Remembering 2010: The Biggest Games Turning 10 This Year
After the turn of the decade, it seemed as though people had finally gotten settled into the then current-gen. While new innovations would appear in games for Xbox One and PS4 starting in 2013, 2010 saw developers take advantage of the existing hardware and push the medium in unexpected ways. With Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption revitalizing the old-west setting with a memorable story and protagonist, Fallout: New Vegas elevating the post-apocalyptic RPG franchise even further, and Bungie's swan song on the Halo franchise sticking its landing--2010 definitely started the decade off on a high note.
Continuing GameSpot's annual tradition of reflecting on the games of yesteryear, we narrowed down a list of the releases that made 2010 such a great year for gaming. As it turned out, many of the games that came out in this particular period would go on to establish a particular tone for the decade to come. Though the first year of the new decade saw a lot of platform changes, with console makers experimenting with new ways to play and the PC market continuing its growth, it was still all about the games in 2010, and many titles managed to deliver experiences with such a lasting impression, we still remember them today.
Organized by their respective western release dates, here are GameSpot's selection of the most noteworthy games of 2010, along with our thoughts on why they've stuck with us ten years later. Below, you can find our previous roundups of games we love.
- Remembering 1998: Metal Gear Solid, The Legend Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life and more.
- Remembering 1999: Final Fantasy VIII, Silent Hill, Resident Evil 3, and more.
- Remembering 2007: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Uncharted, and more.
- Remembering 2008: Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto IV, and more.
- Remembering 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, Borderlands, and more.
Bayonetta | January 5
It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that Bayonetta changed the face of action games forever. And for director Hideki Kamiya and his team, it would be the second time they revolutionized the genre. Taking the strong foundations of his previous work in Devil May Cry, Kamiya elevated gameplay of the character action genre with fast, frenetic, and dynamic combat that to, the untrained eye, looked like uncontrolled chaos, but to those with their hands on the controller, was a beautiful ballet of precision strikes and perfectly-timed flourishes.
Bayonetta's biggest stroke of genius was in the way it allowed players to turn defense into offense using an ability called Witch Time. By tapping the dodge button at the moment an enemy attack is about to land, time would slow to a crawl and you were free to unleash a barrage of attacks unopposed. The window for executing this ability was quite lenient, thus emphasizing the sense of empowerment players felt. Couple that with the ludicrous amount of different skills, as well as the flamboyant and cinematic Torture Attacks, and it all made for an incredibly thrilling and high-octane combat experience. In the hands of an experienced player, Bayonetta would dance around gothic environments launching enemies around, peppering them with bullets, and summoning demonic entities made from her own hair to deliver crushing executions, and it was both a sight to behold and joy to execute.
Few action games at that time looked as good, and even fewer felt as satisfying to play. The impact of Bayonetta is readily apparent today, with action games far and wide striving to capture the same kind of fluidity and dynamism. Platinum Games has since iterated on its concept, and with games like Bayonetta 2, Vanquish, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and Nier: Automata, the studio is now unquestionably the master of the character action genre.
Bayonetta is a game I frequently return to and it says a lot that it is as exhilarating to play today as it was back in 2010. It's so intelligently designed that someone completely unfamiliar with the genre can pick it up and instinctively understand how to play proficiently. But even those that want to mash buttons uncontrollably will be treated to something spectacular. It's a truly bewitching game. | Tamoor Hussain
Darksiders | January 5
The original Darksiders blends combo-focused combat and massive spectacle bosses with puzzle-oriented dungeons--creating an enjoyable gameplay loop of action and exploration. And the entire experience is all wrapped in a vibrant comic book aesthetic that still manages to look great ten years later. I didn’t play Darksiders for the first few years it was out. At first, I thought it was some throwaway B-level game that wouldn’t compare to everything else in my backlog. It wasn’t until after a friend lent me his copy that I saw past my preconceptions and fell in love with Darksiders' world and gameplay. I would go on to beat it in a week.
The detailed and hyper-stylized comic book aesthetic, designed by Battle Chaser artist Joe Madureira, presented a unique look that made it stand apart from other games back in 2010. When combined with the satisfying combat and traversal abilities, it all made for a game brimming with personality. I adore how fluid the combat still feels to this day. The boss fights themselves feel like massive puzzles, ripped straight out of The Legend of Zelda, and you’ll have to utilize all the tools you’ve unlocked thus far to conquer them. The entire game is like a mid-2000’s heavy metal album cover brought to life, in all its cheesiness and grandiosity. Every few years, I find myself wanting to revisit Darksiders’ abandoned metropolis, the overgrown, derelict subway tunnels, its towering celestial citadels to slay demons and angels alike. If you’re a fan of third-person action games, Darksiders is well worth returning to a decade later. | Joshua Mobley
VVVVVV | January 10
When I eventually heard about VVVVVV through word of mouth, it wasn't until a couple of years after its initial release. While I've always been more of a console gamer, it intrigued me enough to dust the cobwebs off of my Steam account to see what the game was all about. What I was greeted with was a retro throwback to Metroidvania style games, complete with chiptune-music and graphics straight out of the Commodore 64--and I absolutely adored it.
VVVVVV has its own unique gameplay mechanic: your character can't jump, but they can flip gravity whenever they're touching a platform. This means your only means of traversal is running and switching gravity, so you're either on the floor or ceiling. You're then set loose in an open environment where you can decide whatever direction you want to head, and explore to collect various collectibles as well as complete your vague mission of finding missing crew members. There's no real direction you're given at the beginning of the game, and no hand-holding through the difficult challenges and minor puzzles. The game can get extremely difficult, with certain optional puzzles verging on excruciating, yet all of this only makes VVVVVV so charming. The game truly does feel like a classic lost in time. And for me, it served as a sterling example of the fantastic indie scene I had been missing out on. | Dave Klein
Mass Effect 2 | January 26
Mass Effect 2 was my jumping-on point for BioWare's acclaimed sci-fi trilogy (don't worry, I did go back and play the first game too). I loved it then and I love it now. The game features an incredibly compelling opening that hooks me from the start (killing the series' main character), has one of my favorite DLC expansions (Lair of the Shadow Broker), and introduces the best video game romance in the franchise (it's Shepard and Tali; you absolutely will not change my mind about this).
In comparison to the first game, Mass Effect 2 doesn't do anything fundamentally different. If anything, the largest change between the original game and Mass Effect 2 is in how the latter adopts mechanics from other cover-based shooters to create a more action-oriented experience. This makes Mass Effect 2 far less frustrating to replay in comparison to its predecessor--combat in the original Mass Effect has long felt outdated and clunky by modern-day standards.
Because of how well it has held up and how much fun it is to replay, Mass Effect 2 was the first game I ever nabbed every Xbox Achievement for. It sort of happened by accident, but I found the act of completing the game to be so satisfying that I went on to do the same in many of my other favorite games. So really, the reason why I can't uninstall a game until it's completed is not because of my own lack of self-control and incessant need to be validated, it's all Mass Effect 2's fault for being good enough to give me the itch. | Jordan Ramée
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars | January 26
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars, a fighting game for Wii that borrows half its cast from a Japanese publisher with a tiny footprint in the West, almost remained a Japanese exclusive. It seemed directly aimed at a Japanese audience, and the few familiar properties that had been exposed to Westerners belonged to disparate license holders, presumably creating a legal nightmare for Capcom during localization. Yet a year after its release in Japan, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom found its way to store shelves in the West, with new characters and features to boot, which would eventually be rereleased back in its home territory.
