The Playstation 4 Generation.
Similar to therelease of the Xbox Series S and X, the Playstation 5’s release today really inspired me to want to gather all of the games I’ve played on PS4 and put out there some of my favorite experiences. With the Playstation 4’s generation as the “current gen” closing, I’m really enjoying going back and looking at all of the games I’ve played over the past seven years. One distinction that Playstation held over the Xbox was its exclusives and when I was putting the Xbox list together, that’s one thing that really jumped out at me. Not only were many of the games on that list available on both consoles, but also, there was a huge miss in terms of actual blockbuster games played on that console. Many of my best experiences on the console were from playing Xbox 360 games on the console. And when I was looking at the moments that really moved me and really stuck with me, most of them that “defined the generation” were on Playstation 4.
No Man’s Sky
I never played Minecraft. Well, I’ve played it, but I never PLAYED it played it. There is a way to get lost in games like this, to zone out and engage in a universe that doesn’t prioritize violence or victory, and instead rewards you for partaking in its systems. The enormous universe with its countless planets was certainly one of the perks of this game, the thing that got me interested in it. The lack of walls in the game added such a lack of gravitation and weight (figuratively speaking) that after the first couple of hours of playing and feeling the “what am I supposed to be doing?”, that eventually I started to realize there is nothing out there, because everything is out there. There was no time limit to find and rush to the other end of something, there was nothing forcing me to love or dislike any of the things I was seeing, to gather any of the resources I was gathering. I was just meant to be. That was refreshing. That was new. And despite the massive shitsstorm dumped across its development for years after it released (and probably still), for me it had the same impact that Minecraft had on many others. Plus, 65 Days of Static’s provided score was top notch.
The Last Guardian
I’ve never been able to get too deeply into Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, simply because of their esoteric nature and the (for lack of a better term) realistic control scheme and heavily weighted characters. That being said, the worlds that are constructed for those games are absolutely exquisite and I love the idea of them. So when this one finally released, I gave it a shot. I had been hearing about it since the PS3 and it was something that seemed like I would play for a few hours, stand back in awe of the scale and then put it down to move on to something more mundane. In fact, the opposite occurred. Despite the difficult gameplay, the uncooperative control response and the giant Trico who would only listen to a percentage of the commands you would give him, I got heavily engaged in the interactions between the characters, the puzzles and the traversal of the ruined cities, temples and spires that were built for this game. Over time, I realized I was connecting deeper and deeper with this digital animal and by the time the gem reached its conclusion, I was struggling with the implications and then eventually weeping at its conclusion. The feeling of “coming so far together” has never really jumped out as loudly as it had in any other title up to this point. There have always been allies and partners and sidekicks, but there is something so much more intrinsically affecting about it being an animal, a creature, a pet and a friend that got deeply inside of me and churned. Worth playing if you can tolerate some of the nonsense that the game will put you through. Set pieces abound and each of them is worth your time.
Openly, one of the dumbest games I’ve ever played. The game itself falls into that same umbrella of open world exploration game with lots to collect and accomplish. This game was made explicitly for the Sons of Anarchy by way of The Walking Dead demographic, and I think it took a lot of the more nuanced concepts that are supposed to be in those pieces and brought out the lowest common denominators. BIKES? CHECK. BOOZE? CHECK. CROSSBOW? CHECK. Something about the game, though, had a sense to me that there was more behind the veil of dumbassness. Even after Boozer (aka “Boozeman”) lost his arm and was being surly and was drinking himself into a stupor, they did end up evolving that character into someone whose only passion in the endtimes was stripped from them and actual depression and lethargy set in. They didn’t allow that storyline to steal the entire spotlight, but they did make it a concern of yours. And while a bulk of the game is centered around coping with the death of your wife, the turns in the story attempt to add a depth to the sense of self-discovery that comes with the cocktail of grief and hope. That being said, at its core, it’s a zombie game where you sneak around and kill zombies (named FREAKERS, probably the worst buzzword in all of the generation) and other roaming bandit patrols, surviving using your scarce ammo, skills and finding gasoline at destroyed outposts and larger survivor camps. I fell off of this game early, but got back to it this year and really devoured it.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
While this open world exploration game really does find new and exciting ways to create tension and strife, the one thing that stood out most to me was the sense that they took the post-apocalypse in a completely new and unique direction, telling a story that not only was unique in its origins, but also conveyed in a way that slowly revealed the hows, the whys and then whens in a way that resonated largely with me. I loved the character of Aloy, and Ashly Burch really did a ton of heavy lifting in the voice acting and it made the world that much more immersive. While some of the minor character felt a little bit more throwaway, some of the voice acting was really well-done, namely the character of Sylens voiced and modeled memorably by Lance Reddick. It wasn’t as damning as any of the Souls games, but another thing that really made the game more weighty was the fact that even when going from point to point in the map, you’d encounter some of the robot dinosaurs (another incredibly unique way to populate the map without throwing generic enemy types at you) and each time you’d encounter them you would have to carefully consider how (and if) you’d engage them. Each different type had a presence that both proved powerful but also able to be exploited. Finding pockets of roving dinos felt daunting every time, especially based on what kind of environment you’d be surrounded by. Was it a brushy forest area with lots of places to hide and sneak, or was it one of the desert mesa area with lots of room to sprint, but absolutely nowhere to go if you were seen? Always something new to consider and lots of high adrenaline moments.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
I would say this might be one of the most underrated games in the entire generation. The first entry in this reboot of the series was excellent. Just a cool first person shooter that “knew what it was” and let you double wield guns of all shapes and sizes, allowed you to fight nazis and robots and nazi robots, and overall set up an alternate history that showed the dangers of an undefeatable nazi regime and just how much joy you could get out of shredding its soldiers with a full spectrum of bullet delivery systems. This second one takes a lot more risks, and does a lot more in terms of character and world development. We get a lot more intimate looks at some of the characters that were present in the first one and it introduces a couple of new ones, all who are on your team who live in the hub world that you can interact with and do little jobs for to boost your skills. But the way that this game brought back some of the most impactful villains in terrifying and evil ways was so “shocking” at times, and there were so many turns in the game that dragged me from a quick 1 hour sitting to a 4 hour session. There is a scene/level that involves movie making and one of the most sinister members in all of history which is absolutely unforgettable, something scripted and so well put together it really feels like we’re watching (and making) a film.
