It’s been a decade unlike any other for videogames. We’ve seen technical specifications pushed to the limit. At least three companies have competed for dominance. Games have pushed and probed to be far more than the word ‘game’ might suggest. And there was a game that came along where you got to control a goose.
Since we’re approaching the end of the decade, we decided to make a big old list of the 50 greatest games of the last 10 years – yes, we know it says 51, but read on for the reason why… Some of you may read this list and become irrationally angry. Some may read it and nod sagely in agreement. But what we guarantee all of you will do is read it and think, ‘God bless videogames, aren’t they the absolute nuts…’.
Read on gamers, and have a blast.
Basically what the inside of a serial killer’s head must look and sound like, this reboot of the pioneering first-person shooter (FPS) title from 1993 was unparalleled when it came to the fun you could have with a chainsaw and a pack of Martian demons. This was the videogame your parents warned you about.
A criminally underrated FPS and a very clever game packaged as a very stupid one, Bulletstorm was a goofy-sci-fi romp that rewarded creative killing. Impossible to play without your mouth aching from grinning – which is sort of the point of this games thing, after all – we still live in hope of a sequel.
49Life is Strange (2015)
Despite being a relatively young medium, videogames now encompass all kinds of tonally varied stories. This episodic adventure, from consistently interesting French studio Don’t Nod, is about as emotional a story as the artform has produced yet; think My So-Called Life meets The X-Files.
Another massively unrated FPS, PlatinumGames third-person shooter was a speedy, chaotic, headrush of a game. For its innovations – no 3D shooter had ever featured so many bullets on screen at one time, we’re sure, while the sliding-boost mechanic seemed revolutionary at the time – it deserved more.
47Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons (2013)
The first time you played this Swedish made game, its innovative controls made your brain hurt. The second and third times? The same. And yet when your cognitive abilities caught up with one controller controlling two characters, you soon realised you were immersed in the greatest fairy tale never told.
46BioShock Infinite (2013)
While 2007’s BioShock – not linked to Infinite in narrative, but certainly in tone and breadth of vision – was considered a classic from the get-go, the third title in the series remains a divisive game. Some think its politics were muddled, harmful even. We say its ambition continues to provoke with every play.
45Alan Wake (2012)
Unsurprisingly, given the author’s relentless output and enduring popularity, there are tonnes of games based on Stephen King stories. Sadly, only one – 1993’s The Dark Half – is any good. Alan Wake, a Stephen King story in all but name – and certainly in content – is great. Thereby the best King game ever.
First created in four days during a game jam, and later expanded into a full release, developers Matt Thorson and Noel Berry’s 2D platformer is not only fiendishly difficult but extremely rewarding. Below the conceit of the game’s primary mountain climbing goal lies a poignant meditation on mental health.
43Dead Space 2 (2011)
It’s not as good as the first game, released the previous decade. Perhaps understandably, it’s not as surprising or unique. And yet this sequel, once again about events in deep space gone very wrong, is yet another example of how the survival horror genre continues to excel within the modern age.
42Rocket League (2015)
Who would have thought a game about football played with cars would be so popular, let alone so fun? And not only does the game have an estimated 40 million players logging on regularly, it’s now a major Esport. Can someone develop cricket played with tanks now?
41Divinity: Original Sin II (2017)
From Larian Studios in Ghent, Belgium – via $500,000 raised on Kickstarter in less than twelve hours – came this fantastic era-defining RPG. The game excels on multiple levels; play alone and you’ll find yourself lost within fantastical tales. But go on multiplayer mode and you’ll have experiences that shape friendships!
40L.A. Noire (2011)
It wasn’t as clever as it thought it was (look at their eyes, they’re obviously lying!) and it made watching Mad Men (from whom the game plucked much of it’s cast) extremely confusing, but there’s no question that for a few weekends we had an enormous amount of fun with Rockstar’s neo-noir detective sim.
This ingenious platformer-puzzler rewards repeated play-throughs – we’ve completed the thing many times, and still don’t really understand what on earth happened. PlayDead’s game was also genuinely frightening (see also their 2010 game Limbo, to which this is a “spiritual sequel”).
A shooter unlike any you’ve ever played before, Superhot was more akin to a strategy game than an FPS. The game revolved around the distortion of time with action only unfolding in real-time when the player carried out an activity. Innovative, infuriating, then extremely rewarding, the VR version ruled too.
