Brian starts his decade-spanning countdown with something for everyone.
75) Quantum Break. Remedy Entertainment, 2016
When I originally wrote about Quantum Break way back in the halcyon days of early 2016, I called it “a B-game,” and if I had to look back for any phrase to describe exactly what this game is and why it made this list, that’s what I’d use. The shooting is just OK; the graphics are good not great. The supposedly groundbreaking live action “TV show” bits feel like they were thought of 30 years ago. The plot is middling-to-fine. The effects are really neat, but have already been far surpassed. By every conceivable metric, this is a very mediocre game.
And yet, there’s that little bit of magic that Remedy still has in them to make it something more than that. The whole package coalesces into the shlockiest, corniest Sci-Fi Channel exclusive original film that’s ever been made into a game, and it’s weird and unique enough to still stand out three years later. If nothing else, Quantum Break serves as a barometer for this list in general. While I was putting it together, if I couldn’t immediately say to myself that a game was better than Break, then I didn’t put it on the list to begin with. There’s value in that. Plus, this game gets a lot of mileage out of Aiden Gillen and Lance Reddick trying to out-overact one another, which is just not the sort of content you’re likely to get in Call of Duty or whatever.
74) Final Fantasy XIII. SquareEnix, 2010
If there’s one thing that this game’s biggest fans and biggest detractors can definitely agree upon, it’s that Final Fantasy XIII certainly is a video game released in 2010 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 video game systems. Other than that, I dunno. I have my problems with it, and yet, when I thought of including it here, the good probably outweighed the bad. There’s long been a joke in JRPG circles that in any JRPG worth its salt, once you get past those first twenty hours, the game really gets good. This time, that part is true. Until it gets bad again. Until it gets good again after that. And so on. If nothing else, I don’t think anyone who played FFXIII will ever really have trouble remembering what it was like to play.
73) Void Bastards. Blue Manchu, 2019.
There’s a bit of a misnomer going around about this game. It is not, despite the presence of several former BioShock devs and the open influence of System Shock 2, an Immersive Sim. It’s not simming anything, and it’s also not particularly immersive. What it is, however, is a really slick roguelike FPS that successfully transplants the 2D enemies and dark corridors of the Marathon games into a modern game style. It also retains the cel-shaded look of Borderlands while actually being consistently funny and a lot less grating (the character traits in particular are a great comedic touch).
It’s a resource management game, a corridor shooter, a roguelike and a bit of a puzzle solver (as long as you consider gun + man = dead man a puzzle). It’s not a perfect melding of all these ingredients, and there’s not a lot about it that feels like it’ll last for more than 15-20 hours, but for the price point, it’s about as fun a time as I’ve had in 2019.
72) Oxenfree. Night School Studio, 2016
One of the ways in which Telltale is one of the most important developers of the 2010s is how, even before the decade was out, they were being outdone by the very people they inspired. Night School Studio, like many other adventure game developers, traces their roots directly to Telltale, and their approach to naturalistic, emergent dialogue is very similar. You play the role of moody teenager Alex as she and her friends spend a spooky and recursive night being toyed with by all manner of supernatural goings on. It might stray a bit too far into the young adult genre for some “serious gamers,” but it works in all the ways this sort of stuff is supposed to, it looks great, and it’s generally just a very good example of its genre while still feeling independent enough to have its own distinct voice.
71) Sea of Thieves. Rare, 2018
Listen, I’ve written about Sea of Thieves before. It was the hero of E3 2017 for me and a game that felt, even for a couple weeks after launch, like a breath of fresh air. Sure, that air ran out, and sure, the game died one of the quickest deaths I can ever remember, but I’ll always have fond memories of those first few days when it felt holistic and pure in a way most games just don’t anymore. There are lots of lessons to be learned from how Sea of Thieves treats its tutorials, user interface, and player base that better, more content-rich games can learn from in the future.
70) Just Cause 2. Avalanche Studios, 2010
Speaking of games that were too pure of heart to survive, JUST CAUSE 2, BABY. HOOK ONTO AN AIRPLANE AND FLY INTO A FUCKING HELICOPTER. BLOW SHIT UP. FLY 100,000 MILES PER HOUR INTO A JET TURBINE COVERED IN MOTOR OIL AND THEN COME OUT THE OTHER SIDE HOLDING A ROCKET LAUNCHER AND BLOW UP A GUNDAM OR SOME SHIT I DUNNO
It’s a good game.
