ZombiePie's Games Of The Decade Superlatives - Part I

Preamble

Hey everyone, before I transition into a new Final Fantasy blog series, I thought I'd give general blogging a quick try. Now, relax, I have big plans for 2020 in regards to my Final Fantasy blog series. Obviously, I'm not going to pretend the Final Fantasy VII Remake isn't around the corner, and that can only mean I have to go down the dark rabbit that is the "Compilation of Final Fantasy VII." However, if you were wondering, my next "traditional" series will be for Final Fantasy V.

With regards to this blog at hand, I decided to have a go at the whole "Game of the Decade" gimmick, but with my own spin. Instead of systematically ranking my favorite games from the 2010s, I'm handing out "superlatives" to what I think are the notable moments and events of the decade. Undoubtedly, there's a decent amount of "wiggle room" when it comes to several of my awards. So, please keep that in mind, and if you can think of a game that is more deserving of any of my personal choices, feel free to drop a comment. Also, if you enjoyed this blog, here's a link to the second part:

Best Dark Middle Chapter - Mass Effect 2

Oh, how I would like to go on one more adventure with these scallywags.
Oh, how I would like to go on one more adventure with these scallywags.

The original Mass Effect will always be near and dear to my heart. However, after rewatching Alex's hilarious playthrough, even I have to admit it's a bit "limiting" in terms of scope and tone. The universe of Mass Effect 1 feels more like a love letter to a bygone era of science fiction than a wholly realized first step for a multi-media franchise. It's sterile and shockingly monotonous, and luckily for all involved, BioWare knew this and learned from it. No game did more to set up the industry tradition last decade for massive video game trilogies quite like Mass Effect 2. The game was a media sensation and did more to establish BioWare as a pre-eminent game studio than any other game in their catalog. And I say that as someone who still thinks their best RPG is Baldur's Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. But Mass Effect 2 was unique. It had grit as well as a bubbly crew of characters you never wanted to see go away.

There are a lot of ways one can characterize Mass Effect 2's legacy, and I'm not about to issue grandiose soliloquies on what I think that may be. What Mass Effect 2 does deserve extensive credit for, is doing more to set the tone and mood of an entire franchise and breeding a new generation of gamers interested in science fiction and role-playing. Mass Effect 2 didn't just set high expectations of what future entries of the franchise could hold; it also set a new standard for trilogies regardless of their respective genre. The game's proverbial "Suicide Mission" is an iconic final act to a game that riveted audiences with jaw-dropping set-pieces, one after another. Few games from the previous decade felt as complete as Mass Effect 2 did, and that's despite a few granular nitpicks about its de-emphasis on traditional role-playing structures and tropes.

Runner-up: The Witcher 2

While most would consider The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt to be the emotional high-water mark of the franchise, the series' second outing deserves credit for getting all of its shit together. Also, "Broche" for life and any of you who sided with Iorveth are dead to me forever.

Game Which Best Demonstrates The Benefits Of Crowdfunding - FTL: Faster Than Light

This is a literal screencap of my first successful attempt at beating the Rebel Flagship on the hardest difficulty setting.
This is a literal screencap of my first successful attempt at beating the Rebel Flagship on the hardest difficulty setting.

As you can see below, the runner-up for this category is Shovel Knight, and while I probably would say it is a "better" game, FTL: Faster Than Light still gets this award for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I don't think FTL would have been given the "green light" in the previous decade without the advent of Kickstarter. While many, including myself, will claim we are currently under siege by an endless deluge of indie roguelikes, there's no denying how much of a breath of fresh air FTL was at the time of its release. Back then, the roguelike genre was primarily "inside baseball" for a majority of gamers. Moreover, FTL perfectly showed how having modest goals with realistic expectations was a recipe for success on Kickstarter. Unlike many fool-hardy Kickstarter developers, the makers of FTL never promised backers the world.

