Gaming FeaturesThe 2010s

Gaming In the 2010s: A Highlight Reel

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As a relatively nascent artform, video games are still enjoying a massive surge of innovation, both in the way that we play them and in what they can show us. Some of these advances have not been great—the proliferation of DRM, subscription fees, and always-online requirements have hindered the way we access many titles—but overall it’s been an exciting time to be a gamer. The 2010s brought us new genres with the popularization of MOBAs, battle royales, “Soulslikes,” and hero-shooters, as well as breakthroughs in virtual reality and streaming that have allowed us to experience games like we never have before.

This is a list of some of my personal favorite mechanics, features, characters, and moments from my past 10 years of gaming, in no particular order. This isn’t necessarily a list of the best games I played, but rather individual aspects that stuck with me long after I put each respective game away. All of the games mentioned are from the latter half of the decade, because frankly they’re the ones I remember the clearest (as you will no doubt notice in my final entry!). I’m sure I’ve got something in the cloud about the forklift in HALO: REACH or my first time entering the old labs in PORTAL 2, but here I’m just working with the ideas I can best articulate. Maybe you felt the same about some of these items, maybe you think I’m a rube for including them, but that’s what’s so great about this medium: it’s defined entirely by personal experience! Here are nine that stood out to me.

This article contains some spoilers for DEATH STRANDING and DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB!

gaming Rainbow Six

RAINBOW SIX: SIEGE – Shooting Holes In Things

Blowing Shit UpTM is a time-honored tradition in shooters. From carpet bombing convoys in MERCENARIES, to erasing houses with C4 strapped to a jeep in BAD COMPANY 2, to knocking out the support struts of a tower with your trusty sledgehammer in RED FACTION: GUERRILLA, there are few better uses for a physics engine than sending flaming scraps of metal or body parts flying through the air in every direction. With that being said, no game has made blasting the scenery apart with a shotgun more satisfying or meaningful than RAINBOW SIX: SIEGE, a multiplayer game where you’ll spend more time shredding the furniture than actual players.

Where other demolition-minded titles may focus on massive explosions and city-ending apocalypses, SIEGE emphasizes a more precise simulation of architectural reorganization, opening the door to a bevy of 500 IQ strategies. Grenades can blow holes in floors and walls, creating shortcuts towards objectives or escape hatches when cornered. Firing slits and peepholes can set up the perfect ambush, or trick the other team into thinking there’s one. Wily defenders can even reach through openings and defuse from completely separate rooms. Combined with some stellar sound design that will lead you to hear most enemies before you see them, SIEGE’s environmental destruction is the best thing to happen to shooters this decade.

LIFE IS STRANGE – Rewinding Time

“Save Scumming,” or reloading a recent save file to try and get a better result in a scenario, is a bad habit of plenty of gamers, myself included. While losing a prized item or a beloved character to an unfortunate decision can be a huge bummer, it also creates a more challenging, and therefore compelling, narrative for the player. Save scumming keeps players in their comfort zones, but it can also result in a more forgettable experience overall.

LIFE IS STRANGE manages to keep the best of both worlds, preempting bad gaming predilections by baking them into the narrative. Player character Max needs to make plenty of tough choices over the course of the game, many of which can destroy her relationship with a favorite character, or even kill them. Max is also a time traveler, able to rewind as far back as the beginning of a scene to experiment with different approaches to a problem and weigh their outcomes. Once Max moves onto a new area, however, her decisions are locked in, unexpected long-term consequences be damned. Rewinding not only offers a degree of reassurance to chronic second-guessers, it also opens up a host of supernatural side effects like prescience and teleportation that give Max even more ways to warp her timeline. LIFE IS STRANGE is hardly the first title to incorporate time travel into game, but it’s easily the best implementation of it I’ve ever seen.

gaming Resident Evil

RESIDENT EVIL 2 – Mr. X

This guy fucking sucks. Unstoppable boogeymen are nothing new in horror gaming, but none have ever been so soul-crushing as RESIDENT EVIL 2’s Mr. X. A bit player in the original, RE2 Remake turns the lumbering homunculus into an ever-present terror crashing through the halls of the Raccoon Police Department. Don’t be fooled by his lame fedora, Frankenstein mug, and borderline comical way of squeezing through door frames; there is nothing more intimidating than being cornered by this roided-out prick. The RPD is treacherous enough to navigate with lesser monsters of all stripes setting up shop, but it becomes a death sentence with this asshole hot on your heels.

