For all the commercial and cultural challenges gaming faced, there was still room for joyous creativity. And, with any luck, the portents for that continuing -and possibly even expanding- into the 2020s look good. As many industries wrestle with balancing their art and commercial interests, gaming has started to turn its eye to the now-ubiquitous subscription model.
Xbox has put itself in the driving seat with its Game Pass service, which has already helped more innovative and interesting games find an audience they may not have otherwise. Microsoft have called Game Pass its ‘centre of gravity’ as it prepares to launch its new series of Xbox consoles in 2020 to compete with Sony’s powerful PS5.
At its best, a subscription model should allow for more flexibility and creativity. Xbox has the stirrings of an essential library, while Apple has shown similar verve with Arcade, a fabulous suite of premium mobile games that finished the 2010s by providing some of the most inventive titles on mobile.
While service games will continue to be an integral part of gaming, there is the chance that Netflix-style libraries will allow those smaller experimental titles to breathe. And if cloud-gaming services such as Google’s Stadia, Sony’s PlayStation Now and Microsoft’s Project Xcloud can continue to improve and lower the barrier of entry, the next decade is likely to be as much of a rollercoaster as the last.
The best games of the 2010s
1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2016)
Nintendo’s masterful reinvention of its long-running family-friendly fantasy is a glorious deconstruction of the bloated open-world genre. Every step a surprise, every untrodden path an adventure. This is Nintendo at its very best.
2. The Last of Us (2013)
Naughty Dog’s bleak road-trip across post-apocalyptic America is thrilling, touching and terrifying in equal measure. Brutal, uncomfortable violence pairs with the central relationship between Joel and Ellie, held together by tragedy and desperation.
3. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
A boisterous celebration of Super Mario, Galaxy 2 takes on the mantle of its predecessor by building entire planets for our portly plumber’s brand of athletics. An expression of gaming joy has never been so pure.
4. Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Rockstar’s opus is a crackling black mirror held up to America that is arguably even more relevant today than it was when it first released. Darkly comic and cinematically inspired, its extraordinary city of Los Santos and the mischief it holds remains its biggest star.
5. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
The middle chapter of the brilliant space-opera trilogy is easily Bioware’s Empire Strikes Back. Building on the promise of the fascinating predecessor, this flings you into a gorgeous galaxy of wonderful characters, fizzing action and heart-wrenching choice.
6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)
Any time spent with the grizzled tones of Geralt is time well spent. Wild Hunt is a fabulously intricate telling of Sapkwoski’s high-fantasy, full of magic, mystery and horny sorcerers.
7. Dark Souls (2011)
From Software’s grimdark fantasy has inspired a genre of its own, reimagining challenge and structure. Mechanically brilliant, Dark Souls also builds an atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a broadsword.
8. Portal 2 (2011)
A staggering achievement of head-twisting architectural genius and delicious humour, Portal 2 is a puzzler of unique standing.
9. What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)
A smart, funny and touching series of vignettes exploring the wrenching misfortune of the Finch family, What Remains of Edith Finch is a beautiful illustration of the way gaming’s interactivity can make a story soar.
10. Batman: Arkham City (2011)
Marvelous interpretation of the Caped Crusader, stalking the Gotham night as the City is overrun by a menagerie of villains lead by a deliciously maniacal Joker. Beautifully atmospheric, underpinned by tremendous fisticuffs and an inventive Gotham labyrinth.