Here we are, the end of a decade. Congratulations! At the beginning of the decade, 2010 was a year when Humble Bundle launched, the war between Microsoft’s Kinect and Sony’s Playstation Move had just begun (Kinect now defunct and the Move left behind by PSVR), and Facebook social games like Mafia took us all by storm by beginning to shape and redefine what we considered “social gaming” (does anyone remember Outernaughts by Insomniac Games??). Now we have games like Fortnite, Overwatch, and DotA bleeding into mainstream channels thanks to the rise of Esports and streaming services like Twitch. It’s cool to be a gamer—finally—and for some, it can be an incredibly lucrative career (looking at you Ninja).
Strangely, I can’t believe the most influential games that are responsible for this growth were released ten years ago, such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Bioshock 2, Limbo, Alan Wake, Civilization V, Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls, Cave Story, and Mass Effect 2 which all released in 2010. I’m sad to report none of these games made it on my top ten-decade list but they are definitely among my favorites. You really need to play them if you haven’t yet.
The ones that did make it on my list are very personal to me and are in no particular order of importance. It was not easy to come up with ten games to define my decade of gaming and in the end I think it’s impossible to be 100% satisfied with my selection. I hope you enjoy hearing about the games that I loved over the years and maybe you’ll love them too.
Amnesia: The Dark Descent did not make my list but SOMA did. The Swedish developers at Frictional Gaming have always delivered good horror but what really shines in SOMA is the plot to this survival horror game.
SOMA leans more on pathological horror rather than traditional terror one might expect from this genre. Where most horror games rely on blood, guts, and gore, SOMA instead tells a harrowing story about Simon Jarrett, whose last memory was performing an experimental brain scan. Simon then wakes up, suddenly no longer in the medical research facility but in a crumbling, dark, and industrial research facility are known as PATHOS-II at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. The story only gets stranger as you begin to unravel the mystery while trying to help Simon escape with his life.
SOMA honestly has one of the most refreshing narratives within the horror game genre that I’ve experienced. It brings a dash of cyberpunk to the table while wrestling with philosophical quandaries like “What does it mean to be human? What is consciousness really? Do you have free will, or is it predestined programming?” All of this while you navigate the corridors of the now deteriorating research facility. I really can’t say more without spoiling so I’ll leave it at that. Of course, the aesthetic and environmental/level design really play a huge part in what makes this game scary. The atmosphere becomes very hostile and unsettling the more time you spend exploring. That and the sense of isolation as you search for someone, anyone who’s human like you.
If scary games aren’t your thing, rejoice! The developers at Frictional Gaming added a story mode where the monsters can’t harm you. The game becomes less scary but instead infinitely creepier because the grotesque monsters follow you around like a pet, staring at you, making wailing noises.
Year Walk (2013)
“In the old days man tried to catch a glimpse of the future in the strangest of ways.
They locked themselves in dark room, not partaking of food and drink.
At the stroke of midnight they ventured out into the night,
through the dark woods where strange creatures roamed.
To see if they would be wealthy
To see if they would be happy
To see if they would live
To see if they would be loved.”
Surprise! Another horror game, though this is more creepy than scary. Year Walk by Simogo is a point and click adventure game rooted in Swedish folklore about seeing into the future. You play as Daniel, a man who is warned to not go on a year walk by his crush but does so anyway (men never listen to women in the horror genre). The game itself is a journey with Daniel, performing little rituals to appease strange mythical creatures in the dead of night, hoping he gets to see what happens next year. What could possibly go wrong? It turns out a lot and that’s why I like it.
Year Walk feels very much like Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” poem come to life. There is fresh snow falling and everything is extra quiet, save for the satisfying crunch beneath your feet. It gives you that sense of peace, the one that lulls you into a false sense of security until you suddenly realize you’re alone in the woods at night and the silence has become deafening. The rituals are no more than simple puzzles and I honestly felt like I was performing witchcraft. Upon completion, the rituals always end morbidly and they become more intense the longer you go on. Enter a singing competition with a siren, sacrifice four babies to the water horse, mark gravestones for a picky bird, attend church with a goat. I’m being flippant about what happens but I’d hate to spoil things.