When you hear those thundering footsteps crashing down outside your room, plans are ruined and caution is thrown to the wind. I’ve had to pause the game and take five more than a few times while running from this asshole, only to blunder headfirst into a nest of Lickers. Never have I felt better about blowing an NPC apart with a rocket launcher than in RE2’s cathartic finale. I might have beaten RESIDENT EVIL 2, but Mr. X gave me an ulcer, and for that, I have no choice but to admit defeat and crown him the king of gaming villains.

DOOM – Glory Kills

Much of DOOM’s secret sauce can be found in its breakneck pace. The Slayer hurdles through Martian bunkers and demonic hellscapes at terrifying speed, blowing monsters apart and moving onto the next room before their viscera can even hit the ground. What’s more, this whirlwind of death never needs to hit the brakes. DOOM eschews most shooter trends that tend to slow things down: there’s no precision sniping, no reloading, and most importantly, no need to use cover. Where so many other shooter heroes need to duck behind pillars, walls, and other chest-high conveniences to catch their second wind in a firefight, the Slayer gets what he needs from the guts of his quarry.

Low on health? Stomp a zombie’s head in and watch those green and blue orbs restore your bars. Out of ammo? All you need to restock is to pull out the chainsaw and bisect a Hellknight. If things are looking dicey and demons are surrounding you on all sides, the best solution is to leap headfirst into the fray and pull what you need out of one of the fiends’ rib cages. Once your enemies start looking less like bloodthirsty hellspawn and more like meat pinatas, that’s how you know your power fantasy has hit the mark.

gaming Super Mario Odyssey

SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY – Cappy

There were quite a few clever tools in games last decade. The gel from PREY’s GLOO cannon is just as handy at sticking enemies in place as it is for building bridges between platforms, GOD OF WAR’s Leviathan Axe was as much fun to chop with as it was to boomerang through the air, and the titular weapon from TRANSISTOR could function as anything from a sword to a machine gun to a decoy generator depending on how you constructed it. But if I had to pick one player item that served me the best, it would have to be SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY’s Cappy.

How does one classify Cappy? Is he a friend? A weapon? A fashion statement? All of the above? The sheer ubiquity of Cappy’s existence within ODYSSEY is what cements him in the Pantheon of Excellent Items in Gaming. Mario’s signature red hat is just as iconic as his moustache, but trading it out for this shapeshifting headpiece is probably one of the best decisions the plumber has ever made. Cappy is used for everything in ODYSSEY, from platforming to fighting and everything in between. Throw him on top of another creature to control it, or toss him across a wide chasm and use him as a stepping stone to traverse it. Turn on a second controller, and suddenly he’s a co-op partner. No, Cappy is not as cute as Luigi’s Polterpup, but the number of tricks up his brim (?) more than makes up for that deficit.

OXENFREE – Real-Time Dialogue

Player-controlled dialogue is everywhere in games, and it has been for a long time. Why is it, then, that it’s remained almost exactly the same for the better part of three decades? Conversation sequences typically freeze time while our characters take turns lobbing sentences at each other like they’re playing chess, potentially staring at each other in silence for minutes at a time if the player is indecisive at picking responses. Sometimes a selection timer is introduced to curb that latter phenomenon, giving casual banter the nerve-wracking context of a bomb defusal. Do these systems work within the context of their games? In most cases, yes. Is this how two human beings have ever communicated with each other in real life? In most cases, no.

