The 2010s in gaming was the shit. Everything else was the shits.
And that’s that.
We’re at the end of the decade. And when it comes to gaming, it has been a stellar decade. Just an unreal amount of incredible games that have come out over the course of the past nine years across two console generations (three if you’re Nintendo).
If the next decade is half as good as this one has been for games, starting next year with the launches of Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, we’re in for a swinging 20s of gaming.
Earlier, I put out my 2019 GOTY list, but it’s only fitting I put out final list celebrating my favourite games of the decade. I’ve cheated and not written anything new besides this intro as I’m just coasting to the end of the decade at this point. Everything written is based from their writeups in their respective GOTY writeups (unless stated otherwise from my 2013 Game of the Generation writeups) written to feel more past tense than the writeups they had at the time.
Otherwise, have at it. See you next year and see you next decade!
10 – Sayonara Wild Hearts
Sayonara Wild Hearts is a game about heartbreak.
This is something that was mentioned as one of the game’s selling points by developer Simogo besides its main point of being a pop album game. And it couldn’t have been more appropriate at the time I played it.
Context: A few weeks earlier, I told someone I had feelings for them literally minutes before going under for significant dental surgery, petrified I was going to die from the anaesthetic (even though this was my third time going under). A few weeks later, once I recovered and was able to speak coherently, we sat down and talked for an hour about my feelings and what not.
It didn’t go my way, but it also provided one of the most raw and emotional conversations, if not the most raw and emotional, conversations we’ve ever had to one another. For me, ever. We always said we’d still be friends no matter what happened before and after the chat, and we still are (I’d consider this person one of my best friends, frankly), but even I had no idea the chat would provide such an incredible emotional catharsis.
Nevertheless, it still stung. It’s always a 50-50 gamble to put yourself and your heart out there, only for it to not go the way you really want it to. Cue a night of being thankful for said friend who you just confessed your feelings to, but a night of listening to Cara Dillon all night.
So playing Sayonara Wild Hearts on my iPad Pro a week after that went down was incredibly cathartic. It really was a game about heartbreak. The interpretation of said heartbreak being left up to the player, but how the game revolved around was genuinely what made it so good. The catharsis of healing, the battles you have to go through to get into a better place, the process of finding yourself at peace with everything.
See, the thing is I could’ve been talking about mending a broken heart in real life, and I was, but that also applied to Sayonara Wild Hearts. It wasn’t just the game itself and how it played too. Rather, how the game managed to exude style in a way that exceeded past games’ attempts (sorry, Persona 5, you’d been dethroned). Most importantly, the soundtrack was as close to perfection as you can get. It wasn’t even so much my soundtrack of the year as it was my actual album of the year. Begin Again will be the Sound of Summer 2020 (it should be).
Frankly, it was criminal not many outlets were considering it or had considered it for GOTY 2019. This was a game that should’ve been high up on many lists beyond honourable mentions or leaving them out Game of the Year categories. It was legitimately absurd, to be honest. But there we were.
Sayonara Wild Hearts also represented, at least for me, the culmination of what I’d been saying for a past few years on this blog and on Twitter: that Annapurna Interactive is one of the best publishers in the industry right now. I’d go as far to say from a pure qualitative standpoint at the time, it’s easily in the list for top three best publishers right now. For me, it wasn’t so much if it’d publish a personal GOTY, but when. And after a lineup that included SWH, Funomena’s Wattam and Sam Barlow’s Telling Lies, it really hadd been a stellar twelve months for it.
2019 was been the year of Annapurna Interactive.
Sayonara, 2019 and the 2010s. 2020 and the 20s, lets pop.
9 – Portal 2
(From my 2013 Game of the Generation writeup)
Maybe I’m missing Portal 2’s bigger picture by focussing too much on its humour in this writeup over the actual crux element of the game itself in the puzzles that also flesh out the game’s playing time substantially (though of course it does, it’s a standalone game this time), but at the same time, that humour was the thing I remember most about it.
We may go on waiting another six years for a resolution to Dr Freeman’s story (nope), but in the case of Portal 2, it was Valve’s finest hour since that Red Letter Day 15 years ago.