69) StarCraft II. Blizzard Entertainment, 2010-2015
I’m counting all three “StarCraft II” campaigns (Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void) together here, since technically that’s how Blizzard views them, and because ranking three nearly identical looking, just pretty good strategy games on a list like this felt impossible.
Anyways, while I can say most people seemed kind of disappointed with how this whole “StarCraft II” thing went from a narrative standpoint, it’s still the closest thing to a single-player game Blizzard has made at any point in the last decade, and for that it deserves credit. I’d say that on the whole, these games were a good experience. They were never going to live up to the expectation that following up the best strategy game ever made laid on them, but the further we get from the legendary hype that first trailer generated, the more charitable I feel towards just how difficult it must have been to make an actual, functioning strategy game in the 2010s and still have people care about it.
68) Batman: Arkham Knight. Rocksteady Studios, 2015
Here’s another game I liked a lot more when I first wrote about it than I do now. Back in 2015, Arkham Knight was pretty easily the best-looking game I’d ever seen, but now I can see it for what it is: one of the most problematic and unsatisfying trilogy enders in gaming history. The Batmobile stuff really just ruins the game. There’s still a lot to like with the tried-and-true Arkham house style: the combat is still slick and generally enjoyable, the Mark Hamill/Kevin Conroy pairing is still as strong as ever, and the fully-realized Gotham City is nothing if not a fun distraction, but the over-reliance on the Batmobile is just a killer for a game that should’ve been the best superhero game ever made. I’m not even sure if it’s all that much better than the dull Arkham Origins.
67) Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Monolith Productions, 2014
Speaking of games with one dominant mechanic that, for better or worse, has come to define it, here’s Shadow of Mordor as the best Tolkien game ever made. I kind of hate it? I’ve written about the Nemesis system before, and I still think it’s brilliant. The rest of the game around has become so forgettable to me that I until just now forgot that you can actually shoot arrows in it. Just a completely unremarkable sludge of Arkham, Assassin’s Creed and a dozen other early 2010s ripoffs mixed into a gruel and slowly basted over 20-30 hours of pure nothingness. So, a pretty good game I guess.
66) Halo 5: Guardians. 343 Industries, 2015
I liked Halo 5. I still like Halo 5. I don’t have the strong emotional attachments to it that I have to the original games, but it’s inarguably one of the slickest and most mechanically precise shooters ever made, and it looks good and it sounds good. The story is pure drivel, even by Halo standards, but that’s okay. I sort of wish, in retrospect, that they hadn’t done the Locke vs Chief thing and just stuck with one crew. Maybe have some of the members die off and get Mike Colter and Nathan Fillion in there another way? I don’t know. I played the multiplayer much more than I did in Halo 4, which didn’t even come close to making this list, so that’s an improvement, I guess? We’ll see what Halo: Infinity is and go from there.
65) DUSK. New Blood Interactive, 2018
Do you like DOOM? How about Blood? Hexen? If you said “yes” to one or more of these questions, then do I have the game for you! I still haven’t beaten it because it terrifies and thrills me to a degree that a game like this really shouldn’t for a nearly 30-year-old man, but boy is it fun.
64) Cities: Skylines. Colossal Order, 2015
A pure, unadulterated SimCity-style city building experience, just like mom used to make (and you get off of because you had school in the morning). There’s just enough weird Euro-jank stuff here to make it stand out, and the pure customization on display is frankly stupendous. I don’t really feel like I need to say anything else; sim games are such a niche genre at this point that there’s not really any way I’m going to convince someone who doesn’t like this stuff to get into it, but if you choose to, you could hardly do better than Skylines.
63) Sonic Mania. Headcannon/PagodaGames West, 2017
There was a brief period, a couple years ago, when it seemed like Sonic might be important again. He never had the sheer adaptability of Mario, and his very particular, focused-grouped 90s cool was always destined to wear off, but it’s still a shame what happened to him. Those games used to be fun. Thanks to SEGA finally giving in and just letting a group of fans make one, he was again. Mania is a celebration of good Sonic games more than it is a good Sonic game, but in a way that almost makes it the best one of them all. Just a joyous game to look at, listen to, and experience. And then it’s over, and you have to contend with the likes of Sonic Forces, and you get sad again. Come back, king. We need you.