The 30 Best Games of the Generation

Next week will see the release of Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S and Sony’s PlayStation 5 consoles. Both look to already be dominating the cultural conversation, as new next-gen games such as Demon’s Souls, Godfall, Resident Evil Village and The Medium begin releasing over the next few months. It’s going to be an exciting time for all gamers as we start seeing more complex titles that take advantage of the new hardware, including the ultra-fast SSDs that are embedded into each console.

At New Game+, we will continue to be covering games both old and new, including stuff released on the current generation of hardware. That will never go away, as neither has our retro content either. But for the fun of celebrating the past generation of video games, let’s take a look back at 30 of the best games to release on these consoles. They are listed in no particular order.

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Super Mario 3D World

Considering he’s one of gaming’s oldest and most famous mascots, it comes as no surprise that Mario has had a few belters in this generation. The kid-friendly aesthetics and accessible gameplay makes any game in this series to be an instant hit with audiences of any demographic, and Super Mario 3D World is no exception.

A somewhat poster child for the Nintendo Wii U at the time, this was only the second Mario game to be presented in full HD, combining the free-roaming aspects of the 3D games in the franchise with the mechanics of its 2D sidescrollers. In particular, Super Mario 3D World excelled at its youthful energy and inventive level design, something that even its follow-up Super Mario Odyssey didn’t quite reach.

The Witcher 3 Wild Hunt (58)

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Perhaps one of the most ambitious RPGs of this generation, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is the third video game based on Andrzej Sapkowski series of fantasy novels. You play as Geralt of Rivia, also known as a Witcher, a famed monster hunter for hire who is searching for his missing daughter who is on the run from the Wild Hunt, an ethereal force determined to capture her. 

Considered by many to be among one of the greatest games of all time, The Witcher 3 was praised for its large open world that was used effectively, with a huge variety of quests to do and enemies to fight. It paid close attention to the details, ensuring that every little piece of its world fit together neatly to create a coherent, expansive adventure with so many layers.

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Alien: Isolation

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) is one of my favourite ever horror films, but I’d found many of the video games based on the franchise to be a little disappointing. Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation, on the other hand, salvaged that series from being a constant disappointment in the interactive media, creating an incredible sensory horror experience with an excellent attention to detail in both visual and sound design.

What was most impressive about the game was its dynamic encounters with the titular alien; scenarios that had the enemy AI adapting to your every move and creating scary situations where you’d have to think on your feet in order to counter it. Alien: Isolation’s AI wasn’t perfect, but it remains an incredible example of how to go off-script in designing horror encounters by letting your AI off the leash.

Rocket League (9)

Rocket League

It’s football, but with rocket-powered cars. I played quite a bit of Rocket League back when it launched, and although I was never really any good at it, it was certainly one of the most fun multiplayer experiences I’d ever had. It’s one of those games that’s easy to pick up but difficult to “git gud” at without investing a serious amount of time into. 

The physics engine in particular creates a nice contrast between the slow moving ball and the much faster cars, which can tip the scales in anyone’s favour when a lot of game-defining plays come down more to luck than to skill. Rocket League was a really simple idea but Psyonix really made a decent execution of it, and it’s something I still casually pick up from time to time even today.

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Bloodborne

The soulslike as a genre saw a massive surge in popularity thanks to the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. These games focused heavily on stamina management, extremely high difficulty and an interconnected world to explore as part of their charm, but I think what gave Bloodborne the edge for me over Dark Souls was its focus on aggression, having you approach each encounter offensively in order to beat enemies.

As well as that, Bloodborne’s Gothic cathedral imagery and eldritch horror story was really interesting to me, while each part of the world felt separate and individual; it made sense as part of a natural progression. You could periodically take breaks from the game only to return weeks later and slot right back into the same mindset as you try to take on a new boss or area.

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The Shrouded Isle

Because I love horror fiction about weird cults and otherworldly creatures, Kitfox Games’ The Shrouded Isle was right up my alley. It’s a management simulation game where you’re the leader of a sacrificial village cult that worships a god who intends to bring about an apocalypse in three years. The villagers are all procedurally generated, each with their own personalities, habits, vices, and sexual relationships, and the game leans hard into them being caricatures of gothic fiction. Most importantly, you have to choose a villager to sacrifice at the end of each season, and your choices can be the source of new drama with the other townsfolk and even affect the ending you get. It’s not an incredibly deep game, but I really enjoyed the many different scenarios that could occur as well as the really grim art style that created a feeling of existential unease.

