Gamasutra's Top 12 Games of the Decade

By Gamasutra staff

[After yesterday's honorable mentions for Gamasutra's 'Game Of The Decade', as voted and commented on by hundreds of our readers, we're counting down your Top 12 games of the last ten years, from Wii Sports through The Sims all the way to the top-voted title.]

Gamasutra has just completed its reader-specific Game Of The Decade vote -- allowing the game professionals reading the site to choose their best game of the last 10 years, with in-depth commentary.

Readers responded to the following question - anonymously, if they wished - naming a game released this decade for any console, handheld, PC or online platform, and why they believe it outdid any other:

"Gamasutra is asking its users to vote for their 'Game Of The Decade' -- the video game title that they think was the absolute best of the last ten years, from January 2000 to date. Name the game, and then explain why it mattered to you and what differentiates it from the multitude of others released in the last decade?"

The best responses are being compiled into this two-part article. Yesterday, we put together some of the most notable games that didn't make the larger list, both in terms of them just missing the required amount of votes, and those that got particularly compelling write-ups.

And today, we'll be counting down the Top 12 games -- ranked by the most votes -- of the last ten years (as opposed to a Top 10, thanks to a four-way tie for the game in 8th place on the countdown). We're also including many of your comments that helped the chart end up as it did.

Without further ado, here is the full Top 12 -- as voted by Gamasutra readers -- for our Game Of The Decade:

12. Wii Sports (Nintendo Wii, 2006)

The Nintendo Wii's pack-in game introduced players to the console's motion-sensing controllers, and won over our readers with its innovative gameplay.

Carlos Obregon, Ennoia Creations: "The Game of the Decade has to be a title that impacted in a profound way all of the industry, like Super Mario 64 did making 3D games the newest standard in 1996. There have been great titles but none of them has been groundbreaking as Wii Sports.

"As a traditional gamer I found Wii Sports to be a little simple, but it was the first game that got me gaming with my family and non-gaming friends. The game is also pretty significant because it was a system seller for the Nintendo Wii, a platform that expanded the market.

"And not only that, Wii Sports was also the first game to show that you can innovate in the I/O paradigm that has reign for 35 years, while others were trying to push the hardware paradigm. As the Microsoft´s Natal and Sony's Gem prove, next kinds of controllers are the next gaming frontier."

Anonymous: "Wii Sports. The reason has been explained a lot: it opened the game culture to a wider public in a way no other has done it before. I've thought of Grand Theft Auto Vice City for this title but it failed to open the video game experience to the general public, although it got the status of video games as something very serious."

11. The Sims (PC, 2000)

EA Maxis expanded on the gameplay concepts in its SimCity series with The Sims, putting players in charge of a "digital dollhouse" and the residents within. Numerous sequels and expansions later, our readers agree that the core gameplay remains as compelling as ever.

John Richardson, LiquidBits: "The Sims, for me, defined this decade. I can remember in 2000 picking it up for the first time, completely pessimistic as to how such an idea could actually play out. It seemed like a concept that would be impossible to make fun -- the mundane, often trivial lives of virtual dolls, essentially. But it was very much the opposite.

"The game turned tasks as simple as sleeping or meeting people into a kind of social experiment, merging the postmodern acknowledgment of fictionalizing reality with the emotional human-computer connection that most game designers strive for. It made addicting gameplay out of something simple -- deceptively so, as the mechanics gained complexity as Sims progressed through their lives.

"Everything felt so carefully defined, yet chaotic; the fun came in seeing how far you could (or would) push your little denizens. Beyond the gameplay itself, The Sims ushered in a wave of new gamers into what was in the 90s still a very narrow demographic. For better or worse, it also showed us how a franchise could turn into a genre unto itself, along with a once unique and now much-imitated business model.

"Love it or hate it -- and I know very few who weren't hooked on the original Expansion-less version -- The Sims is important, and has left an indelible mark on gaming."

Jason Withrow, George Brown College: "It's going to have to be The Sims. Will Wright's once-upon-a-time architectural simulation foreshadowed and paved the way for the wider, if fairer weather, audience that exists today.

"While the current environment would not be possible without the developments in smaller, shorter games (which started prior to 2000) and naturally the influence of the Wii and iPhone in more recent years, the initial splash that started the wider social acceptance of games, and proved the rest was economically possible, starred people with floating gems above their heads."

10. Metroid Prime (GameCube, 2002)

Retro Studios' first-person take on Nintendo's exploration-based adventure series was greeted with cautious optimism from fans when it was originally announced. The series has since earned widespread acclaim -- both from critics and from our readers -- and was a top seller on the GameCube, receiving a subsequent Wii compilation.

Ephriam Knight: "While many developers struggled to bring their 2D franchises to the 3D world of modern gaming, Nintendo raced past in leaps and bounds. This game continued the tradition that Nintendo started when bringing 2D mainstays to the 3D landscape.

"Starting with Super Mario 64, then Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo continued proving that classic games from the 2D past can be reborn in 3D and still retain their charm and gameplay. This game kept true to the mood and setting set by Super Metroid while bringing in new mechanics specifically needed for traversing a 3D landscape.

