For better or for worse, the 2010s has been the year of the mainstream video game. You have publishers shoveling garbage onto consoles every year, knowing enough people will buy the new NBA 2K, or the new FIFA, or the new Call of Duty, for them to take home an insane payday all while forcing their staff to overwork themselves to death for minimal pay. You have those same publishers adding paid in-game content that ruin game balance but make more money than genuinely good games do. You have EA publicly saying that people don’t want single player games anymore. EA getting downvoted to oblivion on Reddit for their sickening, condescending attempt to justify Star Wars: Battlefront II effectively forcing you to pay real money to play as your favourite characters. Christ, it’s the decade of PR disasters that didn’t put a single dent in executive profits. Gearbox (Well, mostly just its CEO, Randy Pitchford), Rockstar, and 2K Games have all broken the trust of the gaming community with unethical business practices. No fall from grace is more upsetting than that of Bethesda, a behemoth known for putting out titles of high quality time after time, only for them to shove a live grenade up their bums with Fallout 76, a pitiful, disastrous cash-in on a critically acclaimed series. ‘Twas the decade of Todd Howard becoming Todd Coward. My God, I want to end this rant but I can’t without calling out Konami, probably the most shady, conniving publisher of them all. Their evil knows no bounds, and their cancellation of Silent Hills, the dream teamup of Guillermo Del Toro, Hideo Kojima, and Junji Ito was probably the most devastating video game news of the decade. Those bastards make all their money off of Pachinko addicts and shitty mobile games now anyway.
Blizzard somehow manages to make all the other publishers look like Naughty Dog in comparison. They don’t just hate consumers, they hate democracy. These dickweeds rescinded prize money and banned a player for expressing pro-Hong Kong sentiment when accepting his award, all because China told Blizzard they had to. The most evil country in the world is using greedy corporations to do its bidding, and all we can do is sit back and watch because massive companies have zero morals.
But, uh, there are good things that happened in gaming, too! Though that rant really got me down…Let’s just pretend the next 11 games are the only things that happened this decade. No evil corporations, just fantastic games made by wonderful people. In no particular order, here are the 11 best games of the 2010s:
#1. Undertale (2015)
“You’re gonna have a bad time”
Say what you will about the toxic fanbase that has not shut up about this game since its release in 2015, Undertale is one man’s ambitious vision perfectly realized. Toby Fox developed, wrote, created most of the art, and composed all the music for the game, and that alone makes it an insanely impressive project. Undertale is far, far more than the sum of its parts, though, and every aspect of the game coalesces to make Undertale an endlessly charming adventure filled to the brim with hysterical friends and adorable enemies. What makes it worthy of the top 10, however, is what happens when you push Undertale to one end of the moral spectrum or the other. See, you can make neutral decisions – slaying enemies but being kind to friends – and you’ll reach a somewhat terrifying but comparatively normal ending. If you decide to spare every enemy and embrace love and joy in the world of Undertale, you’ll be greeted a couple hours later with an ending suitably joyous and cute. And If you decide to murder every living creature you come across, Undertale’s sinister underbelly is exposed; your morality and patience tested. I wouldn’t dare spoil the experience of the community-dubbed “Genocide Route”, but it will make you hate what video games allow you to do in the best way possible. I did it twice. I’m so sorry, Sans. I didn’t have a bad time.
#2. Hollow Knight (2017)
“Precept nineteen: ‘If you try, succeed’”
This may be the least surprising pick since I’ve already talked about it before, and that’s because I find it difficult to not be constantly recommending Hollow Knight. The art style is both cartoony and haunting, creating a brilliant juxtaposition of cute creatures forced to exist in a world slowly being decimated by a forgotten god. The game’s structure and design is a marvel, weaving its intricate map back in on itself in the most satisfying ways so that just when you feel like you couldn’t possibly be more lost, you find yourself looped around into familiar territory.
The story, as I mentioned in this post, is an immersive tale of leadership and fatherhood, with a soupçon of killing a god sealed within a chained knight’s mind. Side stories have you doing everything from delivering a flower to a mysterious lady’s son’s grave, to constantly having to save a braggadocious, hopelessly overconfident bug named Zote from the sticky situations he’s always finding himself in. Every time I make my way through Hollow Knight, I find a new reason to be amazed by how such a small team put together such an inconceivable work of art.
