The 10 Best Games Of 2010

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Not only will this year mark the end of a generation, it'll also mark the end of one of the momentous decades gaming has ever seen. Blockbusters became blockbuster platforms, but we also saw indies become gargantuans in their own right with the rise of Steam.

But before the decade saw in a new console generation, the emergence of consumer level VR, augmented reality in your pocket, 100GB+ downloads becoming normal and microtransactions a way of life, everyone had a date with the Illusive Man.

A lot of things were already brewing by the start of the decade that would have a lasting effect on the industry: the development of Minecraft was underway, the RTS was already under siege from a pair of MOBAs (Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends), plans were being hatched for the ill-fated Wii U (which would affect how Nintendo thought and marketed the successful Switch) and the PSP Go was falling hard, due to its high price, the success of the Nintendo DS and the rise of piracy.

But things were about to change permanently from 2010 onwards, with the effects first witnessed around a small planet called Aiur.


Starcraft 2

Image: Intel Extreme Masters/ESL

If you were compiling a list of the most effectual games this decade, Wings of Liberty — the first of the three Starcraft releases focusing just on the Terrans — would probably not make the list. Instead of propelling the genre into new heights, faith in the RTS genre is at an all-time low. Some holdouts remain, notably Microsoft with the Age of Empires franchise and the ongoing remaster effort at EA, but mostly the days of big-budget RTS adventures is over.

That wasn't always the case, though. When Starcraft 2 dropped, gamers were just discovering the joys of livestreaming and what could be done. It was a time when Twitch was still called Justin.tv, Livestream was still a separate platform, and top Australian 'players' - because streamers wasn't a career at that point - were happily uploading in a maximum of 480p.

Starcraft already changed the world of professional esports with the introduction of small-size replays, but streaming changed the spectator experience permanently. Apart from being a very good game at the outset — minus anyone who endured the misery of Protoss vs Protoss matches — the rise of streaming meant tournaments took on a whole new dimension that had never existed before. Starcraft 2 was the first game to really ride the crest of streaming, and benefit from the mass viewership that followed, and for a few years, especially that first year, it was glorious.

There was talk at the start of the decade that we'd still be playing Starcraft 2 come 2020. That never eventuated: even at Blizzcon this year, the game was relegated to a quiet corner in the basement and a few sentences in the opening keynote, having already suffered the ignominy of having a new Starcraft game cancelled earlier in the year.

We may never see Starcraft again. It will certainly never return to its former glory in the current environment. But the RTS set gaming on a path that it has never looked back from, and in those early years even without proper chat and basic Battle.net features, Starcraft 2 was a wonderful, wonderful time.


Fruit Ninja

Livestreaming may have defined the back end of this decade, but just as effectual is the rise of mobile gaming. And in Australia, there is still no game that changed the industry quite as much as Fruit Ninja.

The mobile fruit slasher laid the foundation for what could be possible in the Australian environment. The impact of the global financial crisis was still being felt around the world, and it would be a few years before major publishers left the country entirely.

But Fruit Ninja laid the groundwork for new thinking. People saw it was possible to create something with a small team and strike it large on a scale that was previously unthinkable, which opened up the floodgates for the Aussies who stayed in gamedev — or the country — when the mass exodus occurred.

By September 2010, Fruit Ninja had two million downloads. A massive success for any Aussie studio.

By 2015, the downloads reached one billion.

"Fruit Ninja was a miracle. And everything changed as a result of that miracle," a source close to the game's development told Kotaku Australia.


Halo: Reach

It's funny that we're about to end the decade replaying one of the games that helped kick it off, with Halo: Reach being the first playable game that's launching in the PC version of Halo: MCC next week. And it's also nice just to look back at where gaming was. Halo was an enormous industry mover and shaker. It was one of the biggest drawcards in Microsoft's tent, and deservingly so. Reach was a critical and commercial smash, with $US200 million sales in the first day and $US350 million of merchandise sold in the first 16 days.

A lot of Reach's enemy AI still holds up, even if the story is a bit naff (as all big-budget shooters tend to be). It'll be nice to see that paired with much cleaner, crisper visuals, as well as the promise of buttery smooth frame rates on the PC.

Red Dead Redemption

Technical nightmares means PC players will probably never see Red Dead Redemption, which is a shame since it still has one of the best endings of any game. It's a truly befitting arc for Weston, and the epilogue that pans out afterwards provides a lovely bit of closure that's handled supremely well.

And that's why it still stands out as one oft he best games of 2010. Endings are supremely hard to get right. Players have spent tens, even hundreds of hours enjoying the agency given to them up until that point. If a game decides to carry on with that agency, the game has the complication of making all those endings feel authentic and justified. If the game strips that agency in favour of a preferred ending, it runs the risk of alienating the player or running counter to the emergent narrative the player has spent days, weeks, maybe months building up in their own head.

So games that stick the landing are, on the whole, quite rare. Red Dead Redemption is still one of the few that nailed it. That sets it out narratively among games this decade, not just in 2010.

Mass Effect 2

Image: Mass Effect

Having made all that fuss about sticking the landing, it makes sense, then, to dive straight into Mass Effect 2. The ending of ME3 aside, the individual character arcs in ME2 are the best in the series. The performance from Martin Sheen was commanding and dominated his scenes appropriately.

But his contribution didn't overshadow the rest of the cast: Michael Beattie nailed it as Solus, Steve Blum's delivery as Grunt was perfect, and there's a reason Jennifer Hale's FemShep performance was as beloved as it was. And those performances were necessary because so much of ME2 was really a character drama, with you spending your time diving into the lives and backstories of your crew members.

