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Games of the generation: the games that define PS4, Xbox One and Switch

Games of the generation
(Image credit: TechRadar)

With the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, a new generation of gaming consoles has officially been ushered in. And, while we haven’t quite said a complete goodbye to the PS4 and Xbox One yet (and the Switch isn’t going anywhere for the time being), here at TechRadar we’re feeling a bit sentimental. 

So, in the run-up to the release of the next-gen (now current-gen) consoles, we decided to write individual pieces on some of the games we feel define the PS4, Xbox One and Switch. Below, we’ve rounded up all the games we have written about over the past few months though, as you’ll see, we didn’t get to write individual pieces on every game we wanted to - but we’ve included every that we would have written about anyway.

These games are in no particular order, they’re simply the games we felt defined the generation for us as a team. Let’s be honest, you may not agree with all our picks  - as we all have different tastes and opinions - but it's hard to put together a list that will please everyone. So, without further ado, these are TechRadar’s games of the generation.

Marvel's Spider-Man

Marvel's Spider-Man

(Image credit: Sony)

"Superheroes make it all look so easy. Stopping a train from speeding off an unfinished track? No problem. Defusing a bomb with seconds to spare? Piece of cake. Saving the universe from an intergalactic menace hell bent on wiping out half of all life out there? Well, maybe that was a little tougher...

“It’s difficult enough translating that sense of seismic danger from comic book pages to tightly-scripted Hollywood silver-screen box office extravaganza. But trying to get that feeling of choreographed chaos into a video game when you’re handing over control to the whims of a player in an anything-goes, open-world, setting? That’s tough.

“Which is why Spider-Man for the PS4 is so supremely successful. We’ve been Spider-Man before – we’ve spun his webs over Manhattan in many a 3D adventure, taken on the Kingpin and Electro several times already. But Insomniac’s take on web-head nails the sense of acrobatic peril that Spidey faces better than any other superhero title before or since.”

Read our full Marvel’s Spider-Man entry.

God of War (2018)

God of War

(Image credit: Sony)

“The God of War series has spanned three generations of PlayStation consoles, with a total of eight entries in the series since the first game's release back in 2005. So, you would think think that there's not a whole lot that Sony could do to shake up the veteran series' formula - but you would be wrong.

“God of War (2018) stormed onto PS4 consoles just two years ago, well into the PlayStation 4's lifecycle, and firmly cemented its place as one of the best PS4 games of all time - and for good reason. God of War may not officially be a reboot, but it might as well be. 

“Sony's Santa Monica Studio truly harnessed the power of the PS4 to its fullest with God of War, creating a stunning world drenched in Norse mythology that begs to be explored and offering the most satisfying combat of any God of War game to date. But while the action-adventure is certainly a feast for the senses, its the narrative and character risks that make God of War exceptional - and a game that will penetrate the hearts of even the most hardened gamers.”

Read our full God of War entry.

No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky

(Image credit: Hello Games)

“Before No Man's Sky was released in 2016, I had its reveal poster up on my wall, but when it came out to stark criticism, I took that poster down, likely replacing it with yet another classic “Bond poster or a map of a loved place. The fact I'm now arguing that No Man's Sky is the best game of the console generation should testify to just how affecting it is.

“No Man's Sky is, to sum up a massive experience in just a few words, a planet-hopping exploration game where you play as a traveller (that's literally your character's name) as you fly between different planets, slowly upgrading your ship, a home base, and eventually your own space armada, in order to explore even further.

“No Man's Sky's world is its real pearl - it's a procedural-generated universe, with the animals, landscape, trees, atmosphere, buildings and even color grade and music on each generated from a single algorithm. It's absolutely huge, with 18 quintillion planets (18,446,744,073,709,551,616, to be exact, so many it'd take you 584 billion years to explore if you visited every planet for a second), and that's not counting the myriad space stations and other things to find between planets. 

“It can easily take you up to 100 hours to even begin to feel you've seen everything on offer, and many people have spent a lot more time than that on the game.”

Read our full No Man’s Sky entry.

Inside

Inside

(Image credit: Play Dead)

“You’ll never forget Inside – even if you may want to forget its ending.

“The indie-platform puzzler leaves a lasting impression on anyone who plays it, packing in more surprises, shocks and inventiveness in its short three-or-so hour runtime than many games manage in 20 times that amount. 

