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Here are my favorite games of the decade. They’re in chronological order. 2011 was not a good year. But 2013, 2016, and 2018 were fabulous.

While this kind of column stirs a lot of debate, I enjoy the process of looking back and remembering what it was like to play these games for the first time. I’ve made some attempts to describe why I like these games.

While I have fond memories of most of these, my all-time favorite is Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which came out for the PlayStation 3 in 2013. My colleagues aren’t as excited as me about how this stands out in the zombie genre. But it’s the characters and the writing that pulled me into this journey. I played it for 25 hours or so in 2013, and I played it again with my daughter when the definitive edition came out for the PlayStation 4.

Above: The Last of Us is my favorite game of all-time.

Image Credit: Sony

The Last of Us is a touching story about a man who loses his daughter early in the apocalypse, survives for 20 years as a brutal and unemotional killer, and then finds another young teen that he must save. The relationship between Joel and Ellie is very well crafted, as they must constantly rely on each other and save each other in a dangerous world. Now that may not be interesting to a lot of you. But I’ve suffered loss in my life, and portraying this in a way that has meaning is what makes this game interesting to me.

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You can argue that I’ve neglected many worthy games. I decided I should only write about games I’ve finished for this column. Where applicable, I completed the single-player campaigns, and they stayed with me for a long time. While The Last of Us is my clear favorite, the rest of these are in chronological order.

2010

Alan Wake

Above: Alan Wake, a psychological survival horror game from Remedy Entertainment.

Image Credit: Remedy Entertainment

Alan Wake (Remedy Entertainment) — This helped convince me that games are high art. It’s visually arresting, creepy, and it has an interesting story that blurs the line between the titular character’s imagination and reality. Alan Wake suffers from writer’s block, but as he overcomes it and begins writing, he finds his words start to become reality. And then his wife vanishes, and he must get her back.

Above: Time to be moseying along to the cloud

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar Games): This was a massive epic Western that successfully blends the story of John Marston, a vanishing breed of gunslinger, and a vast open world in the Wild West. As I said 10 years ago, the variety of activities — such as horse racing and hunting — keeps you from getting bored. You can take on a hundred bad guys with a Gatling gun or just sit back in the evening and watch the wild critters roam across a moon-blanched prairie.

2012

The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow) — This interactive fairy tale starts with very creative gameplay. The worlds opens as just a white screen, and you splash black paint on it to bring its shapes to life. And it has an odd story about a king dealing with the emptiness of life.

Journey (That Game Company) — This beautiful story with rich landscapes tells a story with incredible emotional, and it’s all done without any words. It’s truly a work of art.

Above: Telltale’s The Walking Dead adventure game was a breakout hit.

Image Credit: Telltale

The Walking Dead (Telltale Games) — Telltale hit its mark in forcing players to make wrenching choices about who survives and who falls to the zombie horde. This is where we learn that you can hide among the undead by smearing their innards on your body so they can’t smell you.

2013

Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto V.

Above: I spent a lot of time with these three thugs in GTA V.

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

Grand Theft Auto V (Rockstar) — The 69 missions in the vast open world give us an amazing breadth of irredeemably indecent gameplay. I still remember scenes involving the three main characters, like when two of them squared off with guns pointing at each other over an open grave in a cemetery. And this world went on to become a living game with GTA Online.

Above: Lara Croft nailed her comeback in 2013.

Image Credit: Crystal Dynamics

Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamics) — The developers remade Lara Croft, changing her from a haughty and overconfident character to a vulnerable woman coming of age under life-or-death pressures. Tomb Raiders turned a sex symbol into a real character and fueled a revival for a franchise that had run its course.

BioShock Infinite

Above: Elizabeth carried the show in BioShock Infinite.

Image Credit: Irrational Games

BioShock Infinite (Irrational Games) — It was rare to see a woman like Elizabeth be a lead character in 2013. Ken Levine and his team created a memorable world of Columbia, a city in the sky with all sorts of rails that you ride. It’s a combination of sci-fi alternative universe as well as a retro look at America’s racist history. And it has some thrilling BioShock gameplay and some truly horrifying enemies. It also has an amazing ending that takes a lot of explanation to understand.

Above: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Image Credit: 505 Games

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (Starbreeze Studios) — This story of the bond between two brothers is moving in part because Starbreeze weaves the big twist in the story into the gameplay itself. It started indie developer Josef Fares on his road to where he could credibly say “F*** the Oscars.” Video games are art, dammit, and you would see that if you play this game.