"The developers also pushed off the temptation to turn it into just another run of the mill FPS. While many gamers lament the lack of 'dual analog' support for the game, they miss the fact that the game is not about the action, but the puzzle aspects of the weapon system. Any developer looking to resurrect a franchise from older 2D platforms should be looking at Metroid Prime to see how it should be done."

Tim Roberts: "Metroid Prime is still probably the best example of a game that establishes a believable game world through meticulous attention to detail and an interesting blend of FPS, adventure, and platforming that makes it truly unique."

Tyler McCarthy: "It brings in new dynamics to a well defined genre to great success. Never is the player bogged down by only one part of the game. The non linear level design allows the player to work though a stage again but not as repetition but as a new experience with a new upgrade that changes how the room is seen. All of this adds up to a new style of game, one that had not been seen before."


9. Mass Effect (Xbox 360, 2007)

This BioWare-developed spacefaring epic won fans for its complex narrative and nuanced morality system, and many eagerly await its upcoming sequel.

Anonymous: "This game had an engaging story, more-than-just-believable virtual actors, numerous distinctive classes to play as, a good to very good selection of powers/talents to use in game play, a developed and realized science fiction setting, open world elements (i.e., the uncharted planets), a brilliant use of achievements (for both the Xbox and PC) that influenced subsequent playthroughts and exciting FPS/RPG game play.

"While few of these elements were distinctive to Mass Effect, the synergy in the game play experience marks Mass Effect as groundbreaking. Truly, Mass Effect was the first science fiction movie in which I was both 'producer' and player."

Tom Toynton: "This was an incredibly deep and immersive experience beyond anything I had played before. I grew attached to many of the characters and felt like I was personally participating in an epic adventure accross the galaxy.

"The controls were fluid, the game mechanics facilitated play dynamics that supported the premise of the game, and the story and depth of even many ancilliary NPCs brought the game world alive."

Michael Kolb: "It will still be played years to come even as it had a successful launch. BioWare really created a sci-fi universe and the interaction with the consequences, like Fable II, really bring life to games along with the want for multiple playthroughs. The general public are realizing that these 'video games' are more than just shooting and have meaningful stories, characters and universes to interact with."

8. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii, 2007)

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. series has defined multiple console generations, and many feel that this 2007 Wii sequel was one of the franchise's finest moments.

Andrew Smith, Proper Games: "It did so many things wonderfully right - the camera, the graphics, the moves, the challenges, the balance, the flow and the pacing - but more importantly for me it reminded me of being a child. It effortlessly transported me to the first time I played Mario, grinning like a fool, and I was lost in a whirlwind of warm, comforting and fond memories.

"Not only did it transport me back to a rosier, more innocent time, it recharged my sense of wonder in games. For the first time in years I was consistently surprised and amazed by what I was experiencing in the game - and that unique mix of excitement and slight trepidation is something that has been sorely missing from my hobby ever since I started making games professionally."

Anonymous: "This game re-energized the platforming game genre with new play mechanics using motion controls. For the hard-core gamer it is reason enough to purchase the Wii system. It is a testament to perfection in the platform game genre. Plus, it's Mario -- enough said."

Stephane Bousquet: "Super Mario Galaxy is the only game I could not let go before I finished it. Just superb in every way possible. Soundtrack is awesome, gameplay is so fluid. 60FPS all the time. WOW." 

Anonymous: "There's no other game with such a richness of ideas and polishness and fun."


7. Portal (Multiplatform, 2007)

Valve's first-person action-puzzler remains a memorable experience for its fans, both for its innovative gameplay mechanics and for its infectious sense of humor.

Anonymous: "It's an experience that can't be explained in a book and it can't be shown as a movie. You must participate in what is going on to really understand it, and the 2 hours it lasts is an absolutely perfect length for a game."

Martin Brenner, EGOSOFT: "These are the reasons: - Takes a novel idea and consequently exploits it in all directions - Doesn't try to reinvent the (engine) wheel and is rock stable - Extremely polished gameplay - Perfect tutorial and learning curve - Surreal creepy atmosphere - Ingenious voice acting with emotional impact - Subtly developed story cleverly using environmental detail and voice acting - Great ambient soundtrack

"There are many games which got several of these right, but I cannot see one thing which Portal did wrong. This isn't a random success, but was carefully engineered from the experience of the experimental indie game."

Anonymous: "The story, gameplay, humor is simply a delight, and it's short enough for everyone to have time to play it through in these days of so many new titles. One of the very few games in history leaving me with a big grin (and actually laughing out loud) on my face upon viewing the closing credits -- and of course hearing the song."

Kim Pallister, Intel: "It was novel, polished, fun, had something to say, and was developed by a small team, and I think these traits capture so much of what the industry seems to be striving for."

Anonymous: "The biggest contribution I feel they gave to the canon of gaming is making players question their obedience and the role of authority, similar to Milgram's psychological experiment. I seriously considered giving the nomination to BioShock since it predates Portal, but I feel that the connection between the player and GLADos far exceeds the implied control by Atlas/Fontaine.

"In the past decade, I don't know if there's been a more poignant phrase in video gaming than 'You euthanised your faithful companion cube more quickly than any test subject on record. Congratulations.'"

6. Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox, 2001)

Bungie's landmark first-person shooter was immensely popular when it launched alongside Microsoft's Xbox console in 2001, and players worldwide continue to be enamored with the franchise's highly replayable multiplayer modes.