“For the uninitiated, Inside is the mysterious follow-up to developer PlayDead’s 2010 breakout hit Limbo. Like Limbo, Inside is a side-scrolling adventure that deals in equal parts platforming action, brain-bending puzzles and unsettling intrigue. Taut and crafted to the point where not a moment of these relatively brief tales have a second of wasted action, Limbo deals in horror-twinged fantasy, whereas Inside plumbs the depths of sci-fi conspiracy.

“It’s almost a cliche to say, but going in knowing too much about Inside runs the risk of ruining its surprise. So I’d take no offense if you stopped reading now – provided it was to go away and play this fantastic game.”

Read our full Inside entry.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

(Image credit: Eric Barone)

“Have you ever just wanted to leave your busy city life behind and move to a small, country town? No more Starbucks queues. No being sardined onto the subway. Just you, the clean country air and locals who don't wither when you accidentally make eye contact. 

“It's a dream typically reserved for Hallmark films, dripping in cliché and usually fronted by some city slicker who learns to love their hometown roots. But somehow Eric Barone's Stardew Valley pulls it off.

“Stardew Valley is an indie gem that not only lets you live out this fantasy but does so with humor and emotional depth – making it one of the greatest games of this generation.”

Read our full Stardew Valley entry.

Titanfall 2

Titanfall 2

(Image credit: EA / Respawn Entertainment)

“Some games are too good for this world. Sometimes, a game comes along that ticks every single box you could hope for, that excels in its genre, that offers replayability, excitement, invention and bombast, and it just passes you all by.

“In a world where we flock to see anti-Apple merch flogged in Fortnite, and happily endure gazillion gigabyte updates in Call of Duty: Warzone, we don’t deserve Titanfall 2.

“Titanfall 2 is the Wendys to fast-food’s McDonalds, your local coffee shop to the Starbucks juggernaut – you know they’re better, but you can’t convince the hordes to go anywhere else. But that’s OK – you can have your million battle royale clones, I only need one Titanfall 2.”

Read our full Titanfall 2 entry.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Dragon Age Inquisition

(Image credit: BioWare)

“Games love a dragon. They’re big, they’re noisy, they fly about and they hurl massive fireballs at you. They’re incendiary dinosaurs with wings, George R. R. Martin’s luftwaffe, the stuff of dreams and nightmares.

“The problem is, most games get it all wrong. Within a couple of hours of playing Skyrim, for instance, you get to a point where they just drop out of the sky, lay themselves upon your sword and die. Or they’re airlifted into a game to raise the stakes when the developers can’t be arsed to conjure a more original, plausible villain – like the moment when GTA clone True Crime: Streets of LA (an otherwise relatively grounded open-world title) puts your pistol power up against a Chinese dragon.

“Dragon Age: Inquisition, however, gets its dragons just right. The last really good game that BioWare made, its scaly beasts exist right in the goldilocks zone of dragon creation. Each unique, each monstrous, but each also conquerable with a bit of patience and planning.”

Read our full Dragon Age Inquisition entry.

What Remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith FInch

(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

“There are some games that just stick with you. Whether that's down to its charismatic characters, compelling narrative or unique atmosphere, there are some games that you find yourself fondly thinking about weeks, months or years later. And Giant Sparrow's What Remains of Edith Finch is one of those games.

“While What Remains of Edith Finch released to critical acclaim, it arguably flew under the radar with many gamers - as many indies often do. But the story of the Finch family is not to be slept on, with Giant Sparrow creating one of the most emotive, creative and poignant games of this generation.

“What Remains of Edith Finch could have easily fallen into the trap of being a monotonous walking simulator, but it is anything but. We advise going into the game as blind as possible, so we will attempt to keep spoilers to a minimum.”

Read our full What Remains of Edith Finch entry.

Bloodborne

Bloodborne

(Image credit: Sony)

“FromSoftware is perhaps one of the most beloved game studios around. After releasing Demon Souls in 2009, game director Hidetaka Miyazaki earned his place among the greats, with his unique brand of brutally difficult, high-stakes gameplay spawning an entire 'souls-like' genre – kept alive by the incredibly popular Dark Souls franchise. But just as you thought the themes and settings of Miyazaki’s games were getting stale, in 2015 we got Bloodborne – a Lovecraftian horror PlayStation exclusive filled with unique beasts and deranged beast hunters.

“Bloodborne puts you in the dirty, blood-soaked shoes of The Hunter and tasks you with entering the strange town of Yarnham to hunt down beasts and put a stop to the mysterious plague devastating the town. As you progress through the town, you’ll begin to unravel the mystery of the Healing Church and the conspiracy behind the disease spreading through the population.”

Read our full Bloodborne entry.