I will spoil one thing: The Doll. There’s a wind-up doll hanging by a thread in a small, dark shed and you need to wind its head for a solution to a puzzle. This doesn’t seem too creepy unless you’re playing on iOS, where you have to use your fingers on a touchpad. I cannot tell you how jarring it was to wind this doll up with my fingers, bit by bit until it wouldn’t wind anymore and then slowly watch it unravel as it sang a tune doing a creepy dance. Interacting with Year Walk via touch makes it an extremely effective and powerful horror game. I highly recommend you try it sometime.
Dead Space 2 (2011)
I really have a theme of horror games for my decade’s list. Listen, what’s not to like about being a space engineer with a laser gun for slicing off the limbs of your enemies?
Dead Space 2 is a third-person survival horror action game set in the future. You play as Issac, a very troubled and unlucky spaceship engineer who seems to have misfortune everywhere he goes. In the first installment of Dead Space, Isaac had to trudge around the haunted Ishimura ship in search of his missing wife and unravel the secrets of the missing crew (hint: they all died). In Dead Space 2, Issac wakes up in a commercial space station, which is suddenly in disarray and under attack by familiar foes. He once again needs to escape with his life while simultaneously figuring out who is responsible for the monsters, called necromorphs, getting loose again. Dead Space 2 ends up being a bigger and better Dead Space, it’s really an Alien to Aliens comparison in every way.
I absolutely love this game. A lot, a lot. I won’t say that it’s one of the most influential horror games of the decade; it has problems with the way it treats women and mental health, but I love it anyway. Here’s what I love about the sequel and Dead Space franchise overall: spooky space stations? Yes! Creepy and disturbing yet familiar looking monsters? Check. Is a religious cult single-handedly responsible for the fall of humankind because they can’t keep their hands off an alien space rock??? Amen. If I’m being honest, the reason why I love Dead Space 2 so much more than Dead Space is because the religious cult, known as Unitology, is fleshed out. Essentially, Unitologists believe humans were created by intelligent aliens and those aliens sent a beacon, or ‘marker’, as an invitation to converge with their creators. It’s a very wild concept, there’s so much lore around it, and it’s a big driving force within the game, in between all the necromorph slaughter.
If this franchise is ever revived (Visceral studios rest in peace) I really want this franchise to take off and dig deeper into the cult aspect because that’s what’s really scary about Dead Space.
Into the Breach (2018)
I’ve never been a tactics gamer. Yes, I’ve played RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Dragon Age: Origins, but those never felt like tactics games at their core… not like Into The Breach, a top-down 2D tactics game where you command three robots to defend earth from kaiju-esque bug monsters.
What sets Into The Breach apart from other tactics games is the way it handles turn-based combat. Most tactics games have you create a strategy based on predicting the enemy’s next movements. It requires a certain degree of thinking ahead and usually your best laid plans are forfeit to the seemingly random enemy AI, never knowing the true outcome until it’s too late. With Into The Breach, you’re able to see what the enemies will do next and plan around that. You’re even able to move your units and experiment on what the best position for them would be, and if it’s not correct you can simply undo the movement with no consequence. It’s like a game of chess, where your opponent broadcasts their next move. Just because you know what they’ll do next doesn’t mean you’ll always succeed in countering them. This helped me internalize strategy and tactics better, without feeling like I was subject to fail due to random RNG of the AI. Instead, when I got myself into a pickle it was absolutely my fault for overlooking something.
Excuse me while I go off about the soundtrack for a moment because the music and sound design really tie this game together well. The composer is none other than Ben Prunty, who is also responsible for the well received FTL soundtrack. If you’ve been following me on Twitter then you know I’ve sung praise about Prunty for a while now. He just knows how to make great music and I find myself listening to the soundtrack of Into The Breach often., In fact it’s made it into my Spotify top 10 list two years in a row. You don’t realise how distinguished this soundtrack is in the game until you listen to it by itself. Truly a masterpiece.