37Rayman Origins (2011)
The first title in the series since 2003’s Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, in a year where the platformer genre was ruled by a plumber called Mario, Rayman – and really, what on earth is Rayman? – still managed to be one of the very best platform games around. Give the game an hour and it’ll entrance you with joy.
36God Of War (2018)
The newest instalment in the ongoing adventures of PlayStation’s flagship character broke many norms associated with the series. This, for example, was a game rooted in the ancient mythology of the Norse, not the Greek. It also introduced Kratos’ son, Atreus. Visually stunning and narratively absorbing, God Of War’s reboot was the weirdest parenting simulator ever.
35No Man’s Sky (2016)
Inserting the player into a procedurally generated open world universe, upon release No Man’s Sky was a huge disappointment; unsurprisingly, a game this ambitious could never satisfy the expectation that awaited its arrival. Since then, numerous updates have reduced the repetition players found tedious at launch. As things stand, No Man’s Sky really is a thing of wonder.
If you believe what you read in the papers, Epic Games creation-tool-cum-FPS is responsible for the decline of western civilisation. If you’re one of the 120 million people who regularly play the thing, you’ll know the game is simply pure un-distilled fun. It’s so much fun in fact, it almost makes up for the games popularising of the Battle Royale mode ruining single-player FPS stories…
33The Witness (2016)
From Jonathan Blow, the man who brought you 2008’s Braid – perhaps the most fawned over indie game ever – this 3D puzzler rarely failed to astound. You’re on an island and you must navigate it by solving puzzles. 650 of them in fact. Blow claims the average player will take 80 hours to complete the game, which includes one puzzle he believes only 1 percent of players will solve!
32Destiny 2 (2017)
What difference a robust story and a proper villain made to the fortunes of Bungies online-only multiplayer FPS-cum-RPG; if the first game, released in 2014, disappointed in how close it came to being something really special, then the sequel cleared the baseline by some distance. Only now can Bungie’s new franchise be spoken of seriously in relation to Halo. But it can, and it can loudly.
31Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
Capcom completed a hattrick with Resident Evil’s debut first-person title. After the first (1996) put the survival horror genre on the map and after the fourth (still one of the greatest games of all time) reinvented the genre in 2005, instalment seven rebooted a series that for a while had begun to look stale. RE7 is a great game, and one that would be higher in this list had only the rest of the game been as impressive as the first few hours.
30Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (2018)
Another stalwart franchise that had begun looking a little stale; forget the modern-day narrative (which at this juncture is looking increasingly irrelevant), Odyssey took us back to 431 BC, 400 years before the events of 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, for an absolutely gorgeous, proper swords and sandals romp around ancient Greece – with fledgling RPG elements! Not only that but, in Kassandra, Ubisoft gave us a new hero to stan.
A masterclass in visual and auditory art, despite being wordless in its entirety, Thatgamecompanys desert-dwelling adventure asks all sorts of big questions. The LA company have form with this sort of thing, releasing the innovative Flow in 2007 and Flower – one of the strangest games of that or any other year – in 2009. Now, in 2019, it’s more common for games to be developed with players’ emotional targets in mind. Journey played a massive part in said trend.
The thing you need to know about this Hidetaka Miyazaki creation – he of Dark Souls infamy – is the first thing that happens in the game, before you even understand how to play it, is you get torn apart by a werewolf. Even then it rarely eases up – this is one of the most difficult games you will ever play. And yet the gothic slum of Yharnam is so desperate to be explored, you’ll keep on. Bloodborne is a game full of dark magic.
27Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018)
A year on from being the most recent PlayStation exclusive to make Xbox owners question their life choices, was Insomniac’s game really as good as we all thought? Maybe not. It’s a game that suffers from a dearth of interesting side-quests, some laborious puzzles and some infuriating camera work. And yet, much like the Arkham series did for Batman, it’s also the first videogame to ever make you feel like you are Spider-Man. That’s still a thrilling feeling.
26Gone Home (2013)
The “walking simulator” was conceived as a derogatory term – a name used to describe games closer to “experiences” than competitive tourneys; think 2016’s excellent Firewatch and the even better What Remains Of Edith Finch in 2017. Despite this, the majority of gamers have come to embrace the term, largely because a title like Gone Home is so unique in its rewards and so rich in emotional clout. Not into it? Cool. There’ll be a new Call Of Duty out soon.