The Last of Us (Naughty Do)  — See my description above.

2014

watch dogs

Above: Hacking smartphones is a key action in Watch Dogs.

Image Credit: Ubisoft

Watch Dogs (Ubisoft) — I like this vision of a world where an oppressive government, with the support of huge private contractors, would fuel the resistance of cyber hackers, who could hack into anybody’s smartphone and control the smart city as they resisted the totalitarian forces.

Titanfall

Above: Titanfall showed that Respawn would be a fantastic game studio.

Image Credit: Electronic Arts

Titanfall (Respawn Entertainment) — This shooter gave us giant mech robots falling from the sky and running on walls. Respawn’s execution was so strong that it created a rabid fan base that is still demanding more.

Above: Wolfenstein: The New Order is hard because so many types of enemies attack in a firefight.

Image Credit: Bethesda

Wolfenstein: The New Order (Machine Games) — This reimagining of the Wolfenstein franchise is quite creative. It posits that the Nazis won World War II and projects a world in the 1960s based on what happens when their culture, not ours, is supreme. And BJ Blazkowicz and his cohorts are fantastic characters to launch the resistance against such a corrupt white supremacist empire. The enemies are powerful, but the guns you use against them are even stronger. 2017’s New Colossus is an excellent follow-up on how the Nazis could find sympathetic friends in America as well.

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

Above: It’s just like in the movie!

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (Monolith) — It takes some brilliant writing to squeeze an epic tale into a part of the Tolkien lore many had forgotten. The combination of Celebrimbor and the Ranger Talion produces some epic fights in the open world of Mordor. Who would have thought there could be so many different kinds of orcs to kill or possess? I love the sequel, 2017’s Shadow of War, as well.

2015

A character in Until Dawn. Video game characters are looking amazingly realistic.

Above: Can you save everyone in Until Dawn?

Image Credit: Sony

Until Dawn (Supermassive Games) — Your job is to save eight (sometimes annoying) teenagers as they stay overnight in a horror-perfect resort on a snowy mountain. The “butterfly effect” is in full force, as the smallest decisions can result in life or death for a character. It has some excellent acting, astoundingly good human face animations, and some truly creepy horror.

Above: The world goes up in flames.

Image Credit: Sega

Total War: Attila (The Creative Assembly) — I spent hundreds of hours playing this real-time strategy game. You defend the doomed Roman Empire against hordes of barbarians on every front. It’s a losing proposition, but it fulfils the vision of being able to zoom in on soldiers fighting and zoom out to see the full strategic scope of the real-time 3D battle. I didn’t play many games that year, because this one took all of my time.

2016

Above: Sam and Nathan are part of what makes the Uncharted series so enjoyable.

Image Credit: Sony

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog) — The ending of this series is so bittersweet, as it both brings closure to Nathan Drake’s career as an adventurer and a satisfying outcome for characters we loved along the way like Sully, Elena, and Nathan’s mischievous and irresponsible brother, Sam. It’s an amazing combination of action gameplay, exploration, beautiful landscapes, real characters, and story about pirates.

Above: Adam Jensen is the hero of Deus EX: Mankind Divided.

Image Credit: Square Enix

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (Eidos Montreal) — Augs, or augmented humans, are the second-class citizens of this nightmare world, and shadowy conspirators have pitted them against natural humans, causing a civil war. That puts a lot of pressure on the super-aug Adam Jensen to figure out what is really happening behind the scenes.

Above: Clash Royale showed Supercell could make a hit after Clash of Clans.

Image Credit: Supercell

Clash Royale (Supercell) — I was addicted to this very simple version of a multiplayer online battle arena. You must destroy the other guy’s castle, sending your forces up two different paths in real time. It set the high bar in addictive mobile gameplay.

Above: Ryan Green comforts his son, Joel.

Image Credit: Numinous Games

That Dragon, Cancer (Numinous Games) — This game is unique and so sad. It’s the creative effort of two parents who lost a 5-year-old child to cancer and their attempt to convey what that experience was like. It’s depressing, but I think it’s conveys a part of the human experience that you should not miss.

Above: Don’t mess with the Mancubus.

Image Credit: Giancarlo Valdes/GamesBeat

Doom (id Software) — This modern re-imagining of the fast-action shooter paid off because the developers found a way to force you out of cover and into the fray full of the demons of hell. No game was more frenetic.