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Battlefield 1

The Battlefield series has always been excellent at depicting large-scale, cinematic war scenarios but the decision to scale it back from a modern military shooter to a more accessible FPS set during World War I is commendable. Although many players weren’t too happy with some design decisions made in this compared to Battlefield 4, the new game modes and overhauled loadout system was enough to get me to play through 150 gruelling multiplayer hours. World War I as a setting hasn’t been explored too much in a first-person shooter, but I think EA DICE did an excellent job at keeping the same explosive Battlefield formula while scaling it back to one of the bloodiest conflicts of human history. 

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The Last Guardian

GenDesign and Team Ico have always been able to create these really beautiful, minimal experiences that have resonated so well with the gamers who’ve played them. The Last Guardian fulfils the same kind of promise, sharing a similar tone of stylistic graphics and thematic gameplay elements that fit within the fold of the narrative. Here, it’s the emotive connection between a young boy and Trico, a legendary half-bird, half-mammal creature, as they co-operate to solve puzzles and explore the world around them that creates a really breathtaking adventure. 

If you water The Last Guardian down to “it’s a really long escort mission”, then you really need to see just why exactly this game does companionship better than most other games do. While many of those games give you control over how your companions suit up, what weapons they use, and every action they take, The Last Guardian understands that this isn’t how a complex relationship works and instead gives Trico its own ostensible volition that can follow you or ignore you according to its own whims. It’s understandable why it might be frustrating to some players, but if you’re willing to accept that maybe not every video game needs to give you 100% agency over your actions then it can be a really wonderous experience.

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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

After several misguided attempts at steering the series into a more action-oriented, almost anime-like style, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was revealed Resident Evil 7: Biohazard brought the series back to its grounded, small-scale roots. Set in the derelict Baker plantation in Louisiana, players take on the role of Ethan Winters who has come to the mansion to find his missing wife.

Resident Evil 7 became one of my favourite horror games of the past generation due to its first-person perspective and intimate setting. The familiar Metroidvania-esque pacing of the setting complemented its modern Southern Gothic visual design, where every room felt so grotesque and horrible that it made me recoil in anguish. I’m interested to see if Capcom keep in mind what made this one so great for its sequel due in 2021, because it would be a shame to go back to whatever Resident Evil 6 was.

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Hollow Knight

I like to think of Hollow Knight as the best metroidvania that isn’t Metroid or Castlevania. Playing as a nameless knight, you must journey through Hallownest, an ancient kingdom inhabited by various insects that has now fallen to a deadly plague. The Knight must travel through this underground land, fighting bosses and unlocking new abilities to progress, as they uncover the mysteries of the kingdom.

For me the brilliance of Hollow Knight was evident in its atmosphere, sporting dark fairy tale visuals and expressive unforgettable characters, as well as a large open world that does not require a map to navigate due to how distinctive each area feels. The responsive combat is also a plus, having tight controls and fluid movement that makes the game’s brutal difficulty just about worth the stress. 

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Nintendo Switch didn’t have a lot on offer as far as launch titles went, but it was without a doubt a “Zelda Machine” for many months following its release. Not only was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild a decent launch title for the new console, but it was also a brilliant open-world game in its own right.

What made it so particularly great was its varied open world biomes, with each quadrant of the map having a unique identity and smaller substory to get invested in, as well as the different abilities and weapons that encourage experimentation in how they interact with each other. The Nintendo Switch has been one of the best hardware innovations of the past decade, which had everyone wanting a piece of the Nintendo pie when it launched in March 2017, and having an extremely strong title such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild only made it all the more enticing.

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Her Story

I want more games to explore non-linearity in the same way Her Story did. The entire game is actually pretty minimal, as you’re searching and sorting through a database of video clips from fictional police interviews to solve the case of a missing man, but the way it gives you this system to play with and say “go nuts with it” is incredible.

You search for keywords on the database and more clips show up, meaning each player will discover different pieces of the puzzle at different intervals. Even if everyone who played Her Story came to the same conclusion about its mystery, how they got there will always be completely different. What’s rather more impressive about Her Story is it doesn’t even have a traditional ending, instead you’re done when you’ve decided you’re done. It’s really a fantastic experience that everybody should play at some point in their lives.

