I have spent very little time at university in 2020. Between lecturer strikes and a fairly significant international pandemic, I've been spending quite a lot of time at home. To be fair, I've essentially been in a self-imposed quarantine for most of my life, choosing living-room-bean-bag security instead of the dangerously clean air of the outside world, so I'm well prepared for the imminent isolations at the hands of COVID-19.
But anyway, we're all going to be spending a lot of time indoors over the next few weeks, so what better time is there for revisiting the very best games of the last decade? Sit down in a dimly lit room, far too close to your television screen, and enjoy some of the very best video games of the last ten years while the world falls apart a bit.
DISCLAIMER: I am a student. I cannot afford a Nintendo Switch, I'm sorry. I know Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild are incredible, trust me I *believe* you, but unless one of you lot fancies purchasing me a nice new Nintendo device we're all just going to have to live with it.
Here are the best 25 games I played between 2010-2019:
It's been seven years, but here you go: *SPOILER ALERT* consider this a warning for most of the games on this list too...
It's so hard to get time travel to feel good in narratives, but Bioshock Infinite got it so very right. Following on from 2007's incredible Bioshock, and largely ignoring 2010's ok Bioshock 2, 'Infinite' went from the deep, dark ocean floor to the skies of Colombia - a utopia in the clouds above an alternate American 1912. It's a perfect society, if you're white, and though the progressive social commentary hit with all the subtly of the Hindenburg disaster, this game's critical depiction of modern American exceptionalism still feels an important one. The identity of Father Comstock hit me out of nowhere, as did the surprise jump to Rapture, but nothing had ever hit me quite like Infinite did in its final moments, drowned by a throng of parallel Elizabeth's in the baptismal water of DeWitt's rebirth. What an ending. What a story.
Infinite was of course not the game promised to viewers by Ken Levine from initial E3 reveals, but disregarding that we may see the game as a significant event in the history of interactive storytelling and still one of the most compelling examples of time-travelling narratives in any media. Booker DeWitt may be your typical gruff-voiced, shooty-shooty, face-on-the-box-art cover star, but the game he finds himself in is an exciting one - worth blazing through largely forgettable gameplay just in order to experience a phenomenal story and an opening hour that still stands out as among my favourite ever beginnings to a video game.
Did I always have OCD? I don't know. Are my blueberry patches always planted in meticulously perfect 3x3 grids? You bet your ass. This isn't a farming simulator, this is a 16-bit Rorscach test. Do you see imaginary vegetables on your screen? Or do you see a tomato that just *ignored* your colour-coordinated crops that took hours to design? Do you see dead cornfields laughing in your face as you realise you forgot to plan your harvest properly? Do you see cows, crying at the feet of calves that *you* left outside to be attacked by wild foxes - Ben? There's blood on your hands, the cows cry! Your negligence killed my baby cow!
I need to lie down.
Anyway, Stardew Valley is brilliant. Designed by Eric Barone (all on his own I should add) this is a staggeringly deep little time-sink that is always expanding in free downloadable content. I've spent hours locked into the perfectly weighted "just one more day" gameplay loop that keeps you locked in until you look up and -"whoops"- its 6AM. Apparently there are villagers you can befriend in the game - I don't know about all that. I've never gone to say hi. To them I'm just a strange, hermit farmer constantly out in his fields, shouting at the corn.
Man, this game just fucking gets me.
The most successful entertainment product ever made. Not video game. Entertainment product. More successful than music, film, interpretative dance, everything. In May of 2019 it had a reported 110 million copies sold. That is downright ludicrous.
It's success was entirely deserved however, featuring the most compelling depiction of a virtual metropolis ever, or at least until Rockstar do it again with Grand Theft Auto VI in the (hopefully) near future. GTA V was biting, clever, offensive, shocking, and everything in between. Nothing escaped unscathed from the game's cross hairs, with the materialistic facebook narcissism of the millennial "Los Santos" utterly obliterated through the lens of three co-protagonists.
Also, you can start a police chase on a Vespa. If that doesn't sound like an ultimate fantasy being realised then I don't know what to say. Good times all around.
I hate platformers. I don't really like puzzle games either, but 2012's Fez was different. It looks like your standard (aka, dull) 2D jumper, flicking from floor to ceiling as 'Gomez' - the little white marshmellow man seen above (he's the one wearing the fez.)
