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Art is in constant motion, it has to be otherwise it stagnates. Games kept moving forward this decade despite the efforts of some of the most powerful companies and people in the industry. For every rote shooter there was a Spec Ops: The Line. For every Metroidvania rip-off there was a Dead Cells. For every clunky, difficult-for-the-sake-of-difficult action RPG there was a Bloodborne.
This was the decade where walking simulators made storytelling inseparable from gameplay. The 2010s indie scene was poached from liberally by the mainstream but nevertheless maintained its unique, rebel identity. It was a decade where rage and hate was met by an even stronger love within gaming’s diverse communities for the games that bring us together, that make us laugh, that make us cry and, ultimately, keep us moving forward. These are the HeadStuff Gaming writers’ picks for the best games of the decade. This alphabetical list is far from exhaustive so sound off in the comments for what you feel is the best game of the decade!
Apex Legends (2019)
It’s too early to tell if the Battle Royale will continue as one of the most played genres in the world or whether they become a cultural oddity of the 2010s. What is known is that in there among the morass there are some genuine classics such as PUBG, Fortnite: Battle Royale and Apex Legends. Though the first two have their merits Apex Legends remains my personal favourite. It’s a fast paced game with no frills except where they matter most. The colourful character roster, exceptional fluidity of movement and shorter time-frame for matches made Apex Legends easy to marathon and easier to sprint.
More so than Fortnite, Respawn’s latest achievement stuck very close to its core conceit. There was no Thanos or Star Wars events there was just twenty teams of three on an ever-shrinking map. Apex Legends fast-paced yet accessible gameplay is what makes it so addictive. Whereas Fortnite and PUBG rely on either building your own defenses or keeping very, very still Apex Legends relies on movement. Staying in one place for too long is certain death whereas keeping on the move gives you a fighting chance. It’s firm but fair and never relies on gimmicks to get across it’s sense of play. Who needs Thanos when the shooting and running is this fun?
BioShock Infinite (2013)
Perhaps the best novel I’ve ever played; Infinite’s examined race, class and freedom through the lens of a young woman able to rip holes in space-time and the ex-Pinkerton detective hired to find her. Rather than Rapture – the underwater city of the first two games – BioShock Infinite aimed for the stars and landed among the clouds in the floating city of Columbia. Nearly seven years on its question of whether the working class rebellion is really any better than the gold-and-marble plated exceptionalist theocracy is still being debated but that was never what drew me to Columbia, that new Eden of the sky.
Beyond its themes of racism and class warfare and the trans-dimensional travel that framed them BioShock Infinite was a story of father and daughter. Grizzled ex-Pinkerton and veteran of the American-Indian Wars Booker DeWitt is on the run from gambling debts and takes a job with the mysterious Lutece Twins to find the mysterious young woman Elizabeth somewhere in the city of Columbia. “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt,” goes the refrain.
As BioShock Infinite changed from a frenetic shooter-RPG in its contemplative, artistic final stretch so too did that refrain. “There’s always a man. There’s always lighthouse. There’s always a city.” BioShock Infinite was ultimately about what every BioShock game was about: fathers saving and sacrificing daughters. Only now director Ken Levine’s finale felt like the end of infinite universes. This time there were no player choices meaning that singular ending is where all redemption and consequences merge to become one, whether it’s in the clear water of a baptismal font or on the choppy shore of a lighthouse. Andrew Carroll.
A city built on the bones of slain deities. Patrolled by insane beast men and haunted by foul beasts from beyond the veil of time and space. No it’s not the end point of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos but it may as well be. Bloodborne’s relatively esoteric inspirations along with its designs of both its creatures and its setting of Yharnam made it an iconic work that players are still puzzling out today. But beyond its beguiling world and enigmatic characters Hidetaka Miyazaki’s magnum opus was a joy to play.