25Night In The Woods (2017)
There’s a game about everything in 2019. Don’t believe us? A game was released this year called The Textorcist: The Story of Ray Bibbia which attempts to help you become better at – you guessed it – typing by asking players to type out the incantations during exorcisms. Night In The Woods is an adventure game about the strange kind of dislocation that comes when you leave, then return, to your home town. That sounds rubbish. It’s really not.
24Tomb Raider (2013)
An icon out of time, Lara Croft was in a helluva state before the last decade began. Enter Crystal Dynamics studio who didn’t so much reboot the character as press abort and start again. This time around, Lara resembled an actual woman. She had hopes and fears. She looked like she’d been designed by a healthy person and not a horny chimpanzee. And the games? Rise Of The Tomb Raider (2015) and Shadow Of The Tomb Raider (2018). They were great.
23Forza Horizon 4 (2018)
When the story of the eighth generation of consoles finally comes to be told, it will become abundantly clear just how much Sony and their PlayStation 4 gave Microsoft’s Xbox One a shoeing. While the fight had been long lost by the time Forza 4 was released, the 11th instalment in the open-world driving sim was arguably the Xbox One’s first unit shifter. A game for people who love cars, made by people who love cars. And a great one at that.
22Stardew Valley (2016)
Something strange happened in the middle of the decade; thousands of videogame fans became obsessed with a game that concerned itself with the notion of leaving the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the five-day working week and retiring to the country to run a farm. Inspired greatly by Japan’s seminal Harvest Moon series, it wasn’t all planting corn and mowing grass either; there was a deep adventure to be found within, full of lore… and carrots.
21Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
Not only is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate now the biggest selling fighting game of all time – 15.71 million sales, as of September 2019! – it’s arguably the most fun, and served as another must-have exclusive that helped propel Nintendo’s wonderful Switch console to the status of a must-have gadget. Featuring playable fighters from more franchises than ever before, you haven’t lived until you’ve paired off Animal Crossing’s Isabelle against Street Fighters’ Ken.
20Untitled Goose Game (2019)
The premise was simple; it’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose. Because here’s the thing. Not every idea has to be the wheel. Sometimes you just want the opportunity to control a horrible goose, one who is tasked with terrorising an idyllic ye olde British village – stealing the glasses of short-sighted children and making handymen stub their toes. This year, developers House House gave you that opportunity.
A graphic adventure, viewed in 2.5D, inspired heavily by classic teen movies and ’80s coming-of-age shows, Oxenfree was one of the most impressive stories we played this decade. It helped that it wasn’t just one story being told; decisions you made in-game affected the fate of a variety of other characters. Every time you played, the story shifted depending on how you were playing it. Maybe it was a little short – maybe – but we’re reaching.
18Gears 5 (2019)
The Xbox One’s other must-have exclusive, the long-running Gears Of War franchise, reinvented itself at the butt end of the decade with a campaign that took the series into unexplored territory. Vast open-world levels saw the new Delta Squad search for long-buried secrets in Arctic conditions and explore the blood-red sands of Vasgar. Not only that, but outsider-turned-Gear Kait Diaz was the coolest new videogame character that wasn’t Assassin Creed’s Kassandra.
17Death Stranding (2019)
The first game from Metal Gear Solid godhead Hideo Kojima after his much-publicised severing of ties with Konami in 2015 was a curious beast. For months before release, we couldn’t tell you what on earth Death Stranding was going to be – any trailer that opens with a baby squeezing out of a vagina is going to ask questions. When it arrived it still didn’t make much sense. But what vision! What innovation! Behold the videogame event of the year!
16Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (2017)
The enhanced Switch-only version of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 from 2014 is unquestionably the best version of Mario Kart ever created. More characters feature than ever before. There are more tracks. And, this being Nintendo, the innovations are still coming 28 years after the series’ debut – in this case, the anti-gravity sections of play are as fun as we’ve had with the franchise in aeons. The game is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest selling title on Switch, with almost 20 million copies sold worldwide.