The game then pulls the metaphorical rug from right out underneath you, and if you don't know anything about this game then I will say no more. Perhaps the seismic reveal of this game's central mechanic won't hit quite as hard in 2020 as it did back in 2012, but Fez was an experience that changed my perspective on an entire genre of video gaming, so it is more than deserving of its place here. The game is vibrant and Disasterpeace's synthy soundtrack still accompanies me on tube journeys and study sessions. This is a good platformer that even I could love, and I hate platformers. Go forth and Fez.
Hideo Kojima's time in connection with Konami may have ended depressingly poorly, with the company jettisoning one of the most significant game designers in the history of the medium from their company, but for a full-length send off Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a fitting end for both Kojima and Metal Gear's fictional protagonist "Snake".
The game is a bombastic cliché of an 80's action thriller from the mind of a Japanese cinophile. The cutscenes are faux-handheld 'filmed' and the dialogue is corny; delivered with all the over-enthusiasm of a high-school theatre production. Snake is a deliciously over-the-top action hero on a mission in the steppes of Afghanistan and the jungles of 'Zaire', and the mystery of the story ramps up constantly amidst the strongest stealth gameplay ever committed to a video game.
The soundtrack is killer. Rooted in era-appropriate 80's smash hits blaring from hired gun helicopters committing questionable acts against military forces all in the name of mercenary money. A-ha, Hall & Oates, The Cure. Everything. Not to mention David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World, which serves as the foundation of the game's entire plot. That's right, this game's plot is based on a David Bowie song. Play this game.
That's right. The same Studio Ghibli that made Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, My Neighbour Totoro etc. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is a magpie that parrots the best parts of every JRPG from Final Fantasy to Pokemon, all while scored by the magnificent Joe Hisaishi and featuring cutscenes hand-drawn straight from Ghibli's animation team.
This is one hell of a wholesome game, but this is an adventure not to be overlooked for it's child friendly exterior. This is a beefy 60+ hour journey for its players, complete with a fully realised open-world and a 400 page in-game Wizard's manual. It is an experience that neverendingly dangles the tantalising reward that if you play *just* one more hour you might just get to see another *minute* of brand new, totally original Studio Ghibli animation.
Additionally, this game features the voice talents of one Steffan Rhodri - also known as Gavin & Stacey's 'Dave Coaches' - inexplicably playing a *very* Welsh fairy sidekick for the player character.
A Welsh fairy. A Japanese RPG. My heart soars.
Cheating here slightly, but The Banner Saga 1,2 and 3 are games not to be enjoyed separately. Instead, these three games together form an overarching story that in many ways manages to do what Mass Effect could not, in that it successfully ties together a deep narrative over multiple games and absolutely sticks the landing.
You are a Norse chieftain and your people are on the run, migrating away from an ancestral home to try and survive a looming threat. Your band of warriors are unique personalities, but they are also fragile. In The Banner Saga, people *will* die because of the choices you make, and when they're gone, they're gone permanently. What follows is a desperate attempt to keep your clan alive - walking across a beautifully rendered landscape above a sweeping orchestral score. The rotoscopic animation is retro, evoking Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings and perfectly plants The Banner Saga as a unique experience with an engaging story that will routinely break your heart and crush your feelings if you get too attached to your favourite little vikings.
It is amazing that a console title holds the crown for the best looking game I have ever played, but God of War is just that. Kratos is back, and he has shed all of his toxic masculinity in favour of a tight over-the-shoulder souls-esque combat system and a loving father-son dynamic. Firing off the 'Leviathan Axe' feels phenomenally weighty and the combat, while a big departure from the hack-and-slash design of previous instalments, crafted this game as a tight, fighting entry in Sony's incredibly impressive pile of exclusives.
The decision to move from ancient Greek to Norse mythology was an inspired one, and the choice to convert Kratos from unfeeling action-cock to loving father and grieving widow made for some of the strongest dialogue and emotional payoff of the generation. I don't see the arguments for this God of War reboot as 'game of the generation', as it seemed to stop just as it was really getting going, but if Sony's PS5 kicks off with a God of War 2 (2) then I am going to be first in line.
