The 10 Best Games of the Half-Decade

Why wait till 2020 to assess the first of the just-passed decade? We’re halfway through the ‘10s, and so it’s as good a time as any for a critical look at what we’ve just been through in the world of the PS3 and the PS4. The decade started ridiculously strong, with a 40% of my top ten coming out in 2011 as the PS3 peaked in terms of creativity and technical potential. We’re not even close to that creative peak now with the PS4 as only one game in my entire top 20 came out in the last 14 months. I’m hoping that changes soon. Until then, let’s look back at the decade that was.

Runner-ups: "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" (2010), "Dragon Age: Inquisition" (2014), "Far Cry 3" (2012), "God of War III" (2010), "Grand Theft Auto V" (2013), "Mass Effect 3" (2012), "Portal 2" (2011), "Rayman Legends" (2013), "Tomb Raider" (2013) and "XCOM: Enemy Unknown" (2012)

Uncharted 3. Sony

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The most cinematic game of the early part of the decade really re-shaped how much a great video game can replicate some of the same feelings we get from a great Summer blockbuster. Few games have ever produced the kind of rollercoaster adrenaline we get from our favorite movies like “Uncharted 3” does with its amazing action set-pieces, intriguing story, and gorgeous graphics. I remember when this game came out thinking that if we were at the end of this generation visually, what would games on the PS4 look like? Even better than THIS? The fact is that four years down the road, as we wait for “Uncharted 4,” the previous game still looks and plays amazing. More »

Arkham City. WBIE

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The best superhero game ever made. Young gamers may not even realize how awful superhero-based video games used to be as a whole young demo has been spoiled by the LEGO superhero games and this masterpiece, a perfect blend of setting, narrative, and gameplay. We’ve recently discussed the division between fans of open-world games and cinematic games but “Arkham City” is the rare game that works for both. With a script co-written by Batman icon Paul Dini, the creators of “Arkham City” definitely crafted a cinematic adventure, but they also gave the gamer tons of freedom within their perfectly-designed setting. I spent hours just traversing Arkham City, one of the best environments in gaming history—looking for secrets and collectibles, and knowing I had an amazing narrative to get back to when I was done.  More »

Bioshock Infinite. 2K Games

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Haters gonna hate. Honestly, I don’t get the animosity toward the third Bioshock game from Ken Levine and the folks at Irrational Games. It’s SO ambitious and a truly masterful game in terms of world creation. From the very opening act of “Infinite,” we are in another world; we have been transported and are not passive observers but travelers. If this game purely contributed only the art direction and production design of Columbia it would still be a notable game. But, in case you can’t tell, story is important to this gamer, and this one still resonates with me. It is a tale of regret and the rare opportunity to atone for past mistakes. And the gameplay is addictive and fast-paced without ever getting repetitive. In fact, it’s a sign of the strength of this half-decade that this game is only at #8.  More »

Skyrim. Bethesda

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Depending on how you define it, this could be considered the best RPG of the half-decade. It’s a game that I certainly spent dozens of hours exploring, constantly impressed at how alive Skyrim feels from one corner to another to even the ones I couldn’t see. What’s amazing about Skyrim is the distinct, breakthrough impression that things are happening in this world even in places you are not. We grew up with games that unfolded in front of our eyes. What I mean is that the world/level/environment never felt like it existed until our avatar arrived in it (the “GTA” games really pushed the form forward in this regard). Skyrim is so detailed and carefully considered that you almost don’t matter to it. You’re a guest in this world. And that’s the kind of remarkable breakthrough that influencing games in the PS4 generation and beyond. More »

The Walking Dead. Telltale Games

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When considering this list, I wanted to focus on the games that feel like they’re still making an impact on the market: the influential ones. That’s the main difference between the runner-ups and the top ten. I believe in the long run there may be no game more influential in this half-decade than Telltale Games’ adaptation of “The Walking Dead.” Not only did it defy gamer expectations in an era dominated by shooters to tell a story in which decision-making was the adrenalin-producer, but it featured gameplay in which the choices you made mattered and had real, life-and-death impact. Telltale used this game to continue their breakthrough storytelling in current seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Tales From the Borderlands.” They are as forward-thinking as any company out there, and it started here. More »

Red Dead Redemption. Rock Star

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Remember this one? It feels like a lifetime ago now (and a sequel is way overdue) but I can still vividly remember spending hours exploring the vivid world of “RDR,” looking for secrets and new animals to hunt. Again, I am drawn to games by developers who craft three-dimensional, vibrant worlds, as this is certainly one of the most memorable of the half-decade. Add to that a story that strikes an emotional chord while also connecting to that American mythology and legend creation that defines why we love the Western in the first place, and you have a game that was adored when it came out and may still have been underrated.  More »

Borderlands 2. 2K Games

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Speaking of underrated, I believe I’ve actually spent more time playing this game than any other. Ever. It is stunningly addictive, especially when one adds in the amazing wave of DLC that was released for the title. A year after it came out, LONG after I had given up on dozens of games released after it, I was still returning to “Borderlands 2” and the world of the Vault Hunters. And the craziest thing? I never did a second playthrough with a new character with new skills, new weapons, etc. In other words, I played this game for DAYS of my life and still barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer for gamers. This is probably the weakest game in my top ten narratively, but it might be the most pure fun of the PS3 generation. More »

Journey. Sony

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A game that really made me rethink what we can and should expect when we have a controller in our hands. Yes, some of you may argue that its short running time should automatically disqualify or at least lower its ranking but I truly believe that “Journey” is a breakthrough game. It’s not just fun or well-made, it redefines what games can be, tapping into an emotional undercurrent more than it merely captures your hand-eye coordination. In other words, it targets gamers in a completely different way. And, to be honest, if the entire industry is going to survive Gamergate and general exhaustion over the repetitive, violent nature of games, it needs to reapproach the entire intent of video games. Start by playing “Journey” again. More »

Mass Effect 2. EA

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What an RPG should be. What a sci-fi game should be. What games should be. There has never been a better blend of authorship and storytelling. What I mean is that my experience here is different than yours or your friend’s, and yet the game also very much has a firm hand of a creator on it. It has the perfect balance of variables and art. The reason so many people have demeaned video games as lacking artistic merit is because they are too controlled by player over creator. And art, by definition, needs an artist. “Mass Effect 2” balances both perfectly, putting the gamer completely in control of their own destiny while never losing its artistic cred. More »

The Last of Us. Sony

I’ve never been as emotionally invested in two characters as I was in the saga of Joel and Ellie in Sony’s 2013 exclusive, a game that really captures everything I’ve said about the games above. It creates a vibrant, believable setting with incredible production & character design. It fills that world with a story so resonant that it hooks you from the prologue and doesn’t let go until the perfect final scene. And the gameplay is addictive and memorable without being cluttered to a degree that it detracts from the story. It is a perfect game. More »