When one is asked to lock down your pick for “Game of the Decade,” well that’s quite an undertaking. So many video games come out each year, so heaven forbid someone be asked to analyze 10 whole years and pick one game. It’s preposterous. It’s outlandish. It’s exactly what every video game outlet has been doing for the past month. So now’s our turn.
More specifically, now is my turn. But I can’t pick just one. So I thought, maybe I’ll pick a game from each year. Then I thought, how about I’ll just do my favorite five. But then I looked back on my trusty “List of My Favorite Games” and found that nearly all of them came out in this decade. So I thought “this is gonna hurt,” and decided on a nice Top 15 of the 2010’s.
Why 15? Because I graduated high school this decade in 2015! Also, this world is too full of games to pick just one, and if I left some out I’d be devastated. So let’s do this the only proper way, with a lovely Top 15 list, in no categorical order except their release dates. Strap in, boys and girls!
Red Dead Redemption (2010)
I’m sure a majority of Game of the Decade lists will include Red Dead Redemption 2. I, however, being the Contrarian American that I am, find myself still loving the original game over its sequel. Imagine my joy when I learned the decade actually began in 2010, and I could include the original on my list! There’s just something special about the nostalgia Red Dead Redemption 1 brings me. It’s all about those first moments: mounting a horse for the first time, skinning an animal for the first time, experiencing that incredible post-credits mission for the first time and feeling your mind get blown into pieces. It’s those moments that solidify the original Red Dead (no, not you, Revolver) as one of my favorite games of this decade. While the sequel may have been an unforgettable epic tale that certainly deserves its “Game of the Year” praise, it never really filled me with the same impact as its predecessor. That moment where you find yourself saying “they can fit all this in a single game?” is unlike any other experience. Rockstar is so good at doing this very thing, and it’s the reason they made three of my favorite games this decade. Red Dead Redemption offered something special: an open-world Western that made for water-cooler-worthy moments every time you picked up the controller. Hell, I’m still talking with friends of mine about the original Red Dead, and that is a beautiful thing.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
My absolute favorite Call of Duty of all time came out at the start of this decade. So many memories are attached to the original Black Ops, whether it’s the fact that I used its midnight release as an excuse to buy an Xbox 360 at the same time, or it being the first time I played online with my friends in a multiplayer shooter. With Black Ops, I was officially part of the “exclusive club” of COD players in my school, and damn, that sure felt good. Black Ops is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Its campaign, albeit a bit meme-worthy (the numbers, Mason!), is still one of the most mind-bending stories in any first-person shooter to date. I defy you to find anyone who didn’t like this campaign. It was so influential, its characters and themes have carried through three sequels across the whole decade! Not to mention its zombies mode brought a narrative to the fan-favorite metagame, and shook things up with innovative new maps like Five, in which you play as four Cold War-era government icons, and Call of the Dead, in which you play as four real-life celebrities like Danny Trejo and Robert Englund. While part of me wanted to mention 2014’s Advanced Warfare, since its campaign was also thrilling and worthy of an Academy Award, I couldn’t help but go with Black Ops for its overall style, charm, and epic use of “Sympathy for the Devil.” Oh, and Summit. Can’t forget Summit.
Portal 2 (2011)
What can be said about Portal 2 that hasn’t been said by really anyone? This game is a delight from start to finish. Well, maybe not that garbagey bit in the middle where you have to test out multicolored goo that makes you go faster and bounce and stuff. But even then, all of that boring, tedious nonsense was backed by J.K. Simmons’s brilliant portrayal of Cave Johnson, shouting out insult after classic insult, and cementing Portal 2 as one of the greatest games of all time. This sequel took the original’s hilariously bland dark humor and amplified it tenfold, adding acting legend Simmons and comedy king Stephen Merchant to the roster of memorable Valve characters, alongside the always ominous and deplorably endearing GLaDOS. Portal 2 elaborates on every aspect that may have raised eyebrows in the original installment. It expertly blends an unforgettable story with brutal puzzle sequences, all the while delivering laughs that are guaranteed to make one question their own morality. Not only this, but GLaDOS’s struggle as she learns more about her purpose at Black Mesa is chillingly relatable, and leaves every player wanting more from these characters, this setting, and this world in general. Unfortunately, we may never get another Portal game. But thankfully, Portal 2 holds up incredibly well as of 2019 (I know, I replayed it), and it’s still one of the most incredible games I have ever had the privilege of playing.
