Moments in time.
One moment. There is always that one moment that sticks out in a game that will stay with you for the longest amount of time. As one generation of gaming hardware begins anew, the current one is more or less done at this point besides a few standout titles, cross-gen efforts and yearly sports games that’ll now revert to ‘Legacy Editions’ (looking at you here, EA).
As the PS360 era ends, writers and critics begin to look back on the past eight years and what moments in games that have stood out for them, writing articles on those games and remember that one particular moment that resonated with them more than any other moment in any other game this generation did.
I’ve asked a handful of peers to write their defining moments from this generation and how it resonated from them. You’ll be seeing some of the best in the business as well as a few who don’t necessarily write about games anymore or even at all. I’ve also added in something too for good measure.
There was no criteria set as to what they could write about. They could write about specific moments in a game, a personal moment or even something that noted the ongoing trends of the industry. The main platforms of choice were, obviously, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, though Nintendo Wii moments were also welcome. Spoilers were also off the table. It’s a no holds barred on that front, so be warned, there will be spoilers on the following:
+ Metal Gear Solid 4
+ Uncharted 2
+ The Last of Us
+ Mass Effect 1
+ Mass Effect 3
+ Prince of Persia 2008
+ The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
+ Heavy Rain
Alright, then. Here it is.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – “The connected vision” (by Tom Bramwell)
This is probably cheating, but my moment of the generation wasn’t playing a game exactly – it was the sense of greater connection to other players that I suddenly felt one day early in the Xbox 360 life cycle. I can’t even remember what I was playing, but it was some big, new single-player game. Let’s say it was Oblivion. I had already been playing for a while on my own, the day after release, and as I logged back on that evening I was told I had other friends online, so I hit the Guide button.
Up came my friends list and it looked like this: Friend X is playing Oblivion. Friend Y is playing Oblivion. Friend Z is playing Oblivion. I think there were a dozen in total. In that moment I understood the connected vision of games that Microsoft was pushing and I felt its value in a way I hadn’t before. I wasn’t playing games with these folks, but we were all playing games, and there was this connective tissue between us that we’d never had before.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots – The microwave scene (by Michael Williams)
Snake – old, decrepit Snake – is pacing down the hallway with Metal Gear Mk.III next to him. Life slowly depletes. Snake will fall. The music swells. All of this is an emotional rollercoaster and that’s only half the screen. The bottom shows Snakes’ strife, but the top shows how all is going down the pan for every other character. This is the end. If Snake can’t get up, that’s it: the World will enter a new period of nuclear war.
The scene is the standard MGS torture scene. But unlike any other, it’s not about Snake anymore. This torture isn’t being delivered by anyone specific and isn’t solely aimed at Snake.
This is Solid Snake. This is both him and us as the player going through one final moment of redemption. We’re not trying to save ourselves anymore. We’re trying to save both the world and characters that we have followed for the last ten years of our gaming lives.
BioShock – The Opening Scene (by Jennifer Allen)
I didn’t pay any attention to the hype surrounding BioShock before its release in 2007. All I’d gathered was that it looked a bit creepy and I didn’t like creepy back then. Maybe that’s why, when I found myself watching the opening few minutes with a friend, it hooked me instantaneously. It was a terrific surprise.
I was intrigued after the plane crash. It reminded me of the beginning of a film noir thriller, offering a foreboding insight into the near future. That sense of doom was heightened by the dulcet tones of Beyond the Sea, quietly kicking in, both pleasant yet sinister in its introduction. I’ve played many games from this generation since.
None have sent shivers up my spine quite like those few opening seconds.
Uncharted 2 – Entering Shambhala (by Robyn Hardman)
Shambhala. Stepping out into that mythical place, I stood still and looked around in awe. Or at least, Nathan Drake did, as we reached the penultimate chapter of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
The PS3’s capabilities had impressed me long before UC2’s release, but it wasn’t until my avatar stood dwarfed, staring out onto an impossibly beautiful vista, that I knew just how much potential video games had; not only as a work of art, but as a truly exciting form of storytelling.
Because Nathan Drake’s face said it all – every dodged bullet, near-escape and moment in Lazarevic’s custody was washed away as he stood in a place believed to be legend. And I, with a controller in my hand, felt exactly as he did.