I was thrilled when the time came for me to finally play Tatsunoko vs. Capcom in English. It was such an odd pairing of properties, but filtered through Capcom's then-wacky side, it was a breath of fresh air compared to Street Fighter IV. Don't get me wrong, I was completely swept up in that game too. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, however, let me revel in its over-the-top personalities and animations, placing the emphasis on having a blast rather than honing my competitive edge. It was simple to play and wildly energetic, and something about its Wii exclusivity gave it (in my head) a chip on its shoulder. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom was just a ton of fun if you could find someone willing to give it a try with you.
Ten years after its release in the West, we're effectively back where we started: Capcom lost all the necessary rights to publish the game in 2012, and the odds of it being rereleased or ported to modern consoles is currently slimmer than ever. That means it remains a Wii exclusive with backwards compatibility on Wii U. Normally, a quality game under these conditions would only appreciate in value over the years. Yet, a quick look on eBay reveals the going rate for complete used copies hovers just above $20 on average. Maybe that speaks to the popularity of Wii games, or to the popularity of this game in particular. I personally see it as a victim of circumstance, overshadowed and underserved at a time when fighting games needed all the support and marketing they could get. When it all went to SFIV, this Wii fighting game barely stood a chance. For those in the know, it was and will always be one of the most interesting fighting games in Capcom's catalog. | Peter Brown
Bioshock 2 | February 9
I've always had a soft spot for Bioshock 2. When it first came out, there were several common criticisms thrown at it. At the time, many people felt it was an unnecessary sequel, that the main character being a Big Daddy removed the tension, and that the multiplayer was added in only in an attempt to increase sales. However, as time goes by and the original Bioshock's faults become more noticeable, I find myself wanting to return to Bioshock 2 instead.
The game does so much to enhance and improve the original game's design. Combat and plasmids were given an overhaul, and the ability to use both at the same time made the combat flow in a way that was incredibly satisfying. The story was fantastic in that it actively challenged the plot of its predecessor, analyzing, critiquing, and debating the philosophies that built Rapture in the first place, all while giving nuanced context to the city's downfall.
The multiplayer was also a lot of fun in my view. For as much grief as people gave it both before and at launch, it maintained a sizable community of players for a long while. Even years after its release, I would occasionally go back to the flooded halls of Rapture to take part in the civil war that tore the failed society apart. The weapons felt just like they did in the single-player modes, the plasmids had practical uses both in and out of combat, and you could level up your character and create personalized loadouts. Fighting over the Big Daddy suit that would spawn in the middle of the match was exhilarating and could turn the tables on your opponents in many cases. It was a lot of fun, and I still wish I could jump back into it to this day.
Bioshock 2 in many ways holds up better than the original game, and is still worth a second look a decade later. | Joshua Mobley
Dante's Inferno | February 9
In early 2010, I was excited to see the conclusion of the original God of War trilogy. While I was awaiting the release of the third mainline game in March, another combo-heavy action game caught my eye: Dante's Inferno. There's no hiding the similarities between Dante's Inferno and God of War--both are very much alike in their gameplay, but instead of Greek mythology, Dante's Inferno turns its eyes to the fiction of Dante Alegheri's epic poem, The Divine Comedy.
But you know what? Despite the similar game mechanics, I didn't care. Find me another adventure that explores the Nine Circles of Hell like Dante's Inferno. The setpieces range from boiling rivers of blood, to piles of gold, to solid ice. As Dante leaps across these platforms, he battles with a giant scythe, slicing down all manner of imaginative demons. The Circle of Greed is home to giant worms that feast on the souls of the dead, and Heresy is full of quasi-religious wizards. Thematic enemy design is an inspiring touch that sticks in my mind, but boss encounters are even more memorable. These pit me against giant monsters, historical figures like Queen Cleopatra, and even Satan himself.
Over the past 10 years, I've journeyed through countless other stages and fought many more monsters, but the underworld of Dante's Inferno sticks with me. Other action series like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry have a religious bent, but none of them deal so blatantly with the tenets of Christianity like Dante's Inferno. A decade later, I still wish I'd gotten the chance to experience the rest of The Divine Comedy through Purgatory and Paradise. | Tony Wilson
Heavy Rain | February 23
Heavy Rain is one of the seminal narrative games that I compare all subsequent narrative games to. It's particularly impressive in the way it develops characters, plays with expectations of the mystery genre, and weaves the experiences of multiple protagonists into one cohesive narrative. These elements are something I've hoped to see in every Quantic Dream game that came after, but the developer never quite hit the same storytelling heights. Every character in Heavy Rain is genuinely interesting and distinct, the overarching mystery is compelling, and even the quick time events that don't lead you to a fail state feel tense and important in each action sequence. The branching storyline combined with established characters lets you feel like you're directing the narrative, but the characters are still bound to motivations and vices outside of your control, which keeps them interesting.
I've never been a big fan of trophy hunting, but Heavy Rain is one of the few cases I recall printing out a list of every possible trophy and crossing them off. It is such an easy game to play again, though nothing compares to following the story to its conclusion for the very first time and seeing who lives, who dies, and where everybody ends up when all is said and done. Heavy Rain is easy to recommend and, like all Quantic Dream games, just as much fun to talk about and compare experiences with friends. I've played so many games with wonderful narratives, but the twists and turns of Heavy Rain, the tense dramatic moments, and the culmination of the mystery in the game's final moments are completely unforgettable, even ten years on. Even if it does make me giggle every time I hear someone call out "Shaun" or "Jason". | Jess McDonell
Deadly Premonition | February 23
I was sitting in a coffee shop the first time I heard about Deadly Premonition. It was 2012 in the dead of an upstate New York winter, and my obsession with Twin Peaks was as ever-present. I was sitting with a friend who was politely indulging in one of my many barrages about the 90s television show, when he asked if I had heard of Deadly Premonition. I hadn't, but like a Twin Peaks addict on withdrawal, the strange details about the game suddenly had me itching for a fix.
Problem was, it was an Xbox 360 exclusive; a console I didn't own. But that wasn't going to stop me. Blind with desire, I drove to the nearest video game retailer and bought a used copy of the game. An hour later, I was standing knee-deep in the snow of a downtown street purchasing an Xbox 360 from a fourteen-year-old boy off Craigslist who rode up on an ATV.
After wiping down my newly purchased 360 with rubbing alcohol to disinfect it of its previous home, I booted up Deadly Premonition. What proceeded was an oxymoron of a video game experience. Everything about it felt dated from a generation prior: its visuals were bland, the controls were counterintuitive, animations were stiff, and the world map was exhaustively vacant and sprawling to a fault. But accompanied by all of its glaring flaws was its bizarre characters, the remarkably absurd yet brilliant writing-- all of which was packaged with a Sombre jazz soundtrack that felt strangely appropriate.
There was a holistic sense of vision beyond the game's rough exterior. I was engrossed in it, and unabashedly on board till the very end. It's a flawlessly imperfect experience, that not only transcended my initial love of Twin Peaks but challenged the value I seek in other games following it.
Unfortunately, that used Xbox 360 stopped working six months later. I sold it for parts to another young man wearing Family Guy pajama pants outside the same coffee shop I had first learned about Deadly Premonition. Before the transaction was complete, he asked me if I had any remote control helicopters. I didn't. | Kurt Indovina
Mega Man 10 | March 1
Capcom's 2008 revival of its dormant action franchise, Mega Man 9, was a retro-style throwback that I enjoyed as a novelty, but it left room for improvement. The pixel-art style from the NES classics was an especially nostalgic touch, but it was clear Capcom was out of practice with balancing a classic Mega Man game. The follow-up, Mega Man 10, released just two years later and wasn't quite as novel as the first attempt, but it took fan feedback to heart and even added a few new bells and (Proto) whistles.
