorite game of last gen and truly a legend.