Bloodborne, like it’s cousins in the Souls series, gives no quarter. It demands players master first movement and then weapons before finally dominating the game’s varied enemies and bosses. Whether it’s the blinding speed of the Bloodstarved Beast; the slow, deliberate doom of Rom the Vacuous Spider or the three stage grudge match with the Host of the Nightmare: Micolash Bloodborne demands you fall to these enemies countless times before they succumb to your persistence. It’s the inverse of the saying “Cowards die a thousand times, heroes die but once”. Against it’s oppressive dark and the horrors that inhabit it Bloodborne demands courage from its players as much as it demands persistence and skill. Andrew Carroll.
Platforming, it’s safe to say, is a niche mode of gameplay. It’s a pretty big niche all said but it still only really appeals to a select group of people. For a long time I thought I was one of those people. I enjoyed Crash Bandicoot and Super Mario Bros but then Super Meat Boy came along and pretty much fucked my view of platformers. It’s uber-difficulty and edgy cartoon design put me off the genre until 2018 when Celeste shone new light on it. Playing as Madeline players must scale Celeste Mountain in order to conquer both the physical peak as well as Madeline’s and perhaps their own anxieties.
Celeste’s neon retro design and challenging gameplay encouraged me to get back into platforming but it was the colourful characters and warm story that kept me coming back. Madeline is riven through with fear and anxiety despite her outwardly headstrong exterior and must learn to rely on her friends such as the cackling, wise Granny; Instagram obsessed Theo and even the darker parts of her own personality. Through these characters Celeste becomes a figurative climb as well as a literal one through lush valleys, abandoned cities, hidden temples and ooze drenched hotels. Celeste might not be complicated in its gameplay but that doesn’t matter when the writing is this good. Andrew Carroll.
Dead Cells (2018)
Mechanics are the lifeblood of video games. The whoosh and crack of Kratos’ thrown axe. Crash Bandicoot’s desperate leap. A handbrake turn to avoid a fatal fender bender in Burnout Paradise. Mechanics are make-or-break especially when a game, like Dead Cells, has little story to speak of. In a sentence Dead Cells is a game about a headless corpse fighting their way through an infected island. It’s challenging, it’s fast paced and it’s goddamn fun.
Despite the endless cycle of live, die, repeat Dead Cells has made the entire journey fun where it should be frustrating. It’s easy to learn yet difficult to master controls make fleeing and fighting through it’s complex and colourful randomly generated levels a blast while the constant updates make the game feel fresh and new. The enemies are varied but a static enough group that no level, once learned, ever offers any really nasty surprises. It’s a game I’ve played consistently since it’s release over a year ago and one I will continue to play for many more. Andrew Carroll.
Dark Souls (2011)
I find it difficult to write about this game, honestly. It feels like trying to write about a period of my life, or who I used to be. This game just consumed me: I poured myself into the world, the combat, the storytelling, the community and the multiplayer for hundreds and hundreds of hours, month after month. Director Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software have moved on, most recently branching away from RPGs with the amazing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a single-player action game.
I’ve moved on as well. The game truly comforted me in a period of my life when I needed it and stands aside from my personal, subjective experience as an action-RPG masterpiece. Its impact on game design and the gaming community as a whole truly cannot be understated, leaving a legacy of challenge, atmosphere, environmental storytelling and staunch fairness that defined the decade. No game since has quite recreated the hyper-flexibility and depth of the original; not even the sequels. From Software have marched on as modern gaming’s pre-eminent development studio (Elden Ring!!) and nothing honors the legacy of Dark Souls better than trying to beat the final boss of Sekiro for the fiftieth-fucking-time.
Did I mention that these games are hard? They’re a bit hard. Niall O’Donoghue.
DOOM 2016 is my surprise hit of the decade. Shooters have long mined fantasy and sci-fi elements for increased freedom in mechanics and level design; when you aren’t restricted by the limitations of reality – you know, the boring stuff: bullets hurt, falling hurts, people have feelings – you can mine more depth from gameplay.