Mega Man has always been known for its brutal difficulty, but Mega Man 9 pushed the envelope a little too far. Finding the right difficulty to engage without overly frustrating is a precarious balance, and MM9 missed the mark. Mega Man 10 eased up just enough to hit the sweet spot to recall the nail-biting action without prompting me to rip my hair out or give up. It also made Proto Man a playable character right from the start, rather than as DLC, which felt like a more modern approach to extra content. Capcom did add another fan favorite through downloadable content, the rival robot Bass.
Any game in its tenth iteration is going to feel a little stale, but both Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10 were aided by the long silence after MM8 on the PlayStation. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. And as a proof of concept, it showed that there was still life to be had in the tough-as-nails side-scrolling platformer, which Capcom would capitalize on to even greater effect with Mega Man 11. | Steve Watts
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 | March 2
When I was 23, I was scrolling through the Comcast TV guide menu, paying for cable like a caveman, when I noticed that I was having trouble reading the text on the screen from the distance I was sitting. While it seemed odd, I didn't think too much of it and kept watching, but over the next year, my eyesight got noticeably worse. I went to the optometrist and picked up a pair of prescription glasses. The world seemed noticeably different. I could see individual leaves. I could spot street signs two blocks ahead. I could read a book without having to hold it six inches from my nose. It was a revelatory feeling, this brand new world I had forgotten.
Yet, no sensation in my life is quite comparable to playing the demo for Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on my Xbox 360 for the first time. I'd played my fair share of multiplayer shooters by 2010--Medal of Honor, Timesplitters, Halo, and Call of Duty, to name a few--but Battlefield was the first game I played that provided the exhilaration of storming an objective through a haze of gunfire and explosions with its refreshing mode, Rush.
It wasn't all glory on the battlefield, though. More often than not, while playing the objective, you'd turn around and see three-quarters of your team attempting to snipe back at your spawn. Airdropping into the enemy spawn was a gamble because you could never be quite sure if the helicopter you climbed into at the beginning of the round was piloted by someone who actually knew how to fly it. That said, try to tell me that any quick scope from Call of Duty was ever as satisfying as lining up that snipe from 750 meters out and pulling the trigger. | Nick Sherman
Final Fantasy XIII | March 9
Final Fantasy XIII isn't one of the popular Final Fantasies, but whether its remembered fondly by the masses is irrelevant--like it or not, FFXIII marks a critical turning point for one of gaming's classic series. It began life as a new, major entry in the franchise, but it was announced alongside multiple other games as part of a new sub-series, Fabula Nova Crystallis, which would eventually encompass seven games over an equal number of years. There was a lot wrapped up in FFXIII's announcement, and the lasting impact of its conception would carry on for nearly 15 years until the release of Final Fantasy XV, which started life as a very different game: Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
Though its legacy is clouded by bigger-picture consequences, that actually makes FFXIII a valuable game to re-examine in isolation a full decade after its release. Part of the initial knee-jerk response to the game was due to its non-traditional elements, which, to be fair, flew counter to what were then considered essential facets of a Final Fantasy game. Sure, both Final Fantasy XI and XII were non-traditional in their own way, but you also wouldn't confuse them for a typical Final Fantasy at first blush, as one was online only and the other was built in the vein of an online experience. FFXIII was supposed to be the next big traditional Final Fantasy, but players were in for a surprise when they discovered that it was mostly linear, and that the turn-based combat system leaned heavily on AI, stripping away direct control in favor of assigning and managing allies' behavior profiles.
For little else than these two reasons, FFXIII was written off by a lot of people--myself included. And in retrospect, I wish I hadn't have been so short-sighted. Yes, I wanted a different type of game at that time, and that's OK, but I've since learned the value of experimentation and a bit of patience. FFXIII was a risky move by Square Enix and the dev team, and marked the genesis of an adventurous design spirit that would carry forth into Final Fantasy XIII-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII--games that continually contorted familiar concepts and further set FFXIII (as a whole) apart from the series as we knew it. It's funky, often maligned, and rarely praised, yet it's worth asking: was FFXIII ahead of its time? I would have laughed at the question back in 2010, but it doesn't seem like such a far-fetched idea today. | Peter Brown
God of War III | March 16
There was so much excitement around God of War III's release. It was one of Sony's biggest flagship PS3-exclusives, but more importantly, it was the final chapter in Kratos' bloody quest for vengeance against the gods of Olympus. So you can understand why folks were eager to see it through, especially after God of War II's literal cliffhanger ending. While it's not the most consistent in the series, the game's masterful execution of spectacle was more than enough to satisfy longtime fans, myself included. With grand set-pieces and gnarly displays of ultra-violence, developer Sony Santa Monica didn't hesitate to deliver on everything it had been building up to at that point.
It's almost as if the game's premise alone guaranteed that it would be fun and ridiculous. After all, Kratos' goal in God of War III is to kill all the major Olympian gods, which kept the journey exciting and varied. I vividly remember my first time playing it. I was with a group of college friends who I'd recently introduced to the series. We binged through the first two games, and they loved it so much that we all agreed to pitch in to buy the third so we could experience it together. I'll always remember how enthralled we were scaling Mount Olympus, brutalizing Cronos in the Pits of Tartarus, and finally killing Zeus. And of course, who could forget ripping off Helios' head? I certainly wish I could. The sheer amount of rage-fueled god murder we committed undoubtedly made for an engaging group activity, allowing us to share in the glee and occasional disgust the game's myriad twists and turns made us feel.
God of War III was a special event when I first played it with my friends a decade ago, but it still endures as a remarkable display of the franchise at its peak. While the recent God of War reboot transformed and reinvigorated what the series could be, there's something about the third entry's decadent and unwavering commitment to gratuitous violence and high-flying action that's still so captivating.
But seriously, the entrail levels were off the charts in God of War III, and I still pray to this day to forget it. | Matt Espineli
Just Cause 2 | March 23
The original Just Cause came out in 2006 amidst a flurry of open-world games like Saints Row and The Godfather. It felt like a game without an identity; I remember loving pieces of it, particularly those that embraced what originally was so compelling to me about Grand Theft Auto III: screwing around. As is often the case with the second entry in an open-world action game series, Just Cause 2 saw Avalanche Studios find its footing with a distinct, over-the-top action game where the story and missions are very much secondary to the sheer joy of playing around in its sandbox. While it still had a lot in common with other open-world games--it wasn't the only one where fly planes and helicopters, parachute from high up in the air, or blow up structures--it's the way that Just Cause 2 doubles down on letting you do some stupid stuff that drew me back for years after release.
Specifically, it's the game's grappling hook that enables so much of the fun--and it's something I find myself missing in almost every other open-world game I play. With a large game world and the mediocre ground-based driving, I instead relied on pulling myself along with the grappling hook, which allows you to launch yourself into the air and into your parachute to navigate the world. This immediately gives a much different feel to the world, as there is a level of verticality to any given area. It's fun to blow things up from the ground, but if you can do so while up in the air, it's even more entertaining. Flying a plane around is cool, but you know what's cooler? Jumping out and riding on top of it while you shoot down an enemy and then jumping back inside. Or hanging from the bottom of a helicopter while you do the same.