#3. Bloodborne (2015)
“A Hunter is a Hunter, even in a dream…”
Yharnam is a depraved place. The Victorian Gothic town you arrive in at the beginning of the game has been stricken with a horrible illness that’s turned its inhabitants into twisted beasts, and the ones who managed to avoid beasthood spend their time hunting them. That’s the setup, and it only gets weirder, darker, and more Lovecraftian from there. While the story is fascinating in its own right, the real draw of Bloodborne is its quick, unforgiving gameplay. While Miyazaki’s previous action RPGs, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II (which is technically not entirely Miyazaki’s but whatever), were slow and heavy-feeling in terms of character movement, Bloodborne flips the style on its head and makes an already incredible style that much more impressive. The bosses are beautiful abominations that will kill you over and over again, and with the exception of perhaps a pesky cage-headed man named Micolash, all of them are designed exquisitely. “Some say Kos, some say Kosm…”
#4. Persona 5 (2017)
“I thought I heard something about delicious pancakes…”
It took about 110 hours for me to finish this game, and approximately 100 of those hours are absolutely incredible. The other 10 hours are spent in that kinda shitty fifth Palace, but even that lapse in design can’t take away from the best RPG of the decade. The Japanese title – fifth in a series of tangentially related games that once included some kids fighting fantasy Hitler – follows a group of high schoolers who are secretly a vigilante group called the Phantom Thieves. They enter evil people’s “Mind Palaces” with the goal of “taking their heart” and forcing them to dispel their nasty ideas, kinda like Inception but way more anime. While not fighting mind demons, you get to hang out with the wide cast of hilariously written characters, explore a massive dungeon with your talking cat/car, and visit the batting cages. This will sound insane if you’re less familiar with Japanese media and tame if you are familiar, but it strikes the perfect balance between silliness and a narrative rife with fantastic foreshadowing and slick structure. The RPG mechanics are what makes this game really shine, but I’m not even gonna touch that subject lest we be stuck here all week.
#5. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (2014)
“Isaac and his mother li- [skips opening cutscene]”
In the immortal words of Kanye West, “My ex says she gave me the best years of her life/I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right”. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is the game that spawned my adoration for the rogue-like genre, and it shaped the indie game industry as it looks today, along with Spelunky. That being said, Edmund McMillen has taken his creation too far. While the first expansion added some clever new items and bosses, every subsequent addition to the game has made me want to get as far away from it as possible. I have spent more hours in this game than any other, period, and I will never look back on those hours negatively, but my desire to ever return with the dedication I once had is gone. Between 2014 and 2017, this game most likely made for 75% of the gaming I did. Once Slay the Spire came out, I had no reason to put up with Isaac’s bullshit any longer, and though it was a masterpiece and must be on this list as a result, it is no longer a thing of beauty. In its prime, TBOI: Rebirth was an immature satire of religious iconography, but more than that, it was an endlessly replayable loop of “runs” that are never the same twice, making it all too easy to dive back in just one more time…one more time…just one more run…
#5. Slay the Spire (2017 in Beta, 2019 officially)
“Now…what…? Has it been…done…?”
If you had told me in 2014 that I would be eschewing Isaac in favour of a deck building, turn based game, I would have laughed in your face. Cards? Monsters that don’t move until my turn ends? A game based purely on strategy and not hand-eye coordination? Nah, that ain’t my bag, baby. Except somehow Slay the Spire manages to be the greatest rogue-like of all time, and easily one of the best games of all time. As I said, it shoved Isaac away and became my new game of choice as of 2017, and I rarely go a day without attempting a quick StS session even still. There’s nothing left for me to do or accomplish within the game, and yet I keep coming back. That is the sign of a perfect game. Well, it isn’t perfect, the new character added recently is a bit of a clusterfuck but she’s not officially released yet so for the time being, Slay the Spire is a masterpiece through and through.
#7. Frog Fractions (2012)
Play Frog Fractions immediately. It’s free, you can play it online in your browser, and it is the most entertaining, unpredictable couple hours you will ever experience. Don’t look up a single thing about it first, though. I went in knowing absolutely nothing, and I would do anything to relive that experience. And in some way, I actually do: I’ve introduced so many of my friends to Frog Fractions just to vicariously feel their awe at what the heck is happening on their screen. It’s unfailingly glorious. Oh god, I feel like I’ve already said too much. Just play it already, would ya!?