Alternatively, developer Subset Games made it public they wanted to make an homage for an underappreciated genre with a setting few would have considered at the time. And when the game came out, it exceeded everyone's expectations. After its release, dozens of would-be developers came out of the woodwork to explore other "dead" genres and intellectual properties. Likewise, FTL was one of the most important early success stories to come out of Kickstarter. In a lot of ways, it paved the way for hundreds, if not thousands, of Kickstarter video game projects. Yes, the majority of these projects were terrible, but for years FTL would serve as a general "rule of thumb" for future video game-based Kickstarters. This fact alone cannot and should not go ignored.

Runner-up: Shovel Knight

Again, Shovel Knight is probably a "better" game, but FTL gets the nod for being the first successful Kickstarter game that took the world by storm. Nonetheless, Shovel Knight's developer certainly deserves props for supporting the game for the better part of the decade and keeping the game alive far longer than anyone could have expected.

Best Trailer - Dead Island

I want to make this clear from the onset; I never played Dead Island. Based on what I saw in the final game, it never reached the emotional heights of this trailer. The game becoming a mindless multiplayer zombie survival game bummed me out then, and it still bums me out today. However, to return to this trailer, never have I ever seen a video game trailer carry as much emotional weight as Dead Island's original teaser. Not only is Dead Island's trailer emotionally touching, but it also conveys a riveting story all in about three minutes. And if you weren't following games at the time, you may have even missed out on the industry-wide discussion about its contents and if it "went too far." This trailer also influenced the industry in a lot of interesting ways. For one thing, this trailer did a lot to move game studios away from the tech-demo centric teasers that had all but become the norm at the time.

This trailer, for better or worse, is a work of art and should go down in video game history as such. For fuck's sake, how many goddamned video game trailers have their OWN WIKIPEDIA ARTICLE?! On top of that, I cannot think of a trailer sparking as strong an emotional reaction online as much as Dead Island did. If the game had even captured half of the drama conveyed in this trailer, it would have improved the final game by order of magnitude. Sadly, that didn't happen, and regrettably, it only spawned an endless mob of parodies and cheap knockoffs. Though, the parody trailer for Goat Simulator is definitely "good shit."

Runner-up: No Man's Sky

Alright, look, I admit No Man's Sky is finally "getting there" after years of failing to deliver on the potential shown during its first trailer. After the better part of four years, the game and Sean Murray are finally itching towards the original promise shown to gamers way back in 2013. That said, go back to the first teaser that debuted during 2013 Game Awards and tell me you don't get chills while watching it! It is still utterly amazing to watch.

Video Game Platypus Of The Decade - Divinity: Dragon Commander

Dragon Commander had romanceable skeleton-people before it was cool!
Dragon Commander had romanceable skeleton-people before it was cool!

Let me explain this award before we continue. First, I stole the idea of this award from my fellow moderator, thatpinguino, who, on occasion, refers to video game oddities as "platypuses." His reasoning? Like the lowly platypus, sometimes when you play a game, you look at it and ask, "Why are you the way you are?" "Who designed you?" "Why is this part here?" And when I look back at the 2010s, I realize no game made me utter those sorts of questions more than Divinity: Dragon Commander, a true video game chimera.

Merely trying to explain Divinity: Dragon Commander's "genre" is a Herculean task. Ostensibly, it's a board game in the style of Risk with a card-based perk system. However, the actual battles you conduct are in real-time, and you command your armies using a human-dragon hybrid. A human-dragon hybrid, mind you, that allows you to play your RTS battles as if they are action set pieces from Drakengard. On top of that, there's a role-playing mechanic that works out like a Japanese dating-sim where all of your "romance options" are different high fantasy races strewn across a political compass. It's without a doubt, a video game peculiarity, that does not entirely tie all of its loose ends together. Despite that, I recommend you check it out if you ever see the game on sale.

Runner-up: Artifact

Before you chime in, I concede there's nothing overtly "odd" about Artifact. However, what makes Artifact especially bizarre is how Valve, with the talent and expertise they recruited to make this game, thoroughly fucked up their go at a digital collectible card game. Shit, even Gwent had a longer go at the CCG market, and that's saying something. What truly baffles me is how quickly this game imploded.