Just Cause 2 still has the requisite missions and structure you'd expect from a game like this, but it's largely happy to stay out of the way. What I've always appreciated about the series is its willingness to let me have the uninhibited fun that I want to have. Just Cause 2 remains fun for this reason, even if its sequels have only taken this further and are probably now more worth your time if you're looking to check out the series. | Chris Pereira
Sam & Max The Devil's Playhouse | April 15
There was an era of Telltale Games that existed before they hit the big time with The Walking Dead, before they became trapped in a cycle of crunching out games attached to enormous licenses from Marvel, DC, HBO, and Universal. In 2010, Telltale Games was, at least to me, just a small bunch of ex-LucasArts folks who wanted to keep making adventure games like Monkey Island and Sam & Max. And that's pretty much what they did.
The return of Sam & Max was one of their early episodic successes, and the first two seasons were, if memory serves, actually pretty good! They retained the sharp-witted spirit of the lovable anthropomorphs and helped reset the stage for American-style adventure games in the years to follow. But The Devil's Playhouse, the third and final season of Sam & Max, felt like a turning point to me at the time. This was the season where it was clear that Telltale had finally honed their own brand of game. This season made a big impact. They had finally locked this format down.
The Devil's Playhouse was bonkers, even for a Sam & Max game. Presented in a Twilight Zone-style wrapper, it was a wild ride involving space gorillas, ancient Pharaohs, psychic powers, clones, and evil ventriloquist dummies, among other wild things. The comedic performances and writing behind the characters felt like they were the strongest they had ever been. But more importantly, the season exhibited a notable jump in Telltale's cinematic style, technical execution, and overall production values that set a new standard for the next decade. It was also one of the first games on the newly-arrived iPad, which opened up their doors to a huge, new audience for their narrative adventures.
It's not likely we'll see our beloved Sam & Max burst onto the scene again anytime soon (which is a tragedy) and the Telltale Games that exists now is certainly not the one we knew 10 years ago. But the studio undoubtedly made a huge impression on video games in the last decade, and I'd like to think that anyone who was playing The Devil's Playhouse in 2010 was there to witness the birth of it. | Edmond Tran
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction | April 27
With the first four Splinter Cell games, Ubisoft had developed a particular formula focusing on a tempered and methodical style of stealth-action. It's an approach that I absolutely loved, and I believed it was perfected in the third game Chaos Theory. So, I was hesitant at first when Conviction would lean into a more mainstream style of third-person action. The narrative shift away from techno-political thriller and toward Sam Fisher's personal life was another aspect I was suspect about. But overall, it turned out surprisingly well.
Conviction allowed you to move like a highly trained mercenary with the addition of the execution mechanic; you can simply mark targets and silently take them down in one fell swoop. At times, it took away some of the traditional stealth challenges, but it was the right way to balance the de-emphasis on stealth mechanics. The highlight, however, was that Sam Fisher came into his own as a character. Rather than a being pawn of the NSA, a government agent with the occasional sarcastic quip, we saw him internalize a lot of his own trauma and act in desperation following a family tragedy. Looking back, I can appreciate the direction Splinter Cell took after four games with Conviction as it was one of my more memorable games of 2010. | Michael Higham
Super Street Fighter IV | April 27
In 2020 we're perhaps more weary of re-releases and updated versions of games, but when Super Street Fighter IV launched in 2010, it was exciting; very much a case of getting more of something great. Vanilla Street Fighter IV was a momentous moment in video gaming. It brought back one of the most beloved franchises of all time and, in many ways, re-energized the fighting game scene. Super capitalized on this by adding more depth to a game that had already built up a passionate, obsessive community.
Undoubtedly the most significant addition was 10 new characters, some of which were returning fighters like T. Hawk and Deejay, who sparked nostalgia for the Street Fighter II era. Others like Adon, Cody, and Guy, represented the Alpha series (or Final Fight for the latter two), while the likes of Dudley, Ibuki, and Makoto were a nod to the Street Fighter III devotees. Two new characters--slightly psychotic Taekwondo user Juri and everyone's favorite oily boy Hakan--also joined the roster, expanding the cast of colorful characters.
Super Street Fighter IV was when I became most obsessed with the game, and in many ways, it felt like Capcom rewarding my lifelong obsession with the series. Not only did it represent the many eras of Street Fighter I held so dear, but it allowed me to fall in love with those characters all over again by learning to play them in a whole new game with fresh mechanics. The competitive scene was given a shot in the arm and, for those who enjoyed watching Street Fighter as much as playing it, it was a golden era. Exciting rivalries were created, new champions were crowned, and playing fighting games never felt so thrilling. | Tamoor Hussain
Alan Wake | May 18
Alan Wake was my first experience with Remedy Entertainment's games, and it immediately sold me as a fan of the studio. Remedy took some of its action pedigree--it was best-known for the Max Payne series--and applied it to a horror-thriller framework. It worked surprisingly well, creating a thrilling experience where you run through the forests of the Pacific Northwest and use a flashlight and pistol to fight off ax-wielding murderers and possessed objects. But it was Alan Wake's approach to its story that really made it special.
In Alan Wake, Remedy's influences are proudly on display. It's a Stephen King story by way of Twin Peaks, following a writer who's beset on all sides by supernatural monstrosities, wondering if he's really facing off some kind of unknowable evil force, or just losing his mind. As you play as novelist Alan, you find his latest manuscript coming to life around him, which creates a story you're both experiencing as it unfolds and seemingly powerless to understand or alter. Coupled with voice-over narration, the effect brings you closer to Alan as a character than you might otherwise feel in most games. That closeness to the characters helps make the weird world of Alan Wake feel more intimate and believable, and it's a testament to just how lovingly crafted it is that we're still interested in seeing Remedy continue to explore that world through its games--most recently by linking it to Control--10 years later. | Phil Hornshaw
Red Dead Redemption | May 18
A decade later, I still think about Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption on a regular basis. When I first played it back in 2010, I was swept away by the atmospheric world, its sharp commentary on the American Dream, and--of course--the outlaw who can't seem to shake his dark past, John Marston.
At the time, I loved Red Dead Redemption simply for what it was: an open-world Western fantasy. I could steal horses, camp out in the wild frontier, or get plastered at a saloon. Rockstar has always been known for giving players an unprecedented sense of freedom, but Red Dead Redemption felt like a huge step forward. I spent hours and hours exploring every nook and cranny of that world, wringing out every drop of information I could.
However, it wasn't until recently that I really began to appreciate John Marston and his tragic story. Despite his violent past and his obvious blunders, it's hard not to root for John. The deck is stacked against him every step of the way, yet he tries so hard to build a better future for his family. And of course, it all builds to one of the best--if not the best--endings to a video game.
Now, 10 years later, you can find a laundry list of games that rival and surpass Red Dead Redemption's sense of freedom, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another game with the emotional punch and nuance of Red Dead Redemption's story, characters, and world. | Jake Dekker
Super Mario Galaxy 2 | May 23
The original Super Mario Galaxy marked a stunning return to form for the series when it arrived in 2007, but its follow-up, Super Mario Galaxy 2, was even more remarkable. Despite lacking the initial novelty of the plumber's first space-faring adventure, Mario Galaxy 2 built upon its predecessor's foundation with a wealth of its own inventive ideas, resulting in one of the most consistently delightful games of its era.
Like the original title, Mario Galaxy 2 eschewed the sandbox-style environments of Mario 64 and Sunshine for a collection of denser, more linear challenges. Not only did Nintendo significantly amp up the difficulty of these stages for this sequel, but nearly every level in the game explored a new gameplay idea or mechanic, which made each new galaxy you unlocked a surprise; one of my personal favorites involved carefully guiding a bubble-encased Mario past roving lava monsters.