Craig McWherter: "Great story, well-developed characters, compelling (for the time) squad AI, awesome soundtrack, graphically pleasing, and just plain old fun first-person shooter frenzy. Adult enough to keep me interested but friendly enough to let my son join me for some alien butt-kicking.

"Who can forget the first time they heard, 'It's the demon! Run!' And it cemented the Xbox as a genuine contender for video game playing mindshare."

Ryan Schaefer, Electronic Arts: "Halo was a brand new title when the original Xbox launched and it has arguably become the hottest property in gaming since. It may single-handedly be responsible for the console's success and it still to this day is one of the biggest franchises across any platform.

"As big as it has become (spawning toys, anime spin offs and even underwear), it all started with the original game. The original Halo featured some of the best level design for multiplayer matches and started many trends in the genre such as regenerating health and limiting the number of guns you can hold. It also is one of the few FPS games where vehicles actually work extraordinarily well.

"Halo: Combat Evolved has launched competitive, professional console gaming to new heights and is the staple in leagues such Major League Gaming. In closing, I feel that the original Halo was as close to perfect as a game has ever come; even the bugs in the game added to the experience rather than detracted. The game took on a life of its own and spawned gameplay that even the developers did not intend. The series today enjoys a large following and it is not without reason."

Daniel Hettrick: "Short answer: Because I enjoyed the hell out of this game. Longer answer: It was a solid title that really pulled together some of the best elements of the FPS genre, introduced new characters into the pop culture collective, and made a significant impact on the entire industry.

"Fun weapons. Great graphics. Compelling soundtrack. Easy learning curve. Decent variety of vehicles and aircraft. Having the choice of driving or taking the gunner's seat was a nice touch. Engaging characters in the Master Chief and Cortana. Good story. Consider that without this game the original Xbox console would have had a MUCH slower start which would mean a radically different landscape in the entire gaming market today.

"The bottom line is that it was simply too much fun to put on the Mjolnir armor and go kick some butt as the Master Chief. I so thoroughly enjoyed playing the character that I was actually angry when I was forced to play as the Arbiter for parts of Halo 2."

Kale Menges: "There were so many incredible games that came out over the past two decades, but few games had the effect of Halo, something the spread beyond the game and out into the world itself. Look at what the game has established that has outlived the game itself. Community, game design, and establishing Microsoft as a video game industry behemoth.

"Halo proved just how 'hard-core' first person shooters on a console could be and introduced an entirely new audience to the idea of a 'LAN party'. The Halo community became (and remains) the backbone for Microsoft's online gaming service, Xbox Live, and I dare you to question the impact that this has had not only within our industry, but pop culture around the world.

"I'm not sure who gets all the credit, be it Bungie or Microsoft or somewhere between, but this game single-handedly redefined gaming in the western hemisphere and established so many of the standards and conventions that we're still clinging to as an entire industry. This game changed everything and gave us (and the world) a glimpse of just how big and how cool the future of video games could be."


5. Grand Theft Auto III (PlayStation 2, 2001)

Rockstar Games practically invented a new subgenre with Grand Theft Auto III, a crime drama that adopted a free-roaming "sandbox" approach to its gameplay.

Steven Ulakovich: "No other game defined a generation, and no other game was so head and shoulders above the field at the time than Grand Theft Auto III. In a day and age where every major title seems to have an element of sandbox gameplay to it, what Rockstar did with Grand Theft Auto III started the trend. Putting the player in an environment that they can roam where they want, and do whatever they want was such a shift from how games were presented."

David Wipperfurth: "GTA3 isn't my favorite game of all time. I've never been addicted to it, or even sunk massive amounts of time into it. However, when I think about what games could deserve a 'Game Of The Decade' title.

"I believe it should go to a game that did the most to further gaming as a whole. It should go to a game that's not only innovative, but popular enough for that innovation to really take hold of the market.

"GTA3 was a major trend setter. Not only did it spark a new genre of games, it opened-up peoples minds to a rarely viewed perspective in video games, that of 'un-directed play', AND popularized many industry standard game mechanics.

"Other individual games may have done some of these things first, but GTA3 had the draw to emboss them into the edifice of gaming culture."

Joe McGinn, Radical: "GTA3 broke new ground in so many ways, it really marks the start of a new era in gaming.

"Among its innovations and accomplishments: - Successful transition of a franchise from 2D to 3D - First successful use of streaming from DVD to create a vast yet detailed game world - Created what we now know as the "sandbox open world" game genre - Before GTA3 using licensed music in games was uncommon, they proved it could be a profitable investment - Was the first must-have PS2 game, no gamer could go without experiencing GTA3, a "killer app" in other words."

Chad Nimmo: "It changed the way we looked at games: non-linear storylines, sandbox worlds, achievement systems. It also spawned 3 more of the top selling games of the decade with Vice City, San Andreas, and Grand Theft Auto IV."

Anonymous: "Not only was it a fantastic game in its own right, it cast a massive shadow over the rest of the industry, and, for that matter, pop culture. Not many games inspire comedy sketches and television commercials."