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Return of the Obra Dinn

I consider Return of the Obra Dinn to be a great game as it uses the core idea of what Her Story did so effectively. After the mysterious reappearance of the ghost ship the Obra Dinn, you are tasked with boarding the ship to identify all the missing crew members and passengers, determining the cause of death for each one, and naming their killer when applicable.

As with Her Story, a lot of what made Return of the Obra Dinn appealing to me was its dedication to the player’s input in interpreting the events by getting a non-linear lense into the past. Its monochromatic graphical style adds to the feeling of this antiquity, and twisting all the different narratives and conventions that are at play here results in a mystery-driven game that constantly keeps you guessing.

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Control

This was another of our favourite games from 2019, and with the release of Control’s two DLCs; ‘The Foundation’ and ‘AWE’, I feel that the game deserves to be one of the most notable titles I’ve played from the last ten years.

I feel like Remedy is a leading pioneer of creating big budget action blockbusters while committing to one big weird idea that persists in both the narrative and the gameplay. Alan Wake did this with its light vs dark motifs, and Quantum Break did it with its time-bending mechanics. Control, on the other hand, dials everything up to max by delivering reality-altering set pieces, intimidating art design and exciting paranormal abilities to toy around with, all neatly wrapped up as an ambitious genre story that takes notes from Metroidvanias and Soulslikes. This is one you won’t forget!

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Disco Elysium

Most modern novels don’t tend to break the 100k word count mark, and yet Disco Elysium’s script is a million words long. ZA/UM’s writing chops really sells this game to you as a politically charged detective story set in a fantasy world. You play as an amnesiac detective who has been charged with solving a murder mystery in the fictional city of Revachol, and the game really lets you embrace the “What kind of cop are you?” tagline the game has by letting you employ many different political approaches to each situation you’re faced with. The witty dialogue combined with the amount of depth that has been considered for each and every interaction you make in the game solidifies Disco Elysium as one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. 

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Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

To be perfectly honest, I’ve really tried to enjoy a lot of the games based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, but very few released after the PS2 movie tie-ins were really able to keep my attention. Shadow of Mordor was the first game since then to properly grab my attention, and this was largely thanks to the game’s groundbreaking Nemesis system, a procedural tool that generates orc captains for you to encounter. These orcs are randomised, with everything from their names, personalities, equipment and rank within the Mordor armies changing with every new iteration. 

If an orc kills you, it’ll be promoted and become much stronger. If you flee, it’ll taunt you about it the next time you fight. It still blows my mind that the Nemesis system hasn’t inspired many other games, because for an early-gen game (this also came out on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, mind you) it’s a brilliant piece of work that completely transforms the game from being an average slice ‘em up into something a lot more engaging.

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Life Is Strange 2

It feels like fewer people played Life is Strange 2 compared to its predecessor, but I think it’s overall a much stronger title. Abandoning the Veronica Mars-esque teen thriller writing of the first game, the sequel made way for much heavier political themes by exploring the class divide and racism that’s occurred in Trump’s America.

It’s not exactly an easy title to process if you’re for some escapism in your video games, but its content is important within a late-2010s setting and will definitely stick with you even months after completing a playthrough. Besides the real world references, it’s also a deeply emotional story about the connection between two brothers and how a road trip across the country can fully define who they each are, with you being put in the steering wheel as you make choices for these two boys. It’s one of the strongest choice-based games I’ve ever played.

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Celeste

Celeste is a platformer about a girl called Madeline as she makes her way to reach the peak of a large mountain. But of course, there are lots of dangerous obstacles and hazards that await as she tries to reach her target. I got Celeste on my Nintendo Switch as a way to waste time on the train, back when commuting and going to events was a thing, and while I had originally wrote the game off as a fun little time-waster to enjoy in small bursts, I eventually found myself deeply empathising with Madeline’s adventure and the various ways in which the game’s level design tied into her own mental health struggles.

I also really appreciated Celeste’s assist mode, which changes some parts of the game’s difficulty, particularly in Madeline’s movement and the physics of the levels, that makes it a lot more accessible to players who are struggling with it. By the time I was really invested in the story, some of the stages had begun to get really hard for me to beat, but activating assist mode ensured I was able to see Madeline’s journey to the very end. I like that more games have incorporated assist modes in some shape or form, and I’m hoping this becomes a bigger trend going into the next generation of gaming.