From Software knows my soul when it comes to crafting games, they can’t make one that I don’t like. I was introduced to Dark Souls in 2011 and it swept me off my feet. I fell deeply in love with the franchise, as most of the gaming world did, and since then I have spent too many hours across the entire Souls series. I have bought Dark Souls full price at least four times… But despite that, Bloodborne without question is the #1 game of the decade for me personally.
Bloodborne grabbed me instantly. It has a grimdark setting, starting with a simple beast vs human conflict, but then it grows and keeps growing, and eventually crashes through the ceiling into the realm of cosmic gods. What really makes Bloodborne stand out over the other Souls series is its world-building. Yes, the Souls series is also known for its extensive lore but Bloodborne’s lore hits my cosmic horror-loving bones the right way. I was especially taken with one of the characters Eileen The Crow and her ethos Hunter of Hunters. You see, there are Hunters and there are beasts. The beasts prey on the hunters, so the hunters hunt the beasts. But sometimes the hunters go mad, influenced by the beasts, and they become much more dangerous. That’s where Hunter of Hunters come in, to slay the now frenzied, infected hunters from themselves. This is where Bloodborne excels where the Souls series does not. It gives more thought and complexity to the characters and the result is they’re more memorable.
But it also likes to play with Lovecraftian ideas and introduces cosmic-horror in a refreshing way. In the beginning, you’re hunting beats, possibly werewolves, and vampires, and then somewhere along the way things get mad and you’re suddenly face to face with a cosmic being with tentacle wings and a clam for a head. And don’t get me started on the DLC, which just gets even wilder.
I feel like this game will be on everyone’s list and honestly it’s the true gem of the decade.
The Stanley Parable (2013)
If you’re a real gamer you’re required to play this, sorry I don’t make the rules.
The Stanley Parable is an interactive storytelling “walking simulator” (the quotes are because I hate that term) and it’s pure parody from start to finish. The developer Davey Wreden takes your preconceived notion of what a game is and slaps you in the face. It follows Stanley, an average everyday person, who pushed buttons all day for a living, until one day he’s suddenly alone. A narrator talks and directs Stanley through the story, telling him where to go and what to do. Deviate and the Narrator breaks the fourth wall by saying something like, “Stanely insists on touching literally everything he can, searching for a way to advance the story. He is not very good at picking up on environmental cues, is he?” The Narrator essentially makes fun of you throughout the game if you control Stanley any way the narrator doesn’t like. He’s trying to tell a story and you the player keep messing it up.
Any Dungeon Master of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign has felt this pain. You take all this time to create a story, give certain characters extensive backgrounds, and within five minutes of the campaign your players ditch the story, kill a critical NPC, and bugger off on their own adventure. The Stanley Parable is like that.
What makes The Stanley Parable a strong game is the complete freedom you have as a player and the witty narration that happens along the way. You can follow the narration to a T and you’ll be told a story, or you can break away from the narration and you’ll be told a better story. You could also just sit and work at your pretend job and the narrator will tell you the best story about how mundane you are in a fictional world where anything can happen.
The Stanley Parable had no problem breaking my comfort with games. It easily subverts expectations at every turn and doesn’t apologize if you’re not having fun (but you really are having fun).This game is incredible and you have to experience it for yourself. You’ll love it, I promise.
Darkest Dungeon (2016)
I love it when a family member gifts me a large mansion and I go spelunking in caves beneath the foundation, seeking fame and fortune only to exhume a dark portal that unleashes all kinds of terrible monsters throughout the land. Does this happen to anyone else?