Best Example Of DLC "Done Right" - BioShock 2: Minerva's Den

I might even go so far as to suggest Minerva's Den is the second best thing to bear the Bioshock name.
I might even go so far as to suggest Minerva's Den is the second best thing to bear the Bioshock name.

BioShock 2 is an odd game in hindsight. It was a sequel to a landmark game from studio Irrational Games and creative mastermind, Ken Levine. Bioshock 2, on the other hand, came from 2K Marin, a studio whose only previous credit at the time was porting the original BioShock to the PS3. Nevertheless, this award isn't about my personal feelings about BioShock 2's right to bear its name. In fact, what often gets overlooked is how BioShock 2 gave audiences one of the most compelling templates for DLC, Minerva's Den. Never before have I seen such a perfect video game example of the "Big-fish–little-pond effect," quite like Minerva's Den.

Without a doubt, there are limitations with Minerva's Den, many of which echo thematic and mechanical issues that plague BioShock 2. Just the same, Minerva's Den conceives a small world that feels more organic than anything seen in the game it compliments. Furthermore, learning more about the "Tinker" and the characters vying to control it proved to be more compelling than the major plot beats of BioShock 2. Part of this is due to Minerva's Den's short length, which ensures it progresses at a brisk but pulse-pounding clip. At no point did I ever feel Minerva's Den slacking, and if anything, I almost wish certain parts of it were more in-depth. To me, that's a clear sign something went "right" with its design.

Runner-up: Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss

Originally, I put Mass Effect 2: Lair of the Shadow Broker in this spot. Then I thought of how much more worldbuilding Artorias of the Abyss brings to the table in comparison. Also, "SHE WAS MANUS!" is one of my favorite Vinny moments of the 2010s.

Most Fabulous Prank - Frog Fractions

go under the water
go under the water

Let's be honest with each other for a minute. Can you think of any other game which warrants taking this award? If you are still unconvinced, let me remind you, the late-2010 trend of "games within games" came from Frog Fractions. Games like Soda Drinker Pro and Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015: Do You Still Shower With Your Dad? DO NOT EXIST in a world where Frog Fractions never comes out to the public. On top of that, the actual "conceit" of Frog Factions has not been topped by any of these knockoffs. Personally, I'm still waiting for a game to dupe me as magnificently as Frog Fractions. That moment when I accidentally went into the water on that first level, was magical.

Equally important of note, was the entire video game community waiting with bated breath for the sequel to Frog Fractions. Year after year, Twinbeard Studios and Jim Crawford stomached the same deluge of questions about if and when a sequel was coming out. And while that sequel certainly did not equal the hilarity of the original, the fact they had to go to such great lengths to keep their follow up a secret speaks volumes of Frog Fractions' indelible mark. Furthermore, it took OVER TWO YEARS for the gaming community to fully "solve" the alternate reality game within Frog Fractions 2. Yup, for over two years, people worked non-stop to unlock the "complete" Frog Fractions 2 experience!

Runner-up: Bubsy 3D: Bubsy Visits the James Turrell Retrospective

Holy shit, this game is a trip, and the fact it manages to be the most exciting thing ever done with Bubsy should come as no surprise. It's a wild game that ends up in a hilariously dark place only fitting for Bubsy.

Most Dramatic Reboot Of A Waning Franchise Or Series - Doom (2016)

Doom (2016) also wins my
Doom (2016) also wins my "Most Healthy Use of Nostalgia" Award!

I do not hate Doom 3. In fact, I am a proud pro-Doom 3 supporter. While yes, the game's nonsensical story does not mesh well with its unflinching grittiness, the game has incredible production values. Sure, it's far more reliant on "monster closets" than it should, but in terms of being a modern version of Doom as a horror FPS, I think id Software hit it out of the park. Regardless, Doom went quiet as id Software struggled to find itself after its sale to ZeniMax Media in 2009. While some would say the Wolfenstein reboot was a more notable revitalization of a beloved id franchise, Wolfenstein fans at least had Enemy Territory and the oft-forgotten Raven Software reboot to keep themselves occupied. Doom fans, on the other hand, had been champing at the bit for over a decade! Furthermore, the release of Doom 3: BFG Edition infuriated fans and bred the ill-will that made most skeptical of the Doom reboot upon its announcement.

