Monday, January 25, 2010

Games Of The Decade

Not best, mind you, but certainly my favorites from the last ten years.

It's a top fifteen, not a top ten, because ten games in ten years is just impossible. And I know I left games off--it's guaranteed.

One note: I don't have any Bethesda games on this list, but Morrowind, Oblivion, and Fallout 3 were all very close.

15. Startopia (2001)
This was a great game that never got any traction, unfortunately, but I still have incredibly fond memories of playing. You were in charge of the wackiest space station ever, and it was a fun, silly game. It even included a terrarium on the top level of the space station, and growing plants and experimenting was almost a game in itself. This game also had a wicked sense of humor in an absolutely demented way.

14. NHL 09 (2008)
This version of NHL makes the list (even though NHL 10 is a much better game) because it was responsible for what was probably my favorite moment in almost thirty years of gaming, both because of the inherent drama and because Eli and I were doing it together.

We played in "Be A Pro" mode and alternated periods--Eli played periods one and three, and I played period two (and overtime, when necessary). It turned into an epic part of summer, and I still have an inflatable Stanley Cup standing in the corner of my study (thanks Glen), as well as a Pittsburgh Penguins key chain. Eli has a Penguins jersey that he wears to school.

If you missed it last year, just go to the Stanley Cup Game Six and Stanley Cup Game Seven recaps from the archives (and a newspaper headline here), and there's more in the August 1-15 posts. I still get chills just thinking about it--it was a gaming moment that I'll never forget.

13. Red Faction: Guerilla (2009)
This game was glorious, ridiculous fun, and it was my favorite game of 2009. I'd say more than "jetpacks and blowing everything the hell up", but I really don't need to.

12. Madden 10 (2009)
This game is ranked below NFL2K5 not because it isn't better (it is, clearly, with the right sliders), but because it doesn't yet have the months of extended play that I had with NFL2K5. It is better, though, and no one was a bigger fan of 2K5 than I was was, so that's saying something.

Madden 10 does have a few weaknesses (2-minute A.I. when ahead, in particular), but it also does an overwhelming number of things right, and Franchise mode (again, in spite of some glaring weaknesses) is stellar. This is the best graphical simulation of football ever.

11. Crackdown (2007)
This game reminds of Dead Rising in that it was an absolute surprise and a total delight. It was never so much fun to have superhero powers, and the entire game was absolutely over the top. This is one of the first games I can remember that was incredibly vertical, because the climbing and jumping powers of your character (after building them up a bit) were nothing short of spectacular. Joyous, even.

The city was also rendered in loving detail, and the inclusion of some seriously addictive mini-games (like finding orbs, which I did for hours on end) made it impossible to put the controller down. Sure, you can complain about the plot or the mission structure, and some of that is valid, but in the end, who the hell cares? Super jumps, throwing cars, and rocket launchers FTW.

10. Dead Rising (2006)
What a brilliant, goofy game. Combining twisted humor with tens of thousands of zombie deaths by the most excessive means imaginable (not to mention the photography, which is one of my favorite gameplay elements ever), Dead Rising was epic fun. Not for one second did it take itself seriously, and that was what the game so brilliant. It was absolutely amazing to see hundreds of zombies in one area, all slowly lurching towards you, as you tried to figure how to either kill them--or take their picture.

9. No More Heroes (2007)
This was one of my biggest surprises of the last decade--an open-world, creative, profane, and hilarious game on the Wii. This was easily one of the funniest games I've ever played, and it had an extraordinary amount of energy and exuberance throughout. The premise was simple: Travis Touchdown was trying to climb up the ladder of the United Assassins Association by killing the ten assassins ahead of him in the rankings.

I'm sure I burst out laughing more often in this game than any other I ever played, but humor wasn't the only hook. The gameplay was excellent, and the Wiimote was used incredibly well. This is absolutely a game you must play.

8. Dwarf Fortress (2007-2009)
Quite possibly the single most interesting extercise in thinking that I've ever played (and I still play it), Dwarf Fortress is surely the most detailed game world ever created. It's also incredibly personal, and the details of the life of a single dwarf are, at times, sad and deeply unsettling. It's a brilliant, enormously complex game.

Will Wright should spend a few weeks talking to Tarn Adams.

7. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
This was one of the most perfectly balanced games I've played, and it was wonderful, bright adapation of the Mario universe. It was also the first video game that Eli ever played seriously, and we played through all sixty levels three times and partway through a fourth. This was Ninendo at its absolute best.

6. NFL2K5 (2004)
If you're a football fan, this game was a landmark moment. In 480P on the Xbox, it featured spectacular animation and amazing visuals in general, and the announcing was years ahead of its time.

Most importantly, though, it played a damned good game of football. Not without lots of slider tweaks, certainly, but it was more than worth it, and everything that didn't work in franchise mode could (fortunately) be turned off. The end result was legendary.

Sports games usually improve significantly over time, but this game wasn't surpassed by any football title until Madden 10 this year. It's a tragedy (in a gaming sense) that EA was granted an exclusive license by the NFL/NFLPA.
5. King's Bounty: The Legend (and expansion Armored Princess) (2008)
This game was a gigantic dish of candy, combining excellent tactical combat (with almost infinite options), character building, a wonderfully eccentric story, and a ridiculous number of little treasures to find (chests, gems, spells, maps). It was also drop-dead gorgeous, with one of my favorite game soundtracks ever. If you watch Steam or Impulse, it will be selling for almost nothing (under $10) every month or so.

4. Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly (Director's Cut) (2004)
The most haunting, frightening game I've ever played. The Xbox version ("Director's Cut") added a first-person perspective, which made the game personal (It was me, not a character, experiencing the game). This was not monster-closet fear, but a psychologically disturbing, menacing kind of terror, expertly drawn around the player like a slowly tightening noose. The writing was outstanding, and the sound effects were superb as well. No one who plays this game will ever forget it.

3. Space Rangers 2: Dominators (2004)
It was utterly wacky, incredibly charming, and totally fascinating. Mixing space exploration combat with (basically) land-based tower defense, text adventures, and every other damn thing you could imagine, this was one of the most eccentric games I've ever played--and one of the best. It also had a wicked sense of humor and wonderful gameplay. This game is basically free now if you wait for an online sale, and it will give you 60+ hours of fun.

2. Mafia (2002)
This game was so wonderful in so many ways: interesting, varied missions, a stunning, vibrant city, legendary writing, terrific voice acting, and a soundtrack that is still one of my all-time favorites. I used to sit on a park bench and just watch what was going on, and I did the same thing on the train. The best gangster game ever made, and there's nothing close in second place.

Let me mention the writing and voice acting again, because they were letter perfect. The dialogue and narration in this game are in the Top Ten all-time for games in general. The ending is one of the greatest as well. Just a stunning, near-perfect package.

1. Rock Band (RB, RB2, TB:RB) (2007-2009)
As much as I enjoyed the other games on this list, this is the only game I've played day after day for years, and still look forward to playing. I've written about it so much that the subject is exhausted, but this is a superb, highly-polished game that also represents an entirely new way to experience music. Also, Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 2 belong as part of this entry as well.

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