OXENFREE’s solution to this conundrum is to give the player simultaneous control over their character and not only what they say, but when they say it. Player character Alex can only move on a two dimensional plane and isn’t able to do much outside of a few context-activated actions, but the way she communicates with her friends feels way more naturalistic than anything that came before it. Alex can cut her friends off mid-sentence, retort with appropriate comedic timing, or choose not to dignify remarks with a response. How Alex talks is just as important as what she says at defining her character. A handful of games have played with this mechanic—TITANFALL 2’s campaign assigned player responses to the D-pad, and developer Night School Studio’s follow-up AFTERPARTY throws an intoxication factor into the mix—but the industry overall has been slow to replicate the innovation. As it stands, OXENFREE remains a novel implementation of a classic gaming staple.

gaming Final Fantasy XV

FINAL FANTASY XV – Prompto’s Camera

Everything about FINAL FANTASY XV screams “Epic.” This is a game with a mountain-sized monster who takes literal hours to kill, after all. The sweeping narrative, immense map, and gorgeous visuals remain the benchmark for the genre, despite being a 2016 release. What I love most about this game, however, are all of the little details that breathe life into the Kingdom of Lucis and its many denizens. Things like a day/night cycle that actually encourages you to turn in when the sun goes down, or how activities like fishing or driving feel more like familiar pastimes Prince Noctis enjoys with his friends, rather than chores the player is completing for stat-based benefits.

All of these things are easier to appreciate when your entourage settles down after a day of adventuring and takes a look at what moments the group’s photographer, Prompto, caught on his camera. There are always plenty of sweet action shots and sweeping vistas, but there’s also records of your accomplishments: beasts you felled, people you met, and curios you discovered. It’s even better when some photos are not ones you immediately recall; Prompto has a knack for wandering off and snapping pics of miscellaneous oddities or grabbing selfies with the locals. The naive young fool is a tired trope in JRPGs, and I would probably find Prompto insufferable in any other game, but with his camera in hand, your bumbling sidekick not only redeems himself, but shines a new light on his world in a way few open world games can.

DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB! – The “Boss Fight”

Final spoiler warning!

DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB! is an extremely cursed visual novel in which Monika, one of the possible love interests, gains sentience and tries to reach out to the player through the fourth wall in increasingly upsetting ways. The finale sees Monika delete all of the player’s save files and open a new game where only she and the player sit across from each other for eternity. Those save files are indeed gone forever, and restarting the game does nothing to change the situation. All that is left to do is receive the dead-eyed stare of a creepy anime girl as she occasionally addresses you directly.

Or is it? To get DDLC!’s true ending, the player must exit the application, open the game’s directory, and delete all files pertaining to Monika. This effectively kills her, putting her out of the misery that is her self-aware existence as a 2D drawing and some lines of text. It’s a visceral horror tale, one of the most disturbing of any medium, but it’s also a fascinating case of game design. As previously stated, in order to beat DDLC!, the player must first quit to desktop. But even though the application has been closed, gameplay is still continuing. While Monika drops some not-so-subtle hints on how to accomplish it, some basic knowledge of navigating your computer’s directory is necessary in order to locate and purge her files. As a video game character, Monika may not be able to exist in real life, but her pernicious attempt to infect our world is in some ways successful, as she’s finally able manipulate the person on the other side of the screen into following the rules of hers (!!!). This is brilliant. This is postmodern. This is art.

DEATH STRANDING – My “A-ha!” Moment

Hideo Kojima’s DEATH STRANDING is notoriously challenging, both as a game and as a work of art. It does not respect the player’s time, it severely punishes the smallest mistakes, and it can be incredibly frustrating to get into. It does this so that when the player overcomes their biggest personal struggle, their “A-ha!” moment is one that, with no exaggeration or melodrama, will stick with them forever.

Mine happened about halfway through DEATH STRANDING’s story. Sam Porter Bridges (Norman Reedus) has to traverse an icy mountain range dividing the Central Region of the UCA. It’s the first time the player has to deal with snow, and the powder carries with it a range of problems. Walking through it is slower and more tiring than anything else in the game (excluding tar), precipitation decays player equipment much faster than regular timefall rain, and the freezing temperature can even lead to Sam’s exhaustion and eventual death. When I first made the trek, the sky was somewhat clear, and I had plenty of tools and provisions to tide me along. Even so, I nearly collapsed on the last leg of the journey, having to abandon some valuable materials I picked up along the way so I could crawl to the other side with my life intact.