15Doki Doki Literature Club! (2017)
Were it not for the spectre of P.T. continuing to lurk in our minds (shout out to the PlayStation owners who maintain that incredible demo on their hard drives even to this day) the now-cancelled Silent Hill game Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro planned to make together would probably be the recipient of the following claim; the visual novel Doki Doki Literature Club! is the greatest horror game in a generation. You’d never know from looking at it – but then many monsters take their time in revealing their true form.
14Alien Isolation (2014)
Although… Make no mistake, Creative Assembly’s Alien game is completely terrifying, positioning the player within a spaceship wide game of cat and xenomorph, mutating at times into the most stressful game of hide and seek you’ve ever played. It’s just that calling Alien Isolation merely a horror game doesn’t fully explain the brilliance of the title; fans of the film’s lore will find the game more immersive than any film the franchise has released in decades. Alien Isolation is trying to scare you, yes. But it’ll thrill Alien nerds too.
13The Walking Dead (2012)
Though the studio that made it is gone – Telltale Games ceased business in the form we knew it in in 2017 – the company’s legacy lives on in some of gaming’s best adventure titles. Way back in 2006 Sam & Max were making our insides hurt, while later on – in 2013 and 2014, respectively – The Wolf Among Us and Tales From The Borderlands proved wondrous. Their adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s long-running comic was their best work, though. It was, more often than not, leagues better than the TV show.
12Hollow Knight (2017)
A team of just three people worked on this beloved Metroidvania-esque title, a game which is, in fact, probably the most universally adored indie game of the 21st century. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly why the anthropoid-infused game matters to so many, mind. Sure, the art style is fantastic. The difficulty mechanics are pitched just right. The characters you meet are interesting and they matter. In fact, the answer might be really simple. A game like Hollow Knight is what happens when you let people who know how to make good games make games. More of that, please.
Minecraft, the biggest selling videogame of all time, is a phenomenon. That this list hasn’t been compiled by a 10-year-old child explains why it doesn’t sit at the very summit. That’s no diss. The sandbox construction tool is a game with true universal appeal. It unites parents and children. Stoners and wastrels. Geeks and casuals. All you needed to pick it up and eek something out of it is imagination. In fact, the title’s enduring popularity, enormous merch sales (you try getting to the counter at Forbidden Planet on a Saturday), and academic discussion (the game is currently used in a variety of education programmes around the world) hints at what might be next for videogames. No longer are we happy to just play games – now we want to shape the world with them.
10Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Whether Rockstar know it or not, the most fun way to play a Grand Theft Auto game isn’t necessarily to play the games the way they were intended to be played. In the case of GTAV, the story – this time taking in three central characters, depressed gangster Michael De Santa, aspiring bad boy Franklin Clinton and (our favourite) certifiable maniac Trevor Phillips – is a pretty good one. A bit too in thrall to the conventions of cinema when we’d argue that videogames don’t need to ape another medium, but decent. And not as earnest as the slog 2008’s GTAIV was. But where GTAV comes alive is in its freedom to explore what was – at the point of release – the most impressive open world we’d ever seen within games. We’d never known anything like it.
9Portal 2 (2011)
Not only was Valve’s sequel to their much loved 2007 game Portal a fiendish puzzler, but it existed within an atmosphere of dystopian sci-fi that was more cinematic than any game that ever set out to be cinematic could be. We were reminded of the late Stanley Kubrick. Of aborted Soviet space programmes. Of 1994’s cult adventure game System Shock. Of strange 2000AD stories. And, given the inclusion of Stephen Merchant as jovial droid Wheatley, sometimes Bristol. It was a game where we desperately wanted to solve the increasingly tangential puzzles because we wanted to know what was going to happen next. If you got to the end you were amply rewarded with one of the most transcendent climaxes of any videogame ever.
8Batman: Arkham City (2011)
Following on from the title that started it all, 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum – finally a game that understood that the fear and the mystery Batman could wield was core to his appeal! – there were many Arkham titles produced by Rocksteady Studios in the last decade. None were better than Arkham City, in which Batman was free to practice his bone-crunching take on justice within an out of control citywide prison overrun with warring goons, each of whom had pledged allegiance to the likes of Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Bane et al. There was tonnes to love – the game’s sidequests were almost all excellent, and as ever, Mark Hamill’s Joker was an absolute treat – but the best bit was watching the city crumble over time. Gotham has rarely felt so ugly and yet alive.
7Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
Alongside 2015’s Super Mario Maker and this year’s Luigi’s Manson 3, it’s been a banner decade for the diminutive face of Nintendo, and yet the one big Mario adventure of the last 10 years would have impressed whenever it had arrived. In it, we met Cappy – a Bonneter from the Cap Kingdom (don’t ask us, we just ripped that bit from Wikipedia) – who could help Mario “possess” many of the characters he met as he traversed the globe (and the moon) in order to rescue Peach from Bowser. Again. The game contained many revelations – we saw, for the first time, Mario’s nipples. We also met Mario’s first girlfriend, Pauline, who featured alongside Mario in his first appearance in Donkey Kong back in 1981. And we got to play Mario as a T-rex too!
6Dark Souls (2011)
Much like Bloodborne, Dark Souls is one of the hardest videogames ever made; you literally learn by dying. It’s also one of the most depressing. Modern consoles are sleek, desirable looking things, made of chrome and sleek plastic. But boot up Dark Souls for 30 minutes and you’ll feel like you’ve been entombed in a decaying castle for the last 100 years. Dark Souls isn’t really a game, but existential torture. So why does it rank so high in this list? Well, because the euphoria that greets progress – indeed, any victory within the game, no matter how small – is almost impossible to replicate outside of a corrupt pharmacist’s laboratory. Dark Souls is a work of art. An evil, twisted work of art. But isn’t that so often the best sort?
5The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
Bethesda’s fantasy RPG has had so many nips and tucks since its seismic debut almost a decade ago (though the recently released VR version is very good, and the Switch port looks absolutely lovely), that it’s starting to feel a little bit like Kim Kardashian. But there’s a reason why the game continues to endure. Skyrim was – and is, despite it looking a little bit like it’s going to fall to pieces these days – one of the closest things to visiting an alternative universe while also sitting on your arse. There are dragons. And vampires. And werewolves. And a tonne of Norse soldiers waddling around complaining about taking “an arrow in the knee”. It’s everything escapist entertainment can be. Skyrim’s ambition blew us away in 2011 and even now serves as the benchmark for fantasy adventure.
4The Last Of Us (2013)
Videogames have long cemented their position as the globe’s most beloved form of entertainment, and yet how often can we say – genuinely, not just posturing, but where we actually believe it – that we’ve ever played a videogame that has made us feel the way a great movie has, or grasped at our heart like our favourite song does, or fills our head with inspiration like we get when we immerse ourselves in a classic piece of literature. This, of course, is the goal for videogames going forward, and they’ll get there. But an exception to all this as things stand is Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us, which stands tall as perhaps the greatest story videogames ever told. The game’s sequel is the most anticipated game of 2020. It’s out May 29. Hold on, friends. Hold on.
3The Witcher 3: Wildhunt (2015)
Developed and published by Polish studio CD Projekt and based on The Witcher series of fantasy novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher 3: Wildhunt is another example of a game that rivals film, TV and other forms of drama for its emotional impact. Monster hunter Geralt is an icon of modern fantasy – as seen by the mixed response to news Henry Cavill is to play the character the tentatively anticipated Netflix adaptation – and he served as the perfect avatar for our adventures in the Continent – funny, heroic, troubled, dare we say it… sexy? Totally immersive, brilliantly written, visually stunning; and the portion where Geralt takes shrooms and has a conversation with his horse, Roach, is a highlight of modern civilisation.
2The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild (2017)
1Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
And so we have ourselves a tie. You might say we wimped out, but we’d prefer to consider the near-impossible task of separating two games that may well be the two greatest videogames of all time testament to what a pioneering decade it’s been for the medium. Aesthetically the two games share little beyond both giving your character a horse to get around on, and flooding the world you inhabit with the wonder of nature, of course. Nintendo’s game is infinitely more family-friendly, relying on the universal wonder of adventure to deliver its thrills, while Rockstar’s is a more visceral, violent, gritty, adult-oriented beast. And yet both share a cable of DNA in that, during the time you’ll be invested within them (which is a huge amount), you will genuinely feel like you’ve been transplanted to another place. Both games hold great secrets to reveal. Both are rammed with jokes and insider details that will keep them fresh throughout replays to come. Both take the medium and drag it forward more than any other title in this list. Both are absolute essentials. Pray tell, what wonders will the next decade hold in store?