Timothy Toledo, Activision: "The game was revolutionary with its sandbox gameplay and its missions. It also changed the typical narrative of the game from being a typical good guy to an anti-hero mobster. While other games have done the anti-hero game, GTA3 actually got it right. In addition to this the story, dialogue and VO work was top notch. The game also created a new genre of video game that I feel didn't exist until GTA3 was released."

Marc Andre Caron: "How many clones did it spawn? How many games have embraced the open world concept in large part in response to the need GTA had awakened among its players. How important has exploration gameplay become in large parts due to GTA?

"If one title in the series has to be picked, I'll say GTA3. At the time it came out, it was revolutionary. The others in the series have simply tweaked the recipe that was set by this one."

Ian Christy, Next Level Games: "During the year I took off from games to get some additional schooling, and having been a fan of the top down GTA on PC, I picked up a PS2 and GTA 3, and 200 plus hours later I'd transitioned from a PC LAN snob to an open world gaming and console game play aficionado.

"GTA 3 allowed me to explore, make up my own agendas and mini-games, leverage dynamic and emergent systems, compete with couch surfing party pals, and helped fuel the curiosity and passion that lead to my work on titles like Scarface: The World is Yours, a... title where we really tried to fix or go beyond what problems and limitations we'd found as players in the GTA titles.

"As an adoption title, GTA 3 delivered me into a plethora of brilliant titles, and while PC may remain my first love for gaming, open world exploration and emergent mechanics remain my first loves for design and experience. For the record, I believe I spent more time playing and exploring Vice City than 3, and subsequently as much time inside Dead Rising (my 360 adoption title), Fallout 3, and mastering L4D 1 & 2.

"Sure, I enjoy presentation heavy roller coaster ride experiences like Call of Duty, and I've lapped most of the Ratchet & Clank games several times for the humor and ludicrous wanton destruction, but the epic potential of self-directed user experience wins for me every time, and GTA 3 really opened that door for me through technical and narrative innovation."


4. Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 2, 2005)

Team Ico's and Fumito Ueda's Shadow of the Colossus contains a simple goal -- a warrior must find and slay a series of gigantic beasts -- but its gameplay manages to inspire complex, often conflicting emotions in the player.

Christiaan Moleman, Ubisoft: "If I had to go with the game that most impressed me personally it has to be Shadow of the Colossus. No other game so captured life in its interactive inhabitants... from Wander's trusty steed Agro to the majestic Colossi that you must slay without remorse or pity.

"Yet it is just this you feel when you send these giants tumbling to the ground. Not victory, but guilt. Surely this can't be right? Yet still you persist until all that's left is the unshakable sense of purpose that finally brings the last of the Colossi to its knees, saving one and cursing another. All the while, you're having too much epic fun to realize you're playing a tragedy.

"For this, and for a gameplay defined by the close moving interaction between living breathing characters - something games continue to struggle with - this is my game of the decade."

Damian Hernaez, Globant: "This game conveys more meaning through mechanics than any other one I have played the past decade."

Kelly Tweten: "Shadow of the Colossus did something no other game has done for me: it made me feel bad about what I was doing in the game, but enticed me to keep doing it through pure artistry.

"I think it deserves to be considered the game of the decade, primarily because it points the way towards what games should strive to be in the next decade. If games are to reach their full potential as an art form, we need to embrace more meaningful topics and work harder to elicit emotional responses.

"Shadow of the Colossus does that, and it does it without compromising gameplay. For all the praise it's gotten for being cinematic, it is unquestionably a game and has the impact it does because of how the player is involved. It's the player who chooses to kill the colossi, the player who tries to run from consequences actions and that is absolutely critical if we want to create truly moving games."

Mathieu Marquis Bolduc, Ubisoft: "From the art direction, the music, the tone, the story and even the gameplay, I think it exemplifies games as a work of art."

Thomas Grip, Frictional Games: "I did not have the most fun playing this game, but it was a very emotional experience at really stuck with me. Also, the choice to skip any normal kind of 'normal' gameplay between the colossi fights was very daring and successful choice.

"Other games might have filled the game with puzzles or minion slaughter, but in Shadow of the Colossus the designers want you truly immerse yourself in the world and made the really feel like a personal journey. This kind of design was also evident in the controls, where realism and immersion was higher goal than making it fun and easy to get into. Never has a horse felt so real to control in a game and it made me so much more attached to it.

"Finally, the game is a technological wonder with astounding physics, AI, and graphics. This technology was also used amazingly well by the artists creating extremely beautiful and unique look All combined, Shadow of the Colossus is unlike anything else released and truly a one-of a kind experience!"

Sjors Jansen: "The one button grab/hold mechanic of this game makes the inherently annoying third person camera obsolete. Which makes it the only one that can compete with traditional 2d games as far as player focus is concerned. IMHO the lonely sole saviour of third person camera gaming. And it has a nice atmosphere to boot."

Devon Carver, ArenaNet: "Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most wonderfully designed games I've played in the last 10 years. The controls themselves seem to have been well thought out and connect you all the more deeply to the experience of the game. Requiring you to hold down the shoulder buttons to continue gripping the Colossus you are on creates a physical connection to the visuals.

"I've rarely been as emotionally attached to a character as I was to Agro by the end of the game and not because of cutscenes telling me to be, but because he was always there following me as the only companion I had. The game is truly amazing and the visuals that were coaxed out of the PS2 still stand up. It's an outstanding example of design, storytelling, art, and all the other aspects of good game making brought together into a fantastic whole."