#8. The Last of Us (2013)
For anyone who’s played the game, I need not say anything more than “okay.” For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, The Last of Us is the pinnacle of linear, story driven action games. The setup is admittedly pretty generic: A fungal pandemic has turned people into fungus monsters, effectively zombies, and you play as a middle aged man named Joel 20 years after the outbreak. He’s tasked with navigating the post-apocalypse to smuggle Ellie, a 13 year old girl, to the Massachusetts State House for reasons unknown. Their shaky, professional relationship gradually becomes a beautiful redefinition of family and love in a world where survival is the only priority. The gorgeous, overgrown world is an incredible achievement in and of itself, but the way Joel and Ellie traverse and explore it makes it entirely immersive. Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson give the best performance in,well, any video game ever for their respective characters, lending credence to the idea that video games are most certainly the same calibre as film and TV.
#9. Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 (2012)
“Fuck it. Cut it off.”
Without Telltale’s The Walking Dead, there is no Kentucky Route Zero. There is no Life is Strange, no Until Dawn, no Oxenfree, all of which are games that barely missed the cut for this list. Of all the games that came out in this decade, I believe that this is the most influential one. It completely revolutionized what games look like in the 2010s and for that reason alone it should land a spot on every single top 10 list. The method of storytelling had been done before in shitty games like Heavy Rain, but none had taken advantage of the medium in such a way that the game felt more like a TV show where you are the protagonist. As a bonus, you get incredible writing, perfectly rendered comic book-style graphics, and of course, the greatest character ever created, Kenny (also known as Boatmaster Kenny). Of course, the caveat of this game existing is that we eventually got season 3 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, a dumpster fire of stupidity. But I guess without season 3 we wouldn’t have gotten season 4, which is somehow its own masterpiece with even prettier visuals, so it all worked out in the end.
Yep, everything went smoothly and Telltale Games is doing juuuuuuuust fine. They went completely bankrupt and don’t exist anymore oh no
#10. Hotline Miami (2012)
“Do you enjoy hurting other people?”
Hotline Miami isn’t powered by your computer, it’s powered by pure adrenaline. You go from neon-soaked room to neon-soaked room, reupholstering each one until it becomes a blood-soaked room instead. The unnamed protagonist, lovingly referred to only as “Jacket” by the community, is a hired killer in 1989 Miami who gets a cryptic call each morning telling him where to go and who to “take care of”. The top-down, pixel art style gives the game a retro vibe, while the heavy, abrasive electronic soundtrack beats you over the head with new age badassery. I listen to the soundtrack to keep me awake – and fired the fuck up – while studying. The story is obscenely confusing and makes absolutely no sense at times, but you can’t help but love it anyway. It only seems right that a game inspired by Drive – an inevitable entry in my top 10 movies of the decade list – lands on my list of best games of the decade.
#11. Kentucky Route Zero (2013-2020?)
“It’s important to know how to…hm. How to be alone.”
You’re Conway, a truck driver for a small antiques shop looking for 5 Dogwood road on a lonely, gently humming night. Kentucky Route Zero is a peaceful odyssey of mystical Americana, a poetic and metaphorical exploration of loss, solitude, and the meaning of life. It’s a Lynchian nightmare without the nightmare: an ever-evolving dream with outlandish, extraordinary characters. The game is split into 5 acts, only 4 of which are released as of 2019, meaning despite the fact that the game has yet to be completed, it has made such a distinct impression on me that I feel it deserves its rightful spot on this list. If you are a fan of incredible literature but have never thought of playing a game before, Kentucky Route Zero is the first game you should pick up. Nothing comes close to the feeling I get while exploring the Zero. I don’t believe a single game has a more fascinating, indecipherable atmosphere than Kentucky Route Zero. It is an American treasure.
Honourable mention goes to Rogue Warrior which came out in 2009 but has to make this list because no game this decade has the balls to have Mickey Rourke yell voice lines like “It looks like the douche bag convention’s in town” or “Suck my balls, my hairy fucking big balls, wrap them around your mouth,” or Nighty night, you sweet piece of shit,” or my personal favourite, “GOD DAMN COCK BREATH COMMIE MOTHERFUCKERS!” It just has such a wonderful ring to it. The game is an abomination, but it’s so unintentionally hilarious that it deserves its spot here.