I never played ME2 at launch, instead grabbing it during one of the old Steam flash sales. Upon finishing the game, I remember sitting back thinking, "I wish I spent more than $10 on that."

Far more eloquent words have been said about the Mass Effect series, to be sure. But I still remember the feeling when those end credits rolled: a sense of satisfaction, relief and longing. It would be a while before I walked away from a story-driven game that happy, I thought. And I was right.

Fallout: New Vegas

It's nice to be writing about New Vegas so soon after The Outer Worlds, which carries on Obsidian's open-world RPG legacy in many ways. New Vegas established what Obsidian was capable of back in the day: wonderfully detailed, well-written quests, dialogue and branching stories, but beset with a lot of bugs and rough edges.

It was the sort of game you loved in spite of itself. And even though Obsidian had a solid track record before then, with KOTOR 2 and the outstanding Neverwinter Nights 2, New Vegas became Obsidian's brand in a way. It was also host to one of the most depressing stories of game development, with the studio and staff missing out on key bonuses because the game fell one point short of their contracted Metacritic aggregate score. By scoring a 84 instead of an 85, Obsidian missed out entirely on any post-launch bonuses.

But there was a positive legacy among all of this. It was awkward for Bethesda, as fans consistently praised New Vegas and its approach instead of the combat, exploration-driven Fallout 4. But the world of video games and gamers is large enough to support both those things, and with a bit of luck and time, Obsidian was able to make a successful return to open-world RPG shooters once more.

The Outer Worlds Does Everything I Wanted

While some things never change, it's nice to walk away from a game and think, "That was exactly what I was after."

Read more

Super Mario Galaxy 2

One of the last great highs for the Wii before the Wii U, Mario Galaxy 2 was completely unnecessary — and one of the tightest Mario games ever made. It is one of those games that has very little fat: everything present has a purpose and fulfils it for exactly as long as it needs to, only to be replaced with a new gimmick, a new level that wonders and delights all over.

It's still a blast to play today, if you can be arsed, although the advent of the outstanding Dolphin emulator has made that endeavour a lot easier.

Skate 3

We didn't quite know what it had with Skate 3 at launch, but HelixSnake made sure the internet never forgot.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Still one of the most inconsistent voice performances I can remember in a game — Sam Worthington was not worth the money Activision paid — but the original Black Ops campaign still represented Call of Duty at its most creative. It was the first game where Treyarch really started to step out of Infinity Ward's shadow, offering more gimmicks and being a lot weirder with their set-pieces.

The menu screen is still one of my favourite gimmicks in a game, where you're strapped to a chair and are scrolling through options available in the chair, unless you bash the keys enough to break out of your bindings and walk around the interrogation room. It's also helped by Black Ops' multiplayer being an outstanding follow-on from the Modern Warfare games with some excellent maps of its own, like Nuketown.

Super Meat Boy

The Souls craze hadn't hit the West yet, but the appetite for harder, brutal platformers and games had already started. Super Meat Boy played its part with an exceptionally tight control scheme, fantastic aesthetic, and a cadeance that perfectly matched the game's replayability.


So that's the pick of games from the start of the decade. We'll follow up soon with 2011, 2012 and so on. What were your favourite games at the start of the year — and what was your favourite platform at the time?


Comments

    Alan wake anyone? (Not to mention Metro 2033, but I might be more forgiving for the mess it is).

    My defining gaming memory of 2010 was that it was the first year I bought more PS3 games than XBox 360 games.

    Also Fallout New Vegas was the first game I ever bought on Steam.

      Yeah, it was weird, that turning point. I'd been an early adopter of both of that gen's heavyweights, but the 360 took an early lead and just ran with it. It included a surprising number of JRPGs, which was a dramatic shift from the genre balance between previous gen Xbox and PS2. I was a 360 man for lyfe. Or so I thought.

      I was reasonably invested in my gamerscore and had a very significant library of discs and XBL arcade digital purchases, but at some point the PS3 rounded a corner and went hard on ass-kicking exclusives, and must've invested some serious dosh in helping devs put some actual effort in utilizing cell tech for multi-platform titles.

      It was kind of a jarring shift, but as the generation wore on and Microsoft kept making the dashboard UI worse instead of releasing exclusives, there really wasn't much of a choice.

      I think 2010 was the year I bought a PS3, a phat at that one due to all the JRPGs.

      Out of the three games I've played on the list: StarCraft 2, Mass Effect 2 and New Vegas, the only one that I enjoyed enough to play multiple times was Mass Effect 2.

      StarCraft 2 I gave up early on since the missions up to where I quit were just rehashes of the original StarCraft.

      New Vegas I bought as a complete edition many years later, and its one of my top disappointments, which I didn't enjoy anywhere near as much as 3. Funnily enough KotOR2 is one of my other top disappointments. So I put that down to just not liking Obsidian games, although they did make Stick of Truth.

      Mass Effect 2, now that was near perfection. The only reason it doesn't quite make it is due to them deciding that 'mature' means f-bombs, which is rather immature in my book. Having Anderson swear that one time in the original really added to the gravity of the situation. Everything else about the game was pretty much exquisite... except the whole 'total saturation of DLC' thing. Since I was living in the US I actually got to buy Dr Pepper to get the exclusive DLC gear from it.

    Skyward Sword deserves a mention even though it was released a year later....

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