Luke Icenhower: "It is more of an expressive art concept than a video game, as the graphics and story were some of the most amazing for their time. At the same time, the game played differently from any other, with the main character being a mere human with a sword and a bow, challenging these epic colossi and nothing else."

Theo Tanaka: "When I was younger I had that feeling of wonder when I watched my cousins playing the NES, and only this game could pull this same sensation. It's a mysterious title, with dramatic camera angles and wonderful challenges. To me, the experience provided by a game is what matters in the end, and Shadow of Colossus is the one that amazed me the most in this decade."

Nicholas Rotondo: "Shadow of the Colossus is an undeniably unique game that implements its story, music, and art in new, innovative, and deep ways. Colossus’ most powerful attribute is that it twists the expected narrative in order to dislodge the player from his or her usual gaming disposition, thus prompting an effect within the player that can reach beyond the game experience itself."

Derek Gildea: "I've always felt that this title stands alone because of the way it tells a story. Fumito Ueda, the game's creative director, is known for being a minimalist as far as dialog is concerned. I think he has figured out better than anyone else how to use places to tell a story in parallel to the typical character-driven plotline.

"There's a tale of love and self-sacrifice in Shadow of the Colossus (and it's a good one) but beneath it there is a second, more subtle narrative being told which is powerful in its own right. Every place Wanda goes on his Colossi-slaying quest he sees the ruins of an ancient civilization. Pretty standard fare for a fantasy game, granted, but the game is special by the fact that somehow it makes me care.

"When I play the game, I get the feeling that the forbidden realm is actually real; that it has a history. I used to spend hours wandering on the horse and just looking at the crumbling old buildings. I imagined what sort of people could have lived in this place. I felt more entranced by the narrative of a mere setting than I have with the main story-arc of many a tittle. The power of Shadow of the Colossus to tell a story without words, in the way that only video games can, earns it the right to be called the called the Game of the Decade."

Jason Kiser, Cornerstone Solutions: "No other game world can match the majesty of Shadow of the Colossus. No other game has elicited genuine emotional response from me as a player to the degree that this game did at two key points in the story. No other game (in my completely amateur programming opinion) pushed the limits of the machine running it like this game pushed the PS2. Simply put, Shadow of the Colossus is the only game I played this decade that I thought was perfect."


3. Half-Life 2 (PC, 2004)

Many argue that the original Half-Life represented a significant step forward for the first-person shooter genre in the late '90s. Developer Valve won further acclaim with Half-Life 2, which introduced substantial gameplay refinements, a cast of relatable characters, and, of course, the almighty gravity gun.

Eric Rosloff: "As a PC gamer, the answer is obvious: Half-Life 2. Along with raising the bar in graphics, physics, and gameplay, it spawned the source engine which is still being used to make great games today. It also launched the Steam distribution platform, which is quickly becoming a dominant force in the PC gaming world."

Tyler Lovemark, Art Institute of Portland: "Improving on the original Half-Life was a challenge in and of itself. A sequel to the game that jumpstarted the PC modding community and revitalized the PC shooter genre had an enormous amount of hype and respect to live up to.

"Half-Life 2 succeeded in not only introducing a new physics-based engine which still influences today with encouraging players to manipulate their environments, but also in being a highly refined game with a tight narrative and inspired setting."

John Painter: "Probably the first pure FPS to actually make you even vaguely care about the secondary characters it presents, with excellent level design, pioneering graphical flair and the story power to keep people caring about the third episode more than 5 years after the original was released on the same engine.

"Half-Life 2 has entertained the masses, inspired copycats and essentially put itself at the head of the most crowded genre of the day both then and now. It's pretty much the only game I can think of being worthy of the title of 'Game of the Decade'."

Garth DeAngelis, Firaxis Games: "Immersion, storytelling and atmosphere without ever taking control from the player."

Anonymous: "It had a revolutionary mechanic that it did not lean on. Even without the grav gun, Half-Life 2 would have been the best first person shooter ever. It is rare that a game so deftly combines innovation and execution."

Mark Newheiser: "Every Source game from Portal to Left 4 Dead owes a debt to it, it showed you could tell an immersive story without taking control and initiative away from the player, and through the transformative power of physics it turned every object in the game into a viable weapon.

"It set a new bar for the technical accomplishments of its engine, the depth and variety of its gameplay, and its uninterrupted flow of storytelling. I'm proud to speak up for Gordon Freeman, since he apparently can't speak for himself."

Randall Theil: "No original universe has compelled and interested me to the same degree and no other single player progression has been as polished and seamless. In many story driven games, especially in the sci-fi genre, the setting is the focal point of the story and the characters become just window dressing.

"Half Life 2 did a very smart thing by only revealing details about the world pertinent to Gordon Freeman's experience, and by driving the action forward with some of the best character design in any action game. The voice acting is top notch and the script is excellent and brief.

"Half Life 2 had great action too, of course. The game mechanics and level design are constantly changing. At each turn new weapons and tools are added to Gordon's arsenal, and each environment is distinct in design and theme, from the dark, claustrophobic alleyways of Ravenholm to the bright, airy openness of the coast.