Then the game came out, and all was forgiven. The combat sequences were gory and hypnotic. The Doom Guy felt iconic even though they never spoke. The re-imaging of the Doom enemy standbys put many, in a perpetual state of nostalgic swooning. Doom had never felt so silky smooth, and the game was so much goddamned fun to play. Moreover, the throbbing music was perfectly used and a significant reason why it felt like a Doom game from yesteryear. So satisfied were fans that they happily accepted Doom Eternal's delay so long as it led to a better Doom experience.

Runner-up: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Much like the Doom reboot, many publications, and gamers questioned whether or not Firaxis' attempt to "modernize" UFO: Enemy Unknown would bear fruit. But bear fruit it did! Not only did Firaxis silence its critics with a GOTY contender, but they also turned out an equally impressive sequel. Also, check out the XCOM board game if you haven't already. It's a surprisingly solid game that is as intense as the video game.

Most Consequential Game Release - Minecraft

And if you all will permit me to hand out double awards, then Minecraft gets my
And if you all will permit me to hand out double awards, then Minecraft gets my "Most Underrated Soundtrack" superlative.

While my original pick for this award was not Minecraft, after thinking about it for a moment, no one game changed the landscape of the video game industry as much and for as long as Minecraft. While Minecraft did not in and of itself "invent" a genre, it did buck numerous trends at the time. With most AAA studios pumping millions of dollars into sleek graphics engines and production values, Minecraft was supporting millions of concurrent players in a voxel-based world. As others put a growing emphasis on scripted action set pieces, Minecraft had no significant events to speak of for years. And when the industry debated how to structure missions in open-world environments, Minecraft shrugged that away and welcomed its players to build at their own pace.

Minecraft has continued to maintain its audience as other online-oriented games struggle to reinvent themselves. Minecraft was also ahead of its time in a lot of ways. Before Star Citizen became a joke within the industry, Minecraft was the first game to toy around with the idea of a "soft launch." The game was in "beta" for ages, and no one cared! On top of that, Minecraft changed the direction the industry was heading when it came to online multiplayer. Lest we forget, many video game companies were thinking about shit-canning private servers entirely, and Minecraft stopped that trend in its tracks.

Runner-up: Star Wars Battlefront II

Full disclosure, after its rough launch, Star Wars Battlefront II has shaped up into a decent online multiplayer shooter. What cannot be forgotten is how its loot box controversy inspired global regulations and laws. As we enter the 2020s, the debate on whether or not loot boxes qualify as a form of gambling remains unresolved, and I can only imagine that battleline will continue to draw the ire of both sides of the debate.

Game That Most Benefitted From The Age Of Streaming - Five Nights at Freddy's

Every one of you knows of at least ONE Twitch or YouTube streamer who became famous thanks to this game. Don't you fucking lie to me!
Every one of you knows of at least ONE Twitch or YouTube streamer who became famous thanks to this game. Don't you fucking lie to me!

Here's another game pick I can only imagine I'm going to have to defend. Certainly, Fortnite, PUBG, Minecraft, and Roblox are objectively better games than Five Nights at Freddy's. However, games that are the best or most entertaining to watch are not what I'm looking for with this award. This award is for the game that most benefitted from live streaming and likely would not have become a cultural landmark without its existence. Games like Fortnite, PUBG, or Minecraft would have been talking points within the gaming community regardless if internet ner do wells were spewing homophobic language or racial slurs while playing them in real-time.

Alternatively, Five Nights at Freddy's does not become a multi-media sensation without viral YouTube videos or Twitch streams. Some might go so far as to suggest that's how the game was designed. In fact, without video streaming, I doubt Five Nights at Freddy's would even exist. And if it did, it would be in such a reduced capacity that the odds of it signing a movie or television deal would be negligible. Don't lie to me when I ask you this question, but how many of your little brothers, sisters, or cousins know a thing or two about Five Nights at Freddy's thanks to Twitch?