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INSIDE

2D side scrollers have been a part of video games forever, so it’s amazing that even decades later developers can find ways to keep the formula fresh. Playdead’s INSIDE is a dystopic horror where the player controls a boy navigating a nightmarish world where people have been transformed into zombie-like husks. The game constantly switches modes between exploration, platforming, environmental puzzle solving, and fighting or escaping enemy threats, and it does so seamlessly that its pacing is never up for question.

In my opinion, it’s the art direction and narrative devices of INSIDE which earn it a place on this list. The game uses a darkly monochromatic colour scheme; lots of blacks and greys fill the environment, with more vibrant colours being used extremely rarely. The story is fed to you completely through the environment, level art, and smaller visual cues that create an aura of ambiguity until you start piecing everything together later. Fans and critics all seem to have their own theories about the story, and I think that speaks for the brilliance of how Playdead manage to present it to you that everything is still up for interpretation.

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Fortnite: Battle Royale

It should come as no surprise that Fortnite: Battle Royale appears on this list. Although it wasn’t the first game to do the Battle Royale genre, and wasn’t even the first to popularise it in this current trend, it has certainly left a lasting appeal in the last few years especially with younger gamers.

In Fortnite: Battle Royale, 100 players parachute down onto an island and must scavenge any weapons and equipment they find and battle each other until there’s only one left standing. Meanwhile, an ever-shrinking circle slowly traps the players and pushes them closer together, culminating in tight battles that can end in many destructive ways. The casual graphics style and free-to-play release model of the game has definitely contributed to Fortnite becoming as big as it has, but I would also argue it is streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube that is the main catalyst of this cultural explosion.

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Animal Crossing New Horizons

Currently on track to be one of the most successful games of the year, Animal Crossing New Horizons was already on a lot of people’s radars but I don’t think anyone could have predicted how a game about developing a deserted island into a community of anthropomorphic animals would become such a global marvel.

For a lot of people, it became THE game of the pandemic. Due to its excellent sense of escapism, it was the perfect distraction we all needed from the widespread social distancing and self-isolating that occurred in several waves throughout the year. The phenomenon even became a platform for larger issues, with democracy activists in Hong Kong using the game as a stage for their protests, and the Joe Biden 2020 presidential campaign as a place of promotion.

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Darkwood

The best thing I can say about Darkwood is it absolutely knows that good horror is all in the atmosphere. For the most part, it adapts the same kind of vibe you’d feel when watching a film like The Blair Witch Project. You’re lost, alone in the woods, and there’s an evil presence toying with your mind at every moment you stay alive.

In particular, trying to survive a night inside the cabin was anxiety-inducing. Hearing the sounds of snapping tree branches outside and soft scratches at the door instilled so much panic in me, and there were many nights where no enemy would even enter the house. But just knowing they were out there was absolutely terrifying, and part of the reason why Darkwood was my favourite horror game from this generation.

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Hitman

As a lifelong Hitman fan, it would be crazy not to include the title on this list. After the rather sour reception to the previous Hitman Absolution, IO Interactive went back to the drawing board for this one and devised a game that would adapt the right mechanics from its predecessor while also bringing back the huge open levels and emergent gameplay that made the series popular in the first place.

Although the decision to make Hitman an always-online live service game with episodic releases upset some fans, I really enjoyed having only one level to complete at a time. I’d played the opening mission, Paris, at least a hundred times and still find something brand new to do in-game. Then once I started to get slightly bored, IO Interactive would release the next episode and it would be like hitting a reset button as I suddenly was confronted with a plethora of new content to digest.

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Dishonored 2

Similarly to Hitman, the Dishonored series has also been really adept at creating large open levels in which to toy with your tools at your disposal. Consequently, I feel that Dishonored 2’s stealth is probably the peak of video game stealth mechanics for me. It’s got all these different systems that flow so well together; the many different routes throughout the levels, the use of darkness to hide, and the combination of powers make each run-through of the game feel unique and personal to you.

Dishonored 2’s intended painterly art direction also felt fully realised this generation, with the move from the grey Dickensian monolithic structures of Dunwall to the tropical landscapes of Karnaca offering a new insight into the world that Arkane created. More specifically, two of its levels: ‘The Clockwork Mansion’ and ‘A Crack in the Slab’ deserve credit for their creativity and the ways in which their complexity encourages compelling improvised gameplay.