The Last of Us – “Oh, baby girl”: The final moments of Winter (by Johnny Cullen)
Only three games have ever provoked a massive emotional response from me, but not as big as The Last of Us.
There are several scenes within that game that give an emotional punch, but none moreso, to me, than the final moments of Winter. Those moments when we see Ellie lose any sense of innocence she had left as she hacks at David with a machete before Joel runs in and comforts her.
The tipping point of a journey that started out so distantly from one another was now one akin to a father/daughter relationship. “Oh, baby girl,” Joel says to Ellie after he runs in.
Tears. Floods of tears.
Mass Effect – The Choice (by Debbie Timmins)
The choice between Kaidan and Ashley at the end of the first Mass Effect was huge for me. Where character deaths in games were normally scripted, unavoidable things, this put the choice in MY hands.
Do I kill off my awesome (if slightly xenophobic) female soldier? She’s been a brilliant fighter, standing by my side through thick and thin. Or do I kill off Kaidan, my loyal and loving boyfriend? He’s suffered his own problems with his biotic implants but always has time to provide insight and protection.
I was their leader. BioWare forced us to make tough decisions and set the stage for many more.
Flower – “The emotional journey” (by David Howard)
Being crushed by depression, Flower arrived at a time in my life when I needed it most. Nothing before nor since has had such a profound impact on my life as thatgamecompany’s calming, zen-like experience. It slowed my heart rate to a gentle pace and let all the tribulation drain out of my mind – the world was a safe place once again.
The emotional journey from a desaturated sombre field to a bright, vivid rejoice upon completion was something that I never truly drew parallels from at the time. In hindsight, it changed my life, giving me a hours of reprieve – something I will be eternally grateful for.
Deadly Premonition – “Back to the Future” (by Pete Davison)
Swery65’s Deadly Premonition may not have been the best game of the generation, but it was certainly one of the most memorable — and that, for me, made it one of the defining titles.
Why? Because through sequences like protagonist York’s “Back to the Future” monologue and its loving homages to Twin Peaks, it neatly encapsulates this generation’s willingness to embrace the industry’s more imaginative, unusual side in an era where people were starting to become fatigued with triple-A.
And for many, it helped show people there was a wider world of creativity beyond the Call of Duties and Assassin’s Creeds of this world.
Journey – The companion (by Brenna Hillier)
We danced over the sands together, surfing and weaving, chirruping our pleasure in the world and each other, tying endless love heart bows in the air. We darted in and out of ancient towering machines we could barely understand, poking here and peeking there until our misguided efforts brought about unexpected but welcome results.
We huddled in the dark, eyeing each other, holding our breaths, then dashing through the open spaces shrieking with laughter and adrenalin as great beasts circled above us, hunting.
Then we trudged, stoically and silently, through the snows, under the eyes of grimmer, darker things. There were no songs now, no joyful cotillions; only the determined call to keep on going, piped ever more dimly through the growing gloom. I lost her there, in the dark, and when life burst upon me again in glorious colour and fury she was gone.
I never saw her again. And that’s how I learned what it is to be alone.
Spelunky – Rise of the indies (by Lewis Denby)
For me, the defining moment about the past console generation wasn’t actually part of a game. It was a revelation I had when reviewing Spelunky.
One of the most tightly designed games in years, Spelunky and co demonstrate that it’s not only possible to make games in your bedroom again, but it’s also possible to do it in a way that makes the whole industry stand to attention.
I suspect the likes of Microsoft and Sony had the same revelation as me a couple of years back, which is presumably why Spelunky got snapped up for its Xbox Live remake and Dear Esther’s devs are now making a PS4 exclusive.
Studios are still targeting major consoles, then – but the power balance has shifted.
Mass Effect 2 – ‘His story’ (by Alex Donaldson)
Like many gaming legends, the Mass Effect Trilogy’s greatest asset is a sleight of hand. Here it isn’t about convincing the player they’re skilled, but instead about making them believe they have real control and influence over the series’ narrative.
These games make consecutive binary choices feel like so much more. I became and remained emotionally invested, even after the finale damaged the illusion. As games chase linear cinematic flair, these titles showcase a personal experience that can only be had in this interactive medium.