Above: Pokemon Go is leading the conversation about VR/AR.

Image Credit: Niantic Inc.

Pokémon Go (Niantic) — No other game got me off the couch and walking around in my environment as Pokémon Go. It’s a very social game, even though the multiplayer and social features arrived late in its history. And it’s one of the only games that my entire family played together.

2017

Senua from Hellblade, one of the most lauded digital human animations and performaces of recent years.

Above: Senua from Hellblade, one of the most lauded digital human animations and performaces of recent years.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Ninja Theory) — The developers were faithful to the vision of depicting a mentally ill character with compassion and empathy. Senua’s story has inspired so many people who are coping with illnesses such as psychosis. And it’s a great action game, with equal elements of wonder and horror.

Above: Horizon: Zero Dawn’s Aloy is one of 2017’s standout characters.

Image Credit: Sony

Horizon: Zero Dawn (Guerrilla Games) — This was a remarkable blending of prehistoric dinosaurs and science fiction in a vision of the future that might very well come to pass some day. Let’s hope the human race will steer off this path.

Above: The coronation level in What Remains of Edith Finch.

Image Credit: Sony/Giant Sparrow

What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow) — This collection of short stories was tied together by a story of a cursed family. It did a remarkably good job of weaving gameplay and story together, as demonstrated in the fish-cutting story in particular.

2018

Arthur Morgan is the main character of Red Dead Redemption 2.

Above: Arthur Morgan is one of Red Dead Redemption 2’s memorable characters.

Image Credit: Rockstar Games

Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar) — The single-player campaign goes on for a staggering 105 missions. It could have been shorter, but Rockstar set a new bar with its convincing open world, and it created a memorable story of the Wild West in this prequel to the 2010 game. I’ll always remember characters like Arthur Morgan and Dutch Van der Linde. And I’m sorry to say it, but you can’t really give your opinion on this game until you finish it.

God of War

Above: God of War nails the reboot.

Image Credit: Sony

God of War (Sony Santa Monica) — I didn’t care for the franchise before this game. I didn’t give a damn about Kratos, until he had a kid. But this father-son story is so well done that it drew me in and made me appreciate what could be done with a franchise reboot.

Doing what a spider can.

Above: Doing what a spider can.

Image Credit: Insomniac Games

Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac) — The developers mastered the balance of storytelling, gameplay, and a open world with our favorite webslinger. It hit all the high points of why we like Marvel so much. Just swinging around the city was so fun. But the story with Mary Jane and Doc Ock is so good, it could have been a movie.

2019

Apex Legends.

Above: Apex Legends.

Image Credit: Respawn

Apex Legends (Respawn Entertainment) — This version of battle royale hooked me from the very first matches I played. It’s accessible, funny, and fast. And it also has great guns, an interesting map, and a good balance of characters with special powers.

I have my money on the guy with the lightsaber.

Above: I have my money on the guy with the lightsaber.

Image Credit: EA

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019) Respawn Entertainment — I waited a long time to play a Star Wars game that has a combination of outstanding gameplay, good characters, and a good story. The action takes inspiration from Dark Souls and Metroid, and it kept me coming back to try to beat an unsurmountable obstacle, again and again. I felt that each scene and each battle had been crafted so I could just barely win or barely lose.

Farah Ahmed Karim is the leader of rebel forces in Urzikstan in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Above: Farah Ahmed Karim is the leader of rebel forces in Urzikstan in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Image Credit: Activision

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Infinity Ward) — The previews showed this game was going to be seriously gritty or horrific, depending on your tolerance for violence against non-combatants. But the gameplay turned out to be carefully orchestrated to show you the horrors of war, without allowing the player to engage in the most horrific episodes. And it has a good lead character in Farah Ahmed Karim. It is tough to play, with scenes of child combat, chemical warfare, and torture. But it makes its point with a well-told story and good characters. The multiplayer turned out to be one of the more enjoyable modes, with better graphics realism, crossplay, and free DLC than in previous games. It’s disturbing and thoughtful.

Above: Remedy’s Control

Image Credit: Remedy Entertainment

Control (Remedy Entertainment) — Control shows that Remedy has a real knack for imaginative stories. It also weaves in themes and references to early games, like Alan Wake, to show that storytellers like Sam Like have been thinking about the same ideas for decades. The setting is surreal and imaginative.

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