L.A. Noire (2011)
I came to the L.A. Noire party (Noirety?) very late in the game. At least, it seemed that way at the time. I remember writing a review for this game on my own personal blog back in 2013. It became a favorite of mine almost instantly, and it doesn’t take a detective to see why (see what I did there?). L.A. Noire pioneered so many things in one game, and a lot of it has yet to be replicated as of 2019. For starters, its facial animation system was top-notch, with every character genuinely looking like a live-action FMV onscreen. I was absolutely blown away by every single performance, and to onlookers, this game could easily pass for a serious crime film, albeit a very long one. Furthermore, L.A. Noire utilized a crime-solving system that was way before its time. Giving the player the option to gather as many clues as they deemed necessary, and then interrogate suspects with the help of a “truth, doubt, or lie” system was damn near Telltale- and Dontnod-caliber gameplay that wouldn’t become mainstream for a few years to come. All this aside, L.A. Noire‘s shooting felt solid and fun, with players being given old-timey weaponry to choose from, and the open world was fun to explore in a 60’s-era automobile. I look back on L.A. Noire fondly, and it makes me wanna jump back into the remaster just to get a taste of those fond memories again.
Dead Island (2011)
I am one of the biggest fans of Dead Island that you will ever meet. Just ask any of the VGU guys, they’ll tell you all about how this roller coaster of a sequel on the horizon has my entire life spun in knots. I can’t wait for this game. No matter what company makes it, no matter who’s attached, no matter how similar it winds up being to the initial reveal trailer or even the games before it, I truly do not care. Just give me more Dead Island. When I first discovered this game – I believe thanks to Redbox – I could not believe how amazing it was. A first-person, melee-heavy horror game about a zombie apocalypse on a beach resort? I don’t think I could add any other words to that sentence to make it more enticing.
Hold on, what about “Disney.” Or… “cake pops.”
Crap, I guess there are a few words. But that doesn’t take from the initial shock of Dead Island and its lasting impact on me. You see, I grew up terrified of horror games. I can’t play things like BioShock because they’re too dark and claustrophobic. Don’t even get me started on Resident Evil. So a game like Dead Island, well, it flips the genre on its head. It’s a colorful open-world game that still manages to deliver a spooky zombie experience and a robust crafting system. It felt like a zombie game for babies like me, without having to dumb down the experience, and that really helped me fall in love with Dead Island. Here’s hoping that sequel gets off the ground in this new decade!
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
The third Saints Row game changed my life, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Never before have I had so much fun playing online with my buddy DJ, burning the city of Steelport to the ground in a hilarious fashion. The sheer amount of chaotic stupidity that Volition packed into Saints Row: The Third is unlike any game that came before it. Whereas the Saints Row franchise began as a carbon copy of Grand Theft Auto, it quickly devolved into more comedic territory with its sequel. However, the third installment blew the doors right off their hinges and suffocated any trace of serious tone in its sleep. What players were left with was a brand new genre of sandbox game, one where running around a town beating NPC’s to death with giant dildos was part of the fun. A game so hysterical and profane that it transcended repugnance into masterpiece material. While many may claim that Saints Row IV is where the series hit a high note, I felt the inclusion of superpowers and aliens brought the game into a far more ludicrous situation than was necessary. Saints Row: The Third is the sweetest spot in terms of gameplay, narrative, and nonsense, and it will always keep me coming back for more. Nine years later and I still haven’t come across any game like it. With a rumored sequel on the horizon, I couldn’t be more excited for the future of the Saints Row franchise.