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Forza Horizon 4

I haven’t been much of a racing game fan in my life. I lean more towards arcade racers; Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing, and hey remember LEGO Racers? The Forza Horizon series leans into its realistic aspects of the mainline Forza Motorsport franchise but spins it as an arcade racing game filled with a lot of different races, activities and events to perform all around Edinburgh and the north of England. Its setting feels so wholly British, and there’s just something about the way driving along these empty countryside lanes and through quaint little villages feels incredibly fun to become immersed in. I also managed to replicate Mr. Bean’s Mini Cooper, which should automatically make it game of the decade.

The LEGO expansion slaps, too.

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Minit

Minit’s unique time loop mechanic felt like one of the most inventive things I’d played in the year of its release. It’s a game that you play 60 seconds at a time, meaning you start a life, can do a variety of different tasks involving puzzle solving, exploration or combat, and then die once your time is up. You respawn at your last safe house, but the changes you made to the world persist between lives.

That was the real beauty of Minit for me. It was all about learning to optimise your routes, and slowly chip away at the game world presented to you that seemingly long interactions or journeys would eventually become trivial tasks as you unlocked new equipment and opened big shortcuts. It may even perhaps be one of the best indie games I’ve ever played.

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Gone Home

Considered to be an early example of the “walking simulator” genre, Gone Home is set in the ‘90s and concerns a young woman returning from overseas to her rural Oregon family home to find it empty with her family absent, leaving her to piece together recent events.

Gone Home lets the player explore at their own pace, examining items, journals and other items to reconstruct the story for themselves, with very few intrusive systems getting in the way. Its captivating plot is told beautifully through the environmental storytelling and audio narration, while its LGBT themes were rather ground-breaking in a time when critically-acclaimed games were still very much a cishet landscape.

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Subnautica

Subnautica is a slow start but its brilliance comes to you after a few hours of exploring the ocean, familiarising yourself with the aquatic life, and unravelling more of its zigzagging plot. Set on an alien world that is almost entirely underwater, you’re tasked with exploring and scavenging the submerged surface of this planet to survive, while also searching for a way to escape.

I think most of us agree that water levels suck, and yet roughly 95% of Subnautica is exactly that. It manages to make exploring the ocean compelling, with filling out your database and collecting the items you need very satisfying. That’s not to mention how beautiful they made the underwater look, there really isn’t anything else like it.

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Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Inspired by the folklore of Norse and Celtic mythology, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was self-described as an “independent AAA game” in that it was developed with the production value of a contemporary blockbuster game, but with creative freedom and an “indie spirit”. It definitely feels like it, with the combat feeling simple and narrow, yet uncompromising in its difficulty.

Then there’s the story, in which Ninja Theory chose to focus on psychosis as the main theme of the game and worked closely with neuroscientists, mental health specialists, and people living with the condition to ensure they could represent it accurately. It feels refined, and its inclusion was met with positive reception from reviewers and critics who had experience with the condition, not only being the main substance of the story but also a useful game mechanic. It’s a really powerful work of art.

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Overwatch

It wasn’t the first hero shooter of its kind but Overwatch really drove our understanding of what the genre was capable of. Featuring a large roster of characters each with their own skillsets and weapons, the game doesn’t once make these people seem like pawns in a generic backdrop but they instead each feel like real people with their own personalities and backstories. And the characters are a huge focus of the game, despite it still being a competitive first-person shooter first and foremost, which makes the title feel all the more interesting to me. The spirit of Overwatch is in seeing Blizzard build up this fantastic lore and wonderful characters that just kept improving as time went on. 

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I’ve always felt like Naughty Dog are really talented at pushing the limits of the hardware they’re up against, as while Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and The Last of Us pushed the boundaries of the PlayStation 3, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End did the same with the PlayStation 4, massively expanding the scope of the series beyond what was thought capable.

Not only did Uncharted 4 feel like Naughty Dog’s best innovation in level design, combat fluidity and, of course, jaw-dropping action set pieces, but its character work feels like steps above what was achieved in the original three games available on PlayStation 3. In particular, the relationship of Nate and Elena, as well as the dynamic between the two Drake brothers, felt humanised, and central to the game’s core drama. This title should remain the poster child for the PlayStation 4.


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