No wait, maybe "post-Soviet-border-checkpoint-security-immigration-documentation-inspection simulator"? That sounds about right. Another game designed in majority by a single developer, Lucas Pope's Papers, Please is simultaneously the most odd and the most indescribably fascinating video game of the decade. You are a citizen of the glorious nation of Arstotzka, recently having moved to the border-town of Grestin. The October 'labor lottery' has selected you to take on the role of immigration inspector for the border into the country, where you are expected to make your country proud in permitting, and refusing entry to tourists, criminals and refugees.
In what seems to have been a personal challenge for designer Pope, Papers, Please renders one of life's most soul-crushingly repetitive jobs into a genuinely fun experience. It revolves around reading passports and documents, determining whether or not each person that walks into your booth should be welcomed into Arstotzka's magnificent embrace, and while that does sound as dull as working as an *actual* border security inspector, what hides within Papers, Please is a deep interaction within the moral grey areas of black and white political decision making and the lives of civilians in the post-Soviet Eastern Bloc.
Refugees will beg to be admitted; terrorist attacks will be attempted on your security hut. You have a little nuclear family to be looking after and if you admit someone you shouldn't have let in you'll be fined until you can't pay the electricity bills and your family runs out of food. Keep your children alive and you might have to leave desperate refugees to die in the warzones they are fleeing. The game made me inhabit its world without any fanciful graphics and only sparse sparks of minimalistic dialogue - entirely establishing its thematic tone through gameplay. It is a magnificently well told story, exploring a fictitious Eastern European setting with all the dark respect such a scene demands. Utterly phenomenal game made by a single man.
In Night in the Woods you are Mae, an anthropomorphised cat returning home from her anthropomorphised animal university to her anthropomorphised animal hometown. Cute aesthetics and warm hues light up the game as one of the most instantly recognisable of this decade's entries, but the game holds a dark subject matter that is never taken lightly, only ever playfully explored with an endearingly acerbic wit.
I don't want to say much about this game's storyline, as it is an experience that somewhat flew under the radar in the indie scene (despite it's significant Kickstarter success) but I cannot recommend this game highly enough. In this age of rampant mental health awareness campaigns and disposable "I'm sad this person committed suicide" tweets from people that spend half their time online openly assaulting supposedly unassailable celebrities, Night in the Woods comes at a time where conversations about mental health are being had, but they are not being had enough. The game is *technically* a platformer, but don't hold that against it. It is, like many of my favourite games, more a story than it is a game itself, so just give it a go, but do it blind. I cannot stress that enough.
[ed - I should touch on the recent controversy surrounding this game and the allegations of serious sexual misconduct against late co-designer Alec Holowka. This is a game that deals very specifically with a wide variety of serious subject matter; sexual abuse and self-harm included. The context of Holokwa's suicide following these allegations in 2019 does, of course, alter the perception of this game's interaction with sexual and psychological abuse, but it does not in any way, shape or form discredit nor attenuate the strength of this project's expression of the serious matters it explores, which remains powerfully achieved.]
Though 2018's Red Dead Redemption 2 proved fun while it lasted, it has nothing on the emotional legacy that its predecessor Red Dead Redemption set. Cowboy games will never get better than this. I doubt Rockstar Games will ever get better than this, either. Every Western cliché was evident here in full force, but the beauty of RDR's expansively desolate New Austin is enough to make the hairs of any Clint Eastwood aficionado stand on end.
This game needed no sequel. It got one, but that's ok. Ultimately nothing will ever top this video game realisation of the gritty spaghetti western. The narrative arc of John Marston and his own Red Dead Redemption is undoubtedly a highlight of the generation's games, and his death is still something I will desperately try to prevent in that final fatal firefight every single time. It is one of the most impactful endings to a game, or any media for that matter, that I have experienced. Masterpiece.
Add one more game to the "amazing Playstation exclusive"pile, because Sony's flagship franchise did not disappoint in its fourth episode. Nolan North as Nathan Drake is still endless fun and Uncharted remains the closest thing to new Indiana Jones we can get without having to watch [REDACTED]. This game takes what the previous three instalments established, but blows it out to be at least TWICE as long any previous entry for a relentlessly quick, but emotionally thoughtful and mature experience. A solid 15 hours of endless intensity and entertaining dialogue just confirmed exactly why I love this franchise so very much.
Set pieces are still here in all their obscene glory. A clock tower falls apart and suddenly you find yourself being chased through the streets of Madagascar and so on, and so on. It's gorgeous and in all honesty it's just more Uncharted, and that's really all it needed to be. Wherever the game takes its players, be it a Panamanian jail or a mansion party on the Amalfi Coast, it takes you there in breathtaking style. If you have a Playstation 4, play it.
