– Firaxis / 2010
The Civilization series appears numerous times on Joystiq's year-end "Best of the Rest" lists from me. From Civilization 4
and its expansions, to the console and mobile-focused Civilization Revolution
, and finally Civilization 5
. I have easily spent more time with this series over the past decade than any other.
I still feel joy within the general experience of Civilization – especially that first hour every time - over dissecting how it all works at a mathematic level. This is probably why – even though I'm a series fan - I don't freak out every time the franchise takes a good hard look at itself before adding a new number to the end of its title. The adjustments stay true to the series' epic strategy roots, but Civilization 5
made some of the most radical changes the series had seen and, boy, was there debate. Civilization 5
took the grand ambition of Civilization 4
and the streamlined lessons of Civilization Revolution
, giving us a hex-based board that took away the most hallowed of Civ traditions: the stack of doom. Oh no, strategy players had to actually think tactically instead of just make one giant pillar of units to move across the world!
Following several expansions to Civilization 5
, the hardcore haters have calmed down and the game stands out as the strategy title for the slightly-more-evolved player. It's not designed for a niche audience and that's something I have to give kudos time and time again to developer Firaxis (XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Pirates!, Alpha Centauri
Firaxis doesn't make Civilization for strategy game players, it makes the series for players interested in strategy games. It's that small difference in thinking that creates more accessible design, a term that has been made dirty by the likes of Candy Crush Saga
But, that's what Civilization 5
is. It's accessible and there's no shame in that. And it's a part of a franchise that will stand the test of time.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
– DICE / 2010
The title that birthed Team[JOY], who remain the best group of folks I have ever played games with. We try to get together whenever possible when a new multiplayer games comes out nowadays, but no game has held out attention like Bad Company 2
. To the detriment of our children and significant others, we must have played that game nearly every night for an entire year. Bad Company 2
was the final "fun" Battlefield game that didn't take itself too seriously and remains an amazing co-op experience I'll remember fondly forever.
Mass Effect 2
– BioWare / 2010
I have never cared for a cast of characters as much as I have cared about the crew of the Normandy. A perfect mix of rogues, rebels, psychopaths, scientists and warriors. Cmdr. Shepard led them to victory on what was sure to be a suicide mission. I love what Cmdr. Shepard represents so much that I have my own Pupmander Shepard.
– Haemimont / 2011
The fourth iteration of Tropico nailed the franchise's formula. Give players a banana republic simulator to control, add in some ridiculous narrative and let them go. What the player is really doing is just laying down farms, factories, housing and tourist traps on a tropical island, but the game's story elements elevate this to the ridiculously fun.
– Sega / 2008
Easily the most underrated game of the last ten years, especially if you're into Japanese role-playing games. The war melodrama of Squad 7's heroic struggle was punctuated with the perma-death of squad mates who had personality and back-story. I adore the original Valkyria Chronicles
and hope one day it gets the big console reboot or continuation it deserves. This series deserved so much more!
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
– Bethesda Game Studios / 2011
I was an adventurer once, but then I took an arrow to the knee after playing this game for over 100 hours. Even with the many hours I spent in Skyrim
, I know I still haven't explored it all. A game of breadth and depth is rare, but Skyrim
delivered both on the wings of dragons.
– Bethesda Game Studios / 2008
Like Skyrim, there's still plenty I never explored in Fallout 3
, even though I spent over a hundred hours in that world. Although the two games are similar in structure, they vary widely in mindset. The world of Fallout clicked more with me because it's not the story of a hero, it's about filling the loneliness of being a survivor. How do you use that time in a world of moral ambiguity and no rules?
Red Dead Redemption – Rockstar San Diego / 2010
Grand Theft Horsy. And it was wonderful.
Hitman: Blood Money
– IO Interactive / 2006
Agent 47 at his finest and one of the best final scenes in gaming history. Blood Money
gave players the option to execute contracts at their discretion. It's the only game in the series that's required playing.
1 vs 100 – Microsoft Game Studios / 2009
A singular experience shared with thousands. Appointment gaming for the masses. We all knew when it was on and we looked forward to playing it with friends in our living rooms or across Xbox Live party chat. It's a shame that Microsoft wasn't able to figure out a way to make the idea financially viable, but maybe in the next ten years we'll get a collective gaming experience again.
[Images: 2K, EA, Haemimont, Sega, Bethesda, Rockstar, Square Enix, Microsoft]