I clearly have a theme of dark, dank, grimy art aesthetic. There’s just something about banding your troupe together to go adventuring in a deep, dark cave where monsters lurk. Darkest Dungeon is a 2D side-scrolling roleplaying game by Red Hook Studios, where you band together mercenaries to fight back against the evil that now surrounds your beloved estate (and the townsfolk too I guess? Talk about the 1% messing things up for the little guys, am I right?). This is a game that I come back to every year like clockwork in January and I have yet to actually beat the game. I really hope my yearly ritual will allow me to finish soon. It’s very punishing and heavily reliant on group makeup and prior knowledge of surroundings to succeed in a dungeon crawl. Any kind of progress is slow, and it’s very easy to lose your heroes along the way.
What I love most about this game is its Madness system. While your heroes adventure and battle the horrors within, they gain stress. Become too stressed and their resolve will be tested. This is my favorite moment in the game because your hero either falls into madness, becoming a source of pain for themselves or the party or they prevail and becomes a temporary Saint, blessing everyone and remaining wildly optimistic. You never know which way they’ll fall, usually madness, but it’s always a delight when they succeed and become a powerhouse to be reckoned with.
I feel like I’ll always play this game at least once every year as tradition dictates. It’s always a source of enjoyment for me and I can’t wait to see what lies at the end. I wonder if I’ll make it through alive?
This game has affected me deeply, more than it has the right to. Florence is a narrative-driven mobile game about a young girl who falls in love with a boy and starts a relationship with him. It is simple and charming, yet complex enough to leave you guessing what’s next. There are no words, no voice acting, no text, only the story.
I related to this game on a whole other level. I even had a friend, who also played the game, say they thought of me while playing it. I recently got into my first relationship within the last few years, even moved in together. My life paralleled what was happening in the game and I was having a surreal experience. It made me question what I was doing with my life. I was depressed for hours, maybe days after I finished it. In some ways, it was a wake-up call for me. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be in life and that upset me. I wasn’t happy and Florence let me know that it was going to be okay.
I’ve since split with my partner which was difficult, but necessary.
Thirty Flights of Loving (2012)
An even shorter game than Florence. This 5-minute game that I’ve spent two hours with impacted me and made me question what a game can really be.
Thirty Flights of Loving, a small indie game created by Brendon Chung of Blendo Games, has more content and a better story than most 60-hour big studio games. The narrative is tight, the design is flawless, and the world is charming. There is no text to direct you, or voice acting to express emotion, only smart visual design. My personal highlight of this game is when you’re in a hotel room watching your partner peel an orange. It’s night time and the moon is out, it’s quiet, but also the city has that nighttime bustle as your partner sits out on the balcony of the hotel room simply peeling an orange and taking it all in. This moment in the game acts as a reprieve from the very chaotic scene beforehand and it’s just lovely. There are many moments like this in the game and my words can’t do this game justice. Please, please, please play this game.
BioShock Infinite (2013)
There’s too much to say about this game. People won’t put it on their lists for valid reasons. But it exists on mine for a single reason: the Greetings From crew bonded together around this game. It was the very first podcast that we did back in 2013. We were young, in college, and BioShock Infinite had just released. Several beers and one mic later, we recorded our first podcast. It was long, maybe too long, and probably bad—but an incredible experience that I will never forget.
BioShock Infinite is a problematic hot mess but I love it because it forged a sentimental bond between me and my friends. That’s it.
Oh, but there was one thing I really liked about BioShock Infinite: the Boys of Silence level. It’s definitely a great transition from boring shooter to suspenseful horror, much like in Half Life 2, also an action shooter game which then turns into a horror game for one level in an underground parking garage. With BioShock Infinite, you’re thrown into this level as a reprieve, only the tension keeps going by introducing horror and depowering the guns you’ve come to rely on for safety.
That was a good surprise.
Other Games I Cherish:
Alas, these games didn’t make the list but they’re among my most favorite in gaming over the last ten years. I highly recommend you check them out because if you asked, I could talk about them all day.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild (2017), Outer Wilds (2019), Control (2019), Hollow Knight (2017), Prey (2017), What Remains of Edith Finch (2017), Portal 2 (2011), Hyper Light Drifter (2016), Super Brothers: Sword & Sworcery (2011).