"When Stanley came to a set of two open doors, he entered the door on his left."
Kevan Brighting delivers that now infamous line as The Stanley Parable begins, but in doing so this game's narrator has made the mistake of revealing to you what has happened before you have actually decided to do it. What are you going to do, Stanley?
The Stanley Parable is a love letter to video game fans. Utterly dedicated to its playful meta-commentary on the tropes of video games and play, this game is incomprehensibly clever and absurdly comical from start to finish. A glossy remake of the original 2011 Half-Life 2 mod, this game proves there is life yet to be squeezed from the wonderful Source Engine and it is a game that itself rivals the quality of Valve's own productions.
This story has options and branching narrative paths, but the narrator is no passive actor in this tale. Ignore his storytelling and take the door on the right and you're only going to make him upset. The number of choices where the player may rebel against Brighting's omniscient voice are staggering and as a result this game houses an almost incalculable number of pathways to which its players might finish the game. There are utterly absurd achievements (some of which are literally impossible to achieve) as the project repeatedly demonstrates itself as entirely committed to subverting every trope and expectation of the medium. This game will recognise every singly time you 'break' it and it will tell you off, but the extent to which the game designers demonstrate their own knowledge of exactly how you are going to play is totally remarkable, and at times even a little frightening.
Anyways: "DID U GET THE BROOM CLOSET ENDING? THEB ROOM CLOSET ENDING WAS MY FAVRITE!1 XD."
One of only three full titles that Valve managed to release in the last *decade* (including Dota 2 and it's forgettable companion trading card game) at least Portal 2 kept up the studio's downright offensively exceptional batting average. I've said I don't really care for puzzle games, so when a puzzle game appears on this list you should consider that to be a considerable recommendation from myself. Much like Fez, Portal 2 broke through my genre preferences and made me interested in a game that I didn't expect to be engaged with back in 2011, and fuck me was this game funny. Stephen Merchant in an American video game, West-country accent intact?! Amazing.
This is one of the funniest games ever created, let alone of the decade, but the return of the insidious robotic presence of GLaDOS (seen above) still remains an unsettling antagonist to begin this game in awe of. Even when you're figuring out the games physics-based portal puzzles, she'll shout some pretty harsh stuff at you as well. The game holds up, and if you did miss it the first time round it is well worth digging up a copy and playing it for yourself.
If one game series defined the 2010's, it was From Software's Dark Souls, but where Dark Souls was a series of methodically medieval battlegrounds, 2015's Bloodborne made the totally logical progression to a Lovecraftian vision of fantastical gothic horror.
Bloodborne is hard. Brutally so, but every death to the denizens of Yharnam is identifiably your fault, and therein does this game's difficulty make itself make sense. It is frustrating, but healthily so - that is to say that every failure in this game does not push its players into blaming the game and giving up, but rather issues a challenge to them to learn from their mistakes and "get good." There is a reason why so many games over the past decade have begun implementing the design approach that began with 2009's Demon's Souls, it is extremely satisfying, and Bloodborne achieved it perfectly in a particularly well realised atmospheric environment. Bloodborne's bosses are intimidating, the story is dark and the game is downright creepy. Add another feather to the cap of Playstation exclusives.
Big boy games from here on in.
If you've played this game, you know why it's here. If you haven't, you have no idea. Before Henry Cavill tried his best to be all sexy on your Netflix screens, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt combined a colossal quasi-Bohemian landscape with an attention to detail that would make J.R.R. Tolkien say "hey dude c'mon, you don't need to take this that seriously."
Every single line of dialogue spoken by the residents of this world feels painstakingly real, meshing medieval melodrama with genuinely funny moments of written creativity, but what CD Projekt achieved with this game showed exactly what RPGs are capable of, and should be expected of moving forward. There are no 'side' activities in The Witcher 3. Everything and anything has received exactly the same amount of dedicated attention, and this shows that not every expansive game has to be split between wonderfully rich 'main' quests and the rest. It doesn't matter what you're doing in this game, be it saving villages from Griffin attacks or rescuing an old lady her favourite saucepan, Poland's finest game has written it all with a goal to make every moment of this world feel real and feel worth exploring - and they achieved it with flying colours.
