HeadStuff Picks: The 8 Best Games of the 8th Generation
It feels like only yesterday when I realised I’d forgotten to pre-order the PlayStation 4 and had to wait a few months post-launch to grab one. The past doesn’t repeat itself but it does rhyme and here I am again having forgotten to pre-order a PlayStation 5 leaving myself out of the loop until early 2021. Oh well at least I have the time to reflect on the games that were.
The 8th generation of consoles pushed things in new directions and we saw games from both Sony and Microsoft we’d never thought possible before. Enormous franchises made massive comebacks. The indie scene was no longer a curiosity but a viable market powered by hope and ingenuity. Walking simulators and visual novels told stories in new ways. RPGs made enormous strides in both the eastern and western hemispheres. It was a great time to be a gamer.
This list will include exclusives but it will also include multi-platform games because let’s face it: the PS4 mopped the floor with the XBox One these last 6 years. The Nintendo Switch will make an appearance as will PC exclusives that were eventually released to consoles. Without further ado let’s dive in!
Apex Legends (2019, Multi-Platform).
It’s too early to tell if the Battle Royale will continue as one of the most played genres in the world or whether they become a cultural oddity of the 2010s. What is known is that in there among the morass there are some genuine classics such as PUBG, Fortnite: Battle Royale and Apex Legends. Though the first two have their merits Apex Legends remains my personal favourite. It’s a fast paced game with no frills except where they matter most. The colourful character roster, exceptional fluidity of movement and shorter time-frame for matches made Apex Legends easy to marathon and easier to sprint.
Bloodborne (2015, PlayStation 4).
A city built on the bones of slain deities. Patrolled by insane beast men and haunted by foul beasts from beyond the veil of time and space. No it’s not the end point of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos but it may as well be. Bloodborne’s relatively esoteric inspirations along with its designs of both its creatures and its setting of Yharnam made it an iconic work that players are still puzzling out today. But beyond its beguiling world and enigmatic characters Hidetaka Miyazaki’s magnum opus was a joy to play.
Bloodborne, like it’s cousins in the Souls series, gives no quarter. It demands players master first movement and then weapons before finally dominating the game’s varied enemies and bosses. Whether it’s the blinding speed of the Bloodstarved Beast; the slow, deliberate doom of Rom the Vacuous Spider or the three stage grudge match with the Host of the Nightmare: Micolash Bloodborne demands you fall to these enemies countless times before they succumb to your persistence. It’s the inverse of the saying “Cowards die a thousand times, heroes die but once”. Against it’s oppressive dark and the horrors that inhabit it Bloodborne demands courage from its players as much as it demands persistence and skill. Andrew Carroll.
DOOM (2016, Multi-Platform).
DOOM 2016 is my surprise hit of the decade. Shooters have long mined fantasy and sci-fi elements for increased freedom in mechanics and level design; when you aren’t restricted by the limitations of reality – you know, the boring stuff: bullets hurt, falling hurts, people have feelings – you can mine more depth from gameplay.
All the more amazing that this reboot of id Software’s classic demon-slaying simulator started life as a gritty, cinematic experience closer to the Metro series or Call of Duty (check out Noclip’s fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary). Thankfully, the final product is one of the most thrilling games of the decade. Combat is foot-forward, a whirlwind of constant motion that rewards you for getting close and personal with the incredibly gory “Glory Kill” system. The guns are beyond satisfying, the visuals are surprisingly arresting (particularly the hellscapes) and Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is, simply, brutal. A genre-defining game. Niall O’Donoghue.
Disco Elysium (2019, Multi-Platform).
More so than politics or ideology Disco Elysium is about failing upwards, playing as the alcoholic, speed freak cop that you are. To say the game lets you drill through bedrock when you’ve already hit rock bottom is an understatement. I spent the first day of the game running around bitterly cold Martinaise without shoes, only realising when my partner Kim Katsurugi pointed it out that night. And yet where the decisions you make in Disco Elysium would count as a complete fail in other RPGs like Skyrim or even the much freer Divinity: Original Sin series Disco Elysium lets you away with it a lot.
In almost every RPG you are the hero. Sometimes you can choose to be the villain but even then you still have to save the world from a despot so you can be the new despot. Disco Elysium never makes you save the world, after all you’re only one drunken mess of a man, but it’s options are somehow bigger than that. It’s a game whose impact and strength comes from the impression you leave on the game’s characters.
In my Disco Elysium I am a brazenly stupid oaf with the curiosity of a child. I am a man operating at the beck and call of addiction. I am hated by union men and anarchists. I am trusted by Kim and almost no one else. I am a man without shoes. Most importantly I am not a hero. All of Revachol’s heroes are dead. The city needs a hero but it’s not me or any of the people I’ve met. But that’s OK, I don’t want to be a hero. I want to solve a murder and I want Kim to respect me. Disco Elysium says that’s OK. What other video game does? Andrew Carroll.
Hitman 2 (2018, Multi-Platform).
The Hitman series has always been one in which – with the exception of Absolution – each new entry was considered an improvement and “the definitive Hitman experience”. So it feels a little silly to call Hitman 2 (and by proxy Season 1 since it is included in 2 via DLC) the definitive Hitman experience as if that’s some grand statement of quality, but it really feels like there’s no higher mountain to climb at this point.
Repetition and the replaying of levels has always been a staple of the series but the developers have cleverly gone all in on the concept; creating needlessly vast sandbox levels and then setting a main – and dozens of mini missions – in them. Mastering the geography now has a real purpose (especially for the Elusive Targets) and hard-learned, in depth knowledge of the mechanics and their exploits/limitations now gets tested with some of the more fiendish escalation contracts. Add in some genuinely absurd and frequently darkly hilarious writing and you have the ultimate puzzle game for the murderously minded. And if a glitch is funny enough? The developers will get behind it. Richard Drumm.