This creativity extended to Mario Galaxy 2's arsenal of power-ups, which still stand among the most fun abilities the plumber has ever used. Chief among them was Yoshi, who received his own new clutch of skills vital for navigating many of the game's stages. This time around, the dino's prehensile tongue could be used to slingshot him and Mario into the air, and certain berries Yoshi consumed would confer different powers, like the ability to illuminate darkened levels.
Galaxy 2 also dwarfed its predecessor in terms of content. The game featured a staggering number of stars to recover--242 in total, the last of which was hidden at the end of one of the most devious Mario levels ever created. There's a good reason Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of the few games to earn a rare 10 out of 10 from GameSpot, and it remains just as impressive a decade on from its original release. | Kevin Knezevic
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker | June 8
To be frank, I wasn't that impressed with the PSP for much of the handheld's lifespan. With a somewhat awkward shape and a noticeable lack of a second analog stick, I mostly saw the handheld as something of a novelty. While I liked the idea of diving into PlayStation games on the go, nothing in the PSP's growing library made me want to go out and get one--especially when I could wait for an inevitable console port of the must-haves. From its launch up until 2010, the PSP didn't do much for me. What changed my mind was Hideo Kojima's latest Metal Gear Solid game, which was apparently the biggest of the series.
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the game that I bought a PSP for, and in my eyes, it's still the game that defines the handheld. While it wasn't the first PSP MGS game, following both AC!D strategy games and Portable Ops, Peace Walker's scale and nuanced plot were much more in-line with what I loved most about the series, plus some influence from Capcom's Monster Hunter. As a direct follow-up to Metal Gear Solid 3, Peace Walker somehow ratchets up the Cold War-era paranoia and military surrealism even more with a story highlighting the role of AI in the battlefield and the actual cost of peace circa-1974.
Peace Walker has a keen awareness of the limitations of the handheld, which in turn makes it a more digestible form of tactical espionage action. In addition to a myriad of control customization options--I had to get used to the PSP's infamous "claw grip" quickly--it also ditched lengthy and elaborate missions in favor of bite-sized levels that were perfect during my commutes. Despite having to deal with the limitations of the platform, Peace Walker turned out to be the most forward-thinking MGS game at the time. Taking what worked from Portable Ops, Peace Walker nearly perfected the concept of Big Boss building an army of his own--by any means necessary. It would even serve as the model for future MGS games onward, with The Phantom Pain extrapolating many of its PSP sibling's innovations, focusing on base-building, crew-management, and extensive crafting systems.
Even 10 years later, and after it was ported to the PS3 like I initially hoped, I still look back on Peace Walker on the PSP fondly. I took the handheld a bit more seriously afterward and quickly found a lot to like with games like Dissidia: Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep. Still, Peace Walker is the game of the handheld for me. I couldn't get enough of the hammy plot that still managed to nail its political gravitas, even when coming from characters as absurd as Hot Coldman. Despite how ridiculous much of the story is, it somehow nails many of its key moments--especially with iconic tracks like Heaven's Divide blaring during the background. Many fans of the series see Peace Walker as a side story to the numbered entries in the series, but for me, this massive, yet still little, MGS game sits quite comfortably alongside the others. | Alessandro Fillari
Limbo | July 10
There's a peculiar feeling of foreboding and intrigue when I play the opening moments of Limbo. The game without any leading cutscene or premise simply had me stare at a screen anxiously waiting to get my bearings. In my secluded room on a whirring Xbox 360 Elite, I see the protagonist open his eyes, their stark white blinking in contrast to the grainy stylized dark background--leaving little doubt that the aesthetic of this game would pack some memorable surprises. Limbo left such a lasting impression on me with its gameplay and platform design but I'm most impressed with how it crafts a narrative without uttering a single word, the game's ambiance created solely through its chilling soundtrack and the nightmarish movements of the creatures that inhabit its world.
10 years later, I still occasionally play Limbo on current-gen consoles. In a world where I have played my share of half-baked and functionally absent indie games, seeing how polished Limbo remains a decade later stops me from growing cynical towards non-AAA games. In fact it's the thought of Limbo that has me eager every time I get a chance to play a new game I'm unfamiliar with. I always end up searching for that same feeling I get when lost in Limbo's world, trapped between terrifying spiders, mind-controlling bugs, and shuddering moments of reprieve.
Prior to Limbo's release, I didn't think indie games could deliver as much as a heavy-hitting knockout punch in comparison to their AAA competitors. Limbo entered the fray swinging with its equal parts mystery and satisfying puzzle platforming, delivering a symbolic ending that will never fail to send shivers down my spine. | David Ahmadi
StarCraft II: Wings Of Liberty | July 27
StarCraft was one of those games that took on a life of its own, spawning an incredible competitive scene that spilled into much of its core player base. Blizzard nailed the RTS genre at the time in 1998, then perfected it a year later with the expansion Brood War. Then the wait for a follow up in the StarCraft series would last 11 years. So, when I knew for sure that StarCraft II would come in 2010, I counted down the days for launch that summer.
StarCraft II: Wings Of Liberty kicked off the three-part rollout, and right from the start, I dove right into competitive play, learning optimal build orders and adaptive strategies for certain situations. And finally, we had a StarCraft game with the modernizations of proper matchmaking and an ELO-style ranking system. Blizzard also created a tremendous single-player campaign that lived up to the narrative watermarks of the original game, even as Wings Of Liberty solely focused on Jim Raynor and played through the guise of Terran units. It was a pretty easy romp, but great nonetheless.
It may not have made the lasting impact as its predecessor, but Starcraft II was still an expertly refined game and an absolute blast that tapped into the things we loved about RTS and the StarCraft franchise. | Michael Higham
Amnesia: The Dark Descent | September 8
One of the things I think slasher movies get wrong about horror is that they'd rather show you blood and guts than set up a genuinely chilling atmosphere. In the realm of video games, few studios nail atmosphere and tone as well as Frictional Games does with Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Not only does Amnesia keep the blood and guts to a minimum, it actively punishes the player for looking at its ghastly enemies. Amnesia's foes are few and far between, and the game takes its time to make sure you feel the fear and solitude of its castle before it ups the ante and turns its villains into a real threat. Even then, though, you'll probably scare yourself through the tension of what might happen more than what actually does--except for the invisible water monster in the flooded Archives, that thing can go right back to the hell from whence it came.
Amnesia also arrived at a time when streamer culture was escalating, and there was the quick realisation that it was the perfect game to subject other people to--or watch streamers subject themselves to. Day's terrified playthrough of Amnesia where he's accompanied by a stuffed rabbit named Manfred remains one of my favourite things on the internet. The game sparked an entire culture around what survival horror games could be, and it showed true mastery in how to establish atmosphere and engage players. Even 10 years later there is still nothing quite like it, and you better believe I'll be making my friends play it in 2020 and watch their steady devolution into absolute terror. When we're scared, we experience a rush of adrenaline which releases endorphins and dopamine. So, scientifically, Amnesia is a literal joy to play. It's no wonder people look back on it so fondly. | Jess McDonell
Halo: Reach | September 10
Halo: Reach was an anomaly for the blockbuster franchise and one that was strangely fitting for Bungie's swan song. The studio that created Microsoft's most iconic game franchise went out on a high note. Halo: Reach hinted at ideas that would manifest in both future Halo and Destiny games, expanded the universe, and told a story about the rigors and sacrifice of war with heart.