All the more amazing that this reboot of id Software’s classic demon-slaying simulator started life as a gritty, cinematic experience closer to the Metro series or Call of Duty (check out Noclip’s fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary). Thankfully, the final product is one of the most thrilling games of the decade. Combat is foot-forward, a whirlwind of constant motion that rewards you for getting close and personal with the incredibly gory “Glory Kill” system. The guns are beyond satisfying, the visuals are surprisingly arresting (particularly the hellscapes) and Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is, simply, brutal. A genre-defining game. Niall O’Donoghue.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron (2016)
The huh of the what now?
I found this game in a GameStop bargain bin in 2016 on a whim and was stunned. This game is completely bonkers, with some of the most distinctive and jaw-dropping visuals I’ve seen in a game this decade; how hadn’t I ever heard of it? This psychedelic trip through ephemeral landscapes springs off director Sawaki Takeyasu’s work on titles like Okami. The appropriately bonkers story sees you ordered by God to retrieve the souls of Fallen Angels to prevent a cataclysm.
Painterly faces slide in and out of screen as you run up half-illuminated staircases in a dreamscape. A brief cut scene plays out like a pastel storybook before you run down a distorted whirlpool shooting rings of fire, leading into a bright 2D platform section with cutesy characters. This is all in the space of five minutes and barely, barely scratches the surface of the game’s surrealist art-style. It may be true that the sweeping artistic camera angles make for, eh, interesting third-person platforming segments, that you’re often obscured by enemies during combat and that it’s completely linear. Still, this is a properly unique game that deserves far more attention, one that stuck with me for a long time after playing. Niall O’Donoghue.
Gears of War 3 (2011)
It’s true that the third person shooter genre stagnated after Gears of War’s launch in 2006 but only because Gears nailed these fundamentals so well. What many of the game’s imitators failed to realise was that Gears was much more than the narrow-corridor shootouts occasionally featured in the campaign. Scrape past the surface and you found a surprisingly kinetic, skill-based and satisfying multiplayer experience.
I spent the entire summer after my junior cert playing Deathmatch, Wingman and Execution. Item placement on the symmetrical maps was crucial; securing early access to frag grenades, a sniper rifle or the Boomshot was crucial and naturally funneled players into dynamic firefights. What set Gears apart was the focus on movement and positioning. The distinctive ‘Wall bounce’ mechanic allowed you to zig-zag huge distances extremely quickly, which combined with dodging, vaulting and the famous cover mechanics created a deep movement system.
These systems shone brightest in the one-vs-one firefights, players engaged in an elaborate game of chicken ending with a single decisive Gnasher blast. Add in the series’ trademark weaponry, lush environments and Beast Mode and you had a hugely compelling multiplayer environment. I really should check out the sequels sometime. Except Judgement, that was naff. Niall O’Donoghue.
Halo: Reach (2010, 2019)
It seemed like Halo was missing this decade when it really wasn’t. Not only was there Reach but there was Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians alongside a sequel to the RTS spin-off Halo Wars. So no, Halo wasn’t missing this decade. What was missing was a Halo game that actually felt like a Halo game. Luckily Halo: Reach book-ended this decade with its original release and its remaster in The Master Chief Collection. Halo: Reach with its colourful, colossal destruction, melancholic storyline and detailed, extravagant multiplayer is where Halo began and ended this decade.
The story of Noble Squad and its doomed members is not new to Halo players but it’s still very affecting even ten years on. The Covenant’s wholesale genocide of Reach alongside the gradual whittling away of characters we came to know and love formed the backbone of a game that gave players everything they could ask for. Firefight made the transition from Halo 3: ODST and Forge World gave the community’s greatest architects room to put their wildest fantasies into play. The multiplayer was at its most customisable and robust and every game felt like a unique experience. No Halo game would ever feel the same again. Andrew Carroll.
Hitman 2 (2018)
The Hitman series has always been one in which – with the exception of Absolution – each new entry was considered an improvement and “the definitive Hitman experience”. So it feels a little silly to call Hitman 2 (and by proxy Season 1 since it is included in 2 via DLC) the definitive Hitman experience as if that’s some grand statement of quality, but it really feels like there’s no higher mountain to climb at this point.