My Mass Effect story is my pick – not just one moment, but all of them.
Crackdown – The Agency Tower (by Christian Donlan)
I’ve said this before [Ed note: this], but no game drove home the next-gen feel for me as much as Crackdown, and the moment that really stuck with me was getting to the top of the Agency Tower.
I think it’s perhaps to do with the fact that console action gamers are used to being more tightly directed. Crackdown was a game where you could do whatever you want – and it turns out what I wanted was to climb a massive black skyscraper and then jump off the top.
Incidentally, loads of other games tried the climb-something-big trick, but nobody managed to make it sing like Realtime Worlds.
[Christian Donlan is a Senior Staff Writer for Eurogamer. He used to have a Twitter, but doesn’t anymore, but if he did, you’d follow him @Doonvas. He’s also the nicest man in UK videogames bar none.]
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn – The Redemption (by Erren Van Duine)
If there was ever a MMO to dive into today, it’s Final Fantasy XIV. As the genre struggles to find its way in an age of F2P and microtransactions, it’s here that Square Enix has created a game that truly sets itself apart from the rest by pushing conventions that clearly cater to more than just the standard MMO player.
Reconstructed from the ashes of its predecessor, the game pools together the importance of narrative, gameplay and visual flair to construct a title similar to its single-player brothers. Upon making my way through the main quest, I felt compelled to trek on through end game.
Final Fantasy XIV as it is today is a game that shouldn’t be missed; whether you’re a MMO fan or not, the experience alone is well worth visiting.
Mass Effect 3 – Mordin’s death (by Ben Cordell)
Whilst its ending was probably one of the most controversial of 2012, there were plenty of fantastic moments in Mass Effect 3 that showed off Bioware’s potentially world-dominating superpower to create characters and narratives that toy with your emotions. One particular stand-out moment for me was a certain sequence that followed a trip to the Krogan homeworld of Tuchanka.
Non-Mass Effect players probably won’t understand the significance of this moment which I feel, in one way, makes this moment in gaming history all that more special. The death of Mordin encompassed everything we had grown to know about the character and shows a true culmination of his development.
The combination of beautiful composition from Bioware and William Salyers voicework showcased just how perfectly a video game can affect a player on a personal level.
[Ben Cordell is the co-founder and co-editor of StickTwiddlers. He’s also one half of the organisers of the best Eurogamer Expo afterparty (had to put that here). Follow him on Twitter @BenMeetsWorld]
Prince of Persia 2008 – The ending (by Ben Jones)
What Prince Of Persia had was a sense of discovery, the uncovering of history through interaction with a world long since corrupted. The defining moment of the beating back of said corruption? Allowing it all to emerge once again. There’s very few games that allow you to partake in a purely selfish act from a main character’s perspective.
Everybody wants to end an adventure feeling like they’re the hero, but what Prince Of Persia did? It allowed you to undo all the good you strove to achieve during the game, in order to ‘get the girl’. You start the game as a selfish thief, and end it as a selfish hero.
Not exactly a traditional character arc.
Papo & Yo – Saying Goodbye (by Julie Horup)
A few hours into Papo & Yo I had to pause the game. I broke down in tears as I realised I wasn’t just playing a game; I was facing a ghost from my past which I had spent years trying to escape. In the final scene, when Monster was floating into nothingness, it wasn’t just Monster I was letting go of, it was mymonster I finally said goodbye to.
It truly was an unpleasant yet cathartic and unforgettable moment.
Fallout 3 – Exiting Vault 101 (by Jon Brady)
Stepping from the safe havens of Vault 101 into the wastelands of what was once Washington D.C. will always be one of my favourite moments of the sixth generation.
As the blinding sunlight faded to reveal the game’s massive landscape, the sheer potential overwhelmed my thoughts: where do I go? How many things can lie in each direction? Will I be attacked any moment now?
Fear, excitement and curiosity ingrained themselves in my psyche as I took my first tentative steps into a world that dared to be more expansive than any other at the time. Those feelings and desires motivated me through hundreds of hours of incredible wasteland exploration.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Demise’s final words (by Orla Madden)
“This is not the end. My hate… never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end. I will rise again.”