I have an affection for the Master Chief, but the single greatest Halo story in video games doesn't feature him at all. Reach has a looming sense of dread for those who know the history of the doomed planet, so it's unsurprising that Noble Team slowly whittles down to nothing. The most significant moment of the story happens at the very end when your Spartan faces against insurmountable odds. For once, the objective isn't victory or escape. The situation is hopeless, and you simply need to take as many Covenant with you before the inevitable.
The ambiguous nature of Noble Six's identity afforded the opportunity to customize the hero Spartan character to our liking. This accomplished the dual objective of making the campaign feel more personalized and making the whole experience feel more cohesive. It's a template Bungie would use years later for Destiny. 343 Industries, the new stewards of Halo, would further explore the team dynamic in the experimental but uneven Halo 5.
With another Halo game on the horizon, Reach still stands apart for its influence, its daring, and its sense of sacrifice. | Steve Watts
Castlevania: Lords of Shadows | October 5
Konami's Castlevania franchise had a rather sordid history with the third-dimension. While the 2D side-scrolling games are beloved, attempts to modernize it have resulted in--for the most part--less than stellar results. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, however, stands out as the exception, which came as a surprise certainly to me, but I imagine also to many others too. Given the history, we expected Lords of Shadow to, at best, be serviceable, but it turned out to be much more.
Admittedly, most of its ideas were borrowed from other games of the same ilk--the likes of Devil May Cry, God of War, and Shadow of the Colossus, for example--but it was hard to hold this against the game given its excellent execution.
Developer MercurySteam made Lords of Shadow feel like a grand adventure with a hero whose personal quest for vengeance and justice pits him against otherworldly forces of darkness. Lords of Shadow captured the mood of a Castlevania game as much as the fundamentals of its action and platforming gameplay. It was at times isolating, as protagonist Gabriel travels to realms of darkness and had a moody, dark tone that I really appreciated.
One of the most memorable moments, for me, is a puzzle sequence that takes place inside a music box, where players are asked to use their unlocked abilities to traverse around the internal workings of the device, while negotiating traps, to collect items. Admittedly, it's a fairly standard, video game moment, but the way in which Gabriel utilizes items and abilities reminded me of wandering through Dracula's castle in Castlevanias of old, shapeshifting to vault across large gaps, timing jumps to land on previously unreachable platforms to take me deeper. Admittedly, this moment has earned some criticism for being finicky and disrupting the pacing somewhat, but I'm a sucker for the understated music box version of Vampire Killer that plays throughout.
Lords of Shadows also managed to pull off a memorable twist in its finale. The revelations about Gabriel Belmont at the end laid the groundwork for a bold new version of the Castlevania universe and it was a compelling cliffhanger. Even now, it still packs a punch. | Tamoor Hussain
Enslaved: Odyssey To The West | October 5
In the Fall of 2010, developer Ninja Theory was in a weird place. During that September, it was announced that the next game in Capcom's Devil May Cry franchise was going to be made by a western developer, rebooting the demon-slaying action-series through a different lens. The reveal of DmC: Devil May Cry caused quite a stir, and it's still something that has stuck with the identity of the developer even 10 years later. One of the unfortunate casualties of this controversy was Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Ninja Theory's most overlooked game. I played it when it launched, and not only did I find a lot to like with the surprisingly emotional story set in a post-apocalyptic Earth with humanity struggling to survive against roaming machines, it ended up making me more optimistic about the developer taking on DMC.
As a retelling of the classic Chinese novel Journey to the West, Enslaved reimagines the story as a post-apocalyptic fable. While this conceit often inspires a derivative aesthetic, cluttering the landscape with different shades of grey and brown, as it turns out, Enslaved is one of the more colorful and vibrant games that I've played set in the post-apocalypse. Almost from the jump, I was taken in by the chemistry between the two protagonists, Monkey and Trip, who formed an uneasy bond to stay alive while exploring the ruins of the old world--which looked far more mythological in style than the familiar trappings of the genre. There's a pervasive sense of wonder throughout, and a lot of that was due to the strong writing and performances, with actor Andy Serkis playing Monkey.
In hindsight, Enslaved and DmC: Devil May Cry had a lot in common. They were not only re-interpretations of established stories, but they also managed to focus a lot on the value of companionship in a dangerous world, which can give rise to forming bonds with those you'd least expect. I truly enjoyed Enslaved for its Prince of Persia-style gameplay and combat, and I'm bummed out we'll never get a follow-up, but I'm happy with the game we got. In the end, it was a worthwhile journey, and it made me a fan of Ninja Theory from then on. | Alessandro Fillari
Vanquish | October 19
It's hard to believe that Platinum Games released Vanquish in the same year as Bayonetta. Despite looking like a rudimentary third-person cover-based shooter, it's the most experimental of the developer's two games in 2010. It's crazy to think that Platinum--a studio most known for its contributions to the character action genre--even made a shooter. But with director Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, The Evil Within) at the helm, Vanquish shocked and awed with its high-speed shooting, defying the genre's most established conventions with its frenetic pace.
What makes Vanquish endure to this day is its constant exuberance. The story is campy and silly, clearly choosing not to pander to the pretentious cloud of self-serious narratives dominating military shooters of the time. You play as Sam Gideon, a DARPA operative wearing a super-powered suit, who's on a mission to eliminate a Russian extremist dictator leading an army of evil robots on a space colony. Yes, the story is as endearing and dumb as it sounds, but it's really all about the combat in Vanquish. Oh, Lord, the combat.
Rather than take each firefight at a snail's pace, you're encouraged to boost slide out of cover and into the battlefield. You're always zipping past a hail of gunfire, triggering the bullet-time abilities of Sam's suit to pick off waves of robots with elegant ease. As a shooter, Vanquish is surprisingly as sophisticated and expressive as character action games like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. You can execute a variety of over-the-top tactics during firefights, like shooting a mid-air grenade to detonate it over an unsuspecting troop of enemies, or rocket slide kicking into an armored robot, backflipping off their mangled corpse, and delivering a shotgun blast to their comrade beside them. Stylishly ripping robots to shreds is wild and exhilarating, and it rarely gets old.
Once you take advantage of everything Sam can do, overcoming Vanquish's unrelenting challenges become an unabashed joy. It saddens me that more shooters didn't try copying the game's mechanics in the subsequent years since its release, but that only makes its accomplishments that much more remarkable. While Vanquish doesn't inhabit the same influential status as Bayonetta, it's undoubtedly one of the most distinctive games that Platinum has ever made, and one of my favorites of all time. | Matt Espineli
DJ Hero 2 | October 19
2010 was the year when peripheral-based rhythm-action games, which had been such a massive success, were on their way out the door. Ironically, 2010 was also the year when two of the best games in the genre were released. While Activision had already run the Guitar Hero concept into the ground at this point, elsewhere in the publisher, FreeStyleGames were turning up the heat with a sequel to DJ Hero--a game designed around turntabling and remix culture.
The DJ Hero concept continued to be a breath of fresh air through this era. It was a wildly different and exciting method of rhythm action interfacing, involving analog turntable scratching, faders, and dials on top of traditional button taps. It focussed on styles of music that were severely underrepresented in the genre's most popular titles, including hip-hop, R&B, electronica, dance, and soul. DJ Hero was the shakeup Western rhythm games sorely needed, and DJ Hero 2 was an excellent iteration of that concept--FreeStyleGames had gotten comfy in their new kicks and were ready to bring the house down.