Runner-up: Any Battle Royale Game

And we now have the one "cop-out" pick on this blog. I simply could not pick any particular Battle Royale game as the one that benefitted the most from live-streaming. They all do, and as we watch more of these games try to jokey for a slice of the live-streaming pie, I think we can all agree this is not a trend that will be stopping anytime soon.

Single Worst Story Arc - The Junk Yard Shit In Death Stranding

WHAT THE FUCK EVEN WAS THIS STORY ARC?! WHO MADE THESE NIGHTMARE PEOPLE?!
WHAT THE FUCK EVEN WAS THIS STORY ARC?! WHO MADE THESE NIGHTMARE PEOPLE?!

Holy shit, where do I even begin? Never before have I been so thoroughly gobsmacked by a single storyline quite like my time at the Junk Yard in Death Stranding. And with most of the game's critics focusing on Death Stranding's mechanical frustrations and narrative failures, I think the awfulness of this one storyline gets lost in the mix. It is fucking AWFUL! What's worse, every minute you spend with the characters involved in this storyline feels like a fucking eternity. Each time I furthered the story, I wanted to be done with it. The characters are all monsters pulled from a fever dream. I hated it, and I'm glad I never have to go through with it again.

This story arc is a special moment where I seriously wondered how a grown adult convinced themselves they were good at their job. Look, I get it. Kojima burning millions of dollars to fart in front of a camera might interest some people on the internet. No matter, the Junk Yard storyline is so atrocious; you cannot even approach it as a weird Kojima "pet project." I honestly think the man thought he was writing a tender reunion story and did not realize he missed the mark by a fucking mile. If you want to spend hours with your hands on your cheeks as if you are a character from an Edvard Munch painting, then, by all means, have at it.

Runner-up: Chocolina In Final Fantasy XIII-2 & Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

Of my many awards this week, this one feels like the most lopsided. Death Stranding was winning this award, and it wasn't even a contest. That said, points to Final Fantasy XIII-2 for trying. Discovering what was up with the Chocobo-human hybrid merchant was FUCKING WILD!

Best Game You Can No Longer Play - P.T./Silent Hills

Also BY FAR the biggest
Also BY FAR the biggest "What Could Have Been Moment" of the 2010s.

After excoriating Kojima for Death Stranding, you might suspect I think the man is without creative merit. However, the truth is I respect his gall and artistic ambition on a conceptual level. Likewise, one of his earlier projects in the decade, P.T., is one of my personal favorites. The fact I'll never get to experience the original demo, let alone a fully realized version of the thing, is a continual disappointment. Now, I have been on record before that I think P.T. fails to be a schema to a coherent outline. Additionally, I found the mid to late-game puzzles to be overly obtuse and downright frustrating. Scavenging poorly lit rooms, one after another, for crumpled up picture pieces is the most obvious example of this complaint.

Nonetheless, the game's atmosphere was top-notch, and there's no denying the game also had the best jump scares of the decade! Even for moderate Kojima skeptics like myself, it was interesting to watch the man create a video game experience defined by restraint. Unlike the utter nonsense of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, P.T. didn't immediately show its goods, and instead, got a lot of mileage out of its minimalistic setting. On top of that, while the demo itself was short, when it did deliver traditional horror tropes, it did so in impeccable fashion. Again, discussing "delayed gratification" regarding a Kojima game almost seems bizarre. Which is why I think it's a complete bummer this game did not go further than it did. You got a sense that the creative team and partners Kojima was working with were helping him turn his ambitious ideas into something feasible.

Runner-up: Velvet Sundown

Velvet Sundown is a Frankenstein's Monster of a video game. It blends the conceit of a hidden role game with a dubious text-to-speech algorithm. In many ways, it was barely a game, and yet, also one of the most enthralling video game experiences of 2014. Regrettably, the developer, Tribe Studios, was bought out, and its new owner ceased paying for the license to use the text-to-speech software. As such, any attempts to play Velvet Sundown today result in a big fat goose egg.

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