8 – Bayonetta 2
It’s went from a 2010 honorable mention to 2014 Game of the Year. And yet, it almost didn’t happen.
Bayonetta had a future, it seemed, if my 2011 interview with then Sega West head Mike Hayes was anything. But then came the rumour that a sequel was canned in 2012, never to be announced. Five months later after the intital story, the impossible happened: Bayonetta 2 was brought back to life. And it was Nintendo that revived it as a Wii U exclusive.
Let me be clear here, even though I’d never owned Nintendo systems in the past, I’d never felt stupidly excited for a Nintendo game or a Nintendo-published game ever as much as I did for this. It was only in 2013 that a Nintendo game in Animal Crossing: New Leaf came into my top ten for the first time ever (I’m sure if I did a top ten for 2007, admittedly, I would probably put Super Mario Galaxy in there) and that for all intents and purposes was more or less a happy accident of sorts that it ended up on the list. Bayonetta 2 now sits atop the list – the first ever Nintendo game to be my Game of the Year – because it single-handedly justified my Wii U purchase.
Bayo 2 is straight up fun. Like, it is the ephimamy of what gaming should fucking be: fun. Playing it reminded me how incredible Bayo 1’s action gameplay was to the point I just wanted to cry, as Bayo 2’s is just as satisfying but also refined from the first game. Not to mention, just as much as many incredibly, over-the-top set-pieces.
As for the one they call Cereza, the mighty witch is still one of the best female characters in recent times in games. She still has a massively biting sense of humour, but more importantly, she’s still one of the best portrayals of sex-positive characters in gaming, showing that her sexuality is hers and hers alone to own.
A few years ago, I still would have struggled to recommend a Wii U to you, even with the excellent Pikmin 3 plus Zelda: Wind Waker HD and Super Mario 3D World. Now, I can absolutely recommend a Nintendo Switch to you, not just for other games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Breath of the Wild, etc but if you want a sole, defining reason as to why you should now pick up a Nintendo Switch in lieu of a Wii U, Bayonetta 2 is it. And if you never played the original on PS3 or Xbox 360, Bayonetta 2 comes with a port of Bayonetta 1.
Bayonetta 2 lives. And we should be fucking glad it does for showing how incredibly fun games can be. Well done, Platinum. Thank you, Nintendo.
7 – Persona 4: Golden
This was the second reason of three to own a Vita (Gravity Rush being one, Tearaway the other, although that’s now on PS4. As is Gravity Rush. So just one, I guess). Persona 4’s original release on PlayStation 2 in 2009 was one of the best RPGs of modern times: fantastically written characters, gripping story, brilliant anime art style.
Fast forward six years, P4: Golden still maintains what made the original so great in making the jump to a portable as well as additions like new story character Marie and thensome. Persona 4 will continue to live long in the memory.
6 – Life is Strange
If you had have asked me five years ago, after seeing the first trailer of it, if I had seen Life is Strange as not only a GOTY candidate, but would outright be in with an actually serious chance of winning it, I would have dismissed you. It looked alright, but nothing incredible and was shaping up to be a bit too tweeny (if that makes sense). And especially in a year where a new, mainline, numbered Metal Gear was out.
And yet, at the end of 2015, we have a game that has more heart, more emotion and more originality than anything else this year. Remember Me was a unique idea and had some great stuff, but fell short subsequently for me. But even I never expected Dontnod to bounce back from it – and financial uncertainty at one point – in the biggest and best possible way.
Never did I played a game since The Last of Us that made me full on cry to a game than Life is Strange did at numerous times in the game, but never moreso than the ending. Even with issues including wonky dialogue and shoddy lip sync, it told a wonderful story of two teenage girls growing up, focusing on the little things that matter and more, facets of which can some people can relate to – I certainly did. And how within the space of a few episodes, the tone manages to flip excellently from said story of growing up and a rekindled friendship to something incredibly dark and twisted.