The sequel included a swath of improvements--a slick new presentation, gameplay alterations that allowed for more creativity and player expression, a larger, broader, and all-around phenomenal tracklist, a comprehensive single-player mode, as well as a bunch of exciting online battle modes which were very appealing for the competitive crowd.
Unfortunately, DJ Hero 2 was to remain a favourite to critics and those cult fans only. Everyone else was done, and the game exhibited very low sales and naturally resulted in Activision shuttering the series. The genre had lost its mass appeal and would all but disappear in the following months. But for someone whose fever for rhythm games never died, DJ Hero 2 remains one of high points in my memory. Go listen to the soundtrack on YouTube and start a party. Vale FreeStyleGames. Vale DJ Hero 2. | Edmond Tran
Fallout: New Vegas | October 19
Of all the open-world Fallout games, the one that really nailed the role-playing aspect was New Vegas. When it launched 2010, it wasn't in a very good state, brought down by bugs and performance instability. But if you could just get past that, what lay ahead was post-apocalyptic Vegas full of dark humor, twisting narrative arcs, and some genuinely unpredictable outcomes from your actions.
In a power struggle between the makeshift governmental organization of the NCR and the absolutely irredeemable cult of Caesar's Legion, you hold massive influence. But you never really know that--as "The Courier," you're a nobody, a delivery person who happened to have a highly sought-after package. It's the best premise for giving you carte blanche. New Vegas hardly forces you in specific directions either; you really can align with or vilify multiple factions, choose wildly inconsistent dialogue and still have it make sense, and experience absurdity amid poignant story elements. Fallout always goes for creating a world that's stuck in '50s Americana, but New Vegas incorporates a strong old-timey Western atmosphere (especially in its music selection and radio stations) that charms and hooks you into its vast deserts and decrepit luxury.
Developer Obsidian took liberties with the franchise and put its own RPG stank on it, thus making it the best Fallout game (in my opinion). | Michael Higham
Super Meat Boy | October 20
For many, it was Demon's Souls or Dark Souls that provided people with a newfound appreciation for games that kick your ass, but for me, it was Super Meat Boy. I'd always enjoyed 2D platformers and spent a significant portion of my childhood throwing myself into the meat grinder that was Super Mario World's Special Zone levels, and Super Meat Boy tapped into that desire.
By the time of Super Meat Boy's release in 2010, new games appearing on Xbox Live Arcade weren't the event they once were, but it quickly caught my eye. The juxtaposition of this cute little square, bipedal meat man with the brutal violence that ensues when he inevitably runs into a buzzsaw or any number of other hazards makes for a striking image. The streak of meat you leave behind on any surface you touch, along with the juicy sound effects as you make contact with the level, further provides a distinct aesthetic to the whole experience (and never fails to elicit an "ew" from my wife).
But it's Super Meat Boy's precision gameplay that makes it an all-time favorite of mine. Between the wall-jumping (where you can slide down and/or jump up a vertical surface) and level of mid-air control you have, SMB felt great to play, and the instantaneous restarts upon death ensured the dozens (or hundreds) of failed attempts weren't as frustrating as they otherwise would be. Dying a lot could even add to the enjoyment, as it's always fun to watch the replay that simultaneously shows all of those attempts.
Super Meat Boy still holds up wonderfully today; it's as satisfying as ever, and ports over the years to PS4 and Nintendo Switch have provided new places to play it. However, those more recent versions do swap out the original Danny Baranowsky soundtrack, which for my money is as essential a component as anything else in SMB. Be sure to seek out the PC or Xbox 360 versions for the best experience. | Chris Pereira
Rock Band 3 | October 26
2010 was a great year for peripheral-based rhythm games. It was also effectively the last year for peripheral-based rhythm games. Rock Band, the multiplayer co-op band game that Harmonix created after separating from Guitar Hero and leaving it to its publisher Activision, was always considered by genre connoisseurs (i.e. me) to be the better, more refined game. The game whose presentation and mechanics worked in harmony to actually make you feel like you were truly in a band with your friends, and that you were actually playing the song. Rock Band defined almost a decade of my life, and Rock Band 3 represented the series at its biggest, best, and most ambitious.
If you remember the era you'll be familiar with the Rock Band concept--two guitar controllers, one drumset, and a microphone to belt out timeless rock and pop songs in time to a steady flow of colour-coded gems. While Rock Band 2 introduced dramatically improved controllers, a more robust campaign, and comprehensive online multiplayer modes, Rock Band 3 introduced an incredible amount of quality-of-life fixes, like being able to change instruments, difficulties, options, and band members anytime on the fly, as well as a robust character customisation creator that fed into the more intricate career and challenge modes.
But the biggest new additions? Three-part vocal harmonies. Keyboards. And real guitars. Rock Band 3 was the series' big push into teaching players to transfer their skills over to playing real instruments with a new "Pro" difficulty modifier. Drums were already there, with the inclusion of discrete cymbal inputs in Rock Band 2, and the new two-octave keyboard controller allowed for some pretty accurate note charts that used 26 black-and-white piano keys in addition to the standard five-button ones. But Harmonix (in partnership with Mad Catz) also released a 102-button guitar controller with strings to pick and strum at, while also partnering with Fender to release an actual electric guitar with controller inputs integrated into it. It was bonkers, and it all worked really well even if all of that stuff did cost me an arm and a leg.
And of course, the most important thing is that all of these new features ended up being backwards compatible with Rock Band's rolling library consisting of literally thousands of songs, a feat that no other rhythm game from this era managed to do. That library has continued to grow to a number that's closing in on 3000 with the release of the more focussed Rock Band 4 in 2015, and DLC songs continue to release even as I write this in 2020.
For me, nothing will ever beat the hundreds and hundreds of hours I spent playing Rock Band 3 with eager friends at parties, with colleagues in the office until the late hours at night, and by myself, all day every day, climbing the instrument leaderboards. | Edmond Tran
Dance Central | November 4
It's unfortunate that the Xbox's Kinect ended up being such a bust in the end. I like to think that new technology and innovative ways to play familiar games is something that should be embraced. Not to take over what we have, but as a new way to have fun. The Kinect also happened to feel like playing Disney Quest--an old virtual reality arcade Disney used to have in a few locations--but in my home!
2010 was a year developers and publishers were still all aboard the motion control trend, with Sony and Microsoft desperately trying to cash in on Nintendo's massive surprise success of the Nintendo Wii. While Sony created the abysmal Playstation Move, a parallel to the Wii controller but for the PS3, Microsoft came out with a genuinely interesting idea with the Kinect.
I was interning for G4TV when the Kinects first came in, and just about every producer, host, and editor scrambled in to check out what it was like. What we found out was that most of the games were pretty shallow, which likely part of why the Kinect failed.
However, one game stood out amongst what was mostly drivel (outside of Kinect Adventures, which I maintain is a great party game): Dance Central. Dance Central was Harmonix's foray into the Kinect. The same studio that had created the craze that was Guitar Hero. One of my passions--outside of video games--is b-boying. And, while you can't break in Dance Central, to my delight, the game truly worked. I felt like I was actually learning to become a better dancer, and learning new dance moves and combinations. Watching Ubisoft's continued success with the “Just Dance” series makes me a little sad because I believe that Dance Central was such a better game. It really stood as a testament that, when used correctly, the Kinect could be a lot of fun. | Dave Klein
Call of Duty: Black Ops | November 9
I was sure I wasn't going to buy Black Ops about a month before it released. I played quite a bit of Call of Duty 2, Modern Warfare, and Modern Warfare 2, so it was easy enough to convince myself that I got my fill of COD for the foreseeable future.