Repetition and the replaying of levels has always been a staple of the series but the developers have cleverly gone all in on the concept; creating needlessly vast sandbox levels and then setting a main – and dozens of mini missions – in them. Mastering the geography now has a real purpose (especially for the Elusive Targets) and hard-learned, in depth knowledge of the mechanics and their exploits/limitations now gets tested with some of the more fiendish escalation contracts. Add in some genuinely absurd and frequently darkly hilarious writing and you have the ultimate puzzle game for the murderously minded. And if a glitch is funny enough? The developers will get behind it. Richard Drumm.
Hyper Light Drifter (2016)
It’s extremely rare that I see a new game, maybe through a trailer or a critic’s review, and instantly buy it without a moment’s research. This was my first exception: no game before or since Hyper Light Drifter has instantly hooked me so deeply through its aesthetics.
Thankfully, the beautiful art design, animation and music are backed up by deep and engaging hack-and-slash gameplay, intricate level design and the sort of compelling environmental storytelling that feels so special when done right in a video game. Many modern games take huge amounts of inspiration from the Souls series, but none have pulled it off like Heart Machine did. Niall O’Donoghue.
Kid Icarus Uprising (2012)
The 3DS was a standout system in the 2010s and one of the best handhelds ever released. While it had a rocky start it really started to get going in 2012 with the release of games like Resident Evil: Revelations, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask and of course the heavy hitter of Fire Emblem: Awakening brought the sales figures up quite a bit. But the first game revealed for the 3DS was also its biggest release to date at the time.
Kid Icarus Uprising looked profoundly impressive from its E3 announcement right up until it was in the cramped hands of eagerly awaiting gamers. With an amazingly fun story filled to the brim with lovable and hilarious characters, energetic dialogue, spectacular set pieces, great weapon variety and incredible music. Playing as the not so graceful angel Pit, temporarily granted flight by his playful Goddess Palutena, you’ll work way to the underworld to battle with Medusa and eventually a delightfully camp Hades who honestly gives James Woods a run for his money.
Split between two gameplay styles, Uprising will had players flying through on rails air sections similar to that of Sin and Punishment or Star Fox and on foot exploring, platforming and using a multitude of different weapons in different classes to battle enemies how you see fit. All with some charming and funny fully voiced banter between characters.
I eluded to it earlier but the main criticism of Uprising is one some people just couldn’t get past, the controls. Holding the system in one hand and using the stylus in the other to aim and control the camera lead to complaints of hand cramps. A way around this is to play the game lying down, which worked for me as I never experienced one hand cramp in my dozens of hours of play. Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones and perhaps with 2DS’s and 3DSXL’s it’s more of an issue, but it shouldn’t get in your way of at least trying the game.
Kid Icarus Uprising is a gem. A fantastically fun romp that is an absolute joy to revisit and replay. With great characters, excellent gameplay variety with the two styles and weapon options and magnificent presentation, Uprising is one of the best games on the 3DS without question. A sequel seems unlikely nowadays sadly, but here’s hoping for a switch port at the very least. Dan Troy.
I was never good at Minecraft, my brain doesn’t operate in that kind of creative sense. But that’s not to say I didn’t spend a fair amount of time in it’s massive, randomly generated worlds. I was often left admiring my friends’ creations rather than actually building anything myself. Factions would inevitably form in these worlds often predicated on the eternal battle between chaos and controlled chaos. Actions begot reactions. A house flooded with sheep. A floor replaced with boiling lava. A town mined with dynamite by a former ally thought banished to the Nether.
But beyond these incredibly fun, organic experiences – some of which were relayed to me excitedly at school the next morning – it was the creative freedom that made Minecraft so inspiring and intimidating to me. I never built anything bigger than a house with a mine in its basement, a mine I accidentally flooded with magma but a mine nonetheless. Some of my friends’ creations however were truly awe-inspiring. A reflecting pool in memory of the Artist Formerly known as Prince dwarfed by an enormous statue of the artist made entirely out of purple wool sticks out the most but other constructions from churches to castles to sprawling underground complexes were amazing to behold. Minecraft is a game I’ll probably never return to but I’ll carry the memories with me forever.