Not too long after that close call, I received a delivery order to carry the scientist Mama (Margaret Qualley) back the way I came so she can visit her sister. Not only did I know how grueling the experience could be first-hand, I would now have to attempt it with a human being on my back. For both weight and space concerns, this meant that I could only pack the smallest essentials, and I would have to leave both my hands free to account for my new, ungainly center of mass.

The mission kicks off with a surprise boss fight against a massive beast. After dumping hundreds of bullets and a few satchels of grenades into the monster, my rattled Sam straps Mama onto his back and begins the journey in less-than-ideal shape. Grass turns to rock and eventually snow as we gain elevation. I’m 10 minutes past the base of the mountain (half an hour total if you factor in the battle), and I’m guessing I have twice that time left to go with my added burden. I try taking a shortcut up a steep face, which I realize in a panic was a mistake as I lose my footing and tumble down, hurting myself and Mama in the process. If either Sam or his fragile cargo dies, I’ll have to restart the entire journey, a tedious fate I fear more than any game over screen.

Reaching the peak, my odradek scanner suddenly activates. BTs, the ghostly creatures that plague DEATH STRANDING’s countryside, have appeared nearby. This is the worst thing that could have happened to me. BTs are normally easy to avoid, but not in snow, and certainly not while as encumbered as I am. While not as intimidating as the monster I fought earlier, a single BT will make quick work of me in my current condition. I did not think to pack a gun, as I didn’t encounter any threats on my first pass, and I neglected to restock on grenades after using all of mine in the opening encounter. I was also winded after carrying an adult woman up a mountain, meaning I could only hold my breath for a short while, a necessity to avoid detection by BTs.

There was no way around the BTs; I would have to sneak through them, which would probably mean killing at least one. The only tool I had to deal with BTs was a special bladed handcuff that I had just received, and of which I had zero confidence in my ability to use. Sure enough, as I cautiously proceeded forward, I found that a BT had stopped directly in my path. I would have to remove it if I was to reach my destination.

As I crept closer, I worried that maybe this wasn’t the intended use of my glorified switchblade. I didn’t know if it was a weapon that had to be equipped, or a context-sensitive action that would appear once I was close enough to the BT. I was certainly close enough to hear the creature’s ghastly breath, but I was no closer to figuring out what to do with my one feeble weapon. I was running out of breath, and I had no other choice but to make a break for the BT. Just as it was about to turn towards me, the prompt “Cut Umbilical Cord” appeared onscreen. I doubt I’ve ever hit a button so fast before, and having realized I was also holding my breath in real life, let out a massive sigh of relief as Sam severed the BT’s tether to the world. With the phantom drifting off into the ether, I was free to press on to the downhill leg of the mountain.

The remainder of the journey was without incident, but as Mama began talking again, thanking Sam for getting her so far, I felt a wave of euphoria rush over me. It was kill or be killed with that BT on the summit, and despite the odds being totally stacked against me, I had somehow come out on top. Stumbling out of the snow and back onto solid dirt, I had to admit to myself that all the previous hardships were totally worth it, as without them, this overwhelming sense of accomplishment wouldn’t be welling up inside me. Mama isn’t real, her sister isn’t real, and their touching reunion wasn’t real, but the struggle definitely was, and it only further solidified Kojima’s claim as the King of creating unforgettable moments.

Ed Dutcher
Ed Dutcher is a Video Games Editor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine. The last time Ed had a meal that wasn't microwaved, George W. Bush was president. He only learned to read so that he could play Pokemon.

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    1. […] this game is wrapped around, it’s quite easy to get into an enjoyable groove whilst playing. There are moments here that top even the best scenes from RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2. Yes, it’s an open world wasteland, a […]

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