Mass Effect: Andromeda makes me feel similarly to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. An excellent trilogy with an extra entry that simply noone asked for, or needed. ME3's ending removed, the Mass Effect series stands out as the very best trilogy of games ever released, and Mass Effect 2 is the jewel in the series' crown.
Though Mass Effect 3 features the most effective gameplay (@ me I dare you) of the franchise, the story that BioWare constructed over the second instalment in the series still resonates ten years on from its release. Tasking you with building together a motley crew of space aliens to uncover a mystery in the deep, dark universe, ME2 is watching to make sure you are making the right decisions. If not, all of your friends are going to die. The game's finalé suicide mission is a decade defining highlight, and was everything the trilogy's ending was sorely missing, but with this entry BioWare succeeded with unmatched quality across the board.
Unless you are meticulous, your crew of rag-tag space lads can become decimated in the final throws of an unforgiving game, but this is by itself one of the most inviting science-fiction worlds created in recent memory, be that film, literature - whatever. A must play for sci-fi/RPG nerds.
2011's L.A. Noire always stood out to me as the closest we could ever get to a 'good' detective game, with Team Bondi's huge staff able to get relatively close to making you feel like you could come up with your own Conan-Doylian deductions in 1940's Los Angeles, despite being provided with specific questions to ask, clues to inspect and people to arrest. Then, in 2018 Lucas Pope decided to create the greatest detective game ever made, and he did it almost all by himself.
Save for the translation and localisation of his game, just as he did in Papers, Please, Pope crafted a video game entirely on his own and with Return of the Obra Dinn he has created another masterpiece, delivered in a gorgeously retro aesthetic emulation of Commadore 64-era graphical style. Continuing the trend from number 17 on this list, Pope invigorated another boring job into an exciting gaming experience, with this game placing you in the shoes of an insurance investigator in 19th century Falmouth, England.
A cargo ship has drifted back into English waters after disappearing six months prior, but every single member of crew has vanished. Armed with an insurance ledger and a stopwatch that allows you to turn back time, you are tasked with discovering the fates of every one of the craft's sixty missing members, by seeing a snapshot of every death on board. This game doesn't make it easy for you, but I will keep the rest of the game a secret. You will feel like a proper detective playing Return of the Obra Dinn. It's great.
Another exceptional Playstation exclusive, Journey is totally unlike anything else I have ever experienced. Perhaps no game has fully embraced the concept of interactivity in the history of video games, and the meditative style of thatgamecompany's 2012 work of genius is perhaps the best use of two hours I could recommend for anyone bored in quarantine.
This is a short game, and every second feels precious. You are an unnamed Tinariwen-lookalike and you have one goal - get to the top of the mountain. You slide down sand dunes, you float over collapsed bridges and fly through snow-covered mountain ranges. This game is beautiful and moved me emotionally purely through the *feel* of travelling through its wonderful environments.
Buy this game when it goes on sale, sit down for two hours and play through its serenity.
Phenomenon. How else do you describe Toby Fox's totally distinct 2015 creation? Probably the most charmingly funny game ever made, Undertale is a buffalo, with not one molecule of the game being wasted or not used to its fullest potential. There is humour in every spec of its exceptional design: totally subversive in every aspect of its creation, this experience is a joy.
In Undertale you are a lost child, having fallen down a hole into a different world populated by strange creatures and a big yellow flower, but intriguingly the game allows for any conflict against these baddies of the underworld to be de-escalated by speaking to your adversaries peacefully instead of fighting them. This is great.
I didn't realise the game did this though. I killed a lot of pixel people, and this game made me feel genuinely guilty, for I had imaginary blood on my hands and it *stained*. You can be a pacifist, maybe you should be a pacifist, but the fact that Toby Fox permits you to interact with the world of Undertale exactly as you see fit is perhaps its most genius decision.
This game will make you feel bad for all the nameless minions you have callously murdered in video games gone by, and it will run on any computer, so there is no excuse to miss out on this totally unique adventure. It is a deceptively hyper-intelligent project that will surprise you time and time again at how masterful a game designer its creator is. Undertale is going to remember everything you do inside of it, and you best be ready to deal with the consequences.
Go talk to Flowey the flower.
Firewatch is a game that I really do not want to spoil, and so I will say very little about it in detail. You really ought to play this game. Booting up, the game throws you a text-based interactive adventure to start the game off with, which proved so emotionally resonant for myself that I struggle to compare it to anything short of the masterful opening to Pixar's Up.