Persona 5 (2017)
The now iconic fifth entry in the long running spin off series from Shin Megami Tensai, Persona 5 was an entry point to the JRPG, sufo life simulation series for many. While the fifth in the series, it can be enjoyed independently as a standalone title, not having story connections to previous games.
Persona 5 has a 100+ hour story that somehow manages to be engaging from start to finish due to its rich characters, excellent pacing and natural dialogue. Starring a group of Japanese high school students dubbing themselves The Phantom Thieves of Hearts, who infiltrate the metaverse, an alternate world controlled and shaped by people’s twisted desires, to change villains onto the side of good, or at least confess to their crimes and receive just punishment in our reality. They’ll battle using their Persona, a manifestation of their inner sense of rebellion. Confusing I know. But in-game it is much easier to follow due to its pacing and introduction. You will grow to love the main cast that comprise of The Phantom Thieves and the protagonists many confidants from a mysterious doctor, to a disgraced politician to an abused and bullied classmate regaining his confidence.
The gameplay of Persona 5 is split between the JRPG turn-based, puzzle solving, dungeon crawling in the metaverse and balancing your daily student life in reality. Both styles beautifully contrast and compliment each other to perfection. As a student, you’ll build personal connections with your teammates while simultaneously unlocking new abilities for them in battle.
Hanging out with non-teammates can still help grow your battle skills. They can improve the experience you earn in battle, lower the cost of supplies or improve your negotiation skills to name a few. Or you can go to the batting cages, the bathhouse, the arcade. Whatever you want to do and it’ll increase your social stats to unlock more confidant scenarios, in turn unlocking more options and perks for battling. It essentially makes grinding fun because building connections with your friends and learning more of the world and characters replaces traditional grinding of just fighting the same enemies over and over again.
An excellent entry point into the series if you’re looking for a place to start. Its methods of introduction to its layered mechanics, world and story are second to none. You’re constantly being told of cool new things to use and do in both realities at a decent pace and it never becomes overwhelming. Even if you’re not big into the RPG or life sim scene, Persona blends both styles into something wholly unique and more than worth giving a try. This truly is a linear game that you can play and shape however you want to. It’s absolutely magnificent.
And lucky for you it’s being re-released next March as Persona 5: Royal (think of it as Persona 5’s Pokemon Yellow, Crystal, Emerald, etc), with tons of new features, content, characters and quality of life improvements. Persona 5 is by no means an incomplete game but having even more is welcome for sure. Dan Troy.
Portal 2 (2011)
Remember when Valve used to make games? And would then knock high quality sequels to said games out fairly quickly? What a novelty!
Portal was a game that never needed a sequel, it was so precisely and tightly constructed as to render anything additional a damaging encumbrance on the original. Yet like Icarus, Valve took a running jump with wings made of a vastly increased budget and a much more ambitious scale of game. And god damn it if they didn’t somehow pull it off.
A not unfair argument can be made that the actual puzzles in this puzzle game had to take a backseat during the lengthier plot and linear action sequences but any dissatisfaction at the main game puzzles is swiftly silenced by the deviousness of the co-op mode’s controller-smashing and friendship-ruining challenges. It’s a stunning looking, stupidly well cast, highly entertaining brain-teaser roller-coaster that’s both frequently hilarious and not infrequently horrifying with one of the best soundtracks to any game. The Aliens to the Alien of dry-witted, physics-based puzzle-platformers. Chariots chariots. Richard Drumm.
Rayman Legends (2013)
It was a coin toss to choose between this or Rayman Origins but Legends wins out by a hair. Everything that was great about Origins applies; gorgeous art style, refreshingly simple but satisfyingly challenging gameplay with a lengthy and varied level selection, and just overall delightful presentation. Legends gains the bonus points by not being *quite* as challenging, especially in the collect-a-thon side of things and tweaking some of the levels to be more about involved musical spectacle over outright murderous challenge.