Horizon Zero Dawn

Horizon Zero Dawn

(Image credit: Guerrilla Games)

“Dutch studio Guerrilla Games made a name for itself as the developer of the Killzone series, an iconic PlayStation franchise that spanned five installments over four PlayStation generations. 

“So, it was somewhat of a surprise when the developer announced at E3 2015 that its new IP wasn't an FPS at all, but rather Horizon Zero Dawn - a single-player, narrative, character-focused open-world RPG… with robot dinosaurs.

“It may seem like an odd premise, but Horizon Zero Dawn released in 2017 to critical acclaim and cemented Aloy's place as a PlayStation icon - and Horizon Zero Dawn’s place as one of the greatest games of this generation.”

Read our full Horizon Zero Dawn entry.

Tetris Effect

Tetris Effect

(Image credit: Resonair/Monstars)

“It's difficult to find someone who hasn't played Tetris at least once in their lifetime. Since its original release in 1984, we've seen the tile-matching game available in various iterations on pretty much every gaming machine since: Game Boy, Amiga, Spectrum, and the list goes on and on. 

“Tetris has become one of those franchises that has gone beyond a screen to become a cultural phenomenon. And while its tried-and-tested formula sees it remaining one of the best-selling games of all time, it's hard to deny that - after 36 years - it feels a bit stale in the modern gaming climate.

“Shaking up a veteran series such as this seems like it would be a monumental task, but Monstars and Resonair managed to do it with Tetris Effect - and it did so in a flurry of color and sound.”

Read our full Tetris Effect entry.

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight

(Image credit: Team Cherry)

“It’s shocking at times how pitch-perfect the atmosphere in Team Cherry’s 2017 platformer, Hollow Knight, actually is. 

“Taking place in the ancient kingdom of Hallownest, an underground site of dark tunnels, sentient insects, and mystical lore, Hollow Knight is a game that makes every moment in motion feel tense, and gives every moment spent standing still a quiet, haunting peace.

“The drip of water in an ancient cavern, the rustle of leaves before an enemy lunges out of hiding – this is a game where small environmental details accumulate into a living, breathing ecosystem. One where even the steps of your feet, or the clang of your minute weapon – a rusted nail – have a quiet magnitude befitting the shrunk down scale of the world around you. (You play as a bug, after all.)”

Read our full Hollow Knight entry.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2

(Image credit: Rockstar)

“You can keep your bank hold-ups, your pistol duels and your card-shark poker scenes. To me, nothing says “Western” like seeing a cowboy being chucked out of a saloon onto the muddy, horse-mucked streets of a dead-end town. And Red Dead Redemption 2 has one of the dirtiest, sloppiest, ‘ew I’m covered in dung’-iest fist fights in all of gaming.

“Red Dead 2 is a dirty game. Your horse needs to be brushed from trail dust, a storm will turn the dirt-track streets to slop, carrying an animal carcass back to camp will leave protagonist Arthur Morgan’s jacket sodden with blood. It’s not quite photoreal, but its luscious locations and character designs are among the most detailed in all of gaming, right down to accurately physics-modeled horse balls – you get the feeling that, if they’d had the horsepower, the developers at Rockstar would have found a way to simulate grime under Arthur’s fingernails.”

Read our full Red Dead Redemption 2 entry.

Astro Bot Rescue Mission

Astro Bot Rescue Mission

(Image credit: SIE Japan Studio)

“Remember when Mario went from being a side-scrolling 2D platformer to being the free-roaming 3D plumber of the Mushroom Kingdom plains? Remember the thrill of seeing Peach’s castle in its towering, grand glory, or the first time you caught Bowser by the tail? 

“If those Mario 64 moments cemented the power of jumping from 2D to 3D with the Nintendo 64, then the PlayStation 4’s PSVR exclusive, Astro Bot Rescue Mission, does the same for virtual reality. Running and jumping will never be the same again – well, assuming VR eventually becomes as widespread as it deserves to be.”

Read our full Astro Bot Rescue Mission entry.

Control

Control

(Image credit: Remedy Entertainment)

"In Control, the struggle is in the title: you play Jesse Faden, a scrappy drifter seemingly closing in on the end of a mystery when she steps in the doors of a New York City skyscraper serving as the headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Control. Inside is her long-lost brother, she believes. But the shady government agency is in chaos as an interdimensional enemy infests every strange corner of the building. It’s up to Jesse to regain...you get the picture.