Plus, a soundtrack that really picked its moments well throughout the season. Would the end of episodes two or three respectively have worked so well without Local Natives’ Mt Washington or Mogwai’s Kids Will Be Skeletons? And depending on which ending you picked, what about Foals’ Spanish Sahara?
But if anything, it should be remembered for dealing head on with serious issues and including them in a delicate and careful but thought provoking way. Suicide, bullying, death, discovering one’s sexuality, to name a few. Dontnod and Square Enix deserve every single bit of praise their way for all of that.
As I said, even with its flaws, it’s a game that had more heart, soul and emotion than anything else that came out in 2015. For me, at the time, it was the best game I’d played since The Last of Us.
5 – Mass Effect 2
(From my 2013 Game of the Generation writeup)
So how do you describe one of the most engrossing trilogies to have ever been seen in gaming, let alone the finest to be seen on the last cycle of consoles? Mass Effect was the epitome of both epic storytelling, a great set of characters, fantastic action gameplay and brilliantly-built worlds.
To put it another way, the Shepard trilogy was one big rollercoaster ride throughout its five-year journey, but if you had to describe experiencing the middle act of that trilogy – Mass Effect 2 – in rollercoaster terms, it’s that bit where you come off the big dip at the start of the ride and gets going from there.
Yeah, ME2 was used as a setup to help set up what was to follow against the Reapers two years later, but Mass Effect 2 was also the best example of the virtues the series did best.
4 – Nier Automata
Straight up the following two things.
One – I’ve not played the original Nier, though I did pickup a copy on Xbox 360 before Automata came out for a fiver at CEX, cheap as fucking chips considering the resell price of the game going about on eBay at that time was roughly, if I remember correctly, £70 or £80 (this was late 2015, though). But I knew that despite a small cult following, it was a meh game at best, going by critical consensus.
Two – Platinum Games have a sort of mixed record for me. While both Bayonetta games – especially 2 – and Metal Gear Rising (and to a lesser extent, Madworld on the Wii) were all fantastic, games like The Wonderful 101, Anarchy Reigns and Vanquish – oh God especially Vanquish – were mediocre at best, shit at worst (the latter definitely applying to Vanquish).
So seeing a Nier sequel announced at E3 2015 was a surprise, especially with Platinum at the helm. Seeing Nier Automata gameplay for the first time was more of a surprise because it actually looked really good contrary to my preconceived notions of what this game could be.
Its last biggest surprise? Not only becoming my game of the year at the time, but to actually just land outside my top five games of all time is the biggest shock of all. And yet, Nier Automata did them all and thensome. MOTHERFUCKERS.
Where do I even begin? And without trying to spoil shit as well because there is some stuff you NEED to find out for yourself playing this game. And that particular bit can’t be emphasised enough. There is so much to discover that to try and encourage you not to find them would do the game a great disservice.
Simply put, I just absolutely loved the relationship between 2B and 9S. I straight up. LOVE. IT. Starting out, it was cold and distant, but as the game progressed, they get closer and closer to the point it actually is wonderful. But there was so many complex lairs as well to their relationship even then. But to understand them, you need to go play the game if you haven’t already. And that’s without mentioning A2, who has a massive part to play in the story as well.
You also get characters like Pascal, the most wholesome character you will ever, ever meet in a videogame. And if you find another character who is as wholesome and sweet as Pascal in a game, you, sir/madam, are lying out of your arse. Not to mention the Ying and Yang like duos of Adam and Eve as well as Devola and Popola.
There are so many mysteries – and madness especially – to this game that to go further on that aspect is ruining a classic story, so I’ll leave it other than one final bit of advice: KEEP. PLAYING. BEYOND. ENDING A. You may be thinking once you finish up getting Ending A, why you’re playing onwards again? Trust me. All will make sense. So please, keep going after Ending A. If you only trust me on one thing for the rest of your life, it’s that you keep playing Nier Automata past Ending A and get Endings B-E.