This will absolutely be a contentious stance to take and personal preference for some will skew toward preferring challenge but while the Tricky Treasures of Origins felt like real accomplishments to complete, Legends’ replacing them with musical levels was inspired. They are pure joyful fun and turning a mascot platformer into a violent, actively silly rhythm game was so perfect that it’s almost a pity an entire game based on the concept wasn’t released as a sequel. This writer certainly can’t hear ‘Black Betty’ in the wild anymore without internally hearing the Rayman-ifed version and feeling the twitch of muscle memory search for a jump button to hammer in time with the beat. Richard Drumm.
Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
2018 seemed to be the logical endpoint of the open world game. There was simply too much to do and see and shoot. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Far Cry 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2 were some of the biggest games ever made and the former two sacrificed a whole lot of story for the sake of their go anywhere and do anything worlds. It can’t be said that sacrifices weren’t made in the production of Red Dead Redemption 2 – more on RockStar’s shitty labour practices here – but it’s still one of the best games of its kind.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s flaws were as notable as it’s successes but that was, in part, what made it so great. The Wild West was about systems in conflict with one another. Natural against unnatural. Urban versus rural. Natives fighting settlers. The Law hunting the bandits that dared to live free. So it makes sense in a convoluted sort of way that Red Dead Redemption 2’s systems would create friction between each other.
Add that to a story about men and women trying to live by their own laws at a time when society was attempting to stamp these independent enclaves out and you have a monumental achievement whose flaws add to a greater whole. Red Dead Redemption 2 is ultimately about freedom, a freedom that as gamers and people we can never truly have. A freedom that will kill us if we try and achieve it but some would argue: Isn’t it better to live and die free? Andrew Carroll.
I know, I know, it’s blasphemy not to put in The Witcher 3 or Fallout: New Vegas , but it’s just like this: Skyrim was in the right place at the right time. I booted this game up a couple years into secondary school when I could fully dive into a vast fantastical world with essentially no distractions. After dozens of hours spent playing Oblivion during primary school, the sheer fidelity of Tamriel and its stunning vistas blew my mind.
I honestly couldn’t tell you anything about the bland, forgettable main quest, which I willfully ignored right after getting the ability to yell ogres off cliffs from a cult of bearded hippies. What I remember is the pure sense of exploration; walking for ten minutes around a huge lake, past monsters and mud crabs, before finding a small cave dug into a cliff face and looking out at the setting sun.
Give Geralt all the accolades you like but no other game this decade hit this feeling quite like playing Skyrim at launch. Niall O’Donoghue.
Sonic Generations (2011)
The best modern Sonic the Hedgehog game, hands down. Sonic Generations mixed the modern boost formula gameplay of Sonic Unleashed and Sonic Colours and presented it side by side with the classic 2D side scrolling everyone knows and loves. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of a gaming icon it couldn’t have been done much better. Generations has you revisit older stages from the Blue Blur’s storied career, such as City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2, Sky Sanctuary from Sonic 3 and Knuckles and Seaside Hill from Sonic Heroes to name a few. And fighting iconic bosses like Perfect Chaos from Sonic Adventure again is super gratifying in their new forms as is taking them down in new and more interesting ways.
It’s a bit on the short side but is tremendously replayable to beat your best times in stages, play a variety of extra missions for each stage, and find hidden collectibles.
Classic Sonic brings the retro mega drive action. He might feel a tad different but his ability to spin dash on a dime and reach some ludicrous speeds make his levels a joy to memorise and plow through. Modern Sonic on the other hand brings the high octane split second reaction timing challenges to find the best routes, keep your boost gauge up and experiences some awesome set pieces.
Unfortunately, the story is nothing special and the game’s biggest missed opportunity is to poke fun at the past. Sonic and Tails make fun comments about the first two stages after beating them but none of the others. But that’s a small thing that doesn’t bring the game down. The gameplay is fast, frantic and highly replayable and the soundtrack slaps as always. And if you play the PC version you have a plethora of mods at your disposal and most of it is extremely impressive. If you’re gonna play any Sonic game from this decade, make it this one…and Mania too. But I swear if I ever see Green Hill Zone or Chemical Plant Zone again, I’m going to scream.