The Walking Dead: Season One (2012)
It would be impossible to talk about my favorite games of the decade and not mention Telltale. Deemed “masters of video game narrative” by yours truly, I’ve made it my life’s goal to play through every single Telltale game on offer. This may be hard going forward, as many of their titles have been delisted from stores following their sudden closure in 2019, but I was fortunate enough to experience a lot of Telltale in this decade. From Back to the Future on the Nintendo Wii, to Minecraft: Story Mode on the Xbox One, these games have spanned generations of consoles, and I’ve loved almost every single one. Hell, Guardians of the Galaxy was my Game of the Year in 2017! So while I may have wanted to shine a spotlight on my personal favorite Telltale game, the underappreciated Jurassic Park: The Game from 2011, I decided I’d add a more impactful choice to this list; a game that has carried me through the entire decade and delivered more emotional trauma than life itself: The Walking Dead. I considered talking about Season Two, as it’s the first game to ever make me cry, and left me feeling absolutely helpless in the best way. But Season One is where it all began, way back in 2012, and the introduction of Lee and Clementine brought a rich extension to the Walking Dead world that comics and television simply couldn’t emulate. Sure, both mediums had a massive following at the time and the series needed no extra help from a video game. But being able to take control of these characters, learn about their surroundings alongside them, and truly live in this broken world full of walkers added another layer of emotional depth to an already gripping franchise. I will forever miss Telltale and their Walking Dead games. They genuinely helped shape me as a person throughout this decade, and I am eternally grateful.
Thomas Was Alone (2012)
This choice may seem ridiculously obscure, but when thinking of my favorite games this decade it was one of my first picks. It’s been a while since I’ve played Thomas Was Alone, and that’s a damn shame. In fact, I’m hoping to get a sort of Indie Book Club off the ground this year – in which a group of us plays an indie game and chats about it each week on a podcast – and I’d love to start with Thomas Was Alone. When I discovered this game, I was playing my Vita on a family vacation to New Hampshire. I think the game was offered for free through PlayStation Plus, and I decided to give it a shot. While at first glance, Thomas Was Alone may seem like a basic platformer about shapes trying to work together and exit each stage, after a few levels you’ll find there’s a lot more to unpack here. The game offers up an incredibly emotional tale of morality and purpose, told through the eyes of shapes like triangles, squares, and rectangles. Every block has its own ability in terms of completing the level, yes, but it also has its own unique name and feelings. Thomas Was Alone will grab onto your heart and bring it on a journey of sadness and hope. The emotional impact of platformers like Thomas or 2010’s Limbo really proves just how much the indie genre has come into its own this decade. Some of the best games of all time are indies from the 2010’s, and I look forward to the future of the industry.
Far Cry 3 (2012)
Far Cry 3 makes this list as probably the most outlandish pick of the decade. I’ve said for years that Far Cry 3 is one of my favorite games of all time, but it’s the circumstances that make that statement so odd. I tried playing every Far Cry in the franchise for a video series back in high school. The first game is average – nothing special – and Far Cry 2 is one of the worst games I have ever had the misfortune of playing. Furthermore, I wasn’t much of a fan of 4, Primal, or 5. So imagine my surprise when the smoke clears from this decade and Far Cry 3 still stands tall amongst the plethora of other game releases. What makes 3 so special, you may ask? Well for starters, it features one of the most brilliantly-portrayed and downright terrifying villains in any video game: Vaas. His ability to manipulate the protagonist into questioning his own sanity makes for a ruthlessly thrilling campaign that quickly snowballs into the world’s worst island getaway. From the first time you pick up a weapon to that gut-wrenching final choice at the very end, Far Cry 3 is jam-packed with memorable moments, and left me with immense joy in my heart whenever I hear about that wonderful game. I will always consider Far Cry 3 the best in the series, and it has further instilled a love of Ubisoft deep in my heart.