Story aside, Nier Automata’s gameplay was just as stylish and fun as it looked from its first gameplay video in late 2015 and is an absolute joy to play. The soundtrack from Keiichi Okabe and Keigo Hoashi was beyond incredible, with Copied City and Weight of the World particular personal favourites. Some of the game’s bosses were some of the best I’d played in games at that time in terms of how diverse each one throws up from a gameplay perspective. And some of the environments in the game, particularly the fairground, were just charming in differently weird but also wonderful ways.
Look, I said I wouldn’t say anything else on the story and I won’t, but I have to touch on at least this. There is a whole lot of madness that happens in this game that has you on a rollercoaster of a lifetime. While Platinum did its part massively and did it well, Nier’s method of madness came primarily from director Yoko Taro, helped out by his right-hand man producer Yosuke Saito. And how Taro convinced Square Enix higher ups to make a game so out there, so insane in its themes of humanity, love and more is an indescribable achievement in itself.
Look, I am here for the batshit insanity in games. There’s a reason why I have a fondness for Kojima after all. But as someone going into his work for the first time with Automata, Taro took it up to a whole new level. And I am all for it and whatever comes next from Taro, but with Square Enix saying Nier will be a franchise going forward post-Automata, I can only hope the team of Taro/Saito and Platinum Games, such an incredibly effective pairing the first time, can come back and make magic together again. Hell, we now live in a world where not only Nier is a franchise in Square Enix’s eyes, but Bayonetta 3 is an actual thing. Even if we’re still waiting on it two years after announce. LOOK, I DIGRESS.
Nier Automata was nothing short of incredible. It shot right into my top ten games of all time for a magnitude of reasons, most of which I can’t really mention out loud here because of spoilers. And I know I could just put out a spoiler alert and just go nuts. But I’d be taking away any reason for you to play the game. So I’m just going to end it with this.
Embrace the ride that is Nier Automata and let it consume you for what it is.
3 – The Last Guardian
Finishing the game and when the credits were rolling, I had full on tears in my eyes and actually full on crying at how the game ended. But in the same way Uncharted 4 did, The Last Guardian had honestly one of the best endings in a game in 2016. Quite honestly, it also had one of the best endings in a game full stop.
When the credits were in mid-roll, I started crying again. Merely because after the longest wait – ten years since the release of Shadow of the Colossus in Europe, nearly ten years in itself since the game started development and seven-and-a-bit years since it was first shown to the world (unofficially as Project Trico, then a month later at E3 officially as The Last Guardian) and the intervening years since – it had all been worth it.
A lot happened to the world in the seven years since the game was first announced, as well as to the team behind it. Team Ico as a collective is no more within Japan Studio in the same way Team Silent effectively broke up after Silent Hill 4, Fumito Ueda left Sony and founded his own studio in genDesign and the game transferred from its originally slated plan of a PlayStation 3 exclusive due for release in time for Christmas 2011 to being a PlayStation 4 exclusive released in time for Christmas 2016 because of hardware limitations and other things.
Yes, the game did at times show its age a bit and could be argued in some sense it’s a PS3 remaster for the PS4. But biggest of all yes, the camera and framerate do hamper the game, especially the latter towards the end of the game, at least on a base PS4.
But whereas with any other game that I would have rightfully slaughtered for with such bad camera and framerate issues – and is something still worth criticising here – with The Last Guardian, I didn’t care as much. Mainly because the experience override any negative experience I had with the camera and framerate.
Playing the game, all I could do was just coo and caw at Trico as he pawed away at a barrel in the most adorable fashion, just laugh at how petrified he was of water before he’d have to jump in and make a massive splash and how at one point just be impressed at how he’d spear enemy soldiers proper Roman Reigns style that he’d look out for you as the boy to that extent.
Look, I can talk to you about the game’s amazing art direction, utterly incredible score, its fantastic puzzles, and great set pieces – finally playing the section from E3 2015 when the game was reannounced was great, but there were even better and more incredible setpieces after – but truly, the game’s star of the show was – and in hindsight, always had been – Trico.