Spec Ops: The Line (2012)
According to Spec Ops: The Line hell is real and it’s a near future, sand swept Dubai. Military bullshit is part and parcel of most of the shooters out there but rather than use it as window dressing Spec Ops: The Line actively engages with it. Though third person shooters were pretty run-of-the-mill well before Spec Ops came out it was never the gameplay that made it so compelling. As a shooter it was competent but as a critique of the shooter genre it was pretty ingenious during the last days of the seventh generation.
Early enough in Spec Ops: The Line the game forces you, as Captain Martin Walker to fire white phosphorous on civilians. Neither the player nor Walker knows that they are civilians but regardless it makes you want to stop playing. Coupled with consistent reminders of your atrocious, if accidental, war crime and delusions fed by mad men on the radio Spec Ops: The Line turns from by-the-numbers shooter into a Heart of Darkness-style examination of the horrors of war and the things we tell ourselves to justify them. When the loading screen asks: “Do you feel like a hero yet?” the answer, now and forever, is no. Andrew Carroll.
The Last of Us (2013)
The Last of Us was one of the best surprises in gaming this decade. While Naughty Dog are a reputable studio, 2013 was when zombie fatigue was in full force. Writing the game off early would’ve been understandable, but every naysayer eventually came around as The Last of Us became the most critically acclaimed game ever released at the time.
Combining excellent stealth, intense and layered gunplay, luscious environments, fantastic sound design and an unbelievably detailed and supremely well connected world all come together in this modern classic, but it’s the games story that cemented its iconic stature and legacy.
Joel and Ellie are phenomenal characters and carry the game from start to finish. Joel is a broken man in this post apocalyptic world who still has glimmering sparks of humanity in him. He can be viewed and interpreted in many different ways and leaves the player to make their own opinions. Ellie as well is a feisty and lovable character. It’s borderline impossible not to grow attached to her as the game progresses.
The Last of Us isn’t Uncharted with zombies. It’s more than worth your time, regardless of how much hype has been built up and whether you think that’ll affect your enjoyment. Its relatively cheap nowadays on PS4, more than worth a revisit on PS3, or if you’ve played it multiple times then I’d recommend Retro Replay’s definitive play through on YouTube with Troy Baker and Nolan North for some interesting behind the scenes trivia as they play through the game. The Last of Us Part 2 can’t come soon enough. Dan Troy.
Oh Vanquish, what could have been. In an alternate universe, you were held up as the natural evolution of the third-person shooter and a benchmark for every future title in the genre.
Everyone was blown away by the sheer speed of your rocket-sliding combat, which openly mocked the hunker-and-popshot formula set in stone by Gears of War. You were loved for the sheer spectacle of your set pieces, like riding a futuristic tram system spinning 360 degrees in mid-air or uppercutting the head off a giant robot.
So maybe the story is pure B-movie schlock and the game is a bit light on content; the pure intensity and adrenaline here outshines nearly every action game that came after it this decade. Hopefully it gets the attention it deserves with its upcoming remaster in February. Niall O’Donoghue.
What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)
By the time What Remains of Edith Finch ends we’ve come to know and love the various members of the Finch family. Letting go is hard but what’s harder is learning to love again. What Remains of Edith Finch does this several times forcing us out of a character at the moment of their death and back into the boots of Edith. Few of the Finch family had a pleasant or timely death but the game makes them all seem magical in their own surreal way. From a decapitation to clifftop plunge to a drowning What Remains of Edith Finch turns grisly deaths into meditations on love, loss and loneliness.
Death is hard to accept at the best of times and What Remains of Edith Finch doesn’t make it any easier despite it’s flights of fantasy. In a game like this one there is no other choice but acceptance and that’s why the final death hits so hard. What Remains of Edith Finch is a linear game, always pressing forward despite death being around every corner. Even though that final twist is telegraphed way in advance it’s still an emotional bombshell. What Remains of Edith Finch treats death as a natural part of life and as a natural part of gaming. Only this time there’s no going back. Andrew Carroll.