I go back and forth on this game. And I think a major shift in this will be the fact that I used to absolutely binge video games because I wanted to know more about them and, I guess, to know about them before the lurkers and miserable, overly expectant “Gamers” got to it to ruin and taint them with their opinions, often opinions that were not derived from their own personal experiences but the experiences of critics and hivemind of The Internet. Now that my game consumption will feel more deliberate and more in line with the way that I digest other traditional media, I think I’ll be able to enjoy them a lot more instead of rushing to find the feeling within them. Anyway. I found lots to love about this game, like the world that it built and the relationships that you built with the main characters you interacted with. I loved getting a chance to hear from Guillermo Del Toro who would be excited to tell me about a new invention or discovery he’d made, or to have Lea Seydoux burst out of thin air beside me to tell me about how the world was folding in on itself. Everything in this game was austere until you touched it. As you set out into these uninhabited marshes, you had the ability to impact everything around you. You could deliver joy to people simply by being willing to complete their deliveries. You could build roads to facilitate new senses of civilization. You could even throw thumbs up at the actions other players had left for you, thereby creating a positive feeling for those who you’d never speak to but would later get a notification that something they’d done was well received. Massive populations of humanity lived below the surface in massive cities after retreating from the coming end times, and I simply love that idea, that obscured reality which felt the impact of your actions. Even a lot of the big events that happen on the surface that feel like thy could threaten the fabric of society don’t necessarily feel that much more substantial to those below you, but instead feel like a personal burden that you’re meant to carry instead, and as long as you can “weather the storm”, it feels like you can continue to be the savior that the nation needs. I loved all of that. The thing that really felt a little bit peeved by is the fact that when I played it, it felt a bit like the game didn’t really value your time. Some of the stuff that you have to deliver, when you look into the details of it feels so marginal, so “in it for the lols” that I was kind of turned off by it. It took someone’s singular commentary on it to really make me look at the game in a different light. I wish I could remember who it was, but they likened the gameplay loop as one that they were using to play Animal Crossing. That opened up my mind a lot on it. I realized that maybe that’s really all it had to be. Some simple maintenance here and there, and really just popping in to get some enjoyment from it. Instead of chasing down the storyline like I was and treating some of the chores as simply Busy Work, maybe I should have switched the roles that those two pillars of the game played. Regardless, from the soundtrack to the sound design, to some of the big scale visuals and attention to detail, this is a game I think back on often, and one that I didn’t know I appreciated as much as I did until it was all over. Also worth mentioning, this is the first Kojima game that I’ve played front to back!
