It's been one year since PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launched around the world, and although the initial line-up of games was so remarkably drab and lifeless that it led executives to ponder why millions of people were buying the consoles in the first place, things have now picked up to the extent that there is lots of good stuff to choose from. So we've decided to do just that.
In putting together this list, we immediately ruled out last-gen remasters. They are certainly a fixture of the generation so far, but we suspect their numbers will thin out now the new formats have built a head of steam, returning us to the familiar rhythm of occasional HD collections rather than enhanced ports of more recent titles. The games we're really interested in, then, are those developed primarily for PS4 and Xbox One, or else multiformat games that have become synonymous with either platform. We wanted to see what the most notable games of year one had to say about this fledgling hardware generation - how do the popular narratives stack up against the reality of the games we find ourselves playing and enjoying the most?
This is just our list of course, and you may wish to put forward alternatives for your fellow readers, which you are invited to do in the comments - perhaps after offering some sort of acid judgement on the nature of our ancestry. In the meantime, here are 13 games that have defined our first year with PS4 and Xbox One.
DICE / Electronic Arts
Released: 29th October 2013
Battlefield 4 didn't seem like a huge leap at first glance - they even used much the same promotional artwork as Battlefield 3 - but the 64-player battles should have delivered unprecedented scale on console, a real generational leap and the first "battlefield" worthy of the series' name. Instead the game was a mess. Brilliant in controlled conditions, it wasn't ready for mass consumption and many gamers found it unplayable. It's in a much better state now and its disastrous launch led to a lot of soul-searching at EA and DICE, but it undoubtedly tarnished the series' reputation. It also demonstrated one way that these consoles weren't so different to their predecessors: sure, they shifted more polygons, but developers were still rushing games for release and hoping to patch them later.
Housemarque / Sony
Released: 29th November 2013
Given that its fellow PS4 launch titles were the underwhelming Killzone Shadow Fall and the underpants Knack, Resogun didn't have to do much to stand out, but to suggest it prospered by default would do a disservice to the quiet brilliance of Housemarque's PS4 debut. 'Quiet' also seems like the wrong word for a game as visually spectacular as this, not to mention the first to bark things out of the DualShock 4's built-in speaker with any regularity. A simple and engaging riff on Defender, Resogun reflected the pre-launch mood about PS4 - that it would focus on the fun - but also illustrated the impact of that message: after a generation where Xbox Live felt like the more active online service, the sight of Resogun leaderboards filling up with new PSN friends signalled that times were changing.
Respawn Entertainment / Electronic Arts
Released: 11th March 2014
In hindsight, it was the Titanfall beta that defined the Xbox One launch period more than the game itself, which sold millions and then appeared to fizzle out of the public consciousness surprisingly quickly. That beta though: wow. Titans, pilots and grunts all fighting together made sense immediately, while the little touches were captivating: the perfectly weighted free-running, boosting and mantling, the smart pistol, the rodeo ride, the whole suiting-up procedure which worked beautifully from any angle. It turned out the full game didn't have much more to add, but at a time when new games were thin on the ground, the Titanfall beta kept us topped up in spectacular fashion.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes
Kojima Productions / Konami
Released: 18th March 2014
It may have been superficially reminiscent of the tanker demo for Metal Gear Solid 2 that shipped with Zone of the Enders, but Ground Zeroes turned out to be much more than just an advert for The Phantom Pain. (Although it's still one hell of an advert.) Instead it was a surprisingly deep game in its own right. The initial thrill was our first taste of the new open-world Metal Gear Solid setting, where pared-back systems dovetailed with Kojima Productions' smart direction, but long-term satisfaction came from extra missions that reused the flexible play area. Ground Zeroes was initially criticised because a sprinting player could finish it in 20 minutes, but the reality for many players was more like 20 hours of increasingly captivating tactical espionage action.
Released: 20th May 2014
Indies may be the punk rockers of the games industry these days, but despite courting them extensively, neither Sony nor Microsoft have been able to produce a killer example of their work in their first 12 months. We're still lacking a Fez, Journey or Spelunky for these new consoles - although the accountants will be pleased that we're not lacking additional opportunities to buy those games. Instead we've had games like Supergiant's understated action RPG. Transistor had imaginative systems, superior visuals and more to say than the majority of games released in the last year, but didn't make much of a splash, perhaps because it lacked the stage presence of games like No Man's Sky.