Like Remedy Entertainment’s prior landmark hit, Alan Wake, Control is a third-person shooter-adventure with a setting heavily influenced by beloved media – in this case, The X-Files styled in the era of Mad Men – for players to explore what happens when the mundane meets the truly weird. It’s this exaggerated sense of place, combined with paranormal horror and thrilling gunplay, that sells an experience of unnerving fun. 

Control’s execution of its idea is what earns it a spot among our Games of the Generation, but the premise deserves praise, too: it’s one of very few on the list that is an original IP, not a polished sequel of an already-celebrated franchise. When Jesse walks into the FBC HQ, players discover the game’s world alongside her, uncovering more questions than answers.

But boy, is it a joy to figure out what we can."

Read our full Control entry

Apex Legends

Apex Legends

(Image credit: Respawn Entertainment)

"Battle royale games were one of the biggest trends of this generation, but arguably no game got it right straight away like Apex Legends. Based on the same engine – and in fact, set in the same universe – as Titanfall 2, Apex Legends came out firing its Wingman in February 2019 without any prior announcement and it grabbed the best elements of the genre for itself.

The gunplay is unsurprisingly smooth, the ping system was revolutionary in the way it allowed you to talk to other members of your team without using your mic and the arenas are genuinely fun to play in with a variety of different terrains and locations.

Above all, it feels genuinely satisfying to win. Taking on 60 other players – each in a team of three – and winning is a high unlike any other multiplayer experience in gaming. You can get a similar feeling from Fortnite, PUBG of CoD: Warzone, but one last thing that makes Apex stand out: the characters.

The characters act as a glue that keeps you coming back to spend time in this world. Whether it’s Gibraltar, Lifeline, Bloodhound or Wraith, these characters are unlike anything else in the battle royale genre, and bring together all the other expertly created elements to make it feel like a game you’re playing with friends even if you’re playing with total strangers on the other side of the world."  

Check out our full Apex Legends review.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

(Image credit: Nintendo)

"There was a talk at the Game Developers Conference a few years back about how Eiji Aonuma designed Breath of the Wild by stripping open-world games down to their core elements and rebuilding them around The Legend of Zelda’s world. Stories like these in gaming are a dime a dozen, but you can see Aonuma’s thought process in the finished game - how lightning and rain are more than just background effects; how enemies react to what’s happening around them and how, with the right powers, you can manipulate the fundamental laws of the world. It’s beautifully elegant. Simple and refined.

Of course, while the world plays a vital role in Breath of the Wild - I mean, it’s in the title - you can’t forget about the supporting cast of characters, each of whom have a horse in the race against Ganon. Importantly, you never need their help - the game rarely forces you to do anything - but Breath of the Wild has ways of rewarding you for everything you do, and that in and of itself feels like a bold design decision." 

Check out our full The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild review.

The Last of Us 2

The Last of Us 2

(Image credit: Sony/Naughty Dog)

"The Last of Us 2 is a captivating masterpiece. That’s down not only to the emotive and nuanced storytelling, which confidently exceeds the boundaries of what we know games can be, but in the way the game takes a critically-acclaimed formula and elevates it beyond what we could have imagined. And it does so without submitting to the tropes we’re so used to seeing in games.

But this exploration of new ground doesn't mean that developer Naughty Dog has strayed from the core elements of the series. Infected still lurk in the shadows of desolate buildings, we're still presented with stunning, lost worlds that only offer pockets of exploration off the beaten track, and we again become emotionally tied to the beautifully developed characters laid before us.  

This is a sequel that won't disappoint, and which will have you torn but enraptured from cutscene to cutscene. The Last of Us 2 easily slides into our list of the best games of the generation."

Read our full The Last of Us 2 review.

Fortnite

Fortnite

(Image credit: Epic Games)

"In another universe, Fortnite is the likely-forgotten tower defense game that Epic Games had been showing off at E3 for years. In this one, the studio saw the rise of PUBG and altered its game to catch – and help popularize – the Battle Royale gaming craze. Within months, Fortnite was everywhere, from PCs to consoles to smartphones, drawing millions of players and a sizable hold on mainstream culture.

Fortnite’s free-to-play model and all-ages cartoony style eased its way, but its rise to cultural juggernaut owed much to its plentiful flow of content, from regular map changes to adding emote dances from pop culture. Fortnite popularized the Season Pass funding model that standardized a regular cadence of content (and generated massive revenue for Epic), while streamers grew enormous followings playing (and promoting) the game. It got so popular with teens that it became a ‘third space’ for them to hang out and chat after school like an online mall – and play some matches, too.