You are Henry, a resident of Boulder, Colorado: 1975. What follows in that text adventure, scored by an Arcade Fire-esque swell of piano chords, sets in motion the tale of Firewatch; ultimately sending you to the wilderness of Wyoming's "Two Forks Lookout" where you will spend the summer alone, observing the forest for wildfires from your lookout tower.
But you aren't completely alone in Wyoming. Via your orange walkie-talkie, there is a voice of another experienced lookout to help guide you through your new job and to keep you company in your solitude. Without sounding over-dramatic, that voice is perhaps the most believable character I have ever encountered in a video game, and the relationship that develops between you, Henry and the mysterious voice on the other end of the line is one of the most emotionally compelling experiences I have ever had. It was totally impossible to put down the controller on Firewatch, and I empathised unrelentingly with every second of the experience, and I am certainly not alone in that.
This game is short, and it deserves being played. Do it in one sitting if you can. You'll only need to dedicate three or four hours to it and it's very often on sale. Let yourself get swept up in the phenomenally realised atmosphere of the game, and become Henry for a little while. This is quite possibly the best written game ever. I mean that.
How about you play it to try and prove me wrong?
I think I will play FTL: Faster Than Light forever. It is in my mind an uncriticisable game, achieving what it wanted to without a single fault. The retro art-style will last the test of time, and I genuinely see myself taking my little space ship through the galaxy for as long as I will still be playing video games.
Similarly to Mass Effect FTL tasks you with navigating a dangerous galaxy with a team of space-faring humans and exotic aliens, all attempting to save the day from an evil universe-wide rebellion. This game is soul-crushingly difficult, so you better not get too attached to your array of uniquely charming crewmates, but micromanaging everything aboard your little ship from powering up shields to pumping oxygen is a totally unmatched experience.
Not one element of FTL's design is lacking. For what it is, I stand by saying that it is entirely without fault, and combined with Ben Prunty's original score that blends electronic composition with a clinical sci-fi shine, this experience is brilliant. I love FTL, and it would rank higher, but though it does everything it sets out to do without fault, the next three games were simply revolutionary.
I bought this game for £3 in 2013. I bet you can get it even cheaper nowadays when the steam sale rolls along. Buy it.
Skyrim is, in my estimations, the most significant game to release in the 2010's, surpassing even Grand Theft Auto V in terms of its sheer impact on the landscape of game design. The fact that, even nine years on, the game still holds a sizeable cultural significance is astounding and, let's be honest, if you're reading this review, you have almost certainly played this game. Skyrim since 2011 has become downright ubiquitous, ported to every console, re-released every fortnight, and is somehow still receptive to even more hours being sunk into its lavishly decorated landscapes.
The tale of the Dragonborne is now un-ignorable in the history of play, and if Bethesda are at all capable of continuing the steady expansion of success that built from Morrowind to Oblivion, and Oblivion to Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls VI should be something every player looks forward to.
What more can be said about Skyrim? It is gargantuan. It is a mammoth, inexplicably falling from the sky. It is a giant, smacking you a thousand feet into the air. It is Daedric in scope. It is an Unrelenting Force. This game deserved every single syllable of praise that gushed before it from the moment it arrived, and nearly a decade later it remains unsurpassed in its genre.
The Last Of Us is a shockingly effective experience that marked a watershed moment in the history of interactive storytelling. Even now, seven years on from Naughty Dog's masterpiece, the performances of Troy Baker, Ashley Johnson and Nolan North are entirely unmatched. Written and acted to the standard some oscar-winning entries don't achieve, the work of creative director Neil Druckmann should be applauded at the cutting edge of what the interactive industry is capable of *even now*.
The Last of Us is a game that, even to this day, is ahead of its time. To me, only Firewatch has come close to the effectiveness of this story - which would be disappointing if it was even fair to expect anyone else to be able to build a story this chilling and emotionally devastating. I expect The Last of Us 2 to be the first game that finally exceeds this masterpiece of a narrative experience later this year, but this should not take anything away from the phenomenal gameplay that underscored this exceptional story of a post-apocalyptic USA. Synthesising brutally visceral close-quarters confrontations with unsettlingly tense encounters with the cordyceps, The Last of Us is deservedly lauded as the greatest game of the previous generation.