Horizon Zero Dawn (2017, PlayStation 4).
One of the new big PlayStation franchises to come from the PS4 was undoubtedly Horizon: Zero Dawn. Going forth into the PS5 and the upcoming sequel, it’s definitely worth your time to check out Zero Dawn if you missed it or replay it if it’s been a while.
Horizon had an unfortunate release date, coming out the same week as the similarly styled; The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild so its exposure was a bit undermined despite its acclaim from critics and gamers alike. That didn’t stop its quality from shining through though. While Zelda was definitely an influential masterpiece, Horizon is still an excellent open world adventure, with great upgrade progression, gorgeous visuals, unique and dynamic enemies and an intriguing if slightly too long story.
As Aloy, you’ll travel through a hybrid world of nature and machine. Taking in the wondrous landscapes of the world, discovering lost remnants of the former Earth while tearing down mechanical animals as small as goats to bigger than dinosaurs.
Horizon’s enemy encounters are the game’s ultimate highlight. You’ll face off against mechanical monsters by isolating weaknesses on their bodies. Figuring out what weapon type, elemental weakness and strategy works on which enemy is immensely rewarding as you’ll be taking down small guys in no time after a while but still placed at a huge disadvantage when swarmed by different variations. And some of the bigger, more challenging enemies will have you facing them for a long stretch of time making their defeat all the more rewarding. Very few games make you feel stronger and more accomplished after a fight than Horizon Zero Dawn.
You will also face human opponents on occasion who still make for investing fights through stealth and being smaller targets who surround you easier as they’re better with devising strategies.
The story unfortunately goes on a bit too long and could’ve ended about 3 or 4 hours sooner, but it’s still an engaging ride and does lend itself well to be the launching point of a franchise. Creating a powerful protagonist, a compelling antagonist and rich world of seemingly endless lore.
Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the defining games of the PlayStation 4 that sadly isn’t talked much about in the system’s later years. Don’t let it pass you by. The complete edition with a DLC campaign is easily found for around €20 these days, and you’ll want to be in the loop for Horizon: Forbidden West when it launches next year. Dan Troy.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018, Multi-Platform).
2018 seemed to be the logical endpoint of the open world game. There was simply too much to do and see and shoot. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Far Cry 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 were some of the biggest games ever made and the former two sacrificed a whole lot of story for the sake of their go anywhere and do anything worlds. It can’t be said that sacrifices weren’t made in the production of Red Dead Redemption 2 – more on RockStar’s shitty labour practices here – but it’s still one of the best games of its kind.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s flaws were as notable as it’s successes but that was, in part, what made it so great. The Wild West was about systems in conflict with one another. Natural against unnatural. Urban versus rural. Natives fighting settlers. The Law hunting the bandits that dared to live free. So it makes sense in a convoluted sort of way that Red Dead Redemption 2’s systems would create friction between each other.
Add that to a story about men and women trying to live by their own laws at a time when society was attempting to stamp these independent enclaves out and you have a monumental achievement whose flaws add to a greater whole. Red Dead Redemption 2 is ultimately about freedom, a freedom that as gamers and people we can never truly have. A freedom that will kill us if we try and achieve it but some would argue: Isn’t it better to live and die free? Andrew Carroll.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016, PlayStation 4).
The peak of the series, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the biggest blockbuster you’ll play through this generation if not all generations. Nathan Drake’s final outing was a triumphant adventure to end on and further cemented the series as a modern classic.
Uncharted 4 sees Nathan Drake (Nolan North) brought out of retirement for one last hurrah in search of pirate treasure to help his long assumed dead brother Sam (Troy Baker) out of a life or death situation. While of course dealing with an old nemesis who wants the treasure for himself. It may have the odd bump like Sam having never been mentioned prior in the series and Nate’s wife Elena suddenly joining the adventure in the last third with no explanation as to how she found Nate’s whereabouts, but despite those, this is still the most well crafted Uncharted story. Giving us the action summer blockbuster set ups, a captivating story of following a pirate treasure map across many different continents, slowly learning what happened to the pirates, and some great growth for Nate by seeing him deal with the struggles his adventures put on marriage and how the interactions he has with his brother.
Gameplay is a cut above the rest of the series. The action set pieces are second to none and some of the best you’ll ever play through. The chase through Madagascar has to be considered one of the greatest gaming moments of the past decade. Gun-play feels precise and urgent, stealth changes your approach to the usual Uncharted enemy set ups, the grappling hook is a genius addition for traversal and makes for some balls-to-the-wall encounters. You’ll shoot a guy, jump a building, grappling hook onto the side of the building, launch yourself to the next building and Superman punch a guy as you land. Exhilarating!
Puzzles aren’t too difficult but don’t feel too easy so their inclusion still feels warranted and one or two will have you scratching your head but nothing you’ll need to look up like the shadow puzzle in Uncharted 3. Graphically it’s one of the best looking games ever created and still so many years after release looks as crisp and fresh out the oven as ever.
There’s still the Uncharted down time of climbing by just holding a direction and mashing jump but at least Sam and Nate always have something to say and more than ever you know something exciting is on it’s way around the corner.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the Definitive Uncharted experience, top to bottom, bar none. Uncharted 2 seemed impossible to overtake being one of the 2000s best action adventure/third person shooters but Uncharted 4 absolutely nails it, it hits it out of the park for a perfectly paced and insanely fun adventure from its sombre openings to its brilliant final moments. If you skip out on Uncharted 4, you are doing yourself a disservice as you are passing up on one of the greatest gaming experiences the PlayStation brand has to offer.