Which shouldn’t discount from the game itself: an endlessly-replayable and tightly-tuned third-person shooter with a building mechanic that elevates the skill ceiling to incredible heights – just watch top players duel each other to see how the shoot-and-build gameplay gets nearly too fast and frenetic to follow. But Epic should get credit for ruthlessly cribbing features from other popular games to keep Fortnite fresh, like the ‘Reboot Van’ that appeared shortly after Apex Legends got big in 2019 or the very Among Us-like social deduction mode coming in early 2021.

While other games like Roblox have carved away some cultural relevance, Fortnite isn’t going anywhere, retaining the pop culture dominance to add licensed character skins from Marvel to Star Wars to Halo’s Master Chief, host concerts and even screen films. In the pandemic, Fortnite added a no-violence ‘Party Mode’ for players to hang out, like a tween Second Life. And as Epic’s carefully-planned lawsuit with Apple could lead to third-party stores on iPhones and iPads, Fortnite’s impact on the world continues to grow." 

Check out our Fortnite Battle Royale review.

The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

"The Witcher 3 may not be the first entry in CD Projekt Red’s fantasy RPG series, but it’s arguably the best. While the latest chapter in The Witcher game series didn’t have the smoothest launch, it’s easily cemented itself as one of the best games of the generation.

But what makes The Witcher 3 so special? Well, for us, it’s a mixture of its charismatic characters, captivating side quests and the sheer breadth of its spectacular world. But while the world is large, it never feels empty, with each corner dripping with intriguing lore and peculiar creatures. The Witcher 3 is the epitome of a fantasy adventure game.

Arguably the biggest draw of The Witcher 3 is Geralt of Rivia, who serves as our grizzled but endearing protagonist. The game’s storytelling does an excellent job of having us see a softer side of Geralt and the complexities of his relationship with his adoptive daughter Ciri. But even if the main storyline doesn’t grip you, there’s so much in The Witcher 3 that will."

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves

(Image credit: Rare Ltd)

"You’ve always wanted to be a pirate, right? Sea of Thieves is a rare example of an online game that brings you closer together as a team with your crewmates… and then it likely pulls you apart again as you realize you’re not destined to run a ship together.

Sea of Thieves was released in 2018 for the Xbox One and PC, and it’s arguably one of the defining multiplayer experiences of Microsoft’s console. From developer Rare, Sea of Thieves offers a unique adventure mechanic that sees you paired with a team of crewmates and you have to work together to run a ship in an open world where you can sail, explore and, of course, find treasure.

While it launched with little to do, Sea of Thieves has developed to become a must-play experience of this generation that offers unique experiences. For example, Team TechRadar’s first encounter with the Kraken is a gaming moment etched into our crew’s brains that wouldn’t have been possible without Sea of Thieves."

Read our full Sea of Thieves review.

Forza Horizon 4

Forza Horizon 4

(Image credit: Playground Games)

"Forza Horizon 4 is one of the most well-developed racing games of the past generation, and it stands out as one of the best Xbox exclusive games. What makes Forza Horizon 4 is simply its attention to detail - how individual cars handle on dry and wet pavement, and how everything then shifts the second you hit dirt or snow. The constantly changing landscape keeps you engaged and challenged, while the new car unlocks and varied race events keep you coming back for more. 

While it’s not a new feature for Forza Horizon 4, the drivatar system remains the best stand-in for standard computer players in existence. The system takes into account your friends’ preferred vehicles, their driving style and performance, and exports that into your game for you to race against. Seeing a close friend’s drivatar race past you adds a level of excitement and, eventually, a greater sense of satisfaction when you beat them on the podium. 

If you only play one racing game this generation, make it Forza Horizon 4."

Read our full Forza Horizon 4 review.

Death Stranding

Death Stranding

(Image credit: Kojima Productions)

"Regardless of whether you loved or hated Death Stranding, it’s hard to deny that it’s a game that had a huge impact on this generation. The hype surrounding Death Stranding on the lead-up to release was staggering, with Kojima’s bizarre action game dancing along the line between game and interactive film in terms of both coverage and content.

After all, Death Stranding had some big names on board: Mads Mikkelsen, Léa Seydoux, and Tommie Earl Jenkins, to name but a few. Plus, with the game’s easy mode, most players could sail through the gameplay with relative ease and really just take the time to soak up the story. What resulted is a divisive game that seen some loving its many layers and seemingly monotonous premise, while others simply deemed it a “Deliveroo simulator”. Either way, Death Stranding had plenty of people talking, including us. "

Read our full Death Stranding review.