BioShock Infinite (2013)
Heralded as my favorite game of all time for quite a few years now – move over, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – BioShock Infinite is a game I am inherently not supposed to like. As mentioned above when talking about Dead Island, I could not play the first two BioShock games. Something about the dark lighting and the close, tight spaces turned me off almost instantly. I’ve tried to play the first one many times, but as soon as I encounter that Big Daddy scene, I am out-ski. So in 2013, BioShock Infinite hits the scene, and while I am reluctant to try it at first, I am rapidly drawn into its setting, its characters, its gunplay, its traversal methods, its topical themes, its time-travel mechanics… need I go on? Literally every single aspect of BioShock Infinite is a 10-out-of-10 perfect masterpiece. I cannot praise this game enough. In fact, it is still one of the only games I have ever replayed, and there are barely five games on that list. I find myself coming back to Columbia over and over again, and each time I either see something new, or delve into a new theory I’d never considered before. The writing absolutely blows me away every time; I wish video games could win Oscars because holy damn, does this game deserve one. BioShock Infinite is hands-down the most incredibly brilliant game I have ever witnessed, and I’m happy to say I feel just as pleasantly surprised every time I pick it up. I see many more replays in my future, in this decade alone!
Gone Home (2013)
I feel as though quite a few people may forget this one on their own Game of the Decade lists, so I’ve taken it upon myself to throw some more praise at Gone Home. I discovered this game almost by mistake. My friends in high school had been making fun of a game that could be beaten in less than five minutes, and after giving me the torrent to it, I gave it a shot while I was home sick one day. Completely bypassing the shortcut, I decided to play the game for real and find out why exactly this game had perfect scores from nearly every game outlet at the time. I had never heard of Gone Home at all, how could it be so amazing yet fly completely under the radar? Thankfully, my shitty little laptop carried me through the three-hour experience and I was left with my mouth agape and tears flowing from my eyes. Gone Home absolutely destroyed me in the most incredible way. I’ve never felt so enriched and fulfilled by such a dismal, heartbreaking tale. This game is powerful, it’s relatable, it’s everything a visual novel or a “walking simulator” should be. It delivers a genuine literary-caliber narrative that has you meandering about a house, unraveling a mystery and learning about two people with very different lives, linked by a common bond. To put it simply, Gone Home is breathtakingly beautiful, and it stands high as one of the greatest indies on Earth.
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
This decade simply cannot be talked about without mentioning Grand Theft Auto V. One of the biggest games of all time, GTA 5 started a cultural phenomenon that not only sold consoles like they were going out of style, but also broke the mold in terms of sandbox, single-player, and online multiplayer gaming. Upon release, GTA 5 was an instant hit. Its campaign, which followed three men – Michael, Franklin, and Trevor – had such an emotional impact it was compared to modern cinema. Its focus on inner-city violece and backwoods racism was topical and raw, and its massive release across two console generations not only kept money rolling into Rockstar, but also increased its player base immensely. This was important, as it helped the GTA Online service reach never-before-seen heights of popularity in an online community. GTA Online is still going strong today, despite some hiccups upon launch, and it offers a breathing online world that allows players to get lost in the hustle and bustle of Los Santos, buying luxury apartments, yachts, and exclusive weaponry to compete in online challenges and heists. The scope of Grand Theft Auto V is truly unimaginable, and the best way to describe what this game has done would be “a feat.” The technical prowess, the narrative structure, the voice acting – all of it together leaves us left with one of the highest-quality products ever seen in the world of video gaming. GTA 5 will forever be a classic, and one of the most important games of this generation.