"Like the story, the quality of game play of Half Life 2 reflects the constant iteration Valve puts into the design process. At about twelve hours to play through, Half Life 2 was big for an action game, but it never felt sprawling.

"Unlike Mass Effect, I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of lore that Half Life 2 offered me. I ate up every detail of the universe that they offered me because they only put the best of what they had on display. Unlike Halo, the game play never became tedious for me because exploration was as much a part of the game as shooting was, and the levels were worth exploring. Half Life 2 was a concise, compelling, controlled experience. The cream of the crop of the decade."

Mitja Roskaric, ZootFly: "* It revolutionized the FPS genre. * Good story. * Telling the story without taking control from the player. * Great level design !!! * Gravity gun. * Good pacing (mix of combat and puzzles). * Lots of well design set-pieces. * Varied combat ( combine & xen ). * Good AI * Well designed driving sequences. * Memorable characters."

Luke Stillman: "While there were many fun or impressive games over the past ten years, Half-Life 2 was the only one to truly introduce a new gaming element: physics. Sure, there were physics of a sort in all prior games such as Mario's jumping physics or even Tresspasser's misguided debacle of an attempt at a full physics engine. HL2 was the first game to really make the leap into believability and its foray was so impressive that it is yet to be topped.

"Crysis might have its barrel demonstrations, but HL2's tech demo had a massive Pachinko machine years before. Physics and physics-based gameplay mechanics are really the innovation of the past decade and the only gameplay element that did not exist in the 1990's, and for that reason it is without peer.

"On a more personal note, it mattered because it was the impossible sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. You've seen from the recent Modern Warfare 2 that it's a difficult task to live up to a groundbreaking title. Half-Life was for many the titleholder for 'best game,' so it is no casual comment to say that aside from the online deathmatch, HL2 surpassed its predecessor in every way.

"I know that many gamers (including myself) shared a moment of elation when that first crowbar advertisement was released in 2003 whose shadow formed the number 2. No other details were needed: Half-Life 2 was coming. We all knew it would be fantastic, and it was."


2. Deus Ex (PC, 2000)

Ion Storm's Deus Ex featured intense action, a branching storyline, and deep character customization options. However, its fans will tell you that Deus Ex's biggest strength is the freedom it provides in allowing players to approach each of the game's objectives in numerous different ways.

Boris Bauer, Replay Studios: "I'm a fan of exploring, (action) adventure, and shooter games. I also like some of the major RPG games. Deus Ex successfully combined shooter action, stealth game play, storytelling, exploration, and common 'RPG' elements (skill/item systems, character development) in a believable futuristic game world.

"The most outstanding qualities are the games's atmosphere (game world, sound, and music) and a long series of interesting player choices throughout the whole game. The design of Deus Ex pushed the boundaries of lots of genres inspiring and influencing a lot of todays action adventure/stealth action and RPG games."

Kain Shin, Arkane Studios: "The setting was fresh, and it took the school of Looking Glass's FPS/RPG hybrid genre to a new level by engaging the user in meaningful emotional interactions, allowing the player to express themselves as they choose in a way that had never been combined before.

"It is a collaborative work of art that invites the user's real-time actions to paint a representation of themself in that particular setting without being strong-armed into an explicit identity from another person's moral compass."

Bart Stewart: "The greatness of a computer game is measured by the degree to which a wide variety of gamers have positive memories of it long after playing it. On that basis, Deus Ex is the greatest game of the 2000s... at least. Other games in the decade of the 2000s had more action. A few may have been more intelligent or more emotionally satisfying. But no other game succeeded so well in combining all three of these modes of human expression to create a single coherent gaming experience for the hands and the head and the heart.

"The active gameplay features of Deus Ex allowed a wide range of interesting choices on both the personal and tactical levels. Player were given distinctive choices for how to enhance the character's personal abilities as well as his gear, and these choices directly supported solving tactical challenges through multiple styles of play.

"But the timing of the choices offered was so well-balanced that players never felt over- or under-powered. Complementing the gameplay rules was a storyline that has real meaning beyond the simple mindless destruction of most computer games: what are the implications for human liberty when technology connects all individuals and defines what they believe to be true?

"This remarkable story, and the deep dialogue and gameplay options that expressed and reinforced it without telling the player what to think or feel, remains superior to anything I have ever seen in any other computer game. In summary, while there have been many very good games in the 2000s, no other game equaled or exceeded the degree to which Deus Ex integrated every major style of fun that a computer game can offer."

Janne Haffer: "Games can be such a limited medium, even if you disregard all technical and budgetary limitations you still have the impossible balancing acts of interactivity vs story-telling and player choices vs direction. Deus Ex manages better than any other game to be balanced and still remain coherent in every single thing it tries to do.

"Every location is just large enough to feel free, but small enough to remain interesting. Every NPC has just enough character to feel interesting but not so much to bog the game down or feel out of place. Every item, skill, enemy feels like they are exactly what you expect them to be, and still the game just keeps surprising you.

"All the hugely successful and awesome games of this decade has done one or a few things really really well, often way better than the "same feature" in Deus Ex. However in the end, while playing those games you always end up thinking "this could have been so much better if detail X was like Y instead. Deus Ex by no means has perfect gameplay, story or atmosphere, but it is the only game that manages to not fail at one single thing. And it does it seemingly with a simple shrug, like it's saying 'how could it be done any other way?'"