But then Activision released a particular trailer shortly before the game's release, and I enlisted for another round of COD. It wasn't the multiplayer overview showing off the new maps or the latest killstreaks. It wasn't the campaign trailer revealing the A-List voice talent behind its main characters or their Cold War-era escapades. No, it ended up being the trailer listing out all the ways you could personalize your loadout. Want a red-dot sight attachment that replaces the dot with a triangle? Want to make it purple? Want to add a weapon skin that had more flair than just tree or sand-colored patterns? How about creating the design of your own banner so you could show the rest of the world that you were cool and smoked weed? It showed to me that Call of Duty wasn't above not always taking itself so seriously. It also made the grind for unlocking new skins and flair more satisfying than ever.
With some of the best multiplayer maps the series had seen yet (vote Nuketown, you cowards), the frantic online battles was as stellar ever. The developers also introduced a currency system you could gamble in fantastic new game modes like Gun Game, Sticks and Stones, and One in the Chamber. In the money indeed.
With the numerics in COD titles such as Call of Duty: Black Ops IV, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, or Call of Duty: WW2 representing less and less with each iteration (“The numbers, Mason, what do they mean?!”), I'll always look back fondly to Black Ops when a departure from the status quo actually meant something for a Call of Duty game. | Nick Sherman
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors | November 16
I love escape room games. Ever since I first discovered the flash game “Crimson Room” in high school, I've regularly sought out the best room escapes online (shout out to Neutral Room Escapes and Mild Room Escape for being the best) and was thrilled when people took the initiative to make real-life escape rooms.
I remember reading about Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors--or 999, to make it simple--around the time it first came out. But for some reason, I didn't pick up the game until the mid-2000s when I was looking for something a little more niche to play. What I found was a fairly mediocre collection of room escapes, with most of the puzzles completely devoid of tension as the game is quick to give you hints.
But 999 also serves as a gripping visual novel. While the room escapes weren't as elaborate as I was hoping, I became completely entranced by the story and couldn't stop playing. When you begin the game, your character has been kidnapped, wakes up on a boat, and water starts pouring in as you have to figure out how to escape your room and eventually the ship itself.
You run into 8 other trapped characters and have to work together to escape through 9 doors within 9 hours-- hence 999. The game has branching paths and multiple endings, and it's very clear that someone trapped with you is a killer. The mysteries of the game had me staying up way too late playing the game, and despite its shortcomings, I absolutely fell in love with it, and eagerly picked up its sequels in the “Zero Escape” trilogy as soon as I could. | Dave Klein
Donkey Kong Country Returns | November 21
In 1994, I received a package in the mail from Nintendo. Seven-year-old me excitedly opened said package to find a VHS tape promoting and hyping up Donkey Kong Country. The game quickly made it to my Christmas list, and as I'd been good that year, I very clearly remember excitedly opening up a present containing Donkey Kong Country.
This was Rare's first major Nintendo game before the company would become synonymous with Nintendo during the N64 era, and it was absolutely fantastic. The graphics were stunning for the time, the gameplay was fantastic 16-bit platform action, and the music composed by David Wise remains some of Nintendo's best.
Sadly, after the SNES era and three Donkey Kong Country outings, it seemed to be a finished franchise. That was until Donkey Kong Country Returns. I was skeptical about picking up the game at first. While it was developed by Retro Studios, the same developer behind the fantastic Metroid Prime games, the game had implemented Nintendo Wii waggle controls. Not only that, I grew up during the NES and SNES era of platform games--and since then, a lot of games had lost any sense of difficulty--so I worried that DKC, known for being fairly difficult, would cater to this new design philosophy.
Instead, what I found was a fantastically designed game that was a welcome addition to the franchise. The waggle controls weren't great, but after some time I got used to them, and that classic difficulty was back. It was just the game I'd dreamed it could be, and maybe even more than that. | Dave Klein
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood | November 16
A lot of people will say that Assassin's Creed 2 is a major highpoint of Ubisoft's stealth-action series, but to me, Assassin's Creed didn't really hit its stride until that game's first sequel, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. It's the game where Ubisoft really started to refine the franchise and explore new territory, differentiating it from the sort of "Prince of Persia with stabbing" approach that had marked the first two games. First and foremost, Brotherhood ironed out a bunch of the problems that made the first two games huge and unwieldy. Thanks to fast travel, it was easier to get around the game's huge maps, and the ridiculous number of collectibles actually mattered--affecting how you played the game and how its story developed.
But the best part of Brotherhood was how it started to experiment with the underlying Assassin's Creed formula in some really creative ways. Your job wasn't just to work as a lone assassin, knocking off evil Templars with your hidden blade--you were building up the order, recruiting new Assassins, and using them strategically in different situations. Brotherhood is also the game that introduced Assassin's Creed's incredibly inventive multiplayer mode. To take on other assassins, you had to blend into crowds of NPCs to ambush your opponents. You literally had to try to pretend not to be human in order to win. It was a great take on the core ideas of Assassin's Creed, and in a time when every game franchise was forcing multiplayer into its titles in hopes of becoming the next Call of Duty, Ubisoft actually created something that didn't just feel shoehorned in. | Phil Hornshaw
Gran Turismo 5 | November 24
Often times, when a game becomes the pinnacle of graphical fidelity and the one people look at and say, "Wow, this is so realistic, I couldn't tell it was a game," it's likely an exaggeration. But 2010 was the first time I shared that sentiment when Gran Turismo 5 came around. You could look at the screenshots taken in its photo mode and think of them as well-shot and finely edited pictures from a car meet or motorsport magazine. It was already an incredible technical achievement for a game to look so good on PlayStation 3, but GT5 managed to also be an immaculately tuned racing sim.
I always had a soft spot for racing sims due in large part to the early Gran Turismo games, which eventually influenced my own endeavors in motorsport--GT5 came right at the peak of my own involvement in tuner culture, too. I'll never forget how engrossed I was in online races, flexing my Nissan 350Z and R33 Skyline, one of which I'd go on to own in real life (and it definitely wasn't a Skyline). Forza had done it for a while up to this point, but something about GT5 pristine aesthetic, impressively wide roster of cars, and variety of race types were distinguishing factors. Racing in the PS3-era was at its best with GT5. | Michael Higham
Back to the Future | December 22
Telltale Games became known for its licensed story-heavy adventure games with The Walking Dead, but it first really showed off its chops in that department with Back to the Future. For a big-time Back to the Future fan like me, the announcement of a game continuing the franchise was a thrill--especially when it attached folks like screenwriter Bob Gale. The game acts as a sequel to Back to the Future III and expands on the relationship between Marty McFly and Doc Brown while further fleshing out both characters. It also has its fun with time travel, sending you to Hill Valley in a couple of time periods we haven't seen before and messing with the Back to the Future timeline in some fun, goofy ways.
In Back to the Future, Telltale captures the humor and characters that have made the movies classics, and it pretty effectively expands on the ideas that make the franchise so much fun. As Marty McFly, you meddle with time, create a bunch of unexpected consequences, fundamentally change your hometown and the people who live in it, and deal with all-new Biff Tannen ancestors. Back to the Future shows how good the studio was at digging into existing franchises, capturing the great things about them, and turning them into game experiences that feel right at home alongside their counterparts in other media. It's not the greatest game in Telltale's stable, but as an early example of what was to come, it's definitely worth checking out for adventure and BttF fans. | Phil Hornshaw