Back in 2013, I played this game in almost one single sitting. I finished it, went to bed, then woke up and started it again. It meant *that* much to me. For years it remained as my absolute favourite game of all time, and only very recently was surpassed. This is a hauntingly magnificent effort from Naughty Dog, and I can only hope that the sequel matches its quality.
CUPHEAD - StudioMDHR [2017: PC/XB1 - Platformer]
Brought the rubber-hose cartoon art style of Mickey Mouse into the 21st Century. Which is to say it provided it with Dark Souls-esque boss fights and removed it of Walt Disney's vitriolic anti-semitism. Family fun!
eFOOTBALL PES 2020 - Konami [2019: PS4/PC/XB1 - Sports]
Simply put, the finest football game ever made, particularly when considering young Scott McTominay's face gracing the front cover. Totaalvoetbal.
CITIES: SKYLINES - Paradox [2015: PC - City Builder]
Somehow Cities: Skylines managed to make SimCity better than SimCity itself. EA what are you doing?
HEARTHSTONE - Blizzard [2014: PC - TCG]
I lost a lot of my time to this online trading card game. A fair bit of my money too. Worth it.
CIVILIZATION V - Firaxis [2010: PC - Strategy]
A strategy game I don't hate. That is at least until Mahatma Gandhi plunges us all into another nuclear holocaust. The bastard.
Not only is Jonathan Blow's The Witness my favourite game of the decade, it is unquestionably the greatest video game I have ever played. I am not overeager when I declare that this game, undoubtedly a masterpiece, is fundamentally and in every sense of the word, a perfect video game.
Revolving around the solving of simple line puzzles on grids, dotted around a gorgeously vibrant island, this game is designed by the hands of a lead designer with an unassailable knowledge of exactly how to construct his experience, and is able to effortlessly communicate with the players every aspect of the game's puzzles without ever so much as presenting a tutorial message. This is a puzzle game (again, consider how reluctant I typically am to even play puzzle games) that crafts a wholly distinct gameplay language, utterly unique in its application and constantly toying with the piece's key theme: perspective.
You are the eponymous 'Witness', or perhaps you are not. You are witnessing, but you may too be being witnessed. This game is often philosophically vague, asking for very, very specific solutions to its challenges, but from the interaction between player and designer this game is, and I mean this, capable of near-spiritual significance.
Playing this together with a friend on our sofa was an indescribably impactful experience of shared discoveries and enjoyment. This is a game that treats its players as intelligent, but does not offer a single hand to hold in uncovering its mysteries. Blow's The Witness is a testament to the majesty of game design. It is an island of puzzles that are waiting for you to prove to yourself that you can achieve anything by way of persistence, patience and contemplation. Is the game pretentious? Probably. Did it spark genuine emotional responses from myself and my co-player? Absolutely. The game is so simple: it's just drawing lines on grids, but it truly is so much more than the sum of its parts. I cannot describe how this game made me feel in words, and it may very well not have that same effect on whoever else experiences it, but it is undoubtedly the most wonderfully crafted video game that I have ever spent my time with.
Within this puzzler, there sits a quiet volta of a revelation, just waiting for you to discover it. I will say no more about that, but for those who know what I am talking about, the way in which the game turns upon that one realisation is one of the most utterly mesmerising moments I have ever felt in virtual space. I'm sure I sound ridiculous in my praise for The Witness, but trust me I would not throw praise like this at something I did not wholeheartedly believe would deserve it.
To really explain what makes this game special would be robbing you of the very experience that makes it that spectacular, so you will have to trust me. The Witness is a masterpiece unlike no other, and if there is the slightest chance you feel inclined to test the waters of Jonathan Blow's 2016 puzzler I recommend you spend your time at home over the next few weeks giving it a go. Just don't give up on yourself. Don't find solutions on the internet. Be patient, be methodical and be amazed at exactly how smart a game can make you feel.
Slow Motion Panic Masters' Top 25 Video Games of the Decade:
1. The Witness
2. The Last of Us
3. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
4. FTL: Faster Than Light
8. Return of the Obra Dinn
9. Mass Effect 2
10. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
12. Portal 2
13. The Stanley Parable
14. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
15. Red Dead Redemption
16. Night In The Woods
17. Papers, Please
18. God of War
19. The Banner Saga Trilogy
20. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
21. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
23. Grand Theft Auto V
24. Stardew Valley
25. Bioshock Infinite
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.