God of War
I realize as I sit in front of the computer screen that I don’t know really where to start with why I loved God of War. It has so much to do with what I went to video games for when I had a PS2 and played Madden, NCAA and NHL exclusively and then started working beside a Gamestop and picked up some games I thought would be cool. It has to do with seeing that level of brutality and relentlessness grow up into a game that both maximizes on those sensations, but also highlights restraint, love, resilience and fatherhood. There is a balance there, one that I don’t think I understood until I actually started raising a child as well. The things you can’t bear to deal with and the brinks that you get pushed to slowly wile down and become moments that you have to consider not only for the sake of this child watching you show anger and weakness, but also make you reflect on your own actions for the sake of your sanity. What feels like anger melting away actually becomes more like anger finding new homes, new trappings that are more conveniently and securely sealed away. And in those moments when you need to access that level of fury, it comes out in different shapes and at different volumes, one that when I look back, I actually feared coming from my own father when I was a boy. Oh hey, yeah, we’re talking about a video game, right. My bad. Norse mythology is something that is so alien to me, so to be exposed to that a little bit more was very cool, especially as it was done from the perspective of a disembodied head whenever the action died down and you were just exploring the open world sections. The bond that you have with your son in this game is so carefully and realistically constructed, that you can actually feel the sense of building a skillset not only as a trainer, but also as a relative and a mentor and a, well, father. This relationship is remarkably rewarding especially when put in juxtaposition with some other interactions you have with parents and their kin, slowly understanding that the actions that you take while rearing your own children can affect not only their personalities and actions in the future, but also the circumstances they find themselves in. Fighting with the new leviathan axe was very cool, and the revelation of finding the old blades of chaos was such a brilliant feeling.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Final Fantasy VII was a major game for me on the first Playstation, as I’m sure it was for many. I played through Final Fantasy VI (what I used to call Final Fantasy III) three times, finally feeling that there was no way that they could top what these series had always been about. The Final Fantasy series is where I first learned what it meant to grind, to level, to spend time running in circles and fighting enough monsters until you felt that you were truly ready to head on to the next phase of the game. Final Fantasy VII took all of the ideas that I had loved about the series and made it cinematic. VI had built remarkable characters and crafted a story that felt like it was crafted in the forefront of development instead of something that was patched together to make sense of gelling adventurers together. VII was more than that. It wanted to be a bigger and more universal piece of media. The characters were well developed and each of them stood out on their own as capable of starring in their own portions of the game. The storyline was modern and the steampunk setting was just near-future enough to not feel like it was some science fiction tale. I related a lot to the story and to the fresh RPG take and it was something that I had always wanted. For years it rested in my mind, like in a museum. I had a vision and a memory of what the game was. There was a time several years ago when they rereleased the original game on consoles and heading back in to play it elicited a disappointed, “…oh.” I preferred to let that game live in my memory in the state it was instead of going back and playing the game that it actually was in the era that it did not belong in. But, man, this remake. The characters look the way they were initially intended. The locales look pristine. Not that I thought the game looked like this initially, but this is the same sentiment that I had in mind when I pictured it in retrospect. The newer combat system really forced you to pay attention to detail, and while it wasn’t what I anticipated at first, I fell in love with it towards the end and felt like I was actually mastering a new skill. It’s a bit of a tough pill to swallow to say that this is the first of a series that will eventually tell the entire FFVII story, but it seems that it will be worth the wait, regardless of which console it comes out on.
The Last of Us Part II
This game was met with immensely polarizing opinions. At first it seemed like there was a big fall out from the announcement that the main character was gay. Then it was the sense that it was deplorable the way they had one of the other main characters have a massive event take place which changes the game in a big way. And then it was the introduction of another one of the main characters. And then it was people having an issue with the way a transgender character you meet is handled. There was a lot to navigate before the game even got into my hands. But when I finally did settle down and spend the time with it, I cannot in my right mind understand how someone could find nothing to enjoy in it. Someone asked me while buying it once, “Is it good?” And when I started describing the way the storyline is certainly disarming, but has a lot of merit, he interrupted me saying, “Oh, I don’t care about the story at all. I just want to know if it’s got good gameplay.” After defending the game’s complicated, complex and nuanced story, it was nice to bore down on a totally different element of the game. Stripped down to just a video game, just a third person shooter, the game itself is one of the best on the console. Bar none. Some of the enemy types are a little played, and some of the scenarios they put you in feel a little bit like you are wedged into an obstacle strewn back road simply for the inconvenience and lengthening of the gameplay time, but what you’re actually performing and doing in the game feels tight. The suspense is sharp and the payoffs are worth the time you spend building to the climaxes. The people that you fight have such unique death sequences, such individual and specific things that they say and do in the firefights that it feels like you’re taking drastic actions in dire circumstances and truly surviving just as your enemy is. It’s a shame that there are a lot of scenes to describe in this game to really flesh out why it was one of my favorite titles of the generation, but I’ll try not to spoil the game by mentioning them with the utmost brevity. Museum. Seattle. Rat king. Isolated homestead (and the return). The crosses.
Enter the Gungeon
This is a game I own on the Xbox and Switch as well, but the Playstation is where it all started for me. I used to watch the trailer for this one on the PS4 demo unit at work, and it had a great feel to it. Pixelated bullet hell with happy go lucky bullets walking around shooting smaller bullets at me? Perfect. Actually getting time into the game, though, was something that actually changed something in me. It changed the type of games I wanted to play. It showed me what kind of joy a roguelike can bring you. The broad range of weapons that you can get (shotguns, muskets, guns that shoot guns, guns that shoot letters, guns that shoot words, beehives, grenade launchers) continues to impress me as I still play and still find new stuff to pick up. I find new items and new armors. With the randomly generated gungeon floors, there’s always something new to find. And I really do find myself getting better at the game each and every time I play it which is something that I don’t think I’ve done since we played 2 or 3 years straight of the NHL series on the 360. This game has a storyline to complete, a way to play the game and finish it. But in this game, it’s more about the journey, more about the little individual stories that pop up while you play it. More about finding a familiarity in the world and going deeper and deeper down into the gungeon to find a gun to kill the past. Similar to Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved on the 360, this is one of the games that didn’t live up to the console’s main specifications, didn’t show off the console’s power or capabilities, but when I think about games that I played during this generation, this simple little title is one that will always bubble up to the front of my mind.