Mike Orenich, LucasArts: "It was the first game that I played which truly allowed you the freedom to complete the game/missions with multiple paths. The RPG elements (skills & augmentations) allowed you to customize as you progressed through the game, so you could blast your way killing everyone in sight or sneak through solving the game without killing anyone.

"The best part was how your actions influenced the story and the character's responses to you as the player. If you helped someone out and responded nicely, they often gave you information like a password or helped you by giving you a price cut on goods.

"I spent hours customizing my character, the UI, reading all of the books and datacubes in the game. The story was top-notch as well. This game was released in 2000 and has an eerie history to the back-story. In the fiction, terrorists had apparently blown up the twin towers in New York city. Sadly this piece of fiction became fact in 2001."

Tynan Sylvester: "Combined multiple forward-thinking design elements into a cohesive whole. Many of the design patterns didn't reappear in other games until years later. Still by far the best story told in a video game. No game has come close since until BioShock, released 6 years after DX."

Alan Youngblood, Matreya Studios: "I first played its somewhat inferior port on PS2 but later bought the PC version. It takes a premise of X-files (an awesome TV detective show) and backs it up with the greatest gameplay. The level of interactivity is amazing.

"What makes Deus Ex hands down awesome is that you can play it the way you want to. With so many games that force you to play the only way the lazy designers allow, Deus Ex shines as a beacon of great game design and gameplay. I love that I can play the same game running and guning or with stealth or no violence and all negotiation. The fact that gamers are still buying it and still playing and loving it makes it the game of the decade."

Anonymous: "Deus Ex represented the complete fusion of the progress of two of gaming's most celebrated genres: first-person shooting and role-playing, without a direct preference to either. It boasted of a rich, complex and thought-provoking story written intelligently, with the player allowed just the right level to freedom to make their own choices and take the gameplay in their own stride.

"The well-researched world of Deus Ex is one of the most memorable in gaming, bringing forth a cyberpunk world that wasn't clichéed or trite, but novel and intellectual, in the same vein as Neuromancer or Blade Runner. Deus Ex was the heralder of a revolutionary genre, and an intellectual leap in video games and game storytelling, that unfortunately never saw the dawn of light."

David Sattar: "Just the perfect shooter, but it was so much more than just a shooter. All the skill tree development and of course the augments. The game allowed a multitude of ways to succeed and not every path had to be taken, not every door had to be entered.

"Best of all, if you did have to get to the other side of a given door, there were usually several ways to do it. I must have played it through a dozen times, and I was still finding new things on all by the last two runs through. And that wasn't all - there was still the backstory conspiracy of shadowy world spanning organisations to revel in."

Michael Correnti: "This game was revolutionary in almost every aspect, but most notably it made 'choice' more than just a buzzword or an empty promise. Virtually every situation in the game plays out differently depending on your personality or, on later playthroughs, your penchant for trying new things.

"That the game happens to have an engrossing story line, beautiful environments, characters you come to love and some of the most literate writing ever seen from this industry, well -- that is all gravy."

Bruce Racey: "Sure, it wasn't the first game to mix RPGs and FPSs, it probably wasn't the first game that allowed you choice in how to tackle puzzles, it wasn't the first game with a complex, multilayered story. But it was the best. Deus Ex was the first game I've ever played where I truly felt free.

"Between stealth, run & gun, hacking, and god knows how many other powers, it was the first game you could really play 'your way'. Sure, older RPGs gave a superficial semblence of choice, they let you be a brawling melee barbarian or an archer, or a mage, but ultimately you played the game the same way."


1. World of Warcraft (PC, 2004)

Five years after its initial release, Blizzard's massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft has attracted as many as 11 million monthly subscribers, according to the last public count, all of whom are captivated by the expansive world of Azeroth.

Mario Garcia, Mercury Steam: "Reasons? Effectiveness of his design, huge infrastructure, big money spent, number of players, net hours of play, mixed demographics, social influence. Also, for me raised serious questions about the responsibility of developers in how his games affect people's life and the ethics of using game design technics to keep players spending time in the game. I feel this is going to be a big deal in the coming decades."

Justin Wingard, Timegate Studios: "It proved that the MMO market didn't have to be limited to the hardcore gamers. The game has completely changed the standards and expectations for a MMORPG and has considerably changed our perception of an MMO.

"This, of course, says nothing for the fact that it has made more money than any other game this decade by an enormous margin and continues to be absurdly profitable for Activision / Blizzard."

Christopher Plummer: "This is not even a fair competition. World of Warcraft has been around for 5 of the last 10 years and continues to draw more and more fans to it. It has a wide variety of gameplay within it from traditional RPG elements, to co-op elements, to Competitive deathmatch/sporting elements.

"The design elements have been ripped off by almost every game created in the last couple of years. I can't play this game anymore for a variety of reasons, but in its original two years it was the greatest game ever. The expansions were good too, but they were not the original. I don't think we'll see something that good in a long time."

Joe Woynillowicz: "Blizzard came out with an extremely polished MMO and have brought the genre into the mainstream of gaming. It has led the genre for five years now and does not look like it will be giving up that lead anytime soon, and they are a heavy influence on the current and next generation of MMO games."