South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)
The Stick of Truth makes this list because it offered the best RPG experience I played all year. Now before you grab your pitchforks, let me just say I did not play The Witcher 3, nor did I love Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, nor did I play any Final Fantasy‘s or Kingdom Hearts yet. The list of RPG’s I’ve tackled in recent years is fairly minuscule. So when one of my favorite shows decided to make a game, and the game was damn good, that made for an instant favorite. In The Stick of Truth, players can explore the town of South park in its entirety. Truly nothing is off-limits; schools, businesses, homes – if it has a door, you can enter it. I absolutely adored wandering around, meeting the characters, and taking in the sights and sounds of this world I have loved for so many years. Being a part of it was a dream come true. The game got even better, however, when the fighting began, as its turn-based fighting mechanics are super easy to grasp, and fun to employ. Gameplay never feels tedious in The Stick of Truth. It’s always a blast to fight someone, as using magic powers and items inspired by the show are all part of the game’s charm. Collectibles and minigames are on offer, and they’re just as much fun to search for. There’s really not much about The Stick of Truth that feels boring or monotonous. The lifeblood of South Park pumps through every aspect of this game, and it feels like one big season of the show from start to finish. The Stick of Truth is magical in more ways than one.
Lego Jurassic World (2015)
I sit here writing this, listening to the music of Lego Jurassic World, and falling in love all over again. I knew I had to include this game on my list, and I could do it for the score alone. This music… I can’t even describe it. The hub theme is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard in my life. But aside from the beauty of the music, this game offered the beauty of playing a video game with my little sister and seeing the joy on her face the whole time. We have played almost every Lego game together, with the Batman series being a close favorite of ours, but she has always mentioned a special love for Lego Jurassic World that I feel cements its place on this list. Being able to provide such a memorable experience for a child, that takes a lot of effort. Luckily, Lego Jurassic World did just that, with the perfect blend of main levels and side missions, as well as a multitude of characters to collect and the ability to explore every setting from every Jurassic film. There’s just something about this game that made us feel so joyous and grateful. The colors, the gameplay, the gorgeous score in the background – Lego Jurassic World has it all, and it flaunts it all proudly. If you’re looking for the perfect Lego game and arguably the best one on the market, look no further than Jurassic World.
Not a huge surprise, my 2018 Game of the Year makes the list for Game of the Decade. I’m going to be controversial here and say that Spider-Man is one of those “you must play this now” games. I know, I know, the majority of games listed here I played much later than their release year. But with Spider-Man, I feel there’s no excuse. Even I bought it at launch, it’s just that good. I can still vividly remember that first moment of the game where Peter Parker jumps out of his bedroom window in a cutscene and the game seamlessly transitions to you controlling him, swinging all around New York, chasing a cop car. It’s thrilling from the very first minute of gameplay. Spider-Man is an absolute treasure of a game, and a must-have for any PS4 owner. It combines two of my other favorite superhero games this decade: 2010’s Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and the combat of 2013’s Batman: Arkham Origins, to make the ultimate superhero action game. Its story is original and brilliant, dipping into Spidey’s rogue’s gallery of memorable villains and using them just enough to not seem exasperating. The colors are vibrant and the gameplay is fluid. Web fluid.
I had to do it.
But all in all, 2018’s Spider-Man is one of the greatest video games I have ever played, let alone in this decade, and it brought the perfect end to one of the greatest decades of gaming in history. It’s been quite a wild ride, these 2010’s, and while I’m usually not one for even acknowledging it’s the end of the decade or the end of the year at all, something does feel a little different when looking to the future.
There are loads of new consoles and services on the horizon, from the PS5 and Xbox Series X to Google Stadia and Project xCloud. So many new games are coming down the pipeline, from The Last of Us 2 and Marvel’s Avengers to Halo Infinite and hopefuls like Horizon Zero Dawn 2 or GTA 6. Man, this decade has the potential to be even better than the last! Imagine the innovations and developments we can make in the world of video games. Not to mention all the hidden indies that are in the works out there, just waiting to become Games of the Years, or maybe Games of their own Decade! I, for one, cannot wait to see what this decade holds.
Here’s to 2020 and beyond!