There have been many games before that have raised the bar in AI companions and the stories you go through with them: the boy and Yorda of Ico, Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance of Half-Life 2 and its episodes, Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth Comstock of BioShock Infinite, Joel and Ellie of The Last of Us, to name a few. But – and while I realise what I’m about to say verges on hyperbole – I don’t think I’d ever encountered a companion as real in a game as Trico until then. Even now after three years, I don’t think he’s been topped.
His behaviorisms, both in dog and cat variety, the way he’d look out for you after gaining his trust, you as the player developing the patience of a saint to get him to follow your orders. Basically, he is the living embodiment of a pet realised in a game to an unreal impressive level in what should be – and was for me – an achievement in AI and character design in games. For me, Trico is what defined the experience of The Last Guardian for me.
Trico and the story the game took me through was enough to get me to overlook any major and minor quirk and flaw it had. Because it felt like something truly special, something unique. At this point, those things being trademarks and hallmarks of a Ueda game.
Credit to Fumito Ueda and the development team at Japan Studio as well as genDesign plus the Sony higher ups – including Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida – for keeping the faith in the game after so long when any other publisher would have cut their losses and bailed, even when the appetite was still there.
Because ten years since development started, in every possible sense, The Last Guardian was worth the wait.
2 – Journey
(From my 2013 Game of the Generation Writeup)
I’d finished Journey before and I’ve played with co-op partners, but never did I reach the end of the game with a second player alongside me. And never did I have such a feeling of desperation as my partner and I lay there in the snow, even when you know what happens next.
Nor did I have the upmost feeling of joy (I couldn’t think of any other feeling, this is the closest I got to adequately describing it) as I rushed through the clouds and towards the top of the summit along with my partner. As we flew towards the top of the summit, I actually had a little cry as it happened. I’d finished Journey before numerous times and I’d welled up a bit each time, but when I made it to the summit with my partner, and subsequently to the other side, I actually had tears in my eyes by the end.
Because of it shortness, I was expecting to do at least three playthroughs of the game for this series – you can pretty much beat the game within an hour-and-a-half to two hours. In the end, though, all I needed was just that one playthrough. It isn’t the amount of times you play it, but just finding that one thing that can lead to something awe inspiring, to that special experience.
Journey was already something incredible, in my eyes. But having seen it in an entirely new way then, it’s something more. Something higher.
And that in itself is truly the biggest praise I can heap upon Journey and Thatgamecompany.
1 – The Last of Us
(From my 2013 Game of the Generation Writeup)
The Last of Us is a game we can hold up in the highest of regards as the absolute best example our industry can provide in regards to the question ‘are games a genuine form of entertainment’.
The Last of Us is special. Game of the Year 2013 didn’t even come close to how I feel about it. Game of the Generation got it partly there. But it overtaking Metal Gear Solid 3, the first game I truly fell in love with and the one game that made me realise that all I want to do was write about games, as my favourite game ever is probably the biggest honour I can bestow upon it.
It was never for nothing. Rather, it was for something. Something special. And when you run out of words or superlatives to describe it, you know it’s time to stop writing.
Special Mentions: Alan Wake; Control; Heavy Rain; Grand Theft Auto V; Forza Horizon 1, 2, 3 and 4; BioShock Infinite; DriveClub; Destiny; Metal Gear Solid V (Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain); Death Stranding; Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture; Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy; Overwatch; The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; Horizon: Zero Dawn; Marvel’s Spider-Man; Oxenfree; Untitled Goose Game.
Honourable Mentions: Batman, Arkham City, The Walking Dead – Season One, Call of Duty: Black Ops I and II, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Rock Band 3, LA Noire, Mass Effect 3, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Bayonetta 1, Titanfall 1 and 2, Life is Strange: Before the Storm and Life is Strange 2, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010), Sleeping Dogs, Max Payne 3, Trials Evolution, DmC: Devil May Cry, Inside, Rez Infinite, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, What Remains of Edith Finch, Splatoon and Splatoon 2, Florence and Tetris Effect.
Final list of Games of the Year for the decade: Mass Effect 2; (tied-three way) Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3; Journey; The Last of Us; Bayonetta 2, Life is Strange, The Last Guardian, Nier Automata, GRIS and Sayonara Wild Hearts.