Carl Chavez: "It brought a lot of new players into the PC platform, made up a sizable percentage of revenue for the game industry over the past few years, proved subscription-based gaming was profitable, brought forward social gaming to the masses (more than Everquest, DaoC, and other MMOs), permeated pop culture so much that even Mr. T. is co-branding with it, influenced game design (who doesn't play Dragon Age: Origins and think of WoW?) and indirectly caused its players to try out other MMOs on both PCs and consoles, which further affected the industry.

"I don't even like WoW! However, I can see how big its impact has been. People who make a big deal about Modern Warfare 2's first-month sales seem to forget that WoW probably makes the same amount of cash from subscriptions every few months, and with much less development cost."

Matt Allmer: "As developers, we envy those who are a part of it. As gamers, we are fully engaged in its addictive gameplay. As critics, we marvel at its level of polish, game progression and design aesthetics. As industry experts we still monitor its shelf life and ever-growing list of achievements.

"It crosses gender boundaries, age boundaries, geographic boundaries and sets the bar for online social interaction. It is a symbol of popular culture. It is widely popular without selling out to cheap promotional tricks or marketing bulls#@!. It is a clear milestone in the history this young medium and has even claimed hours of playtime from the president of the United States.

"Above all else, it is the only game my dad has enlisted me to return to, and play again. From where I stand, nothing says 'Game of the Decade' more than that."

David Delanty: "It doesn't take a WoW player to understand the sheer scope of the game's influence. It is one of the few games in history to dramatically change the face of society itself, creating a subset of gamers so massive they might as well be considered their own separate nationality.

"The gargantuan user base isn't the only striking feature of WoW, but a comparatively large game world that is as dynamic as it is deep. WoW set the bar for online gaming, and created a series of goals and objectives for the player that many other titles seek to duplicate, and in doing so, have also redefined the way in which game designers tackle their online Multiplayer features.

"No longer is it good enough to get the highest kill count in a shooter, or overwhelm an opposing general in a strategy game. Multiplayer needs to implement systems of leveling, perks, and prestige that were originally reserved strictly for the MMO crowd, but were executed so seamlessly in WoW that its design is now a standard example for contemporary AAA titles.

"World of Warcraft can be attributed to many things, not all of them benevolent. The game is so in-depth, gamers frequently forget to take care of themselves. There isn't a lot of media out there (outside of illegal substance abuse) where a participant can be so into their fix that they starve to death.

"World of Warcraft has been the crutch for many divorces, violent crime, Online scammers, and morbid obesity. I've seen several classmates fail out of college to supplement their WoW addiction, and while one would expect a 'lesson learned' scenario, the truth is, WoW has such a magnetic hook the junkies keep coming back for more. Good, bad, or ugly, World of Warcraft revolutionized the online gaming platform so dramatically it would easily be considered one of the most defining titles of the 2000's."

Eric Hardman: "It is the biggest game changer of the decade. It's not necessarily the best game, nor my personal favorite, but it is certainly the one by which I will remember the aughts. It's cultural, economic, and industry impact are unsurpassed, and it's the only single game to have that kind of clout, across platforms and genres.

"Along those lines, a case could be made for the Wii, but which single game? Wii Sports? Hardly. This isn't an award for controllers. XBLA could be considered a contender, due to the proliferation of indie and downloadable content -- certainly a game changer and decade-long theme. But which single game? A personal note here, is that my favorite games of the decade were from the Total War series, with Guild Wars a close second. But Game of the Decade? It's WoW."

Michael Kelly: "In terms of a game that really was a mark for the 2000s, there's really nothing bigger than World of Warcraft. Massive popularity (to the point of being a wider cultural phenomenon), excellent game design that is still being polished, and really the final culmination of the way that MMOs have been developing since Everquest.

"And the gameplay innovations used in WoW have affected even offline games (eg. Dragon Age) Not to say something new might arise, but WoW really seems like the most fully realized MMO to ever come along."

Kevin Lim: "In terms of significant cultural impact, nothing can beat World of Warcraft. No one can deny that anyone who has a computer(which is by now almost everyone in the States) has at least heard of this game. Possibly amongst the single most-played games (barring games that are bundled with the computer such as solitaire and the such), it has had a serious influence and changed the MMORPG scene for better or worse."

John Hay: "WoW managed to become the identity for an entire genre against which all other MMOs are compared. It also penetrated the main stream lexicon in a way no other game has done perhaps since Quake. As a result, the entire games industry has benefitted from the non-gamers it has attracted."

Pablo Dopico: "I don't think it even needs to be justified. This has revolutionized the way people play videogames. It's the most successful videogame of the decade, and it consolidated subscription-based role playing gaming on persistent universes. You might love it or hate it, but WoW has changed the world of computer entertainment software, it's accessible to everyone, and it offers an engaging, long-lasting, multi-faceted appeal.

"Additionally, it has been key to keeping the PC alive as a commercially viable gaming platform, key to the incorporation of women in PC gaming, and key to consolidate Blizzard (and now Activision / Blizzard) as one of the major actors in the industry. But of course, everyone knows that, because WoW is the most successful game of the decade, without a single trace of a doubt."

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