These are the spine-tingling words muttered from Demise after Link slays him during the game’s final battle. This intense cutscene delivers the unfortunate news that the Demon King will continue to return in many ways and threaten the peaceful environment of the world.
Skyward Sword is where it all began for the Legend of Zelda franchise, and this particular scene stuck with me as it marks the ‘beginning of the end’ for the series.
Nier – The surprise factor (by Darryl Kaye)
Nier came to my attention during E3 2009, but not in a good way. I remember sitting there, watching a pretty awful demo and thinking there was no way this game would ever amount to anything positive. That’s one of the reasons why it’s perhaps such a defining game for me.
Yes, the gameplay and graphics could have used more polish, but everything else was pure gold.
To this day, I would say it’s the only game I’ve ever played that has added something significant following its completion and of course, it features arguably one of the best soundtracks ever produced.
Dark Souls – The Depths (by Matthew Reynolds)
There are many early stumbling blocks in Dark Souls – such as the Capra and Taurus Demons – but for me it was my first voyage through the Depths.
Navigating the catastrophic, labyrinth-like tunnels was not only a test of patience, but it was the first time that adversaries took on an exotic, almost otherworldly quality.
There was the shock of discovering an oversized rat, tackling slimes that ambushed from above, and keeping frogs with hideous, bulbous features at bay as they spewed powerful toxins that crippled your progress long after death.
The constant anxiety over wrong turns and unexpected dangers was a sink or swim moment, but ultimately, cemented my love for what would become my game of the generation.
Rock Band – The Ballad (or lack thereof) of Enter Sandman (by Alan Williamson)
When I got Rock Band 2 for Christmas, I played the drums for four hours straight in my pyjamas. The neighbours banged on the wall. I turned the volume up and drowned out the complaints with snare fills. Life was good.
Rock Band is everything I want a game to be: skill doesn’t matter as much as having fun, it’s an experience best shared with friends, and it’s full of rock music. It makes you feel that your adolescent rock star dreams are within your grasp, not the plastic instrument you’re actually holding. Most games merely simulate experiences; Rock Band is rock music.
I’m still banned from performing vocals on ‘Enter Sandman’, though.
Heavy Rain – What would Ethan do? (by Tom Hoggins)
Heavy Rain is far from my favourite game of the generation. It is too disparate, too flawed for that. But it is an occasionally brave, ambitious piece of work that threw up a number of terrific moments. The one that sticks out most to me is when you are playing as Ethan Mars. One task leads you to the doorway of a drug dealer that Ethan has been ordered to execute. Shaky, tired and confused, Ethan lets the dealer overpower him and reach a shotgun.
The dealer blasts chunks out of his own apartment, shooting to kill, until Ethan gets the drop on him in the dealer’s daughter’s room. With Ethan training his pistol on the man’s head, you are offered a choice: execute the man and move on to the next task in order to save Shaun, or walk away and never hear from the kidnapper again. I spent an age with my finger over the trigger, trying to decide whether to push down. A button I’ve pressed a thousand times to pull a thousand triggers.
Until I felt a flash of red… “he tried to kill me”… and my finger squeezed the button. Heavy Rain was certainly flawed, and often cheap, but a game that puts the player in extraordinary circumstances and so effectively asks the question “what would you do?” is a game worth remembering.
Even if you might not like some of the answers.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – The Aurora Borealis? At this time of year? At this time of day? [with apologies to The Simpsons] (by Lindsay Robertson)
It’s not every game that stops you in your tracks just to admire the view, but that happened constantly while playing Skyrim. I remember travelling on horseback up a mountain, making my ascent as night fell and a blizzard raged. As I reached the summit, the snow cleared to reveal a stunning Aurora Borealis, the likes of which I’d never seen.
I spent ages just gazing at the sky, till a dragon’s shadow caught my eye. Then it was time to get back to business!
(Massive thanks to Tom Bramwell, Chris Donlan, Alex Donaldson, Erren Van Duine, Brenna Hillier, Robyn Hardman, Jen Allen, Debbie Timmins, David Howard, Pete Davison, Tom Hoggins, Matt Reynolds, Lewis Denby, Ben Cordell, Julie Horup, Orla Madden, Alan Williamson, Lindsay Robertson, Jon Brady, Ben Jones and Michael Williams for taking the time to contribute)