This month's release of the spectacular Mass Effect 3 made me realize that this console generation has created some truly amazing franchises. In many cases, these are series where all the game installments still hold up and play well in 2012.
Since there aren't a ton of big game releases due over the next few months, why not go back and play some of the classics? Below is my list of some of the best game franchises of this console generation, each of which has released two or more games on the current consoles (while I love games like God of War, so far there has only been one released on the PS3).
Let's start with an epic trilogy that has played out across this generation of consoles. Started back in 2007, Mass Effect is a franchise where all three games still hold up in 2012 - especially since saved game decisions travel across the trilogy. While the first Mass Effect suffered from some combat problems, Mass Effect 2 refined the gameplay, and Mass Effect 3 perfects it. Even if you just start playing with ME3 (when the Reaper aliens invade earth), it makes sense to go back and play the first two games to find out how Commander Shepard's sci-fi journey begins. It's remarkable to see how the characters have evolved across three games, and how decisions you made in the first game - such as whether to kill or save the Krogan, Wrex - impact the plot of the rest of the franchise. The fact that BioWare has released three Mass Effect games this good in the span of five or six years is nothing short of incredible.
Mass Effect 3 completes the trilogy this month.
Assassin's Creed III arrives this October.
Sure, Call of Duty is the biggest franchise out there, but you have to admit that Activision has done an admirable job delivering a quality game every year - even with all the drama surrounding Infinity Ward. Years ago, Call of Duty was inconsistent (anyone remember COD: Big Red One?) but now Activision has settled into a pattern of alternating Modern Warfare with new games from Treyarch such as Black Ops. While nothing has yet been confirmed, the rumors are that this fall we will see a Black Ops 2 from Treyarch. Just how popular is Call of Duty? If you look at the top 10 games on Xbox LIVE any week you'll probably see three or four different COD games listed. Even if you just started playing Call of Duty in recent years, go back and relive some of the classics like the campaigns of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Black Ops. They still hold up compared to the best of today's shooters.
I remember when Ubisoft first announced Assassin's Creed back in 2005, and it is amazing to see how far this franchise has gone in less than a decade. Based on a brilliant premise that allows time travel to different points in history, Assassin's Creed has already taken us to the Third Crusade and the Italian Renaissance, and recently it was announced that this year's Assassin's Creed game will take place during the American Revolution in New York and Boston. The high point of the franchise is still Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (that's the one to play first), and I have to admit to being a little disappointed in last year's Revelations. So, while I haven't always agreed with Ubisoft's plan to annualize the franchise, I'm really excited to see how the game changes for its third installment with a new hero and time period.
There have only been two games in the Batman franchise from Rocksteady, but both have been phenomenal achievements - and unexpected hits. Last year's Batman: Arkham City, set in an open-world Gotham, delivered one of the best single-player experiences of the year with a rich story, refined combat, and a huge cast of villains like Joker and Two Face. But don't forget to check out the original Batman game, Arkham Asylum, which started Rocksteady's rise to fame. There are still moments from this game that get to me, including the twisted sequences starring the Scarecrow, who wasn't in Arkham City. Will Rocksteady make another Batman for the current consoles? No one knows, but I have a feeling they have much more to tell about Batman's journey through Gotham.
Although it's only available on PlayStation, the Uncharted franchise has already birthed three games across this console generation. Nathan Drake's worldly adventures are cinematic, well-written, and action-packed, and some of the action scenes are the kind of moments you don't see in any other game. While Uncharted: Drake's Fortune's gameplay isn't as refined as the current games, the story is so well told that you can play all three in succession and they feel like one big action movie. In many ways, Uncharted 2 is still the high point of the series with its epic action moments, but Uncharted 3 has one of the best written stories in gaming. Don't just play one game - play the whole series.
With GTA5 coming sometime soon (and presumably for this generation of consoles), I can't help but mention one of the most seminal franchises in our industry. Yes, only one GTA game has been released for this console generation, but GTA4 was a monstrous achievement and looked beautiful on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Rockstar always pushes gaming in bold new directions, and the fact that GTA5 will carry a full number , not "GTA4: Los Santos," makes me think that Rockstar has very ambitious plans for the next installment. In the meantime, however, make sure you've played GTA4 in Liberty City (New York). The story of Niko Belic is still one of the best tales told in any medium recently - it just happens to be a video game.