Ubisoft Montreal / Ubisoft
Released: 27th May 2014
Watch Dogs was the defining game of the start of this generation for all the wrong reasons. Its debut at E3 2012 set the clock running on the new hardware and pointed to a glittering future of sumptuous detail and freedom, but ultimately led to accusations of downgrades and dishonesty. Prior to the console launches, Watch Dogs was still the game everyone had on pre-order, only to be withdrawn at the last minute for further development. And when it was finally released, the game itself was less of a leap forward than a throwback: a game that wore the scourge of surveillance society like a party costume, where most of your time was spent crouching behind walls, driving between objectives and playing Pipe Mania to break into computers. Downgrade, delay and disappointment: most next-gen games had to cope with one of these, but Watch Dogs delivered all three.
Released: 2nd July 2014
One indie trend that did find purchase, on PlayStation 4 at least, was local multiplayer; we've chosen to highlight Matt Thorson's frantic platform game, but we could just as easily have mentioned Sportsfriends. Sony believed gamers were ready to get back to old pastimes with its new platform and seemed to be proved correct, although it could have helped things along by instituting slightly less prohibitive pricing for additional controllers. TowerFall also benefitted - as did Resogun - from inclusion in the PlayStation Plus line-up of free games, something that has done more than anything to convince people the new subscription fee is worth it after a generation of getting multiplayer for free.
Kojima Productions / Konami
Released: 12th August 2014
For many players, the most memorable game of the PlayStation 4's first 12 months wasn't even a game. In fact, it wasn't much more than an L-shaped corridor, although anyone who spent any time with it will confirm it was much more than just an L-shaped corridor. Subsequently identified as a teaser for Hideo Kojima's Silent Hills, P.T. was an intricate puzzle box where every adjustment brought you closer to peak terror, whether it was sight of a bathroom door slightly further ajar or the introduction of a telling "behind you" to the familiar drone of a looping radio report. As with Ground Zeroes, P.T. showed that reusing environments is often more rewarding than simply throwing money at another blink-and-you-miss-it set-piece.
Bungie / Activision
Released: 9th September 2014
Comparable figures for other games are not available, but if Bungie's stated figure of 3.2m daily players one month after launch is accurate, Destiny is among the most enduringly popular games released on next-gen systems to date. And despite familiar tropes - assault rifles, space marines, boost jumps - it's one of the more unusual. Written off by some as a less distinctive, always-online Halo, the game that millions are still playing is closer to World of Warcraft or Diablo: an ever-satisfying lick of combat wrapped up in dailies, weeklies and loot cycles. Destiny's formula has more in common with PC games that people play to the exclusion of everything else, like League of Legends, and its success suggests experiences like those work just as well on console.
Forza Horizon 2
Playground Games / Microsoft Studios
Released: 30th September 2014
Playground Games' superlative sequel to its Xbox 360 original makes this list not so much because of what it's like to play - although it's a fine iteration on what was already a superb formula, a more soulful take on racing that views driving as a vocation rather than a series of jobs to complete - but more because it was an uncontroversial success story, something of a first for an Xbox One exclusive. The system's first 12 months - not to mention the six that preceded launch - were characterised by U-turns and battling inferiority, but Forza Horizon 2 reflected the feeling that things were improving. It's the best racing game of this generation and it's only on Xbox.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
Monolith Productions / Warner Bros.
Released: 3rd October 2014
If the Shadow of Mordor credits don't offer Ubisoft some sort of special thanks for the open-world template the game appropriates, that's probably only because the lawyers would pick up on it - Monolith must know that this game wouldn't exist without Assassin's Creed. Presumably, then, it won't mind when other games draw inspiration from Shadow of Mordor's own unique contribution, the Nemesis system, which gives the game such character. Such characters, in fact. Battling across Mordor, players form lasting rivalries with powerful Uruks who rise through the opposition hierarchy and can only be taken down - or manipulated to the player's end - after careful preparation, injecting surprising intimacy into a genre that generally thrives on vast distances and faceless victims.
Creative Assembly / Sega
Released: 7th October 2014
Speaking of intimacy, Creative Assembly's best ever console game was all about the relationship between Amanda Ripley and a single, overwhelmingly powerful adversary. It's no surprise that it worked - indie horror games have been making hay out of this kind of dynamic in recent years - but it was refreshing to see it blown up to blockbuster proportions, and a testament to the skill of the designers that the old truism about disappointing licensed games barely entered conversation once Alien: Isolation was in the public eye. Hopefully it sold well enough to encourage similarly daring adaptations.
Insomniac Games / Microsoft Studios
Released: 31st October 2014
Finally, if Forza Horizon 2 suggested things were looking up for Microsoft, Sunset Overdrive confirmed it. A literal rollercoaster of a game, it may have had flecks of grey in its pop culture beard, but it is part of a growing range of interesting exclusive games on Xbox One, whereas for all its technical strengths and commercial success, the best exclusive game on PS4 is probably still The Last of Us Remastered. This is something Sony needs to start correcting in 2015, lest its players start to look enviously across the divide. Game on.